NEXT morning the tug was still upright in the surf but the battering
she had received during the past 24 hours had obviously weakened
her structure, and Captain Brewin feared that she would not hold
together much longer. A new worry had arisen, too. The fresh
water in the domestic tank had become contaminated with sea water.
It tasted brackish and was no longer thirst-quenching. There was no
other fresh water available.
The only means by which the crew could be taken off the tug
seemed to be the lifeboat. That, however, was on the beach. The
three natives there could not get it back into the water, and through
the breakers to the tug, without help. By some means more men
must be got ashore to help them.
The swell had moderated somewhat and the tug's master
decided to take the chance to play his last card. He still had the little
dinghy. It was low tide and the water was only seven feet deep
under the tug's bow. The surf was not continuous and there seemed
a fair chance of the dinghy being able to negotiate it in safety. It
seemed probable that for at least half the distance between the tug
and the shore the water must be shallow enough for a man to stand.
Brewin asked for volunteers to take the dinghy to the beach.
There was no lack of them. Eventually the first mate, McIntyre, the
second mate, Cox, and the second engineer, Scott, were chosen,
together with a Hottentot deckhand, Mathias, and a native deck-hand
whose courage was aptly symbolised in his name, John Bull. All the
men assured the tugmaster that they could swim.
A few minutes after eight o'clock all five men took their places
in the dinghy. Each was wearing a life jacket. The dinghy was
hanging from the davits. Preparations were being made to lower it
carefully into the water when suddenly there was a crack. The
foreward hook in the dinghy tore out of the wood, the boat up-ended,
and the next moment all five men were pitched into the sea. A
second later a big wave reached up, tore out the after hook
and carried off the waterlogged dinghy, minus its crew, towards the
The men on the wreck at once threw lines to those in the water.
Mathias was able to grab hold of the side of the tug and scramble
back on board. The other four, however, found themselves in the
grip of the current and were swept round the bow. Cox was
semi-conscious through McIntyre having landed with both feet on his
head when they were thrown out of the boat. The instinct of
self-preservation, however, helped him, with the others, to grab hold of
the thin rocket line and to hang on tightly.
As the men were struggling, with the aid of the line, to regain
the wreck, those on it could see that the current and the backwash.
pulling upon the line, were carrying them seaward. Any moment,
too, the line was likely to break. It would not bear the
strain of those on the wreck trying to pull the struggling
men to the tug's side. Brewin therefore shouted to the men to let
go and try to swim to the beach. Two of them, Scott and Cox, did
so and struck out for the shore. Scott succeeded in getting through
the breakers and reaching shallow water, where the three natives
who had come ashore the previous day were waiting to drag him to
safety. He sank, exhausted, on the sand.
Cox became entangled with a rope and had some difficulty in
freeing himself. Halfway to the beach his legs again became
entangled with a line. He had discarded all his clothes except his
pyjamas, and his socks, before climbing into the dinghy. Now he
shook off his pyjama trousers and eventually found himself free
again. A few moments later willing hands helped him to the beach,
where he found Scott lying.
McIntyre and John Bull continued to hang on to the line while
being rapidly swept seawards. The men on the wreck shouted together
to them to let go, but they either did not hear or were too frightened
to do so. When it became obvious that the longer they hung on the
less their chances of survival would be, orders were given for the
line to be cast off from the tug. The men were then about 30 yards
from the wreck. John Bull, after splashing wildly for a bit, seemed
to get out of the cross current. He was bowled over and over by the
breakers, but at last his three compatriots were seen helping him out
of the water on the beach. Only later did he let out that he had not
swum before in his life.
McIntyre appeared to be unable to swim and those on the tug
had to watch helplessly as he struggled desperately in the water.
John Bull, a moment before a breaker crashed over his head and
carried him shoreward, heard the first mate exclaim: "God help
me!" The men on the wreck saw him carried northward by the
current until he was lost to sight in the surf.
When Scott, Cox and John Bull had warmed themselves and
restored their circulations around the fire that the three natives had
lit on the beach, they set out in parties to search the coast in the hope
that McIntyre might have struggled asbore further along. They were
looking also for Mathias, whom none of them had seen after the boat
up-ended. Their search, however, was fruitless, and shortly before
noon they returned and signalled to the tug that neither of the two
men had come ashore. In reply Brewin informed the beach party
that Mathias was safe on board the tug.
McIntyre's body was never found. With him went the secret of
how the Sir Charles Elliott came to be wrecked.
The 13 men who were left on the wreck spent another dreadful
day. They had seen one of their number drowned before their eyes,
and they had been deprived of their dinghy, their last hope, together
with its small stock of provisions and water. The only fresh water
remaining in the ship was that in the main boiler. At the risk of
drowning a few desperate men entered the waterlogged stokehold
and worked away for hours with wrenches to open the manhole door
of the boiler. Late in the afternoon they succeeded. They now had
a fair supply of drinkable water. It was brackish and tasted of
chemicals, but it was better than nothing.
All this time waves were constantly breaking over the ship and
deluging the decks with spray. The tug was bumping and lurching
The men on the beach were hardly in better plight. They no
longer had the discomfort of a lurching platform and the uncertainty
of whether or not they might any moment find themselves struggling
for their lives in the sea. But where the men on the wreck could at
least get down below decks, if they cared to take the risk, to get
relief from the blazing sun and the unceasing wind, those on the
beach had no shelter but that provided by the lifeboat. Nor could
they by any means escape the sand that the wind whipped from the
beach into their faces and against their bodies. They had practically
no food and very little water. The supplies in the dinghy had been
lost when it was capsized, and the dinghy itself had been smashed to
matchwood in the surf. All had lived on the coast long enough to
know that the perpetual surf would provide little opportunity of their
being rescued from the sea; that sand dunes and desert stretched
away far into the interior, providing no roads along which help
could come to them overland; and there were no emergency landing
fields within hundreds of miles, where aircraft could land to pick