Deliverance from Shipwreck,near Whitby. Copy of a letter from Captain Cannon of Dunbar, respecting his remarkable deliverance from Shipwreck near Whitby. This was printed in Thomas Hinderwells history books
On the 31st. of December, I sailed from Shields, in my own sloop laden with cinders for Dunbar - In the evening we were put back again by contrary winds, and anchored off Shields intending to enter the next flood tide. - About seven o'clock at night, came on a tremendous gale of wind at north east, and immediately the vessel drove.
I had only one man and a boy with me. As we anchored very near the rocks, and the wind was from the sea, we had very little time to deliberate ; one quarter of an hour's drift must have inevitably dashed the vessel on the rocks, and plunged us into eternity.
I said to the man, "What is best to be done: shall we stand out to sea, or attempt to get over Shields bar? he replied it is impossible to keep the vessel off the land with the wind. "Run for the bar" I answered ; " It is low water, and of consequence the lights to run in by are not yet lighted, and should we strike upon either side of the bar, we must certainly perish, as there are no persons at this dark hour of night to see or assist us." - We immediately slipped our cable, and stood to the southward under the foresail bent, unable to set or take in sail.
Presently she pitched away the bow-sprit by the stem, although their was no sail upon it, and dragged it after her all night, while we expected the vessel would strike every minute upon the land, it being a lee-shore, the vessel plunging continually under water, and we were in danger of being overwhelmed, the sea making a constant passage over us. The boy called out, that his body was full of salt water.
To prevent his being washed overboard, I ordered him down to the cabin. The mate and I relieved each other at the helm, and went down into the cabin alternately, to keep ourselves warm, although there were neither fire nor candle, they being washed out into the sea, as well as the compass out of the binnacle.
It snowed very hard, and the cold was intensely severe. At midnight the mate relieved me at the helm, and I went down into the cabin ; in about ten minutes a sea struck the vessel, washed off the top of the companion, filled the cabin with water, and I firmly believed she was going down, never to come up again.
When she righted with much difficulty, I crawled up the companion and, looking round about me, beheld the dreadful scene; the mate washed over board, the main-sail and the boom broken, and trailing along side, the boat, cook-house, rails, ropes, and every thing upon deck were washed overboard ; all the shrouds broken to leeward, and flying like pendants from the mast head; the fore-sail likewise dragging along side, and the vessel having canted her cargo was lying upon her broad-side.
The only remedy that now remained to save my life, and the boy's,was to run the vessel on shore before the wind ; it being then high water, but so dark, that I could not choose one place from another, and therefore must fall upon rocks or sands, as Providence directed.
Accordingly I put the helm a weather, but she would not wear, having lost her steerage way through the water, and I had no sail left to set, so she lay rolling in the hollow of the sea.
As it was useless to keep the deck any longer, from whence I must, in all probability, be soon washed overboard, I went down into the cabin to commend my soul to God, expecting the vessel presently to go ashore, and break in pieces before daylight. My dear wife and child also lay heavy upon my mind.
When the day appeared, I saw the Yorkshire coast to leeward, about three miles distant, and the vessel driving fast among the broken water. I then considered what was best to be done to preserve life, and whereto place myself before the vessel entered among the breakers, which began about two miles from the land.
Ireflected that the fore part of the ship was strongest bound with breast hooks, I resolved upon lashing myself to the windlass, and asked the boy to go with me, that I might secure him likewise. He objected to leave the cabin, and I was therefore obliged to go myself.
As I passed by the mast, a sea struck the vessel, half-mast high, and almost suffocated me, and I was unable to move from thence; but clung fast to the mast, holding the hoops of the mainsail with my hands, and fixing my knees upon the cleets of the mast; these tore a hole through my trowsers, which saved me, when I had neither sense nor strength to take care of myself.
A piece of the rails hanging by a rope from the mast-head at every roll the ship gave, swung right over my head, about the distance of six inches, with such violence, that had it struck me once, I should have been dashed to pieces: if I had stooped lower, I was in danger of being suffocated by the sea.
When the vessel struck upon the sand, I was agreeably surprised to find the sea smoother, occasioned by the ship driving within a sunken rock. Immediately a great number of people from Whitby stood upon the beach, and observing no one on board but myself, hanging at the mast, they concluded I was dead, and the rest of the crew washed overboard.
Perceiving that they made no attempt to save my life, I lifted up my hand, and waved it, to signify I was alive. Immediately a man and horse went to Whitby for a rope, and harpoon-gun, to fire over me, that catching hold, they might hale me on shore. The gun could not be procured, but they brought, a rope, which some stout seamen took hold of, and ventured in, though with their Sunday clothes on.
The tallest man waded foremost, with a coil of rope in his hand, and threw it on board ; but they were washed off their feet several times; which when the spectators saw, they instantly ran into the sea and saved their lives.
After I understood their signs, it being impossible to hear their voices (for the wind and sea) which was to make the rope fast about me, that they might hale me on shore, I said to the boy whom I found sitting in the cabin, " I will make you fast with the rope, as I know you will not secure yourself when I am gone." He answered, "No master it is impossible for them to hale me ashore alive, because my body is full of salt water."
But knowing there were only two things for us to choose, either to be haled on shore, dead, or alive, or to be drowned in two hours time by the flood-tide which was making fast, and would overset the vessel, I took hold of him and by force fastened the rope about his body, and threw him overboard; so they haled him safe ashore; but for want of recollection, instead of fastening the bight of the rope to the boy, and retaining the end myself, in case they should have found it impossible to convey the rope on board again, I fastened him with the end, and considered not till it was too late, to my great grief.
However the sailors made another vigorous attempt, and with much difficulty threw the rope on board again, to which I fastened myself, and leaping into the sea, they haled me on shore as fast as possible.
They supported us both to the nearest farmhouse, where we were treated with the greatest hospitality. They stripped us before a good fire, which we needed very much, as it continued to snow, and the frost was severe. Two hours after, a man came to the house, and informed me the vessel was sunk, and the mast broken, and driven on shore.
Thus I lost my vessel, which was all I had of this world's good, and not a shilling insured ; but I did not much regret my loss, as God was graciously pleased to preserve my life, and that of the boy's, in such a wonderful manner: I was thankful to the Father of Mercies, for his miraculous interposition in the hour of danger, and affording me so great and unexpected a deliverance.