The caroline, p.1
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       The Caroline, p.1

          
The Caroline
The Caroline

  Ashley MacGregor

  Copyright 2010 A. MacGregor

  The Caroline

  The mate is reading out the list of passengers permitted on deck as the ship sails into Port Adelaide.

  “… and Susan Unwin,” he finishes. My name is on the list! And I sense Captain Walker’s compassion for what has happened to me. On deck I see the land, the first for four months. But more vividly I see the tragedy in my daydreams.

  The Caroline left Southampton on 11th January 1855, with her cargo of hopeful souls. She is about to deliver us but, it has been via hell. When we reach port they will look in awe at this crippled ship. They will ask, “Whatever happened?”

  “Look at the damage, how did you survive?” The newspaper will want to know all about the catastrophe. We’ll all be asked for our version of events. They’ll talk about it for weeks.

  Only a few women from the 360 passengers are on deck, I feel a sense of privilege. Kind Captain Walker, thinking of those who have suffered most. A breeze blows stiffly astern but the fresh air is most welcome. A large gull is gliding to starboard. Suddenly it dives down to the sea; perhaps it has seen a fish. Now, I see a shape darting down, white as canvas. Splash. It disappears and leaves foam on the surface. I watch the foam pass the ship and join the wake. My stomach rises. It tries to come up my throat. I hold back the sickness this time. But not the tears.

  The Caroline is running up the coast of the Gulf of St Vincent. I look at the land. The colours are disconcerting yet it is bright and clear. I feel no emotion for this land, it’s just shapes I see. I doubt this country is worth our journey. Oh why did we leave old England?

  ***

  I was happy in our village, Little Sampford in Essex where my family are cutlers. I worked as a maid at the Fighting Cocks Inn. It wasn’t much, but I was only seventeen. And it’s where I met my husband, Joseph. I remember he easily removed some roughians from the Inn who were disturbing the peace. I fell for his courage and optimism, and was rewarded with gentleness and caring.

  Within a year we were married and had a child on the way. What a joy the birth of John was, such a sweet little babe. And a very precious gift for a poor couple. But it meant I couldn’t work, and Joseph found it hard to provide for us. He was only an ostler and these days there was no shortage of people to work in stables, or do any farm labouring.

  Then the emigration agent came. He wore a smart suit and had a friendly manner. We must have been ripe pickings. He told us about Australia. “The ships these days offer a fast and comfortable journey. There is a great need for labourers and maids, and no one is poor in Australia.” We trusted everything he said.

  ***

  Look! Dolphins are swimming at the bow of the ship. There’re amazing. How they fly through the water, and over it. There is one that captivates me. A little white dolphin swimming behind the others. He is showing off with his leaps, trying to hang in the air. As I watch I’m stuck in the moment. The shape is suspended above the water. The slender white form poised, ready to enter the sea. Effortlessly it slides into the water, quietly disappearing under the waves. Its splash leaves a patch of foam on the sea to show where it had been. I follow the spot of foam as the ship passes. Then it merges with the wake.

  My stomach turns. That familiar knot of nausea rises. I implore my body again. Please don’t vomit, not here on deck. But I do. Bent over the rail, I retch. There is nothing there of course. I am empty after weeks of sickness. Skin and bone empty.

  ***

  Yes, they will want to know what happened to the Caroline. The first month at sea was passably pleasant, mainly due to John. Our little man was one year old now and toddling around, exploring the ship and entrancing the other passengers. All the way down the Atlantic we had fine sailing. We didn’t doubt it would be so all the way to Australia. But somewhere in the South Atlantic in early February a giant storm came upon us. In the darkness of night it worsened. The waves felt like mountains, the ship would climb up and up. It was almost vertical at times. Then tipping forward we would crash down the other side. It was all we could do to hold on in the dark and not be thrown out of our stalls. With only our ears as witness, we listened to the howling wind, the cracking thunder, and the timbers moaning. The sounds inside were of bottles, plates and belongings breaking free and crashing. And the terror of every passenger expressed through the children crying, the women screaming and the men cursing.

  Even here in steerage the lightning found its way in, giving us a glimpse of the chaos. A flash of the tormented faces, the floor awash with water, belongings and the foul contents of upturned buckets.

  I wondered how the ship could take this. She couldn’t. Following an ear splitting bolt new sounds came of wood breaking and splitting, canvas tearing, rigging banging on the deck, and a loud and ominous creaking and cracking.

  By morning the storm had subsided and calmness returned. We occupied ourselves with cleaning up and recovering our possessions. John and some other children searched for their toys. Joseph went on deck with some of the more able men to help the crew. When he returned he reported, “The lightning’s destroyed half the main mast and the top fore mast. Both fell overboard breaking many spars as they went. Sails are in tatters and the rigging’s a tangled mess. Falling timbers have put large holes in the deck and part of the ship’s side is wrecked. The Caroline’s adrift! The only mast intact is the mizzen. Captain Walker admits that so much wood is destroyed it will be unlikely to repair enough of the ship to get underway at any reasonable speed.”

  We drifted for what seemed an eternity, only the currents knew our destination. The sailors kept busy sorting out the pieces of the ship, but their knowledge of the dire situation was seen in their mood.

  ***

  More dolphins have arrived! They smile when they ride the waves. Perhaps they sense the courage of the Caroline. She is cruising over the swell at quite a clip now. In the distance are mountains which are collecting the vapours from the southerly. The cook comes to the rail near me. He has a bucket which he empties overboard. They’re old bones. I watch the white pieces as they compete in the race for the sea. A tinkling splash makes the water foam. I watch the foam as it passes the ship to join the wake. My stomach rises again and I retch, my hand over my mouth. “Oh God, release me!”

  ***

  Where was I? Oh, yes, we were in the middle of the ocean. When it was my turn I went up on deck with John. I held him up and we looked around. All was blue, the sea and the sky. Nothing else could be seen. But John didn’t know or care. His was the only happy face. Some officers were looking through a glass to the North West. John and I looked in the same direction. There was a white dot on the horizon, the light playing with its shape. After a while it became clear that it was what we hoped for. It was a ship! As it neared us to the north, we could see it was a large ship. Captain Walker ordered a blank be fired from our cannon, and flags went up the mizzen mast. I presume they said Save Our Souls. All eyes were on the big ship and our vigil was rewarded with a puff of smoke, followed by a bang.

  Our despair had quickly turned to excitement as the ship changed course to stand in to the Caroline. We saw her flag, a blue canton with a circle of stars, and red and white stripes on the fly. Captain Walker lowered his glass and announced, “She’s the Samuel Adams. And doesn’t she look beautiful?”

  The Yankees furled their sails when they were a few ship’s lengths from our port side. Their captain came over on a hatch boat. His name was Captain Gay, and he was shown the damage. He offered us some of his top masts and spars, fortunately he had some spare, but it still compromised his ship. The Yankees brought the wood over to us and stayed to help make repairs and replace the rigging. They left us to fit our sails.

  As the big sails of the Samuel Adams filled and they pulled away, we all gave them three cheers. Our faces were all smiles that day. Never has there been such an ambassador for the Americans as Captain Gay. Never since has there been such a smile on my face.

  The Caroline had full use of her fore and mizzen masts and half of her main mast. Captain Walker was sure she would sail well as a two master, particularly with the winds we were about to encounter. Our course followed the great circle route which now took us into the cold southern latitudes to catch the roaring forties. We sank into the depths of cold, wet and despair. The seas were high, and the rain and wind rendered the deck inaccessible. Cooped up in the steerage, many passengers become chronically sick. The smell of sickness and the foulness from human bodies confined in the small constantly rocking space was appalling. Constant shivering and dampness reduced our energy so the simplest chore was a misery. And for many the inability to eat, or if they did, the sickness, weakened them further. The water went foul and we ran low on preserves. Our clothes became rags while our bones almost protruded from pestilent skin. The worst dungeon would be a healthier place. The ship’s surgeon, Dr Burke, did his best, and I helped him where I could. But there was decreasing space for the sick and increasing need to sew up canvas.

  ***

  Those dear dolphins have followed us into the port. We sail up the mangrove edged harbour and arrive at Port Adelaide. Many ships are here and we must find a place to anchor. Fortunately there is space near the wharf so the ship stands in to the birth and the sails are furled. There are crowds of people on the wharf looking at the ship. I know what they will be saying now that they see her. It will be tomorrow’s front page story.

  A loud clunk rings out. It’s the mechanism for the anchor. I see the long shape swing out from the side of the ship. It’s still for a moment. I don’t want it to drop. But it slides out and dives towards the sea. With purpose it heads down and hits the water creating a splash. It’s headed for the bottom where he will lie. A dead weight.

  I know what is next. Yes, my stomach. A sharp pain now and I double over. Tears fill my eyes. “Please God!”

  Passengers and luggage are ferried ashore in long boats. When Joseph and I step onto the land, we bend down and kiss it.

  Joseph puts his arm around me and the two of us walk on.

  ***

  In Too Deep

  Who drowned George Duncan? The answer lies amidst the Greek Islands. Conrad and Jane Tyndale are on holidays in the Aegean but soon discover clues to the mysterious drowning of law professor George Duncan 40 years ago in Adelaide. A murder never solved. As a former prosecutor, and a one-time student and friend of Duncan’s, Conrad can’t resist the chase. Soon, the reason for the murder becomes clear, Duncan was protecting an incredible secret. When a suspect is murdered and Jane is kidnapped. Conrad realises he is next. The only thing saving them is Duncan’s secret. The final solution surprises even them.

 
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