Dickens /Christmas /The Wreck of the Golden Mary

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The Wreck of the Golden Mary – 1856 – A Christmas tale – a collaboration

This was first publishedin the Extra Christmas Number of Household Words, at Christmas 1856.

It was announced as: Being the Captain’s Account of the Loss of the Ship, and the Mate’s Account of the Great Deliverance of Her People in an Open Boat at Sea.

This was a collaboration between Dickens,Wilkie Collins, Percy Fitzgerald, Holme Lee, Adelaide Anne Proctor and the Rev James White. It had three parts, ‘The Wreck’,the Beguilement in the Boats’ and’The Supercargo’s Story’.

This is the part written by Charles Dickens.

William George Ravender was apprenticed to the Sea when he was twelve years old, and had encountered a great deal of rough weather since, both literal and metaphorical.

It has always been his opinion that the man who knows only one subject is next tiresome to the man who knows no subject. He was thankful to say he had an intelligent interest in most things. He was born in Penrith, six months after his father had drowned. In 1856 he was fifty-six years of age.

Gold was discovered in Australia and then in California, but at this time he was a part-owner a smart schooner in the West Indies. As a reult he did not think the business of gold was of interest to him. But on his return to England he found signs of gold everywhere.

He was a single man, his proposed wife dying six weeks before their marriage. His house in Poplar was tended for by an old lady who had been his mother’s maid. He spent time there recovering from a fever he had contracted in the islands.

He walked into London to perhaps sail again and he bumped into the representative of Smithick and Watersby of Liverpool. He greets him saying he was seeking him out.

They went to the Royal Exchange, and the man outlined his scheme for chartering a new ship of their own to take out cargo to the diggers and emigrants in California, and to buy and bring back gold. It sounded lucrative, and he offered Ravender a handsome sharing offer.

But he cautioned that, as he was well aware, the lawlessness of that coast and country at present, is as special as the circumstances in which it is placed. Crews of vessels outward-bound desert as soon as they make the land; crews of vessels homeward-bound, at enormous wages, had the express intention of murdering the captain and seizing the gold freight. No man can trust another, and the devil seems let loose. He believed that Ravender was well suited to deal with all of this.

Ravender carefully assessed the offer and concluded that none of the perils could take him by surprise. He would know what to do for the best in any of them. They agreed to meet for dinner in Pall Mall after he had thought it through further.

They talked and agreed to meet at Liverpool the next day when he could inspect the Golden Mary. He inspected it thoroughly then agreed to the arrangement, provided he could get John Steadiman for his chief mate.

Steadiman had sailed with him on four previous occasions, he was a pleasant individual who was a perfect sailor. They were in a Liverpool hackney-carriage touring around looking for Steadiman, who was returned fron Van Diemen’s Land.

After some time searching they saw John emerge from a toy shop where he was cartrying a young boy, he had bought a child a Noah’s Ark. Steadiman declared himself available and loyal, so they were ready to set sail.

Smithick and Watersby made all the arrangements, John was there throughout the stowing aboard of their equipment, he was nailing up pictures and singing like a blackbird.

They advertised they would take twenty passengers, and could have signed them up twenty times over. He and John jointly hired their men, all good hands.

So, in a good ship of the best build, well owned, well arranged, well officered, well manned, well found in all respects, they parted with their pilot at a quarter past four o’clock in the afternoon of the seventh of March, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one, and stood with a fair wind out to sea.

Ravender advised and consoled the passengers through their sea-sickness. Some became notable to him, the first to emerge from the seasickness, a young wife, Mrs Atherfield, with her daughter going to join her husband in California, a woman in black, Miss Colshaw, going to join her brother, and an old gentleman, Mr Rarx, who constantly talked of gold discovery. But he did not reveal whether he planned to dig for it himself, or speculate for it, or barter for it, or cheat for it. He and John both found Mrs Atherfield’s daughter charming, because of her mass of shining fair hair, theycalled her Golden Lucy.

They had Golden Lucy on the Golden Mary and in playing with her John made the ship seem like it was alive, as if it was Lucy’s doll. Ravender called the two young womrn my dear, and sat them next to him at meals.

Rarx was not a pleasant man, he was not the man one would have chosen for a messmate. He too took an astonishing interest in the child, Lucy. This was curious for the girl did not like him, but he was very solicitous of her health.

The ship carried a crew of eighteen, a second mate called William Rames in addition to John, a carpenter, an armourer or smith and two apprentices, The Golden Mary was a three hundred ton barque. It had three boats; the Long-boat, capable of carrying twenty-five men; the Cutter, capable of carrying fifteen; and the Surf-boat, capable of carrying ten.

There were spells of bad weather, and some headwinds, they ran well for sixty days. Then the log started to mention an unusual and amazing quantity of ice. Ravender tried to go more southerly to exit the ice.

After sixty-six days John called that the sea was clear ahead and by sunset they were sailing in clear water. But the skies became very dark and the barometer had risen steadily since leaving the ice. The next day he got the sun at noon and established they were in latitude 58 degrees S, longtitude 60 degrees W, so they were off New South Shetland in the neighbourhood of Cape Horn.
Another dark night fell, John managed to convince Ravender to take to his cot. Dreaming of Home he was woken by a violent shock that tossed him from his bed, and a shrieking. Hef ought his way to the deck with the ship heeled over and making a dreadful noise.

The men hauled in sail, they were trained to take particular stations and await his instructions. They lit up the ship’s deck in blue light, this revealeda large iceberg. It showed a breach in the starboard side, half the length of the vessel. The Cutter was disabled.

Ravender ordered the Long-boat and the surf-boat to be launched. He ordesed the passengers to be brought up and loaded in the boatd, John was to be second-last and Revender the last to board, he ordered provisions and water to be loaded.

The women’s conduct was exemplary, the crew behaved well, one who had not was Old Mr Rarx who had made a lamentation and uproar which it was dangerous for the people to hear, as there is always contagion in weakness and selfishness. His incessant cry had been that he must not be separated from the child, that he couldn’t see the child, and that he and the child must go together.

Ravender told him, ‘I have a loaded pistol in my pocket; and if you don’t stand out of the gangway, and keep perfectly quiet, I shall shoot you through the heart, if you have got one.’ He replied, ‘You won’t do murder, Captain Ravender!’. The captain said ‘No, sir, I won’t murder forty-four people to humour you, but I’ll shoot you to save them’.

The Long-boat being cast off, the Surf-boat was soon filled. They rowed hard and escaped the vortex of the ship going down. The child cried to see her playfellow, the ship, sink.

They felt very lonely then, so Ravender called out to thank the Lord for their preservation. They roped the two boats together to see out the night.

In the morning they reviewed what supplies and equipment were in the two boats, they divided it between them. The boats separated and took Ravenden’s proposed course. They cheered each other in case they lose sight of each other.

Ravender put himself on the rudder, and gathered the two women and child next to him, Mr Rarx he put in the bow as far from him as he could. They all agreed that Ravenden should set the level of rations during the trip.

The boats parted company once, for seventy-two hours and each thought the other had sunk, but they joyfully found each other again.

Among one-and-thirty assembled people it is to be expected that two or three with uncertain tempers. But thankfully he heard little complaint. They suffered from the cold and wet more than hunger.

On the second day Mrs Atherfield sang a lullaby to her daughter and the others asked for more. It came to be a regular moment at sunsets that she would sing while she had voice, They also had prayers each evening and morning.

Twelve nights and eleven days they had been aboard, when Mr Rarx became delirious. He called to Ravender to throw the gold overboard or it would sink them. He was concerned the child was declining and he called for all the meat to go to her. The child died and her mother sang laments.

It became clear that Rarx had liked the child because he thought her innocence would influence survival. The smith or armourer was close by and grabbed him by the throat and rolled him under the thwarts where he lay quietly.

On that thirteenth night the mother cuddled her daughter and Miss Coleshaw comforted her. On the morning Ravender said a prayer and then committed Golden Lucy into Golden Mary’s grave.

Ravender tried to fortify the people aboard with his telling of Bligh and his three-thouand mile journey after the mutiny. He decided that they should tell stories each night, two hours after dinner, which was taken at 1pm, then their singing at sunset.

There was a spell of bad weather. Twenty-four nights and twenty-three days had passed. He told them each day at noon what progress they had made.

Mr Rarx would regularly call out to throw the gold overboard, he kept blaming Ravender for the death of the child. But now the food had run out even he was falling quiet.

After twenty-seven days and twenty-six nights they had only rainwater, and that a plenty. Ravender noted changes in himself ,he kept seeing the Golden Lucy above the boat. He was laid down in the bottom of the boat by her.

Steadiman, from the surf-boat, spots a distress signal from the Long-boat and closed with it. A cry of ‘Chief-mate wanted on board’ seemed to advise them of the captain’s death. When he asked if he was dead, he saw someone pulled up and announce, ‘Not yet!’ No longer fit for duty, but not dead.

Steadiman asked if they had lost any lives, and was told only the child. He drew the boats together and clambered onto the long=boat, leaving Rames in charge of the surf-boat.

He discovers the two women and the Captain lying in the bottom of the boat. He only then realised that the captain had rushed to the deck when they struck the iceberg, and had left his shoes behind. Through all these days no-one had noticed he was barefoot, he wrapped his coat over his cold feet.

He then took his place at the helm of the Long-boat, twenty- seven days after they had struck the iceberg.

Atherfield, Mrs
Colshaw, Miss
Golden Lucy
Rames, William
Ravender, William George
Smithick and Watersby
Steadman, John

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