Friday, 1 August 2008

Brevity is the virtue of busy people

This is the rather funny log entry for the Rolla, currently sitting on my desk. (And before anyone panics, I took the photo without the flash)

The space was obviously left blank and then at some time next year the gap filled in. Probably from notes. 1803 is the correct year, but the skipper forgets himself and writes in 1804 by mistake at the 10th and 11th. I've copied it out below as 19th century handwriting can be difficult. Although I've got to say it's better than my 21st Century handwriting.

The log also suffers from its own end of century bug - the printed headings for the dates are all 17_ _. He's had to write over it.

Back Story:

Matthew Flinders had left Port Jackson after a lovely bit of work charting the Southern coast of Australia (in competition with Frenchman Nicolas Baudin, who was doing the same thing at the same time). Much of their work is still to be found on modern charts. Flinders was on his way back to England on board the Porpoise in convoy with two East India merchant ships, the Cato (John Park) and the Bridgewater(E H Palmer), when the Porpoise and the Cato struck a sandbank off the coast of what is now Queensland on 19 August.

The Porpoise crew got off safely, and rescued provisions. They managed to help the crew of the Cato abandon next day. Most men survived. The Bridgewater saw all this happen, and next day captain Palmer made the call to sail blithely on to Bombay, where he reported Cato and Porpoise lost. The 3rd mate of the Bridgewater was scandalised (as were most of the officers and crew but they didn't mutiny) and filed a contradictory report, telling the truth of the matter. I'll see if they still exist in the East India Office files. The 3rd mate (I only know him as Williams - but will check the files) quit the ship in disgust, and the Bridgewater left for England, never to be seen again. Karma for the skipper, but rough to say the least on the rest of the crew.

Meanwhile, Flinders and some others took one of Porpoise's small boats and sailed back to Port Jackson, leaving the other castaways to make a comfortable camp and begin building new boats from the wrecks. The first of these boats was doing its sea trials when help arrived. It came in the form of the East India ship Rolla, and two schooners: the Cumberland (now under Flinders' command for the intended return journey to England) and the Francis. Rolla's log entry takes up the story:

7 October Friday 1803.

Noon fine breeze & clear. Saw a reef to the SW Dist about 4 Leagues.

8 October Saturday 1803.
Fine breeze & clear Wr at 3pm
Came to an anchor at Wreck Reef Bay in 20 Faths The
flag staff bears NE Dist 1 1/2 Miles

9th day Oct Sunday
Fine breezes & clear weather Employed in taking on board
the officers seamen & stores belonging to H M the late ship Porpoise
and Mercht ship Cato Wind ENE

10 Oct 1804 Monday
Moderate & cloudy Wr. Employed taking on board the
remainder of the crew that was wrecked with some??
& provisions wind ?? E

11 Oct 1804 Tuesday
Light airs nearly calm at 6am have ?? after taking on board 57 men belonging to the Porpoise & 15 belonging
to Cato and at 8am weighed & ?? the Cumberland Capt
M Fletcher at noon Wreck Reef Sand bank bore S & W
Dist 10 miles

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