Disaster averted... Just! 16th August 1770
Moderate breezes at East-South-East and fair weather. A little after Noon saw the Land from the Mast head bearing West-South-West, making high; at 2 saw more land to the North-West of the former, making in hills like Islands; but we took it to be a Continuation of the Main land. An hour after this we saw a reef, between us and the land, extending away to the Southward, and, as we thought, terminated here to the Northward abreast of us; but this was only on op'ning, for soon after we saw it extend away to the Northward as far as we could distinguish anything. Upon this we hauld close upon a Wind, which was now at East-South-East, with all the sail we could set. We had hardly trimm'd our sails before the wind came to East by North, which made our weathering the Reef very doubtful, the Northern point of which in sight at sun set still bore from us North by West, distant about 2 Leagues. However, this being the best Tack to Clear it, we keept standing to the Northward, keeping a good look out until 12 at night, when, fearing to run too far upon one Course, we tack'd and stood to the southward, having run 6 Leagues North or North by East since sun set; we had not stood above 2 Miles to the South-South-East before it fell quite Calm. We both sounded now and several times before, but had not bottom with 140 fathoms of line.* (* The description which follows, of the situation of the ship, and the occurrences until she was safely anchored inside the Barrier Reef, is from the Admiralty copy, as it is much fuller than that in Mr. Corner's.)
A little after 4 o'clock the roaring of the surf was plainly heard, and at daybreak the Vast foaming breakers were too plainly to be seen not a mile from us, towards which we found the ship was carried by the Waves surprisingly fast. We had at this time not an air of Wind, and the depth of water was unfathomable, so that there was not a possibility of anchoring. In this distressed Situation we had nothing but Providence and the small Assistance the Boats could give us to trust to; the Pinnace was under repair, and could not immediately be hoisted out. The Yawl was put in the Water, and the Longboat hoisted out, and both sent ahead to tow, which, together with the help of our sweeps abaft, got the Ship's head round to the Northward, which seemed to be the best way to keep her off the Reef, or at least to delay time. Before this was effected it was 6 o'clock, and we were not above 80 or 100 yards from the breakers. The same sea that washed the side of the ship rose in a breaker prodidgiously high the very next time it did rise, so that between us and destruction was only a dismal Valley, the breadth of one wave, and even now no ground could be felt with 120 fathom. The Pinnace was by this time patched up, and hoisted out and sent ahead to Tow. Still we had hardly any hopes of saving the ship, and full as little our lives, as we were full 10 Leagues from the nearest Land, and the boats not sufficient to carry the whole of us; yet in this Truly Terrible Situation not one man ceased to do his utmost, and that with as much Calmness as if no danger had been near. All the dangers we had escaped were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef, where the Ship must be dashed to pieces in a Moment. A reef such as one speaks of here is Scarcely known in Europe. It is a Wall of Coral Rock rising almost perpendicular out of the unfathomable Ocean, always overflown at high Water generally 7 or 8 feet, and dry in places at Low Water. The Large Waves of the Vast Ocean meeting with so sudden a resistance makes a most Terrible Surf, breaking Mountains high, especially as in our case, when the General Trade Wind blows directly upon it. At this Critical juncture, when all our endeavours seemed too little, a Small Air of Wind sprung up, but so small that at any other Time in a Calm we should not have observed it. With this, and the Assistance of our Boats, we could observe the Ship to move off from the Reef in a slanting direction; but in less than 10 Minutes we had as flat a Calm as ever, when our fears were again renewed, for as yet we were not above 200 Yards from the Breakers. Soon after our friendly Breeze visited us again, and lasted about as long as before. A Small Opening was now Seen in the Reef about a 1/4 of a Mile from us, which I sent one of the Mates to Examine. Its breadth was not more than the Length of the Ship, but within was Smooth Water. Into this place it was resolved to Push her if Possible, having no other Probable Views to save her, for we were still in the very Jaws of distruction, and it was a doubt wether or no we could reach this Opening. However, we soon got off it, when to our Surprise we found the Tide of Ebb gushing out like a Mill Stream, so that it was impossible to get in. We however took all the Advantage Possible of it, and it Carried us out about a 1/4 of a Mile from the breakers; but it was too Narrow for us to keep in long. However, what with the help of this Ebb, and our Boats, we by Noon had got an Offing of 1 1/2 or 2 Miles, yet we could hardly flatter ourselves with hopes of getting Clear, even if a breeze should Spring up, as we were by this time embay'd by the Reef, and the Ship, in Spite of our Endeavours, driving before the Sea into the bight. The Ebb had been in our favour, and we had reason to Suppose the flood which was now made would be against us. The only hopes we had was another Opening we saw about a Mile to the Westward of us, which I sent Lieutenant Hicks in the Small Boat to Examine. Latitude observed 12 degrees 37 minutes South, the Main Land in Sight distant about 10 Leagues.
Joseph Banks Journal
At three O'Clock this morn it dropd calm on a sudden which did not at all better our situation: we judgd ourselves not more than 4 or 5 l'gs from the reef, maybe much less, and the swell of the sea which drove right in upon it carried the ship towards it fast. We tried the lead often in hopes to find ground that we might anchor but in vain; before 5 the roaring of the Surf was plainly heard and as day broke the vast foaming billows were plainly enough to be seen scarce a mile from us and towards which we found the ship carried by the waves surprizingly fast, so that by 6 o'clock we were within a Cables lengh of them, driving on as fast as ever and still no ground with 100 fathm of line. Every method had been taken since we first saw our danger to get the boats out in hopes that they might tow us off but it was not yet acomplishd; the Pinnace had had a Plank strippd off her for repair and the longboat under the Booms was lashd and fastned so well from our supposd security that she was not yet got out. Two large Oars or sweeps were got out at the stern ports to pull the ships head round the other way in hopes that might delay till the boats were out. All this while we were approaching and came I beleive before this could be effected within 40 yards of the breaker; the same sea that washd the side of the ship rose in a breaker enormously high the very next time is did rise, so between us and it was only a dismal valley the breadth of one wave; even now the lead was hove 3 or 4 lines fastned together but no ground could be felt with above 150 fathm. Now was our case truly desperate, no man I beleive but who gave himself intirely over, a speedy death was all we had to hope for and that from the vastness of the Breakers which must quickly dash the ship all to peices was scarce to be doubted. Other hopes we had none: the boats were in the ship and must be dashd in peices with her and the nearest dry land was 8 or 10 Leagues distant. We did not however cease our endeavours to get out the long boat which was by this time almost accomplishd. At this critical juncture, at this I must say terrible moment, when all asistance seemd too little to save even our miserable lives, a small air of wind sprang up, so small that at any other time in a calm we should not have observd it. We however plainly saw that it instantly checkd our progress; every sail was therefore put in a proper direction to catch it and we just obse[r]vd the ship to move in a slaunting direction off from the breakers. This at least gave us time and redoubling our efforts we at last got out the long boat and manning her sent her a head. The ship still movd a little off but in less than 10 minutes our little Breeze died away into as flat a calm as ever. Now was our anziety again renewd: innumerable small peices of paper etc. were thrown over the ships side to find whither the boats realy movd her ahead or not and so little did she move that it remaind almost every other time a matter of dispute. Our little freindly Breeze now visited us again and lasted about as long as before, thrusting us possibly 100 yards farther from the breakers: we were still however in the very jaws of destruction. A small opening had been seen in the reef about a furlong from us, its breadth was scarce the lengh of the ship, into this however it was resolvd to push her if posible. Within was no surf, therefore we might save our lives: the doubt was only whether we could get the ship so far: our little breeze however a third time visited us and pushd us almost there. The fear of Death is Bitter: the prospect we now had before us of saving our lives tho at the expence of every thing we had made my heart set much lighter on its throne, and I suppose there were none but what felt the same sensations. At lengh we arrivd off the mouth of the wishd for opening and found to our surprize what had with the little breeze been the real cause of our Escape, a thing that we had not before dreamt of. The tide of flood it was that had hurried us so unacountably fast towards the reef, in the near neighbourhood of which we arrivd just at high water, consequently its ceasing to drive us any farther gave us the opportunity we had of getting off. Now however the tide of Ebb made strong and gushd out of our little opening like a mill stream, so that it was impossible to get in; of this stream however we took the advantage as much as possible and it Carried us out near a quarter of a mile from the reef. We well knew that we were to take all the advantage possible of the Ebb so continued towing with all our might and with all our boats, the Pinnance being now repaird, till we had gott an offing of 1½ or 2 miles. By this time the tide began to turn and our suspence began again: as we had gaind so little while the ebb was in our favour we had some reason to imagine that the flood would hurry us back upon the reef in spite of our utmost endeavours. It was still as calm as ever so no likely hood of any wind today; indeed had wind sprung up we could only have searchd for another opening, for we were so embayd by the reef that with the general trade wind it was impossible to get out. Another opning was however seen ahead and the 1st Lieutenant went away in the small boat to examine it. In the mean time we strugled hard with the flood, sometimes gaining a little then holding only our own and at others loosing a little, so that our situation was almost as bad as ever, as the flood had not yet come to its strengh. At 2 however the Lieutentant arrivd with news that the opening was very narrow: in it was good anchorage and a passage quite in free from shoals. The ships head was immediately put towards it and with the tide she towd fast so that by three we enterd and were hurried in by a stream almost like a mill race, which kept us from even a fear of the sides tho it was not above ¼ of mile in breadth. By 4 we came to an anchor happy once more to encounter those shoals which but two days before we thought ourselves supreamly happy to have escap'd from. How little do men know what is for their real advantage: two days [ago?] our utmost wishes were crownd by getting without the reef and today we were made again happy by getting within it.
Sydney Parkinson Journal
On the 16th, at the dawn of day, we had a reef under our lee, at about a mile distance, which alarmed us much. When it was quite light, we saw breakers all round us excepting to windward, where we came in. The wind sail-ing us about midnight, we tacked about, being afraid to stand any farther; and the wind’s still sailing was the cause that we drove on the reef, which we now neared apace. In this dilemma, we first hoisted out our small boats (the long boat being stowed, and the pinnace repairing) to tow her off, and got a pair of sweeps rigged out of the gun-room ports, to turn her head about. A slight puff of wind gave us some hopes of effecting it; but that sailing, we approached so near the breakers, that there was but one heave of the swell between them and the ship. However, with our pulling, the alteration of the tide, and another slight puff of wind, we cleared her a little more from the reef, and stood to where we saw a break in the reef to leeward, there we hoped, at least, to find ground to anchor upon; but, when we got to the entrance of it, we were driven off by a ripple of the tide that set out with great force; which, however, proved very providential, as we afterward found there were rocks in the passage, and that it was not a proper break. We then stood to windward, intending either to get out as we came in, or a little farther down to leeward, where the reef seemed detached; but, perceiving, soon after, the tops of some rocks in the passage, we declined attempting it. The wind again dying away, we were at a lots what to do for the best; but, at last, determined on sending some of our people in the boat to examine into the appearance of another break still farther to leeward; and, a light breeze springing up from the east, we resolved to push in there, though the passage was but narrow, which we happily accomplished, being assisted by the tide; and we anchored between the reef and the shore, in fifteen fathoms water; though, at the very edge of these reefs, we had no sounding at one hundred and fifty-five fathoms. At our first entrance into this place we had very unequal soundings; sometimes finding no bottom; and one fathom farther finding it with twenty fathoms of line. This, we apprehended, was occasioned by the coral rocks which rise up almost perpendicular. Latitude 12° 36’.
Posted by Arborfield at 13:32