For the information of our readers, we must state that the Esquerques, or Shirki, are a reef of sunken rocks lying about eighty miles west from Sicily, and about forty-eight from Cape Bon, on the coast of Africa. In 1806, the charts were not as accurate as they are in the present day, and the reef was not laid down in all of them; the very existence, indeed, of these rocks was positively denied by some navigators, though it was as positively asserted by others.
It would be vain to attempt to describe the scene that followed the first shock, on the vessel’s striking the rock. Upon the captain’s hastening on deck, he found the crew rushing up from their berths, many of them in a state of nudity, and so stupified as to be utterly incapable of making the least effort for their own preservation. Some went below, and for the moment resigned themselves to despair, while others rushed to the poop for safety.
In a few minutes, the officers had gathered round their captain. It needed no words to point out to them the imminence of their danger, and the necessity of their setting an example of steadiness and intrepidity to the men. They suffered no signs of dismay to appear in their demeanour, but immediately proceeded to consider what were the best steps to be taken to meet the impending danger. The calmness and courage thus displayed by the captain and his officers could not fail of having the desired effect upon the ship’s company, who recovered from their panic, and seeing the necessity for instant exertion, held themselves in readiness to execute each order as it was issued.
In order to prevent the ship falling on her broadside, the masts were cut away; but she continued to beat so violently upon the rocks, that in less than half-an-hour she filled with water up to the lower deck ports, and then fell over to larboard on her beam ends. Captain Raynsford, foreseeing the inevitable loss of his vessel, had ordered the boats to be hoisted out, with the idea that they would be useful in towing a raft, which he had caused to be constructed to leeward. This raft would probably have been the means of preserving a great many lives, had not the men in charge of the two jolly-boats pushed off, and left their unhappy comrades to their fate. Unfortunately, both the cutter and the barge, in hoisting out, were stove, and immediately swamped, no less than thirty men perishing with them. Several of the crew had been killed by the falling of the masts, and others were severely injured. Two midshipmen were crushed to death between the spanker boom and the bulwarks.