July 7 1816: Third Day on the Raft


“As dawn broke on the third day, those left alive were jolted by the scene of utter desolation. The raft was a butcher’s block. Strewn out, heaped up, sixty people had somehow been murdered or killed or had committed suicide during the night’s fighting. The remaining two barrels of water and two barrels of wine had been slung into the waves, leaving only one last cask of wine on board. Into another day of drifting, the survivors were in a wretched state, their clothes slashed and ripped and their bodies smeared with the blood of battle and blistered red by the sun. Summoning up unguessed-at resources of determination, the leaders repaired and re-erected their mast, trying to position the sail so that onshore breezes would, despite the contrary currents, speed them to the coast. But they made little headway and merely zigzagged across the longitude on which they had been wrecked – steadily, but not swiftly, moving south. A small ration of wine was distributed over the carnage of the second night’s battle.

Hunger was champing at them, and so, using sharp or pointed decorations from their uniforms, they made hooks with which to fish. They even bent bayonets to make hooks large enough to catch sharks, but, despite the attractive trail of blood pooling from the raft, they were unable to hook one. Indeed, the entire venture failed as the current swirled the improvised fishing lines beneath the raft, where they snagged. Without a successful catch, and with no food left on board, the men became desperate. Some took to eating the leather harnesses and scabbards of their sabres or their ammunition pouches. Others ate fabric or portions of their hats that were covered with grease or scum.”

 extract from Medusa: The Shipwreck, The Scandal, The Masterpiece by Miles Jonathan

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