This account is based a on a true event which took place in 1833
I researched the trials of a number of Welsh and Scottish women who went down with the ship
Their ‘crimes’ were small in comparison with the tragedy that befell them
My research can be read in Gerald Stones latest book
Horrible Shipwreck !
A Full, True and Particular Account of the Melancholy Loss of the British Convict Ship AMPHITRITE, on the evening of Saturday last, the 31st August, 1833, off Boulogne, when 108 Female
Convicts, 12 Children, and 13 Seamen met with a watery grave, in sight of thousands, none
being saved out of 136 Souls but Three !—Taken from this day’s Observer.
BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, 1st Sep. 1833.—
The horrible event which is announced by the title to this letter has, I assure you, filled the town with dismay, and must lead to a most narrow and rigidinvestigation. I cannot attempt to de-scribe the affliction not only of the English, but the French, at this most dis-tressing event, and I only express the general opinion when I say that the
British public demands that an inquiry be instituted into the conduct of all
parties concerned in this deplorable affair. The Amphitrite convict ship sail-
ed for New South Wales from Woolwich on the 25th August (this day week.)
Captain Hunter was the commander ;Mr Forester, the surgeon; and there
were 108 female convicts, 12 children,and a crew of 16 persons. The captain
was part owner of the vessel.
When the ship arrived off Dungeness, the gale of the 29th began. On Friday morning,
the captain hove the ship to, the gale being too heavy to sail. The vessel was about three miles to the east from Boulogne harbour on Saturday at noon, when
they made land. The captain set the topsail and mainsail, in hopes of keeping her off shore. From 3 o’clock she was in sight off Boulogne, and certainly the sea was most heavy and the wind extremely strong ; but no pilot boat went out to her, and no life boats or
other assistance were despatched. I observed her from 3 o’clock till half-past 4
in the afternoon, when she came round into Boulogne harbour and struck on
sands. By 4 o’clock it was known to be a British ship ; but some said it wasa brig, others said it was a merchant vessel, though all said it was English.
It appears that three men who have been saved out of the crew—all the rest having perished—that the captain ordered the anchor to be let go, in hopes of swinging round with the tide. In a few minutes after the vessel had gone aground, multitudes rushed to the beach,and a brave French sailor, named Pierre Henin, who had already received the thanks of the Humane Society of London, addressed himself to the captain of the port, and said he was resolved to go alone, and to reach the vessel, in order to tell the captain that he had not a moment to lose, but must, as it was low water, send all his crew and passengers on shore. You will recollect, that up to the time of her running aground, no measure was adopted, and the captain was not warned from shore of her dan-
As soon as she had struck, whoever, a pilot boat commanded by Francois Heuret, who had, on many occasions, as pilot of your Standard’s express boats, shown much courage and talent,was despatched, and by a little after 5 came under her bows. The captain of the
vessel refused to avail himself of the assistance of Heuret and his brave companions, and when a portion of the crew proposed going ashore the captain pre-vented them. Two of the men saved stated they knew the boat was under the bows, but the rest were below making up their bundles. The crew then could have got on shore, and all the unfortunate women and children. When the French boat had gone, the surgeon sent for Owen, one of the crew, and ordered him to get out the long-boat.—
This was about half-past 5. The surgeon discussed the matter with his wife
and the captain. They were afraid to allow the prisoners to go on shore. The wife of the surgeon is said to have proposed to leave the convicts there, and to go on shore without them. In consequence of this discussion, no long-boat was sent out. Three of the convict women told Owen that they heard the surgeon persuade the captain not to accept
the assistance of the French boat, on account of the prisoners who were on
board. Let us now return to Pierre Henin.
The French pilot-boat had been refused by the surgeon and captain—the
long-boat had not been put out, through a disscussion as to saving the convicts—
and it was now nearly 6 o’clock. At that time Henin went to the beach—
stripped himself—took a line—swam naked for three quarters of an hour or
an hour, and arrived at the vessel a little after seven. On touching the right side
of the vessel, he hailed the crew, and said, ” Give me a line to conduct you
on land, or you are lost, as the sea is coming in. ” He spoke English plain
enough to be understood. He touched the vessel and told them to speak to the
captain. They threw (that is, some of the crew, but not the captain or surgeon)
two lines, one from the stern and the other from the bow. The one from the
stern he could not seize—the one from the bow he did. He then went towards
the shore, but the rope was stopped. This was, it is believed, the act of the
surgeon and captain. He (Henin) then swam back, and told them to give him
more rope to get on shore. The captain and surgeon would not. They then
tried to haul him in, but his strength failed, and he got on shore. You per-
ceive, then, that up to this moment also,the same obstacle existed in the minds
of the captain and of the surgeon. They did not dare, without authority, to land
the convicts, and rather than leave them on board, or land them without such
authority, they perished with them. But who could have given this authority ?
The British Consul is of course the reply. Did he do so ? No. Why not ?
We shall see hereafter.
To return to the narrative of events.The female convicts who were battened
down under the hatches, on the vessel running aground, broke away the half
deck hatch, and frantic, rushed on the deck. Of course they entreated the cap-
tain and surgeon to let them get ashore in the long-boat, but they were not lis-
tened to, as the captain and surgeon did not feel themselves authorised to liberate
prisoners committed to their care. About seven o’clock the flood tide began, The crew, seeing that there were no hopes,clung to the rigging. The poor 108 women and 12 children remained ondeck, uttering the most piteous cries.
The vessel was about three quarters of a mile English from shore, and no more.
Owen, one of the men saved, thinks that the women remained on deck in this
state about an hour and a half! Owen and four others were on the spars, and thinks they remained there three quarters of an hour ; but seeing no hope of being saved, he took to swimming, and was brought in a state of insensibility to the hotel. Towsey, another man saved, was on a plank with the captain, he asked who he was ? He said, ” I am the captain,” but the next moment he was gone. Rice, the third man, floated ashore on a ladder. He was in the aft when the other men took to the raft. When the French pilot-boat rowed away, after being rejected by the captain, he (Rice) saw a man waving his hat on the beach,
and remarked to the captain that a gentleman was waving to them to come onshore. The captain turned away and made no answer.
At the moment the women disappeared, the ship broke in two. These are the facts of this awful case. The French Marine Humane Society immediately placed hundreds of men on the beach; and the office or lodging being close to the shore, as soon as the corpses were picked up they were brought to the rooms, where I assisted many of my countrymen in endeavouring to restore them to life. Our efforts were fruitless, except in the case of the
three men, Owen, Rice, and Towsey. I never saw so many fine and beautiful bodies in my life.
Some of the women were most perfectly made ; and French and English wept together at such a horrible loss of life in sight of—aye, and even close to, the port and town.
Body after body has been brought in.
More than 60 have been found; they will be buried to-morrow. But, alas ! after all our efforts only three lives are saved out of 136 ! ! !
Sunday, 1 o’clock.—The wind is somewhat abated, though not much. The sea is running mountains high. We have begun a subscription for the three fellows who survive—I think we must add, and for the widows and orphans of the rest of the crew who expired.
I send you a copy of what has been done al-ready. An old and steady friend of the Standard (Mr Hawes) is doing all he can.
This day week there will be charity sermons for the poor creatures living,
and for the widows and orphans of the dead. A portion of the subscription will be applied towards rewarding the pilot Heuret and Pierre Henin, whodid all they could towards saving the vessel. The subscription will be superintended by a committee to be named by the mayor of the town from the subscribers.
Menzies, Printer, Lawnmarket.