He then went below, and was engaged with the pilot in examining the chart, when a cry was heard of ‘Breakers ahead!’ Lieutenant Nesbitt, who was on deck, ordered the helm a-lee; it was scarcely done, when the vessel struck. The shock was so violent, that the men below were thrown out of their hammocks, and they had difficulty in getting upon deck, for every sea lifted up the ship and then again dashed her upon the rocks with such force that they could not keep their feet. All was confusion and alarm. Every one felt his own utter helplessness.
‘Oh! my Lord,’ writes Lieutenant Nesbitt to Lord Collingwood, ’it draws tears from my eyes when I reflect on the complicated miseries of the scene! Heaven, now our only resource, was piteously invoked; and happy am I to say, our gallant crew left nothing untried which we imagined could save us—all cheerfully obeying the orders of the officers. An instant had hardly elapsed ere our main-deck was burst in, and a few minutes after the lee bulwark was entirely overwhelmed. A heavy sea broke entirely over us, and none could see the smallest aperture through which hope might enter, and enliven the chill and dreary prospect before us.’
The only chance of escape for the crew was by the boats, and one only, a small whale-boat, got clear of the ship in safety, the others were all either stove or washed off the booms and dashed to pieces on the rocks by the raging surf. The boat that escaped was manned by the coxswain, George Smith, and nine others. When they got clear of the wreck, they lay on their oars, and those who had clothing shared it with others who were nearly naked. They then pulled towards the Island of Pauri, seeing that it was impossible for them to render any assistance to their wretched comrades, as the boat already carried as many as she could possibly stow.
After the departure of the whale-boat, the ship continued to strike every two or three minutes, but as she was thrown higher on the rock, the men perceived that a part of it was above water; and as they expected the vessel to go to pieces at every shock, that lonely rock offered a safer refuge from the waves than the frail timbers to which they were clinging. The mercy of Providence soon provided them with the means of exchanging their perilous situation for one of less certain and instant danger. The mainmast fell over the side about twenty minutes after the vessel struck, and the mizen and foremasts followed. These all served as gangways by which the people passed through the surf from the wreck to the platform of the coral reef, and thus for the time were rescued from the certain death that awaited them if they remained on board.