These gallant fellows, however, would not desert their companions in misfortune, and although their boat already contained more than a hundred, they pulled towards the stern of the frigate; but so great was the anxiety of the poor creatures upon the poop to jump into the boat, that in self-defence they were obliged to keep at a certain distance from the wreck, or the launch would have been instantly swamped. They were therefore reduced to the terrible alternative, either of leaving their comrades to perish, or of throwing away their own lives. Nine of the men who had jumped overboard were picked up, but to have attempted to save any more would have been to sacrifice all. One of the officers left on board the wreck endeavoured by every argument to persuade Captain Raynsford to save himself by swimming to the launch, but all in vain. This intrepid man declared that he was perfectly resigned to his fate, and was determined not to quit his ship whilst a man remained on board. Finding that all entreaties were useless, the officer himself jumped overboard from the stern gallery into the sea, and swimming through the surf, gained the launch and was taken on board.
The general cry in the boat was, ‘Pull off!’ and at twelve o’clock, as the moon sunk below the horizon, her crew took their last look of the Athenienne. The situation of the launch was of itself imminently perilous: she had neither sail, bread, nor water on board. Fortunately there was a compass, and for a sail the officers made use of their shirts and the frocks of the seamen. On the following morning they fell in with a Danish brig, which relieved, in some degree, their urgent necessities. Lieutenant John Little, a passenger in the Athenienne, with a party of seamen, went on board the brig, for the purpose of prevailing on her master to return with them to the wreck, in hopes of rescuing any of the crew who might be still alive; but this generous purpose was frustrated by violent and adverse winds.
On the 21st, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the party reached Maritimo, having been sixteen hours in the open boat, and the next day they proceeded to Trepani, in Sicily. On the 24th, they arrived at Palermo; the news of the sad event had already been conveyed thither to Sir Sidney Smith, by a letter which had been written from Maritimo. The Eagle, of 74 guns, was instantly ordered to the Esquerques, but returned with the intelligence, that all who were left upon the wreck had perished, with the exception of two men, who had been picked up on a raft by some fishermen. They related that the poop had separated about eleven o’clock on the morning after the launch left them, and that they, together with ten others, clung to it, but all had either been washed off or died except themselves. There were also two other rafts, on one of which were three warrant officers, and on the other Captain Raynsford and Lieutenants Swinburne and Salter; but it was found impossible to disengage the rafts from the rigging to which they were attached, and the unfortunate men all perished.