Shipwreck of a Dutch Indiaman – John Henrick

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De bark Jan Hendrik was op zijn eerste reis, en verging in 1845 bij Batavia. Het was gebouwd in 1844 te Maassluis in opdracht van A. Ahlers Jr. te Amsterdam. Kapitein was H.W. Eickelberg.

A shipwreck with more heart-rending circumstances than has happened for some time was yesterday made known at Lloyd’s, by the arrival of the ship Chance, Captain Roxby, from Sydney, in the London Docks, having on board a portion of the crew of a Dutch Indiaman, named John Henrick, H. W. Edkelenbury, master, which wets totally lost, together with twenty. three lives, on the rocks forming St. Paul’s Island, on the morning of the 29th of last May, whilst proceeding on a voyage from Amsterdam to Batavia. The particulars connected with the melancholy affair are of a truly distressing character, and have produced the deepest sensation.

It appears that, on the night of the 2nd of June, the crew of the Chance were anxious to ascertain whether such rocks as are laid down in the chart as forming St. Paul’s Island, forty-five miles north of the equator, and twenty-nine degrees west, are really to be seen, as many doubts prevail as to their existence. Captain Roxby said, that if the same course they were then going was kept till the following morning, they would come in sight of the rocks. Accordingly, at eight o’clock they discerned them, and at about half-past nine, the Captain was much surprised by observing, through a glass, a Dutch ensign flying from a spar on the island. It being surmised that a vessel had been wrecked near the spot, no time was lost in ‘bearing up to the rocks, and on nearing them, within two or three miles, several persons were noticed on them, evidently in a much exhausted state. The Captain instantly ordered the pinnace to proceed to their assistance. It may here be well, as a guide to the shipping interest, to describe the character of the rocks, as furnished by Mr. Roxby. They form a group of about four, the largest 250 feet square, and appear as if they had been thrown up by a volcanic eruption, the stone much resembling lava. They are sharp pointed, the peaks always covered with white sea fowl, the highest not more than 40 feet high, and some of them perfectly perpendicular.

On the pinnace reaching the shore, about 20 poor creatures were found lying; about, exhausted, and apparently dying. The boat not being able to take them all off, the captain, the chief officer, steward, carpenter, two seamen, and three apprentice boys were first rescued, the remainder being assured by the boat’s party that they would return as quickly as possible and preserve them also The ship, which was brought to, was speedily gained, and on the captain learning that eleven persons were still on the island, he promptly ordered the long boat to be lowered, and with the pinnace started for the rocks. Every expedient was used, as may be known from the fact that only twelve minutes elapsed ere they had set out a second time for the island, but in the meanwhile a sharp breeze had sprung up, setting in a tremendous swell to the westward.

Both boats kept beating about for full five hours to regain it ; and it appearing evident that if they kept out much later they would be swept away by the :strong tide, they returned to the ship, having been unable to render the slightest assistance to those unhappy fellows left on the desolate spot. In fact, Captain Roxby had lost sight of the boats for several hours, and at one period began to fear that they were lost. It being probable that the gale might in some measure abate, he kept his ship beating about for the island, as it was impossible to anchor, there being no soundings, for ten entire days, having seen nothing of the poor creatures, who by that time must have perished from the intense heat and the want of water and food, he sailed for England, his own provisions by that time becoming also very short. On questioning those whom he had saved, he learned that they belonged to the Indiaman in question; that on the morning of the 29th of May she was running under a press of sail, when at three o’clock, the watch on deck descried the rocks ahead, so close as to make it impossible to clear them. The helm was instantly put down: but almost at the same moment, the ship struck, and the succeeding wave pitched her on her beams ends. Every endeavour was, instantly made to get her off, all her rigging, and masts were cut away in order to lighten her, but to no avail, as the sea kept dashing her against the rocks with terrific force, her timbers gradually parting. The loss of the ship being then inevitable, the captain succeeded in reaching the rocks with a line, and secured it round one of the loftiest cliffs, in effecting which, he was no less than seven times swept down the rock, frightfully lacerating his body. The line being also made fast to the wreck, the greater part of the crew contrived to haul themselves on to the island by it.

Four brave fellows attempted to land in a boat with the ship’s papers and some provision; ; but on nearing the breakers, a tremendous sea capsized the boat, and they all perished. On assembling on the frightful spot on which they had been cast, and which presented not the remotest chance of escape, certain starvation stared them in the face. Of wearing apparel they had saved none, save the fete drenched tattered rags that covered them; and of food, all they could rescue from the wreck was a cask of butter, a cask of flour, a small biscuit, and a small keg of gin.

Immediately under the Line, exposed to a burning tropical sun, and not having a particle of water to quench their thirst, their acute sufferings under such. circumstances can be well conceived. The heat was scorching, and they could only allay it by wading into the sea up to the chin, and thus remaining the whole day. At night the spirit it was distributed amongst them, the single biscuit was broken up and divided equably, and then they commenced scouring the rocks in the hope of finding further food. They succeeded in gaining a few wild fowl and eggs, with the latter of which they managed to appease their hunger. On the next morning almost the whole of the wreck had disappeared and in respect of sustenance, their presence had frightened the wild fowl away. The heat they felt more severely, and for the want of water they were almost driven to madness. They contrived to cook the fowl they haul caught on the previous day, by firing pieces of their shirting; by holding the magnifying glass of a small telescope to the rays of the sun, and endeavoured to make a kind of bread by mixing the flour and butter in the shape of balls. The thirst, however, as may wiry be imagined, overpowered their hunger. At dusk a few drops of rain were felt descending; they instantly laid out a kind of sail to catch it, and held their heads up to the heavens with their mouths open. It soon, however, passed over. On the third they, to their great joy, a vessel bearing American colours, hove is sight in the offing. They hoisted the signal on the spar, and in order to make doubly sure, the mate, seven seamen, and a passenger put off in the only boat they had been enabled to save, with a small piece of wood to paddle along, the oars being lost, to the approaching ship.

Perhaps, however, it could scarcely be credited, that although the American must have seen them, she passed, quite unheeding their awful condition, and was not seen afterwards. The poor creatures in the boat,. then strove their utmost to regain the island ; the current was too strong for them, and they were speedily out of sight. That they have perished long ere this there can be no doubt. They had not the slightest provision with them; no compass and no oars ; the nearest place being; Cable Roque – more than 600 miles distant. That they have died from sheer starvation cannot be questioned.

The sufferings of those left on the rocks, on perceiving the fate of those in the boat, were tenfold, and on the fourth day they gave themselves up to death. They were rapidly sinking from the effects of the heat. On the morning of the fifth day the Chance hove in sight, and, as before noticed, saved seven. The others, amongst whom was the doctor, were left on the island. On the arrival of the poor fellows yesterday, they waited upon the Dutch Consul, who having relieved their destitute condition, housed them at the Yorkshire Grey Tavern, Lower Thames-street, and they will proceed to their native country to-morrow morning by the Rotterdam mail steamer. The ill-fated India-man belonged to Rotterdam, and was of 800 tons burthen. She was quite a new ship, and had only been built about two months previous to her loss.

To Captain Roxby the highest commendation is due, for the humane and prompt steps he adopted to rescue the unfortunate persons on the island. Those who are indebted to him for the preservation of their lives declare that nothing could exceed his endeavours to remake the island. Night and day he was on deck attempting it, but never regained, after he had once lost sight of the island. This is attributed to the strong head wind and the sweeping current, the rate of which is calculated at eighty miles a-day. Of the fate of the eleven poor creatures left on the rocks there can be little doubt. It is the opinion of Captain Roxby, as also of the Dutch captain, that they must have perished a day or two afterwards, for had they been rescued by any other vessel. she must have been fallen in with by the Chance. The rocks being situated some hundreds of miles out of the track of vessels trading to. the Cape, perhaps scarcely ten out of a thousand ever meet with them.(Times, July 18. 1845)

Source: SG & SGTL, Page 297 ; Saturday 29 Nov 1845


(From the Times, August 5, [1845].)

We are happy to state that the 11 men left by Captain R. W. Heckelbury, of the Dutch East Indiaman, the John Hendrick, on the 30th of May, last, upon a rock near the Line, as was reported by the Times, were rescued from their frightful situation, after having been on the rock fifteen days, by Captain Snell, of the merchant ship Eliza, of Liverpool, and have arrived in London. It will be recollected that,. upon the captain, with seven of the crow, being taken off, the vessel on board of which they were received, was, for several days prevented, by a violent storm and adverse winds, from making head toward the rock, and was carried some hundreds of miles away from it, when, it being supposed by the captain that the poor fellows would have been starved to death, as there appeared to be no means of obtaining food, they were left to their fate. Fortunately, however, after enduring the most dreadful sufferings and privations, the Eliza hove in sight, and prevented that calamity which was looked for by the captain of the John Hendrick.

The following account has been given by P. L. Zeeman, the second mate of the John Hendrick, one who was left on the rock, of the dreadful visitation of his companions, one of whom was the surgeon of the vessel. It was expected that after the captain had left, every effort would be made to return and take them off: but when it was found that the wind was so long in a direction that would carry the vessel away from them, they took steps, under the direction of the surgeon, to provide for extremities. The rock was discovered to be about half a-mile in circumference, and upon making a survey of it there was found to be a plentiful supply of fowl, but no fresh water was anywhere to be met with. The only meat they had was a little pork; with this they made bait, and attached to nails, which were made in the form of hooks, and by them caught fish, which abounded there. They killed the fowls, a sort of duck, during the night, and in the daytime gathered their eggs. There was a description of crabs upon the rock, the legs of which were serviceable in quenching their thirst. For some days they were able to cook their food by burning pieces of the wreck of the vessel till that was exhausted, and by pounding the charcoal and mixing this with the sea water they thought they should be able to deprive it of its saline properties : but in this they were unsuccessful. During the day, between 11 and 3 o’clock, on account of the extreme heat, they waded into the sea. In this situation they continued for eight days, when nearly the whole of them were seized with a swelling of the lips and tongue, and a vertigo, that for two days rendered them almost insensible. This arose from the want of water. The surgeon for some days previous had been in that situation. On the tenth day they were visited with occasional showers of rain, to collect which the sail they had was expanded, a hole made in the centre, and a cask placed underneath, in which the rain water was collected. This, which was very sparingly distributed, assisted to restore the strength of all. In this state they remained till the 15th of June, when the Eliza, Captain Snell, belonging to Liverpool, and trading to Sydney, hove in sight. A flag was waved which was happily observed by some of the Eliza’s crew, upon which two boats were lowered and the whole were taken oft. They were most kindly treated by the captain ; but for ten days they endure the greatest bodily sufferings, several of them not being expected to recover.

Shortly after being on board, as the captain expected to be short of water, upon the Lenters, Captain Gelman, from Bombay to Liverpool, appearing in sight, five of the men were put on board that vessel. The Lenters reached Liverpool last Friday, when the men brought by her proceeded to the residence of the Dutch Consul, who, upon being made acquainted by them that they belonged to the John Kendrick, and were the men abandoned upon the rock, gave them immediate assistance. He provided each man with a blanket, a pair of shoes, and a pair of stockings. He also paid their passage up to London, and gave them a letter of introduction to the Dutch Consul in London. The men are now lodging at the Yorkshire Grey Tavern, in Lower Thames-street, and appear not to be in the least degree affected by their dreadful sufferings. The rock on which the men were, is supposed to be a volcanic eruption. The mate described the composition of the material of it to be iron, stone, and glass. There are three spires or pillars arising out of it, on the top of one of which (this being a flat surface, a few feet in diameter) a flag was placed during the day, and a man was also stationed to watch for a vessel. It has been ascertained that the surgeon and five men, who were in the Eliza, have been landed at the Brazils, where they were taken under the protection of the Dutch Consul, and treated with the utmost kindness and attention. Nothing was beard of the mate, five seamen, and the passenger, who went off previous to Captain Heckelbury’s departure, and it is supposed they were lost in the storm already spoken of. The captain of the Eliza had placed in his care two quadrants, two spy glasses, and the log books of the John Hendrick which he retained possession of.

Source: The Shipping Gazette & Sydney General Trade List for Saturday 6 Dec 1845. Page 305 – 1845.


The efforts of Captain Roxby, of the Chance, to save the crew of the Dutch Indiaman, John Hendrik, wrecked on the island of St. Paul, have attracted the attention of the Dutch government, who have awarded to Captain Roxby a handsome gold medal for the humane and prompt steps he adopted in rescuing that portion of the ill-fated crew which he safely brought to this country, and for his unremitting exertions for ten entire days to preserve the unfortunate creatures that were left on the island. Every inquiry has been made of the later arrivals as to whether the nine poor fellows drifted away in the boat, or those left on the rocks, had been seen ; but not the slightest information can be learned respecting them, and that they have all perished there is no doubt.- Madras United Service Gazette.

Source: The Shipping Gazette & Sydney General Trade List for Saturday 22 Nov 1845


Appropriate Tribute: A package arrived a few days since by the Dutch steam ship Batavia, from Rotterdam, containing a silver cup as a present from Mr. A. Ahlers, jun., of Amersterdam, the owner of the Dutch ship, John Hendrik, recently wrecked on St. Paul’s Rock, to Captain Roxby of the ship Chance, as a small token of his estimation of the praiseworthy and heroic conduct displayed by that gentleman, by which a portion of the crew of the first named vessel were saved from a watery grave.

A certificate of Her Majesty’s consul at Rotterdam accompanied it, declaring to the contents of the package, the reason of the shipment of the goblet, and the purpose to which it was intended to apply, and a request has been made to the revenue authorities to allow it to be delivered, under the circumstances, to the recipient free of duty. So distinct and appropriate a reward of merit is equally honourable to Captain Roxby and to the gentlemen who so kindly and justly appreciate the gallant conduct of our countryman.

The cup has inscribed on it an appropriate dedicative description of the cause of its presentation. Morning Chronicle [undated]

Source: The Shipping Gazette & Sydney General Trade List for Saturday 3 Jan 1846

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