The Illustrated London News

William Henry Anderson Morshead

This feature article appeared in the May 1, 1852 issue of the paper. The author was the captain of HMS Dido.


H.M.S. Dido, Valparaiso, February 14, 1852.

Sir,—In inclosing the accompanying narrative connected with the fate of the Patagonian Mission Society in Tierra del Fuego for your information, and which, perhaps, may serve in some measure to render more interesting and explanatory the able Sketches* which are herewith submitted to you, I would observe, that what I have written is entirely at your disposal; merely adding, that the original papers and journals from which my narrative has been compiled will be sent to Mrs. Gardiner.

* The Sketches above named could not be engraved in time for this week's Illustrated Londow News; but will be given next week, with additional details of the calamity.—ED. I. L. N.

H.M.S. Dido. W. H. Moorshead [sic, Morshead], C. B., Captain, left Plymouth Sound on the eve of the 30th October, 1851; a day or two previous to which a letter was received from the Admiralty, enclosing an application from Mr. Pakenham Despar [sic, Despard], Secretary of the Society, requesting, as the Dido was going to the Pacific, she might call in at Picton Island, Tierra del Fuego, to ascertain the fate of the Mission. On our passage there we called in at the Falkland Islands, to glean intelligence, if possible, of them. They had not been heard of there, but we received on board a quantity of essentials for their sustenance and preservation, which a merchant there had been waiting for some time to send to Picton Island. We arrived at the Falklands on the 31st of December, and left on the 6th of January. On the afternoon of Sunday the 11th, while beating up to New Year's Islands, Staten Island, we observed on one of the islands a staff with some sort of a flag on it; so we ran in and anchored. The next morning, boats were sent away to search various parts. What we saw at the staff was a piece of cotton print, but no other traces of persons having lately been there. At the head of a little snag [sic, snug] bay, in New Year's Harbour, we discovered a large boat, with the words “Aladin Afeuradi” on her stern; and about 300 yards from her, on the beach, was a small piece of board, with the intelligence that on the 16th October, 1861, the P. E. Davidson, New York, Captain Smyley, was there, bound to relieve the missionaries at Picton Island. The next day we left. Reached Picton Island on the 19th, where, in our rambles, we discovered traces of Com. Gardiner's party having been there, and saw the directions on the rocks he writes about in his journal, which induced us to go to Spaniard Harbour, where, sad to relate, we discovered the unfortunate end of the whole party.

We left Spaniard Harbour on the 22d January, and reached this place on the 10th of Feb., favourable weather having been granted us during the whole passage from England.

I remain, &c., HENRY S. DYER, Pmr. and Purser.

The Patagonian Mission party consisted of Commander Allen Francis Gardiner, of 1826; Messrs. Maidment and Williams, catechists; Irwin, Carpenter, John Badcock, John Bryant, and John Pearce, boatmen. They left Liverpool on or about the 7th of September, 1850, on board the Ocean Queen, which vessel was going round Cape Horn, and on to California. On the 4th October they sent letters home by the Peter Senn, from Rio de Janeiro to London; and again they had an opportunity of sending to their friends by a Spanish vessel bound to Rio de Janeiro, the 16th of the same month: by the latter vessel Captain G. wrote to Mr. Lafone, at Monte Video, informing him of the destination of the mission party, and requesting him to permit the vessel employed by him between Monte Video and the Falkland Islands to visit the mission at Banner Cove, with supplies, as soon as convenient. One of the party, named Badcock, soon after the embarkation, had an attack of fever, which was prevalent at the village from which he came—viz. Mousehole, near Penzance, in Cornwall; the other two boatmen subsequently had attacks, which yielded under the care of Mr. Williams. Mr. Maidment during the voyage suffered much from sea sickness. On the 6th December the Ocean Queen anchored In Banner Roads, Picton Island, Tierra del Fuego. Between that date and the 19th the mission were landed, and their boats got in some measure fit for service. The Ocean Queen left for her destination on that day, as also did Captain G. and his party in their two boats—one named the Pioneer, an open boat; the other the Speedwell, a decked one, with two dingeys (small boats). His purpose was to examine the north side of the channel, in the hope of finding a secure anchorage, not frequented by the natives, where he might uninterruptedly complete the fittings of his boats. On getting away from Banner Roads, the Speedwell touched the ground; the Pioneer rounded a point of land and shut the Speedwell in. The former proceeded with the two small boats in tow, thinking her consort was following. While going over the north shore the wind freshened, and the dingeys broke adrift, and were never recovered—a very sad loss to them. The Pioneer found, about 17 miles from Picton, a very beautiful expanse of water entered into by a snug cove; they were perfectly landlocked. It had the appearance of a lake, the land about was perfectly wooded, green slopes with ornamental copses of trees skirted its margin, and altogether it was to the eye a most lovely spot. They moored to the shore for the night. On account of its coming onto rain they had great difficulty in kindling a fire. (It is perhaps unnecessary to state that the warmth of a fire is seldom unacceptable in these regions). This harbour was named by Captain G. Bloomfield Harbour, in testimony of his respect for his valued friend Sir Thomas Bloomfield. Not finding any symptoms of the Speedwell's approach, he became very anxious about her, and resolved to return in search of her; he therefore left at 6 A.M. In consequence of a long beat, he did not reach Banner Roads till late in the evening, when, to his relief, he caught a glimpse of her at the anchorage from which they had started. On nearing her, they shouted with all their strength; but all was still; not a sound was heard but the plashing of the oars and the murmur of the surf on the outer beach. It was an awful suspense. They still approached, and still hailed, uniting all their voices but no reply: their worst apprehension seemed to be confirmed, each in his own mind imagining the natives, emboldened by the weakness of the crew of the Speedwell, had availed themselves of the opportunity, and overpowered them. When they reached her, no movement or sound was heard, and they fully expected that they had all been murdered. At length a voice was heard from below, which was at once recognised, and one by one their companions appeared. The most gloomy moments had given place to hearty congratulations. It was then 3 A.M., and as Capt. G. thought it absolutely necessary the boats should be put in a seaworthy condition, which could not well be done with all their provisions, &c. in them, and there being a number of natives about Banner Cove and its neighbourhood, he purposed to effect it in Bloomfield Harbour, where he had only observed an old wigwm, but no natives. Accordingly, that morning both boats started. Unfortunately, soon after, the Pioneer became becalmed, and, requiring a little water, he pulled in again to the anchorage, the Speedwell remaining outside in the Channel. The loss of the small boats caused him to run close in on the beach to get the water: it was then one o'clock Sunday morning. At daylight they were awoke by the voices of natives, two of whom were preparing to get on board, and to their great concern they found the boat aground, the tide having receded. At this time nothing was seen of the Speedwell. It may as well, perhaps, be stated here that on overhauling their stores after the Ocean Queen had left them, they found that one item (which, perhaps, might have been the means ot saving some of them, if not all), viz. gunpowder, had not been landed with the rest of their things, and that one flask and a half was all they had in their possession.

To resume the narrative:—The natives alarmed them much, and they were apprehensive of an attack. There they were, high and dry; their situation tempting indeed, if the people had any intention of molesting them. But they remembered Him who, by the mouth of his apostles has said, “Who shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” and they accordingly united together in prayer, committing themselves to the gracious protection of the Almighty. The natives observed them attentively, and their manner became more quiet. Shortly after the Speedwell hove in sight; but, on account of the wind could not get near enough to render them any assistance. After this more of the natives came around them, and some few fish were purchased with buttons, knives, &c.; still they could not divest themselves of the idea that an attack was meditated. However, as soon as the boat was afloat, they were quietly allowed to move from the spot and they went to join their companions, who had anchored in Banner Cove. There they remained unmolested till the 4th of January 1851, when rather a formidable force came into the place in different parties—first three, then two, afterwards three more, canoes. As they approached they divided, three coming alongside of over [?] boats, while the other two remained near one of their wigwams. Besides the women who paddled, there were two men in each canoe. Thinking so large an assemblage was for some hostile purpose (sixteen men were counted in all), orders were given for leaving the cove. While we were steadily getting ready, bundles of long oar spears were noticed in some of the canoes; and while on shore the natives belonging to the other two boats were putting baskets of pebbles from the beach into them. The cables were instantly cut, the stern anchor hove up; but, on account of their boats having been lashed together, it was some little time before they could clear each other and get their sails to draw: the wind, also, was light, and they considered the natives would take advantage of all these circumstances, and commence what certainly had all the appearance of a meditated attack. The Speedwell unfortunately again touched ground, and for a few minutes it was doubtful whether she could be got off. Most providentially, by means of oars and poles, she was got into deeper water, and they proceeded out of the Cove. The natives were observed to be busily engaged in securing the little raft that had been used for going backwards and forwards to the shore as a boat, and which was cut adrift when they started from their moorings. Their intention was to have gone over to Bloomfield Harbour, but the state of the wind would not permit it. Lennox Harbour was the only safe place to which they could go, and thither they proceeded; meeting, on the passage of twenty-seven hours, calms, light and contrary winds, and a hard north gale, which, after they reached Lennox Harbour, rendered their situation very critical, as they feared being driven upon the rocks. It being necessary to examine the bottoms of the boats, they were beached; but the Pioneer was thrown by a sudden gust of wind amongst some rocks, fortunately without receiving any injury. The tide was very high when they were beached; and they were obliged to remain there until the 17th before they were again afloat. Only two or three natives were seen here, and they were friendly. On the 18th they left Lennox Harbour or Bloomfield Harbour, but when near the entrance they perceived a large assemblage of natives. Thinking they would not be able to work well in the boats with so many about them, they altered their plans, and went towards Spaniard Harbour, where they anchored on the 25th. The next day they landed, and discovered a river which emptied itself near where they were lying in the boats, which was named Cook's River, in remembrance of the Christian lady who had been so great a benefactress to the Missionary cause. Finding where they lay was in rather an exposed anchorage, they shifted on the 29th to a cove on the west side of the harbour (not far from where they first lay), which they named Earnest Cove, in anticipation of the fruits which they prayed might attend their labours in behalf of the inhabitants of those islands. Here their principal troubles and anxieties commenced, and here they ceased; but I must not anticipate. On the 1st of February it blew a hurricane, a heavy swell set into the bay, occasioning a high surf on the beach, during which the Pioneer was driven on a small rock in the bay, and then on to the beach, damaged beyond their remedy, the surf making right over her. After this their attention was first given to save, if possible, their provisions, bedding, stores, &c., which was effected at no little risk. All that was saved was removed to a cavern close by, and which was named Pioneer Cavern. This place became the residence of those who lived on shore during their stay in Earnest Cove. They soon found this cavern very damp, and rheumatic pains came on; the tide, also, at times rose very high, and came some way inside, rendering their position anything but agreeable. For these reasons they hauled what remained of their boat close up to the bank, and converted her into a sleeping apartment. On account of the highness of the surf, they were not able to communicate with the Speedwell for two or three days, when they found her and the party on board her all right.

On the 18th February a very high tide rose again, and carried away many things out of the cavern, amongst which was Captain G.'s purse, containing £8 8s. (his all), his rings, reference Bible, &c.

On the 23d Mr. Williams was suffering much from an attack of rheumatism brought on by having to wear damp clothes. In order to give him more space in the sleeping boat, Captain G. had a shed erected against the face of a projecting rock, which was afterwards called the Hermitage. There he resided. On account of the dampness of the place a fire was kept up. We arose one morning and found it very low, when all at once it burst into a flame, and, he was completely burned out of it. The next morning he went to look at his old dormitory, when, to his surprise, he found that part on which he usually laid his head was covered with large pieces of rock. A few hours before he had been regretting the loss of the place; but on seeing the pieces of the rock, his regret was soon exchanged for a humbling sense of the compassion of the Almighty in so warning him from a spot of such danger. On the 17th of March Mr. Williams saw evident symptoms of scurvy in John Badcock, wliich determined Captain G. to return to Picton Island, if possible, for the provisions that were hid in the woods, so as to enable him to provide better for the sick. On the 18th Mr. Williams was able to be moved into the Speedwell, and the wind being favourable they left (the whole party) on the 19th, and dropped their anchor at Banner Cove on the 23rd. On landing the next day, they discovered in a wigwam a party of natives, consisting of five men, five women, and three children; as usual, they were importunate, but, on the whole, peaceably inclined. The next day they removed in the Speedwell to Tent Cove, the better to be able to recover their provisions; viz. one cask of pork and three of biscuit. On the 26th, Captain G. was busily employed burying bottles containing notes describing their circumstances, and where they were to be found should any vessel arrive in search of them. On prominent portions of rock were also painted the words, “You will find us in Spaniard Harbour.” Just as he was finishing the last letter, he was surprised by hearing the voices of natives, and four canoes were seen approaching the cove. Preparations had been made for a hasty retreat in consequence of the continued illness of Mr. Williams and John Badcock, as also in case the natives should appear in any force. We soon hurried on board, but found that two of the three casks of biscuit had not been brought off, to recover which he thought it would be unsafe to make the attempt. Some few natives came alongside, but their manner was not liked. During the night a strict watch was kept, and a peculiar noise was heard in the wood, which was interpreted into signals which had been previously arranged by the natives. This became a great source of alarm to them. Fortunately, at four the next morning, the wind, which had before been adverse, changed, and they immediately took advantage of it and got away. The natives were observed to be on the alert, with fires lit in their canoes. Some of them followed; but, finding the Speedwell was too fast for them, they returned. On the 29th they resumed their former anchorage in Spaniard Harbour. On the 21st of April, after experiencing a heavy gale, the boat was removed to Cook's River and secured to the right bank, having an anchor out in the stream ready for hauling off when found necessary. Mr. Williams and John Badcock continued ill up to this time, principally, it is supposed, from a continuance of vegetable food, poverty of blood resulting therefrom. Every care was taken to economise their provisions, and what, under other circumstances, wonld have been considered unpalatable, was cooked and eaten. A penguin, a shag-fish thrown up on the beach, portions of dead birds, &c., did not come amiss. On the 12th of May they found, using the greatest care, they had but three weeks' provisions. Their allowance was then reduced, the strongest using as little as possible, to enable the sick to have a larger quantity.

On the 28th of June poor Badcock died; for some days previous he had suffered much from difficulty in breathing, and had become extremely weak. Shortly before he expired he begged Mr. Williams, who was lying sick in the boat beside him (in Cook's River), to join him in singing a hymn; he then repeated the 202d of Wesley's collection, “Arise my soul, shake off these guilty fears.” He sang it through with a loud voice, and then ceased to breathe. On the 30th, after attending the funeral of Badcock, he returned to the cavern; on reaching it, he found Mr. Maidment in the act of leaving, as the tide was then rising very fast, aad some of the things Mr. M. had removed further into the cavern for better security. There being no time to lose, they hurried away from it, and had great difficulty in reaching the beach on account of the surf. Mr. M. was twice taken off his legs. Rain and sleet were then falling. On reaching their sleeping boat they considered she was in danger of being swept away, the tide being still rising. They then proceeded to the Hermitage, and there they were afraid of being hemmed in, but did not leave it before kneeling down and thanking their Heavenly father for the mercies they had experienced. They then went into the wood, but the drippings from the trees were worse than the rain that was falling; so that, unable to find any shelter, they remained until 9:30 P.M., standing up or pacing about in an exposed place. With the exception of a very small piece of biscuit, they had had nothing to eat since the morning. They were wet, cold, and hungry; and could not venture to sit down, as every thing was dripping around them. At this time the tide appears to have fallen, and they were enabled to get round to the Speedwell, where they slept, Irwin insisting on Captain G.'s sleeping in his bed, while Mr. Maidment slept on another man's. The next day they went back to Earnest Cove. On their way they again experienced the care of their Heavenly Protector: near the beach they found a large rock cod, which had evidently been thrown up by the surf. Their sleeping boat was all right. The condition of the party on the 8th July was lamentable indeed. Mr. Williams was fluctuating from extreme exhaustion to comparative ease; the rest were daily becoming weaker; so all thoughts of going to Picton Island for the two casks of biscuit were abandoned. They had been rather more than eight weeks on short allowance: with all these hardships and privations, not one word of complaint appears to have been uttered. They placed their full reliance on the mercies of Him whom they had desired to serve, by attaching themselves to the mission, and fully expected a vessel bringing them succour would arrive. At this date the remains of all their stock was as follows:—one pound of salt pork, one pint of peas, nearly one pound of tea (damaged by salt water), six ounces of the fish picked up on the beach, two cakes of chocolate, and two mice. Thay were carefully collecting mussels, which, with the addition of wild celery, had enabled them so long to preserve even the above small quantity of provisions; they being exhausted, nothing but the latter articles, viz. mussels and celery, would remain to them.

I am not in possession of any particulars from the 8th July till the 7th August, wherein he (Capt. G.) states in a prayer that the Lord has seen fit to bring them very low, and supplicates Him, if it is his good pleasure, yet to grant them the supplies they stand so much in need of; but that should it be his will that none of the mission should survive, that He would raise up other labourers who may convey the saving truths of the Gospel to the poor blind heathen around him.

The latest date found is the 6th of September: it is a note addressed to Mr. Williams, wherein he says Mr. Maidment had left him on Tuesday the 2d (the cavern was not more than 300 yards from the boat), and had not again returned to him, and doubts not but that he had gone to his Redeemer; that he (Mr. G.) had not tasted food for five days; but felt neither hunger nor thirst. It is very probable that within a very short time after writing the above the spirit of that devoted man was wafted away to the regions of everlasting bliss. In all trials and adversities, it is easy to imagine that the words, “It is the Lord—let Him do what seemeth Him best,” were ever before him. It appears that previous to this Mr. Maidment had read the funeral service over the bodies of Bryant and Irwin; and it is evident that at the time of Captain Gardiner writing the note on the 6th September, the only persons he thought were alive were Mr. Williams and John Pearce. That they died at Cook's River, on or about the same time as Capt. Gardiner, there is not much reason to doubt.

Capt. G. was 50 years of age on the 28th June, 1851.

Spaniard Harbour is in lat. 54 deg. 53 sec. S., long. 65 deg. 60 sec. W.

Capt. Moorshead, H.M.S. Dido, has also forwarded to the Admiralty on official report of the melancholy fate of the Mission, in which he quoted portions of Capt. Gardiner's journal to Sept. 6:—

The last remarks (says Capt. Moorshcad) are not written so plainly as the previous day, and I concluded that they were the last; but I find another paper, dated Sept. 6, addressed to Mr. Williams, and written in pencil, the whole being very indistinct, and some parts quite obliterated, but nearly as follows:—

“My dear Mr. Williams,—The Lord has seen fit to call home another of our little company. Our dear departed brother left the boat on Tuesday afternoon, and has not since returned; doubtless he is in the presence of his Redeemer, whom he served faithfully. Yet a little while, and though .......the Almighty to sing the praises .... throne. I neither hunger nor thirst, though . . . days without food . . . Maidment's kindness to me ... heaven.—Your affectionate brother in Christ,

“Sept. 6, 1851.” (Signed) “ALLEN F. GARDINER.

From the above statement I must, therefore, conclude that the two bodies found at Cook's River were those of Mr. Williams and T. Pearce, and, considering their weak state, it is unreasonable to suppose they could have survived Captain Gardiner, who could scarcely have lived over September 6, 1851. I will offer no opinion upon the missionary labour of Captain Gardiner and the party, beyond it being marked by an earnestness and devotion to the cause. But, as a brother officer, I beg to record my admiration of his conduct in the moment of peril and danger, and his energy and resources entitle him to high professional credit. At one time I find him surrounded by hostile natives and dreading an attack, yet forbearing to fire, and the savages awed and subdued by the solemnity of his party kneeling down in prayer. At another, having failed to save his boat when on the rocks, he digs a channel under her, and diverts a fresh-water stream into it; and I find him making an anchor by filling an old bread cask with stones, heading it up and securing wooden crosses over the head with chains. There could not be a doubt as to the ultimate success of a mission here, if liberally supported; but I venture to express a hope that no society will hazard another without entrusting their supplies to practical men, acquainted with commercial affairs, who would have seen at a glance the hopeless improbability of any ship, not chartered for the occasion, sailing out of her way, breaking her articles, and forfeiting her insurance for the freightage of a few stores from the Falkland Islands. Painful and unsatisfactory as my report of the fate of the party is, I trust that it may be considered conclusive by their Lordships, and setting at rest any farther anxiety on the part of their sorrowing friends.—I have, &c.,   (Signed) W. H. MOORSHEAD, Captain.