Edwin was in the first group of 6 men with Second Officer John Parry who walked to the lighthouse to seek assistance and he would have been on the whale boat across Bass Strait but for poor health. The below letter is taken from the typed version held at the King Island Museum – I am unsure as to its origin as yet. I have copied the typing, spelling and punctuation direct from that version.
July 27th 1866
My dear Father,
Needless to say before this reaches you, you will have heard of the disaster we have had; the entire loss of Ship and contents, but I am all right, thanks to the Almighty though without anything save what I landed in and a rug – but nothing else.
We had made a tolerably good passage and expected to have arrived safely at our journeys end in a week or so, but fate would it were not so.
We started from London as you are aware on Sunday the First of April, and left Plymouth on Friday the 13th “two days mostly held in awe by sailors” to start upon and truly we have to believe them unlucky days now to make a start upon.
The first week we were out we had contrary winds which detained us and made the first month of our journey rather unsatisfactory, for we did not sight the Western Isles of Africa for nearly five weeks from Plymouth “a three weeks journey” – we were within ten miles of Teneriffe and about five miles from the nearest Island which we could distinguish very plainly – this was Fortarcutura – we held the land in sight for about 24 hours and then made out to sea again and saw no more land till we found ourselves sticking on a rock about 60 miles from Melbourne in Cads’s Straits. It was about ½ past seven in the evening – we had been becalmed all day, with occasional showers of rain, but towards five o’clock the wind began to blow, a moderate breeze, and we were going about five knots an hour. About 6 o’clock the wind increased and we went through a squall of wind and ran about 8 knots – it again diminished and stars were making their appearance though the night was very misty and dark.
Shortly afterwards I heard the chief mate hollo out – land ahead, all hands on deck, back the main-yard and Crots Jack (pronounced crodget) hard down the stern. The last order was countermanded by the Captain to “hard up” and she struck upon a reef of rock. You can better imagine than I could describe to you the scene which took place after this.
I went to the chief mate and asked him what service I could render him and he told me “to get the pumps manned directly” – the Carpenter sounded the ship – and found 16 feet of water in the hold, - I saw it was no go directly and the night again became very dark, we could discern nothing save the white foam of the water breaking on a rock about five and twenty yards from the ship.
The chief mate again came in sight and I asked him for further orders – and he calmly replied “tell your friend to die like men and exhort the passengers to maintain tranquility”. He left me and went on to the poop and lowered the starboard lifeboat, and with six sailors made an exploration of the rock – in the space of ½ an hour he returned and informed us that the darkness was so intense he could see nothing but a slimy rock, but that it would be impossible to effect a landing the surf was running so high. During the time he was in the boat, the passengers and crew had endeavoured to launch the pinnace, they got it into the water but a sea came and stove it in and it was found next day entirely smashed on the rocks. There was no further attempt made to land that night, but the Captain said that with the morning light, if the wind decreased, we might all be saved.
The many anxious faces looking for the dawn of the 15th July 1866 I don’t think will be easily effaced from my memory!
The night was passed by the fearful in prayer; by a great part of the brute creation in drunkenness – they having broken open the spirit store – but by myself and a few more endeavouring to get down to the hold for provisions. The chief mate asked for a volunteer to go down the hole – I stripped myself down and went, but the water was so dreadfully cold after I had been down about ½ an hour I had to be brought up. They gave me some whisky and I went into the cuddy and smoked a pipe and had some coffee and got all sound again, - there I got two cups of coffee and a little piece of bread which is all I had till Monday morning. The whole of Sunday was taken up landing the passengers – the women and children coming off first. I left the ship about 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon with a few others and the chief mate, we all had to swim ashore about twenty yards for both lifeboats and the long boat and pinnace were ashore landing the women – they were beaten against the rocks and we only had the Captain’s Gig left.
The Captain could not tell exactly where he was, but fancied Kings Island which afterwards proved correct.
On Monday morning at daybreak we arose from our encampment – it was very cold, it being winter time here. I had saved a rug which served to cover me. I felt uncommonly well, but fearfully hungry, not having tasted anything for twenty-four hours – anyhow they wanted six volunteers to search for succour. The Captain gave us the bearing of a lighthouse which he supposed to be on the island about 35 miles to the North. Mr Parry, the second mate, with five others and myself started, we were allowed three days provisions, which was 1 ½ ship’s biscuit between 7 – we started and at sunset on Monday – after a terrible walk over rocks and through bush – we encamped for the night. Captain Bluett, one of our party – a passenger – took account of the provisions and he gave each man five pieces of the biscuit about as large as your thumb-nail, we were not long devouring them you may be sure. We had each of us a piece of tobacco and with this and a fire lit of good strong large pieces of wood, we sat down and made ourselves happy under the circumstances. We all gave a song and went to sleep, taking the earth for a bed, a stone for a pillow and the canopy of heaven for a covering – after the Patriarch Jacob’s style.
We arose on Tuesday about one hour before daybreak awfully cold. We had found water the night before (always taking care to find water before we stopped) and upon it we found about ¼ of an inch of ice, but though it was cold, the ice repaid us in the morning it being both eat and drink.
We travelled Tuesday until about ½ past one or two o’clock and had not succeeded in killing anything, although there are plenty of kangaroo on the island, up to the time when we were startled by a peculiar noise like the growling of a dog in a bush, we gave the bush a kick and from it jumped what is termed on the Island a Tiger Cat, an animal about as large as a bull-dog but spotted more like a leopard – he had been eating a small kind of kangaroo termed wallaby but had left the fore-quarters which we kindly assisted him to manage, leaving little else but skin and bone for him to look at when he returned. This is all I tasted afterwards until Thursday when we arrived at the lighthouse pretty well done up.
There we were treated as only I believe people who are accustomed to such visitors can treat you. I had lost my appetite though and felt jolly queer. The first thing I had was an apple and a piece of dry bread, but little by little I continued until I again got all sound or pretty nearly so by the time the lighthouse boat was got out and five of us ready to man her, but by the advice of Captain Spon the lighthouse keeper, Parry, the second mate would not allow or permit me to get in, stating as a reason that I was too far gone to pull a skull – consequently I have been deprived of crossing the straits in an open whale boat, but I watched all night in the lighthouse tower. They had beautiful weather almost all the way and arrived at Port Philip land on Friday night, where they were well cared for.
Mr Parry, the second officer, is the great gun of Melbourne at the present time. Subscriptions have been raised for the relief of the passengers and crew. The Victorian Government have provided us with the Exhibition to live in, with bread, tea and beef.
I don’t believe that anyone has saved anything – I have not, not even a shilling, all the money I had I had stowed away in my box with my caul and your portrait. I don’t suppose I shall see anything more of them.
I am first rate in health, but look for better days. I shall be forwarded to Brisbane on Monday next.
Good-bye, God bless you. Give my love to my dear sisters and brothers – I will write to them all from Brisbane and accept the same from
Your ever affectionate Son,