The fate of the Avenger leads to many sad reflections. The last of the wrecks described in this volume, one of yesterday, as it were, was more disastrous than many others. It is painful to contemplate the scene of dismay, when the ship struck, so unlike the presence of mind and calm deportment which we have recorded on similar occasions. But every allowance is to be made for the panic which followed a catastrophe so sudden and so overwhelming. The night was dark and tempestuous, the sea was running high, and all the elements were in a state of uproar. The paralyzing effect of this accumulation of horrors appears in the fact, that even after the small party of eight had so far secured their preservation as to be in possession of the cutter, and were within sight of the Island of Galita, two of them were found to be bereft of their reason.
The first crash, and the rapid plunge of the ship into the gulf that opened for her, and the loss of their captain among the first that perished, left the crew without that guidance and control to which seamen are in the habit of looking for support.
But though we have to regret the consternation that prevailed, there was no gross neglect or misconduct to throw a darker shade over the last hours of the Avenger. Captain Napier had been in consultation in his cabin with the master and second-master, examining the charts, and had also been on deck, giving directions to the officer of the watch, but a short time before the first alarm. When the panic was at its height, there was no act of dastardly selfishness for personal preservation, to the disregard of the safety of others. The officers are not accused of losing their composure. Lieut. Marryat is stated to have been ‘calm and self-possessed;’ and Mr. Rooke’s strenuous efforts to lower the cutter, and his manly resolution to remain by the ship, as long as there was any chance of saving the lives of some of the survivors, attest his devotion to his duty to the very last.
The French officer, Captain Bouchier Riviere, who made a survey of the Sorelle after the wreck, and who deliberately considered all the circumstances, imputes no blame to the officers of the Avenger, but generously accounts for the misfortune by referring to the dangers of the spot, the force of the currents, the wildness of the weather, and the darkness of the night. ‘The first shock,’ says he, ’must have been dreadful.’