Had the Sceptre gone down that night, hundreds and hundreds of England’s best and bravest defenders must have sunk into a watery grave, and in all probability the enemy’s ships, which were hovering upon the track of the convoy, would have got possession of the transports and merchantmen; and even the success of our arms in India might have been seriously affected.
A few weeks after the gale we have mentioned, the Sceptre and her convoy arrived safely at Bombay. She was there put into dock and repaired, and was strengthened by having large timbers, technically termed riders, bolted diagonally on either side, fore and aft.
When again fit for sea, she returned to Table Bay, and anchored there about the middle of October.
On the 1st of November, the captain and officers gave a ball to the inhabitants of Cape Town, and on that night the ship presented an appearance of unusual gaiety; mirth and music resounded on all sides; in place of the stern voice of command, the laugh, the jest, and the soft tones of woman’s voice were heard; whilst many a light footstep glided over the decks of the old ship.
The lamps shone o’er
fair women and brave men;
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes that spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell.
The night was calm and beautiful, and as the guests left the ship, little did they think of the fearful doom that was so soon to overwhelm many of those whose hands they had clasped for the last time.
The weather continued perfectly calm till the evening of the 4th of November, when some ominous looking clouds indicated an approaching storm.
In addition to the Sceptre there remained in the Bay the Jupiter of 50 guns, the Oldenburg, a Danish 64 gun ship, and several other vessels. On the morning of the 5th, a strong gale blew from the north-west, but no danger was apprehended, and the ship, dressed in flags, and with the royal standard hoisted, fired her salute at noon in commemoration of the Gunpowder Treason.
The gale had increased considerably by two o’clock, and as Table Bay affords no shelter from a north-west wind, the captain took every precaution to make all secure: the topmasts were struck, and the fore and main-yards were lowered to ease the ship. But half-an-hour had not elapsed before the violence of the storm was such, that the ship parted from her best bower cable; the sheet anchor was immediately let go, and the cable veered away to twenty-eight fathoms. The storm gathered strength, and at half-past six the whole fury of the elements seemed to be concentrated in one terrific blast.
Orders were given to let go the anchor, with two of the forecastle guns attached; but even this proved insufficient to hold the ship.