LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 2

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Six more weeks they waited, then gave up their companions for dead. Despair and depression were balanced by the need to find ways to stay alive. They moved to another island and built a substantial house using materials left over from an abandoned Maori settlement. They learned to capture and kill the wild pigs and goats that roamed the island and began domesticating them.

Life was maintained but it was monotonous and hard, rescue constantly in everyone’s mind. They prepared signal fires, used Cape hens as messenger birds, forced written pleas for help into seal bladders which were then inflated and set afloat. Scraps of wood were carved with information for potential rescuers and cast into the sea. They made small boats of wood and metal with sails of zinc on which was scratched:

“Ship General Grant wrecked on Auckland Isles 14 May, 1866; 10 survivors to date. Want relief.”

As autumn chilled the air even more their situation seemed hopeless, Sanguily recalled:

… we were sorely afflicted with scurvy, or, as whalers call it, “the cobbler”. The entire party was attacked, and it was only later that we realized how severely our ankle and knee joints were stiffened, and the flesh so swollen that the imprint of a finger would remain for an hour or more. We had heard that the remedy for scurvy was to bury a man all but the head. This we tried in several cases, but it did no good. In closing our mouths our teeth would, on meeting, project straight out, flattened against each other. General weakness and despondency, with a longing for vegetables, was our torment. Severe exercise seemed to be the only remedy. This was our most trying time.

David McClelland, the oldest member of the group, cut his hand on a scrap of copper. The hand became infected and he passed away: ‘All cripples, we bore him to his grave.’ Who would last the longest, they all wondered?

On November 19 a sail was seen. They rushed to light the signal fire but the ship passed without seeing the desperate and despondent survivors. But two days later another sail appeared. They manned their remaining boat and’ pulled with might and main’ for the brig Amherst.

The boat reached the strange vessel, and through our savage appearance at first alarmed the crew, they received us on board. Then were we made welcome to all they could spare. The Amherst, Captain Gilroy, of Invercarghill, manned by Maoris, and bound on a sealing voyage, was the means of our rescue. Captain Gilroy beat up between the islands and anchored off the huts. We were all taken aboard, and treated in the most hospitable manner. No Persian monarch ever enjoyed such a treat as we when tobacco and tea were set before us.

The survivors remained with the Amherst for two months and eventually landed at Invercargill in January 1868. A private subscription was taken to send the Amherst out in search of the boat launched with such high hopes a year before. The search failed. The men in her had made the wrong guess about the direction of New Zealand from Disappointment Island. They sailed west into thousands of kilometres of empty ocean and were never heard of again.

The nine survivors of the wreck moved on with their lives. Some of the gold sunk with the General Grant belonged to Joseph Jewell. His life was saved but his fortune lost. He eventually became a station master on the Victorian railways. Fortunately, Mary was able to make a great deal of money giving lectures about their survival epic. Her ordeal probably accounted for her inability to bear children. In later life they were able to become parents through a surrogate arrangement.

Patric Caughey returned to Ireland and went into the insurance industry. He was known as a storyteller, often regaling people with yarns of his adventures, whether they wanted to hear them or not.

‘Yankee Jack’ was from the eminent French-Cuban family of Sanguily Garrite. He returned to Boston to follow a less adventurous but safer career as a shop keeper, later marrying an Australian. He and his wife returned to Sydney where she gave birth to several children. William died in 1909.

Two months after the survivors of the General Grant were safely back in New Zealand, the first salvage attempt put to sea. Accompanying the expedition was James Teer. He led them to the ‘cave of death’ where the barque had gone down but the waves were too powerful. They failed to find the wreck, as did the next few attempts in 1870. The first of these was accompanied by another survivor, David Ashworth. He disappeared with five others lost in a whaleboat as they tried to find the fatal cave.

At least a further eight expeditions are known to have searched for the General Grant’s sunken gold. Coins, cannon balls and a range of miscellaneous artefacts have been recovered, probably from a number of the ships wrecked on these bleak islands. But no one has come across 4000 ounces of gold and despite all these attempts, the General Grant herself has not been located.

They say.

LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 1

 

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Sailing from Boston to Melbourne late in 1865 the 1000 ton barque General Grant lost a man overboard in a gale. The young William Sanguily and others among the crew, thought this was an ill omen. Their ship reached Melbourne without further incident then loaded for London. But then:

By one of those coincidences, which sailors dread, we took aboard part of a cargo that had been intended for the steamer London. This ill-fated vessel had sunk in the Bay of Biscay on her voyage out, and there were many gloomy prophecies that no freight of hers would reach London in any ship.

The superstitious sailors also noticed that the rats had left the General Grant, a sure sign of doom in the lore of the sea. Nevertheless, the General Grant set sail for England on 4 May 1866 with a load of sixty men, women and children returning home from the diggings and a crew of 23 officers and men. Among the wool and hides in the hold was the unwelcome but hugely valuable cargo of gold – four thousand ounces.

After five days of good running, the ship was blown westward towards the sub-Antarctic Auckland Island. Several days of thick fog eventually lifted and land was sighted. But later, the breeze died. Despite the efforts of the captain and crew, around 1 in the morning of May 14 the General Grant smashed into the rocky shores of Auckland Island. She was forced further and further into the pitch darkness of a large sea cave. Crewman Joseph Jewell described the scene:

… such a night of horror I think was never experienced by human beings as we passed in the cave for seven long hours. It was so dark that you could not see your fingers before your eyes, and there we were with falling spars and large stones tumbling from the roof of the cave (some of which went through the deck), and so we remained until daylight.

The helpless crew and passengers huddled at the stern of the ship, still free of the cavern slowly sucking in their vessel. At daylight the mizzen top gallant mast collapsed through the ship’s hill and she began to sink.

The scene at this moment was one of such utter misery as few men ever see, and fewer still survive to tell of. Every sea washed over the stern and swept the deck. The long-boat was crammed with all who could gain a foothold. It was partly filled with water, and several poor creatures lying in the bilge were crowded down and drowned before she was clear of the ship. Women clinging to their children, and crazy men to their gold, were seen washing to and fro as the water invaded the upper deck.

One wretch saw his wife and two children driven by him in this way without making an effort to save them, while the last man who got aboard nearly lost his life trying to persuade the mother to be saved without her children.

The boats were launched into a swelling sea but only a few were able to reach them, most being trapped aboard the General Grant. The lucky few watched helplessly as men, women and children were washed away and the ship disappeared beneath the heaving water, her captain waving farewell from what was left of the rigging as he went down with his ship.

The two boats with their fifteen survivors, including one woman, spent two miserable nights and days in search of a place to camp. They had little food, few supplies and no water. Their clothes were inadequate for the climate and some were without shoes. A landing was eventually made at a place known as Sarah’s Bosom on the ominously named Disappointment Island. Here they confronted the possibility of cannibalism if they were unable to make a fire. Fortunately, they were. Albatross and shellfish made a welcome stew. From that time the fire was never allowed to go out.

The survivors split into two groups, existing as best they could in huts erected by earlier shipwreck survivors and a failed colony. They suffered greatly. There was dysentery, cold and a form of scurvy caused by their survival diet. Passing ships were sighted but they were unable to attract their attention. In October they decided to prepare one of the boats for a desperate attempt reach the New Zealand mainland, almost 500 kilometres away.

On Boxing Day 1866 they finished refitting their boat. Four men volunteered to sail her and they left on 22 January 1867. But without a chart or compass they would need to be both clever and lucky to reach safety.

Eleven souls watched their four companions depart. James Teer, Patric Caughey, Nicholas Allen and David Ashworth had all been passengers aboard the ill-fated ship. Aaron Hayman, Cornelius Drew, William Ferguson, William Newton-Scott, William Sanguily (known as Yankee Jack’) and David McClelland were all sailors, as was Joseph Jewell who was accompanied by his wife, Mary.

They waited hopefully. The weeks passed with no sign of rescue.

The anxious waiting which ensued told more severely on us than all the privation. The feverish excitement of hope caused a cessation of labour one day, and blank despair rendered us helpless the next. One man would accuse the unhappy crew of deserting us, and curse their selfishness. Another would, sobbing, deplore their cruel fate, and realise the noble men who ventured on a hopeless task.

Six more weeks they waited …. See Part 2