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Notwithstanding the education my father bestowed on me, I could not be prevailed on to think of any business but going to sea, to which course of life my genius wholly inclined me. And I well remember, that from eleven years of age, my mind was so intent on the profession of a sailor, that it grew up with me, and at length became such an obstinate resolution, that not all the entreaties of my dear and indulgent mother (though she once begged me on her knees), nor the persuasions of my father, or any other friends, could make the least impression upon me.
When they found their endeavours were ineffectual, they then formed a new scheme, and by a seeming compliance with my inclination, proposed to procure a short voyage for me, hoping that the many dangers and hardships to which I should naturally be exposed, and should see others undergo, would deter me from persevering in that course of life.
But, as wilful persons never want woe, such was my obstinacy, that nothing would content me, but what contributed to my ruin; and Providence justly frustrated all my hopes, by indulging me in the choice I had so foolishly and ungratefully made, in direct opposition to my duty, and the repeated solicitations of my most affectionate friends: thus did this perverseness of mine bring with it its own punishment. Nothing but an East India voyage would please me; for no other reason that I can think of, but because I had a cousin at Bengal, whose name was John Steel, in the New East India Company's service; the companies at that time not being united.
My father showed a due care and concern for my welfare, by the manner in which he fitted me out; and by plentifully supplying me with provisions, clothes, and other necessaries for the voyage; besides which, I nad a cargo to the value of a hundred pounds, which was a large trust for a boy of my age. I went as a passenger, well recommended to Captain William Younge, with whom my passage and the freight of my cargo were agreed for, and we soon after embarked.
The ship Captain Younge commanded in this unfortunate voyage, was the Degrave, of seven hundred tons burthen, with fifty-two guns. I shall not here enter into a long detail of any of the common occurrences of the voyage, or take notice of any other accidents, than what are absolutely necessary to my present purpose; which is a true and impartial narrative of our hard fate at Madagascar in our return homeward; together with my own miseries, and the various turns of fortune, during my residence for near fifteen years, in that scarce known, though extensive country.
We passed through the Downs on February 19, 1701, when Admiral Bembo, (whose son, Mr. John Bembo, was fourth mate of our ship,) lay there with the squadron of snips under his command, bound to the West Indies, and we arrived at Fort St. George in the East Indies, in three months and twenty days from the Downs, having stopped in our passage one week at the Canaries, and came to an anchor in the evening.
We had on board Monsieur Lapie, a jeweller, and his son, who set out with a design to settle there; and one would have thought, being so near the end of his voyage, he had great reason to hope, or rather to be morally assured, that he had obtained his desire; the ship being safe at anchor within half a dozen miles, and in sight of the place. But how soon does Providence disappoint us, and interrupt our designs! What an adverse fate directed, and accompanied this unhappy ship, and all who were concerned in it, though so near the accomplishment of their wishes !
The barge was hoisted out the next morning, in order to put these unfortunate persons on shore; the ship riding about two leagues distance. They put off, and we did not expect their return the next day; but about eight o'clock at night we heard somebody hail the ship; it surprised our people, but some of them soon knew it to be the voice of Joseph Chamberlain, one of the barge's crew. They thereupon hoisted out the pinnace, and rowing towards the voice, found him swimming on an oar; he told us, that as soon as they came to the bar, a great sea struck them on the larboard gunnel, and overset them; he knew not what became of the rest of the company, and therefore supposed they were all drowned, for the current set to seaward; but he being an experienced swimmer, and with the help of one of the boat's oars, which he providentially found, he made shift to reach within call of the ship. We immediately hung a light on the top-mast head to guide others, if happily any had been like him alive swimming; but not one of them was ever seen, or heard of more. Mr. John Lapie, his son, and their cook, the cockswain, and nine of the boat's crew, all perished through this sad disaster. They had also with them very considerable effects in goods, silver, &c., to the value of some thousands of pounds.
Two days after we weighed anchor, and sailed to Maslapatan, where we stayed a month, and from thence proceeded to Bengal. My cousin hearing of my arrival, came on board to see me, and take me and my effects on shore with him; but my father had a more prudent regard for my welfare, than I could be capable of at those tender years; my cousin being only a pilot, my father desired Captain Younge privately to inquire into his circumstances, and the character he bore, and in case he found him not of sufficient ability, or honesty, to be intrusted with me, and my effects, not to let me go on shore to him.
The captain performed the trust my father reposed in him with honour and integrity, and would not permit me to go with my kinsman, but took my cargo, disposed of it himself
, and bought me a just return in the commodities of the country, and would have carried me back again according to his contract with my father, had Providence so thought fit. My cousin soon after our arrival, died, and we had a great mortality among our ship's crew; for in nine months' time, we buried above forty of our people. The chief mate was the first of note, and about a month after him, Captain Younge himself died of a fever; happy at least in this, that he died in peace, and lived not to bear his share in the miseries which his son and we afterwards underwent; for this son being second mate, and the chief mate being already dead, as also the captain his father, he became captain of course, so that there was still a Captain Younge.
The only art I attained at Bengal, and which proved of any considerable service to me afterwards, was, that I here learnt to swim, which has two or three times since saved
my life and liberty. I attained to so great a proficiency in that art, by the assistance of my companions, that it was a coinmon practice for half-a-dozen of us to tie a rupee apiece (which is about the value of two shillings and sixpence English,) in a handkerchief round our middles, and swim four or five miles up or down the river for our diversion; and when we came on shore, the Gentees, or Moors, would lend us clothes to put on while we stayed; thus we used to sit and regale ourselves for a few hours with arrack punch, and a dinner, and then swim back again.
Our business being at length finished at Bengal, we sailed from thence, and had at that time about one hundred and twenty hands on board, besides two women and myself, and a few other passengers. As we were going down the river, our ship ran aground and stuck fast; but there being a very strong tide, it turned her round, and we got off the next high water without any damage, as we imagined; but when we came out to sea, she proved so very leaky, that we were obliged to keep two chain-pumps continually at work.
We were two months in this sad condition; at length we reached Mauritius, which is an island in the latitude of sixteen and a half degrees south, and to the eastward of Madagascar, inhabited by the Dutch, who treated us with abundance of humanity, and assisted us with whatever was in their power. We made a tent on shore, in which we stowed great part of our cargo to search for the leak, but to no purpose.
Captain Boon, a pirate, had been here about two months before, having just then plundered a very rich Moorish ship, and taken out of her fifty Lascars. (For that is the name by which our English seamen distinguish these Moorish people.) Boon lost his own ship on this island, and the pirates were glad to make a small sloop of their long-boat to get off the island with, and were therefore glad to leave the Lascars behind them. These people we took with us, thinking they would be of service, and save our hands from returning so often to the pump; they having for two months before but little rest.
We found here plenty of good fish, turtle, and goats, with some beef; we stayed about a month, and then shaped our course directly for the Cape of Good Hope.
Our leak gained upon us more and more, and it was with great difficulty we kept her above water. Our men were all spent with continual labour, pumping and bailing night and day; when, according to our reckoning, we were one hundred leagues to the southward of Madagascar, we heaved overboard several of our guns and heavy goods to lighten her. The captain was for continuing his course to the Cape, but the ship's company in general opposed it; being of opinion that they could not keep her above water long enough, imagining they were at that time about six hundred leagues from it, and but one hundred from Madagascar, which was the nearest land.
At length they prevailed on the captain, though with much difficulty, to put back to Madagascar. The wind favouring us, the third day in the morning they sent me and the captain's boy up to the mast-head to look out for land, since nobody else could so well be spared. In such apparent danger, my being a passenger was no excuse; and, accordingly, I went up and sat there two hours and a half before I could discern any thing like land; and when I first saw it I told my comrade, but not being certain, I would not call out, for the case was of such importance that they were not to be trifled with, or flattered into vain hopes. However, at length, I plainly discovered a white cliff and a smoke at a distance from it, whereupon I boldly cried out land ! land!
Several immediately ran up the shrouds, and even