Pearl – John Cramlington #2

There is another version of John Cramlington’s account in a letter to his brother here:-

On the 1st of October we got clear of Bussora river, bound for Bombay, and were proceeding very pleasantly on our voyage until the 7th, when having got about two thirds down the gulph, at nine o’clock at night, we were suddenly surprised by the appearance of a ship close to us; she had been lying under an island called the Great Tomb, and had seen us before sun-set, though we had not perceived her. We hailed each other, and to our sorrow, we found her to be French — an action commenced; but her fire was so much superior to ours that she soon drove the Lascars from their quarters, and the whole of them ran below. The privateer was at this time about pistol shot from us, and preparing to board, and not an armed soul to receive them except myself amd five or six Arabs, who had never flinched.

Under such circumstances I was under the disagreeable necessity of striking to her, after throwing three packets of government dispatches overboard. We had previously endeavoured to run, but unluckily our main-top-sail-tie was shot away. Captain Fowler was shot through the body with an eight-pound shot the second broadside; we had likewise three Lascars wounded, one of whom died shortly after. I had a grape shot through my trowsers, which grazed the back part of my thigh, and a slight wound on my left by a splinter from the same shot which killed the Captain. We did not engage above a quarter of an hour. I was taken on board the privateer; she had nobody killed on board, and only some shot through her sails. She was named La Iphigenie, Captain Malroix, from the Isle of France, mounting 18 guns, two of them 48 pound carronades, six long French 8-pounders, l0 ditto ditto 6-pounders, and 170 or 180 men. We had only ten guns, and all of them small, and of different sizes, none of them good, except two 9-pounders, and 5O men, all natives but the Captain and myself. They got in us a very valuable prize, as we had on board 110 packages of treasure, value upwards of three lacks of rupees, 4© horses, 5000 slabs of copper, besides several bales, chests, &cc.

The treasure was shifted on board the privateer the next day; and they were so elated with their success, that they determined to return from their cruize immediately; but on the 19th, at night, we fell in with his majesty’s ship Trincomalee, Captain Rowe, mounting 18 twenty-four-pound carronades, but badly manned: she had been fitted out at Bombay, and had been cruizing in the gulph nine or ten months: her crew very sickly, had lost a number of them by death, and had no fresh supply. I have been told she had only 70 active men on board; a partial action took place the next day as they passed each other, and on the 12th, they came within gun-shot again, and kept firing at each other till after sun-set, but at too great a distance for much damage to be done; owing to calms and light airs they could not get near to each other. A schooner, named the Comet, was in company with the Trincomalee, mounting eight small guns. The captain of the privateer wanted very much to cut her off, but through the bravery and good conduct of her captain, all his schemes failed, and she served to engage the Pearl, for whom she was more than a match.

At half paat six o’clock the same evening a fine breeze springing up, the privateer bore down towards her prize; the Trincomalee followed, and brought her to action, which continued with great fury for two hours, within musket shot, when, with one ship hissing up and the other edging down, they fell alongside each other, and grappled muzzle and muzzle. In this situation they remained about half an hour, the slaughter very great on both sides. The French being more numerous, were preparing to board, when, by some fatal accident, the Trincomalee blew up, and every soul on board perished, except one English seaman, named Thomas Dawson, and a Lascar. The explosion was so great, and the ships so close, that the privateer’s broadside was stove in.

I leave you to judge the dreadful situation I was in at this crisis, being below two decks in the square of the main hatchway, in the place appropriated for the wounded, which was full of poor souls of that description, in circumstances too shocking to be described. All at once the hatch-way was filled up with wood, the lights driven out, the water rushing in, and no visible passage to the deck. The ship appeared to be shaken all to pieces, as the hold-beams had shrunk so considerably, that, where there was room before to stand nearly upright, you could now only crawl on hands and knees, which I did towards the hole in the side where the water was coming in. Close to this, by the light of the moon, I found a hole through both decks, which had newly been made, I suppose, by the fall of some of the Trincomalee’s guns, or other wreck. Through this I got with difficulty upon deck, when I found the ship just disappearing forward, and hastened aft as fast as I could over the bodies of the killed, with which the deck was covered, to the tasserel, and jumped overboard.

I swam a little way from her, dreading the suction, and looked round for her, but she had totally disappeared. I afterwards caught bold of a piece of wood, to which I clung for about an hour and an half, at which time the boats of the Pearl came to pick us up, there being nearly thirty Frenchmen in the same predicament. They, however, were all taken up first; and when I solicited to be taken in, I had a blow made at my head with an oar, which luckily missed me. This treatment I met with from two different boats, and I began to think they were going to leave me to my fate; but the French officer in command of the Pearl, hearing there were some Englishmen upon the wreck, ordered the boats immediately to return, and take us up, viz. myself and Thomas Dawson, then the only survivor of the Trincomalee.

There were killed and drowned on board La Iphigene 115 or 130 men; among whom were the Captain, seven officers, surgeon, two young men volunteers from the Isle of France, the first boatswain, gunner, and carpenter. All the treasure went down in the privateer. Captain Rowe, of the Trincomalee, was killed before the ship blew up, as was also the first lieutenant, whose name was Williams. The Comet, immediately on the accident happening, made sail from the Pearl. I suppose she was afraid there might be too many Frenchmen for her to manage. On the 15th, we arrived at Muskat for water, &c. and the French officer was so good as to give me my liberty.