At this time the sea ran tremendously high, and the men lowered themselves into the boats from the stern, this being the only accessible part of the ship. Most anxious was the situation of the officers and men who were left, during the absence of the boats. Many gave up all hopes of rescue, for every time the boats approached the ship, the attempt became more and more dangerous. The night still continued dark and foggy, with driving sleet and violent gusts of wind, which seemed to freshen every hour. In this forlorn and dismal state, the officers continued on the outside of the ship (for she was nearly on her beam ends), encouraging the men, and affording every assistance for their escape on board the boats.
The Venerable was now a complete wreck, beating against the rocks, and was expected to go to pieces at every surge; yet all this time was she so near the shore that those on board were able to converse with the people, whom the report of the guns had brought in great numbers to the rocks. With much difficulty, they at last contrived to fling a line on shore, which, being secured there, some of the crew attempted to land themselves by it. The surf, however, broke with such violence between them and the shore, although they were scarcely twenty yards distant, that the poor fellows who made the attempt were either drowned or dashed to pieces.
It was now past five o’clock on Sunday morning, the weather still growing worse. The crew, with the exception of seventeen, had succeeded in quitting the ship, and these nobly declared that they would remain to share the fate of their officers. The situation of the whole was indeed appalling, and sufficient to quail the boldest heart; the sea breaking over them, the fore part of the ship under water, and the rest expected momentarily to go to pieces. Under these circumstances, the officers, feeling that they could be of no further use on board, deemed it their duty to represent to the captain the necessity of endeavouring to save their lives, they having one and all resolved on sharing his fate.
This point being arranged, the hopes of life began to revive; but a further difficulty presented itself, which seemed to render their safety more problematical than ever. This was, who was to lead the way. The pause had well nigh been fatal to them all. At length a junior lieutenant, long known on board, and celebrated for his courage, agreed to lead the way, the rest solemnly promising to follow. One after another they descended from the stern by a single rope, wet, cold, and benumbed; and in this condition they gained the boats, which were in perilous attendance below. About six o’clock they reached the Impetueux, where they were treated with every attention and kindness which their unfortunate position so loudly called for. They quitted the ship in a most critical time, for in a little more than an hour after they had left her, she parted amidships—that part on which they had been standing for the last five or six hours capsized and was buried in the surf. In sixteen hours from the time she first struck, the whole vessel had disappeared, under the action of a raging surf, lashed into fury by the violence of the gale.