Its consequences

We were now to windward off the Isles of France and Bourbon, and
nearly up with the land. This tract of ocean is the scene of the
most violent hurricanes which are experienced on the external world,
and it was our lot to encounter one of the most terrific.

A sudden change of the wind from S. E. to N. W. warned me of the coming
storm. The ship was promptly secured for a gale; as much of the water
which had been stowed on deck, was secured below, as the consumption
of provisions had made room for; the top gallant yards and masts
were struck; booms sent down from the yards, dead-lights secured,
and every precaution taken to weather out the gale without damage. I
never experienced a more awful tempest. The wind blew for some time
with such violence as to make the face of the sea quite level, the
pressure of the atmosphere, combined with its rapid motion, being
so great as to prevent the swell from rising. The ship, under bare
poles, drove broadside to the wind, nearly on her beam ends. When
the violence of the first onset abated, the sea rose with a swell of
full twenty feet perpendicular elevation. Having a strong vessel,
although she was very deeply laden, I did not mind this much; but
when the wind chopped round to the S. W., a heavy gale, bringing with
it a large sea across the swell which the Northwester had produced,
our situation was not devoid of danger. The tops of the waves, blown
off by the wind, flew like the spray of a waterfall, and filled the
air with water as high as the mast head; while the waves, curled and
lashed into foam by the whistling blast, gave the whole face of the
ocean the appearance of one immense cataract. The vessel, assailed
by the crossing sea from two points at once, laboured excessively,
and was fairly drowned with water. She frequently plunged the bowsprit
quite out of sight beneath the wave, and had it not been of unusually
firm construction, it must have gone to pieces.

Night set in without any abatement of the hurricane, and served but
to heighten the terror of its effects. The water in this part of the
world, being charged with animalculæ or phosphoric matter, assumed
in the darkness of the night, the appearance of a sea of liquid fire,
boiling and whirling with ceaseless agitation. A poet would not need
a better type from which to describe the infernal lake provided for
the wicked.

Happily we rode out the storm until nearly day-light, when the gale
having abated, and there being every indication of more moderate
weather, I went to my cabin to put on dry clothes, and left the deck
in charge of Mr. Boneto, to whose watch Mr. Slim was now attached. I
had not been long below when a violent shock, like that of a ship
striking her side against a floating wreck, induced me to hasten
back. I found my people in the greatest alarm, and the repeated blows,
which made every timber in the ship tremble, were indeed sufficient
cause of apprehension. I soon discovered the difficulty. The lashings
of the starboard paddle port had given way; the port was open, and
the shutter was swinging at liberty.




The gale had left a prodigious sea, which rolled the ship so much
that at times she appeared to be going quite over. This caused the
heavy port shutter, which was thirty feet long by three feet wide,
to fly quite open, and then return against the side with frightful
violence. It appeared that the lashings had been chafed in consequence
of the boxes being badly stowed; and that the weight of the boxes in
which were the large bones and all my scientific collections, together
with the weight of the cable stowed upon the top of them, had burst
open the port, through which the big bones, all my curiosities and
ological treasures, as well as the cable, had launched into the sea!

To secure the port, which struck the ship with such force as to
threaten to start the plank or fastenings, was an object of deep
solicitude to every one. Mr. Slim, for once, was very active and
forward. He was evidently filled with apprehension of losing his
life, or, what was not less dear to him, his share of the cargo;
for, instead of looking deliberately about him to see what remedy was
practicable, he seized a rope, and sprang into the space between the
doable sides, probably with the intention of fastening the shutter
to the ring bolt, when it should swing to; but, losing his footing
on the wet and slippery floor of the inner side, he launched half way
out of the port, and as the ship rolled to windward, the slam of the
shutter instantly killed him.

There was a sense of grief expressed in every countenance, on this
melancholy occasion. Seamen invariably exhibit feeling for the
sufferings and misfortunes of their comrades, however vicious and
disagreeable they may have been.

The paddle port was, with great difficulty, secured; but without any
other essential damage. Fine weather soon returned, and we pursued
our course pleasantly towards home.

The remainder of the voyage was marked by no uncommon
circumstance. When we approached the coast of America, I called my
officers and men together, and endeavoured to impress their minds
with a strong sense of the importance of profound secrecy in relation
to the subject of our voyage, and particularly enjoined upon them
the necessity of refraining from liquor, which always makes sailors
thoughtless and loquacious.