Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Royal Charter - A Famous Shipwreck Forgotten Part 2

The South Australian Advertiser, 09JAN1860, pg3
Continuing on from yesterday's post.  The second part of the excerpt from the South Australian Advertiser (same date and page).  A well-written account of the events that led up to (but not including) the demise of the ship and it's unfortunate passengers.

"Last Tuesday night, when town and country were well abed, and let us hope not without thankfulness of heart, nor without having taken thought of 'all those who travel by land or sea;' - when even the rancid haunts of vice in London were emptying, and the homeless were slinking off to snatch forgetfulness somewhere out of reach of wind and rain: - in the dead hour of a desolate night, desolate enough among street [sic] lamps flickering in a clammy fog, more desolate still when a sickly moon peered dimly through a drift of ragged cloud, and the wind howled and moaned with a roar of rage and anguish - in that desolate night and that dead hour one of those terrible calamities which are remembered for centuries was hurrying near five hundred of our fellow creatures to sudden death at sea, after a safe and prosperous voyage of twelve thousand miles, within six hours of port, and within stonethrow of the long-wished-for land.  Heartrending and disastrous is the shipping intelligence of this week all round our coasts, but the wreck of the Royal Charter will be a melancholy fireside tale among our children's children.  If, indeed, what is called 'progress' be truly defined as an increasing dominion over time and space, the England, marching at the van, atones for her pre-eminence by many a hostage.  We talk of bridging seas by the size and speed of our ships, but every now and then we offer up costly sacrifices to avenge our triumphs, and correct our pride.

It would be easy for some glib interpreters of Providence to pronounce homilies on the fate of a ship laden with the root of all evil, and of men hasting to be rich; for it is certain that the Royal Charter had at least L500,000 on board, and that many of her passengers were returning from Australia with fortunes in their hands.  But this catastrophe may point, we think, a safer and more serviceable moral.  To mortal sight human destinies are at best a chaos, and it is not for mortal wisdom to presume to fabricate out of inexplicable chances a providential order of its own.  Here, for instance, was a ship touching at Queenstown, and landing 13 passengers, one of whom left his wife on board to pursue her voyage to Liverpool, and as it turned out, to meet death on the way; here were ten poor riggers, just returned from working a vessel to Cardiff, taken on board from a steam-tug in with a ship that had come all the way from Australia in safety.  Who will presume to judge?  'The one was taken and the other left.'  Let us be content to moralise more humbly and humanely on the fate of our fellow-creatures.  It were a miserable task, while the bodies of the poor castaway people are still awaiting Christian burial, to look about for whom to blame, when all but a score are beyond the reach of blame or praise.  It is easy for us to wonder and regret that the Royal Charter should ever have passed on from Queenstown and sailed up the Irish Channel without a pilot in wild and threatening weather - that without a pilot, and with a northerly gale coming on, she should have passed by Holyhead, and kept hugging a dead lee shore at night along the most dangerous line of all our coast.  Any one who knows that coast, or who has even glanced at a chart, cannot fail to be struck with consternation at the bare thought of such a ship as the Royal Charter keeping that Welsh land close on board in the worst of weather, night coming on, without a pilot, in the hope of finding one, and for the sake of saving a few hours at the close of an astonishingly rapid and successful passage."

What a writer.  What emotions in his writing.  We continue on tomorrow with his description of the destruction of the Royal Charter.

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