Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive
Extract (Tradition)

The British Way

in The Ashburton Guardian (Ashburton, New Zealand) No. 9350 (Jul 19, 1918): (Page imagery not yet available)

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The story of a certain British steamship travelling from Ledwick [sic] to Iceland and torpedoed on the way has been told in the London 'Daily Mail' by the famous novelist Joseph Conrad, in these words:--

"The ship went down in less than four minutes. The captain was the last man on board, going down with her, and was sucked under. On coming up he was caught under an upturned boat to which five hands were clinging.

'One lifeboat,' says the chief engineer, 'which was floating empty in the distance was cleverly manoeuvred to our assistance by the steward, who swam off to her pluckily. Our next endeavour was to release the captain, who was entangled under the boat. As it was impossible to right her, we set-to to split her side open with the boat hook, because by awful bad luck the head of the axe we had flew off at the first blow and was lost. The rescue took 30 minutes, and the extricated captain was in a pitiable condition, being badly bruised and having swallowed a lot of salt water. He was unconscious. While at that work the submarine came to the surface quite close and made a complete circle round us, the seven men that we counted on the conning tower laughing at our efforts.

"There were 18 of us saved. I deeply regret the loss of the chief officer, a fine fellow and a kind shipmate showing splendid promise. The other men lost -- one A.B., one greaser, and two firemen -- were quiet, conscientious, good fellows.'

With no restoratives in the boat, they endeavoured to bring the captain round by means of massage. Meantime the oars were got out in order to reach the Faroes, which were about thirty miles dead to windward, but after about nine hours' hard work they had to desist, and, putting out a sea-anchor, they took shelter under the canvas boat-cover from the cold wind and torrential rain.

Says the narrator: 'We were all very wet and miserable, and decided to have two biscuits all round. The effects of this and being under the shelter of the canvas warmed us up and made us feel pretty well contented. At about sunrise the captain showed signs of recovery, and by the time the sun was up he was looking a lot better, much to our relief.' After being informed of what had been done the revived captain 'dropped a bombshell in our midst,' by proposing to make for the Shetlands, which were 'only one hundred and fifty miles off.' 'The wind is in our favour,' he said. 'I will take you there. Are you willing?' This, comments the chief engineer, from a man who but a few hours previously had been hauled back from the grave!' The captain's confident manner inspired the men, and they all agreed.

Under the best possible conditions a boat-run of 150 miles in the North Atlantic and in winter weather would have been a feat of no mean merit, but in the circumstances it required uncommon nerve and skill to carry out such a promise. With an oar for a mast and the boat cover cut down for a sail they started on their dangerous journey, with the boat compass and the stars for their guide. The captain's undaunted serenity buoyed them all up against despondency. He told them what point he was making for. It was Ronas Hill -- 'and we struck it as straight as a die.'

'And there was our captain, just his usual self, as if nothing had happened: as if bringing the boat that hazardous journey and being the means of saving 18 souls was to him an everyday occurrence.'"

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