July 17 1816: RESCUE!!!

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“In the early morning of July 17th, while they were consuming their small ration of wine, a sail was sighted. Thrilled out of their delirium, the men struggled to attract the ship’s attention. It was so distant that they could make out only the tops of the masts of what they slowly recognized to be a brig. They fastened different-coloured handkerchiefs to some straightened hoops from a cask and a man was helped up onto the mast to signal. For half an hour their stomachs were tight with an agony of expectation. Some imagined the ship was moving closer, others that it was sailing away, until, at last, it did indeed disappear from sight. Their excitement collapsed into a fathomless despair. It had been, like the fastening of the towropes to the raft all that hell ago, a false hope and now there was nothing left but to resign themselves to death. Two hours later, the master-gunner, wanting to go forward to take some air, poked his head out of their shelter. Flying French colours and sailing straight towards them was The Argus.

Tears erupted and rolled down burned and blistered cheeks. Desiccated bodies throbbed with unbelieving exultation. The brig hove to and put out a boat to investigate. For those on the raft, the sight of a well-kempt and kitted crew clustered on the bulwarks, waving their hats and handkerchiefs, was like the most fantastic mirage. When the boat lay to beside the raft, the officer, zealous and tender, lifted the most badly burned and ulcerated of the survivors on board, placing Alexandre Corréard, who was in the most urgent need, beside him. As they were gently carried aboard The Argus, these skeletal figures presented a most pitiable and frightening sight. They were hardly able to move, their eyes were sunken, their beards had matted, and their flesh had shrunk against their skulls as if in readiness for death. They were given a good hot broth and their wounds were dressed attentively. The surgeon, during the two days that the survivors remained on board, put them on a strict diet to gradually readapt their bodies to normal fare. But delirium persisted. One army officer who wanted to throw himself overboard in search of his lost wallet had to be restrained. Those who managed to sneak behind the doctor’s back to gorge themselves were rewarded with excruciating cramps.”

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

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