July 16 1816: End Is Near


“By July 16th, their eleventh [should be twelfth] day on board the raft, the survivors knew themselves to be close to death. Branded by the white-hot heat, skin blistered into huge ulcers, these wild-eyed, bearded spectres nonetheless summoned up their last reserves of strength to build a smaller raft out of the slats and supports at the edges of their platform. Oars were made from barrel staves and the plan was that eight of them would row for shore. A sailor went aboard to test the structure, but it sank immediately and so they resigned themselves to their raft and to inevitable death. Prostrated by the heat, chafed and inflamed by the salt water, blinded by the screaming light, emaciated, hallucinating and wasted, they passed the night of July 16th in a state of self-recrimination and terror. They mumbled in their delirium about the sad state of France.

Lavillette observed that in the good old days he had been afraid only in the heat of battle, whereas now he was surrounded by Frenchmen, who threatened him all the time. Others craved the chance to take on the Bourbon enemies of liberty. Still others longed for a death that would deliver them from the oppressions of the new regime. Savigny suggested that, with one of the tools left on board, they carve their names and some indication of their misadventure on a piece of wood and fix it to the mast, in the hope that after their deaths it would be found and the contents communicated to their families and friends at home.”

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

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