Orders were given to bring the ship back, with the idea of pushing land back, but with such heavy seas it seemed unlikely that she would answer his helm. The maneuver was however successfully accomplished and the ship dived forward on a different tack, apparently to the safety of deep water. If sailors, seasoned in the dangers of the sea, are prey to the wide range of hopes and fears that affect the majority of earthlings when they are on a storm-tossed ocean, the next call from the lookout aboard the Sierra Nevada must have been responsible for a strong feeling repulsion. “Breakwater ahead!” shouted McGuffin a second time, “More circuit breakers to come!” Captain Scott then realized the desperate nature of his position. There were breakers ahead and breakers almost aft, and tacking in the gale was clearly an impossibility.
A desperate resource
As a last resort, the order is given to drop anchor. Even as the chain snapped, all aboard realized the ship was doomed. For all intents and purposes, against the gale blowing, the anchors might as well have been toys. One after another they began to drag along the rocky bottom of the sea. The slight resistance, however, sent the sea swirling around the ship as it swelled out to sea, but before it could came back, a huge sea, tearing towards the shore, broke on the deck and swept it from bow to stern. Almost at the same time, the ship hit the rocks with a crash. All hands had clung to the deck for some time to watch the ship’s struggle to escape the breakers.
At the first shock, the ship tilts, and it is obvious to everyone that it will not last a quarter of an hour. The stern started sinking in an instant and within 5 minutes the water was halfway along the deck. The captain ordered his men to board the boats, but since there were no passengers on board, everyone moved desperately for themselves. At least that was the case for those who remained on board the ship after it first struck. With the force of the terrible impact, nearly a dozen sailors were thrown headlong into the churning surf, and life was driven from their bodies as they were hurled with tremendous speed against the sharp, protruding edges of rocks.
A struggle for the lifeboat
Those who had still clung with the tenacity of despair to the creaking rigging engaged in a mad rush towards the harbor lifeboat. As to whether the captain was still on board his unfortunate ship at that time, there is no news. The boat was hanging from the davits on the lee side, the green seas whipping and filling it, and the ropes were getting caught in the pulleys. As the ship rapidly sank, the ropes were severed and the boat fell with splashes into the cauldron of bubbling foam under the ship’s counter. Some of the men were swept away and in an instant found themselves in the dark of night. Others clung with a deadly grip to the various lines of the lifeboat, which, being a lifeboat, floated fortunately, and immediately straightened up.
Thrown on the rocks
With the next wave, the occupants of the boat were thrown full speed towards the shore, and almost before they realized that land was near, they were among the breakers. With a crushing crash, the boat hit the rocks and the occupants were thrown at the mercy of the waves. The first man to find his feet was George McGuffin, an able seaman. Climbing over the rocks, he held on for a moment, then a wave tossed him off the sharp stones into an area of unscathed sand. He jumped to his feet, only to find that Robert Griffiths, another sailor, had also made it to shore. Together they were watching for one of their comrades who might be lucky enough to cross the breakers. Within a minute or two, two other sailors, named John Delahunt and John Freeman, were knocked ashore more dead than alive, and were quickly followed by Jas. McCoy, a sailor who for some months had been too ill to perform his duties on the ship. The sea, disdaining such a weak victim, restored him to life, and chose his strongest comrades on whom to exercise his terrible will.
Day had not yet broken when the five men huddled close to the rocks and stared out into the dark of night where the ship was. The survivors were not lacking in stimulants. Whiskey had formed a large part of the cargo, and barrels of it littered the shore. Their heads were knocked from the nearest bottle and some of the shivering men drank until sleep overcame them. Unaware of their surroundings, they lay down to stiffen up with cold and, if not quickly rescued, to die.
Help for survivors
The sun was blanketing the sky in the east as John Freeman set out to scale the sand hills towards Portsea. He was half-stunned by his experience and his mental state was not improved by his sips of whiskey. He had barely gone a mile when he reached the house occupied by Mrs. Fee. Here he told the news of the sinking, but his appearance and a decided smell of strong drink hardly supported his account. Mrs. Fee, however, sent him a few hundred yards to a house occupied by Sergeant Lampard, of the Victorian artillery. Sergeant Lampard led him into the house, and having given him some food, listened to his statement. Realizing that the occasion was such that he demanded prompt action, he took the man to Portsea, about a quarter of a mile away, and reported the matter to Major Wallace, the commanding officer.