Friday, May 18, 2018

Minerva Wreck 1850: Press Report

July 5, 1850.

Early on Friday morning last, the booming of
several successive heavy guns, and the discharge
of rockets and blue lights from the outside 
anchorage-told the inhabitants of D'Urban, that some
disaster had occurred in the bay. Although
barely one o'clock, a.m., numbers were soon
hurrying towards the Point, their worst fears being
realised on arrival, by observing through the
gloom that a large ship was on the reef at the
extreme end of the bluff, on the opposite side of
the channel. Boats were speedily put in 
requisition, and a nearer view obtained, but it was quite
day break before it became certain that it was the
Minerva, a large teak-built East Indiaman,
that had only anchored in the bay two days
previously, which was in such a critical and
dangerous situation. As it was known, that of 267
emigrants she had brought from England, not
more than 40 had been landed the day previously
the greatest excitement prevailed as to the
ultimate consequences to those who remained on
board. Immediate endeavours, under the 
direction of Port Captain Bell, were made to open up
a communication with the crew of the ill fated
ship, and at length a line was successfully 
carried from on board to the shore by means of a
barrel to which it was attached. On this a large
hawser was then bent and properly secured to the
masthead crosstrees at one end, and to a huge
detached rock at the other. Slung in a travelling
cot formed out of a strong barrel, a sailor
soon descended the line in safety, and was
reconveyed with messages to the ship again, 
sufficiently demonstrating to the anxious passengers and
spectators a secure though necessarily protracted
escape from the scene of destruction to which
they were exposed.

It was about the same time that a volunteer
crew from the Henrietta barque, lying in the
bay, were capsized in the boat as they were
coming to the rescue. Many of the sailors 
succeeded ded in righting the boat amidst the surf, and
regaining the seats, but three of the number were
long struggling in the waves.
Fortunately two were driven on shore and
saved, although sadly hurt and almost exhausted,
the third sunk and was seen no more.
Another line in the meantime had been
brought from the Minerva by the life-boat
provided for such emergencies, and which on its
passage was actually dragged from its perilous
position when it struck upon the edge of the
outer reef, by a crowd of sympathlizing
spectators who rushed through the waves regardless of
consequences, and seized the boat for this
purpose. The rope being made fast on shore as
before, the boat returned for the first cargo of the
passengers, and the opportunity was taken by
the Government Emigration Officer, Mr. 
Macalroy, to board the vessel and assure the
emigrants by his presence of the facility with which
a landing might be effected. The disembarking
now proceeded with great activity. Such, how
ever, was the violence of the sea beating upon
the reef that almost every successive boat upon
striking was immediately filled with water, and
the greatest exertions combined with the greatest
coolness on the part of the boatmen was
required to keep them from being capsized.
Two of the ship's boats were soon bilged and
rendered useless, and one surf boat alone was
left to land upwards of 150 emigrants still
remaining on board. With what anxiety were her
several trips observed both by the spectators on
shore and the unfortunates who had yet to trust
themselves to this perilous means of escape. On
one occasion three sailors were washed com
pletely out of her, and thrown by the violence of
the breakers into deep water, two, however, were
almost as immediately cast back upon the rocks
with fearful violence, but saved by those around.
The third, less fortunate, was swimming for
upwards of a quarter of an hour amidst the waves,
exciting hopes and fears in the hearts of all who
witnessed this accident of the most painful
nature. After striving ineffectually to regain
the reef, Mr. Fusteer, the third mate of the
Minerva, turned his head to the ship and
made for the still water under her lee, spars,
hen-coops, and life buoys were thrown him from
the deck, and he succeeded at last in seizing one
of the latter, and was hauled on board almost ex
hausted, by the line attached.

On board the vessel Captain Moir superintended
the disembarkation of the emigrants,
whilst Port Captain Bell, at the head of a
resolute and persevering band of volunteers, received
them on landing. On each trip, just at the
point of greatest danger along the line of the
outer reef, men were stationed with ropes at
once to cast into the boat, for all who would to
cling to them, and throw themselves into the
water, others rushed to the head of the beating
boat and either lifted her bodily into a
safer position, or dragged out of the water
contained in her, the almost lifeless women and

At length, all the emigrants, of whom up
wards of forty were children, being landed with
out loss of a single life, Mr Macalroy, along with
the acting health officer of the port, who had 
accompanied him on hoard, returned to the shore.
Two more boats, full of sailors and officers of the
ship completed the disembarkment. The first of
these was the bilged life boat which had been
hastily repaired by Captain Glendinning of the
Gem, and sent again to the ship. By this a
party of the sailors endeavored to make the shore
but were upset at the reef, and were all 
precipitated into the water. Individuals in all 
directions were seen swimming and floating amidst
the roaring waves, a rush of the spectators on
shore towards the spot was made, and by 
exertions almost superhuman the whole were dragged
out of the water, some seriously injured, and
three nearly drowned. To these latter of course
immediate attention was paid. Every means
were adopted for their resuscitation, and success
at length crowned the efforts that were made to
restore them to life. In the last boat came
Capitain Moir and the Surgeon Mr Prentice; of
the former, we must say, his conduct on board
during the painful proceedings of the day was
calm and collected, and after the expression of
their own losses and sufferings, all the emigrants
were unanimous in expressing regret and 
sympathy for the situation of their late commander.
To the port boat's crew, including the well
known names of Archer, Hodges, and Viney,
much of the credit is due for the manner in which
the landing of the emigrants was effected under
the circumstances of such a heavy sea and surf
breaking upon the rocks.

Within the next twenty-four hours scarcely a
vestige of the ill-fated Minerva was to be
seen, the waves having washed everything away
with the exception of a few beams and ribs
connecting her keel, with the timbers of her bow
or head. During the next ten days also, the
shores of the bluff; of the inner harbor, and of
the back beach, were strewed with the remains
of the cargo, emigrants' chests and stores of all
descriptions. These as they floated in or were
washed up, were removed to beyond high water
mark, and a police, judiciously selected, placed
in charge; still numerous robberies were effected
during the nights of Saturday and Sunday. 
Several sailors and others are in custody as being

The public sale of the debis and the right of
beach takes place on Tuesday, at the bluff, and
in the meantime, a most exciting scene occurs
daily in front of the custom house at the point,
where all the floating and cast up things are
brought to as a depot, and where the desponding
owners are in constant attendance, selecting,
identifying, and seeking for their own, among
the numerous damaged and disfigured chests,
packages, and clothes, displayed for that

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