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The Saga of the St . Paul

The Saga of the St . Paul

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Published by Col Davidson
The sad fate of the St Paul in 1858 and the loss of the lives of over 300 Chinese.
The sad fate of the St Paul in 1858 and the loss of the lives of over 300 Chinese.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Col Davidson on Feb 26, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Col Davidson 
In July of the year 1858 Captain Pennard prepared to cast off his ship in the Port of HongKong. Little did he realise that the chance circumstances of this voyage combined with theactions of a rather malignant native chief named Muwo, would be disastrous for most of thepeople on board and would change forever the affairs of the island of New Guinea and affectthe lives of thousands of people.The Captain sailed from Hong Kong in his ship, the
St. Paul
of Bordeaux, a three masted shipof some 600 tons. The ship was a relatively new one, having been built in 1847, and hadrecently had its keel covered in copper sheet to prevent damage by marine worm. It wasmanned by a crew of twenty sailors and had a cargo of 327 Chinese coolies on their way tothe Australian goldfields in Queensland.A good ship, a good crew and a full cargo - what more could a captain want?The voyage, however, from its very beginning, was anything but routine. The
St. Paul
wasbeset by a period of calm weather and, because this prolonged the journey, they found thatthey did not have enough food to last the voyage. Normally Captain Pennard would havefollowed the customary route to Sydney through the Solomon Islands but, because of thechange in circumstances, he was now forced to take a more dangerous but also more directroute which passed near the Louisiade chain of islands to the east of New Guinea.Unfortunately, after the calm came the storm. As he approached the Louisiades, the ship metbad weather and, finally, heavy fogs lasting for three successive days. With no sun to plot hisposition, Captain Pennard entered uncharted waters and, a few hours before sunrise on 30th
September 1858, his ship ran aground on a coral reef. In the darkness and confusion theChinese, who would have mainly been peasants from rural areas, were frightened out of theirwits. These terrified men rushed onto the deck in panic but were quickly forced back belowby the captain and crew to wait out the night.As the sun came up the next morning a dismal sight met the passengers and crew of the illfated ship. They were hard aground on the tip of an immense coral reef from which theycould see a mountainous island a kilometre or so in the distance. With waves crashingagainst its timbers the
St. Paul
began to break up and those on board were forced to abandonship. Being a merchant ship with only one long boat and two smaller dinghies, there was noway to accommodate all of the people. Fortunately, those not in the boats were able toclamber over the exposed reef to a tiny coral islet some 20 metres wide by 35 metres inlength.The only edible items that could be saved from the wreck were a few barrels of water soakedflour, two or three quarters of salted meat and a small number of tins of preserved food. Thusit was that 348 men found themselves clustered together on a tiny coral outcrop withpractically no food, no fresh water and thousands of kilometres from civilisation.
Copper sheathing and lead recovered from the wreck of the St Paul
Captain Pennard, accompanied by his crew and some of the passengers, rowed to themainland and set up a camp at the side of a stream, only a few metres from the beach. Hewas still in sight of the islet which was later named
 Isle de Refuge
. They found a few of thenative inhabitants of the island who seemed quite timid and the Captain succeeded inobtaining some coconuts from them which augured well for the future. They settled down andbegan preparing for the arrival of the remainder of the passengers. However the natives'timidity did not last. As the sun rose on the following day the camp was attacked withoutwarning by a horde of black savages armed with spears and clubs. The fighting did not lastlong as those in the camp were heavily outnumbered. Many were killed in the skirmish, somesaved themselves by swimming out to the
 Isle de Refuge
and the few remaining were saved inthe captain's boat which had been preparing to transfer those left on the islet.
When they counted their losses, they found that eight sailors and a number of Chinese weremissing - whether killed in the fighting or drowned, or simply hiding in the forest, they didnot know.They retreated to the
 Isle de Refuge
to decide on future action. Their options were not greatas they did not have enough boats to land in reasonable numbers and they possessed only afew axes and five or six guns as offensive weapons. To add to this the Chinese werecompletely demoralised. The group decided to wait for a better opportunity.The natives came out to the
 Isle de Refuge
in their canoes with the obvious intention of attack but the crew were able to keep them at bay with rifle fire. Even with their armaments theyfound that Lady Luck was still frowning on them. Although they had guns, powder and shot,they had not been able to rescue any of the percussion caps needed to fire the weapons. Theywere reduced to using burning slivers of wood to touch off the guns - much in the same waythat muskets were fired some centuries before. As a consequence, it took two men to fireeach shot - one to aim and the other to set the powder alight.In the early morning after the attack Captain Pennard returned to the site of the raid hoping toreconnoitre before any natives were about. He found the encampment devastated with nosign of life or of his lost companions. Back on the
 Isle de Refuge
he discussed the situationwith the Chinese and suggested that he, with some of the remaining sailors, set out in one of the boats to try and reach Australia and return with help. There was really no option and thisproposal was accepted. It was decided that those leaving would take with them a dozen boxesof tinned food and a little fresh water - the guns and ammunition would remain with theChinese and the remaining crew members.Captain Pennard and eleven crew members set off in the long boat - the largest of the threeboats, being some 7 metres in length. Their intention was to make their way to the Australianmainland some 1200 kilometres to the south-west and, from there, south to the nearestsettlement. Nearing the Australian coastline Captain Pennard showed himself to be anincredibly stern disciplinarian as it is recorded that, in an act of remarkably severe reprimand,he marooned a cabin-boy in the Cape York area. He continued southwards and was within afew kilometres off the Australian mainland, but far from any useful port, when he was pickedup by the schooner Prince of Denmark on October 15th, after having been in the open boat forabout a fortnight. He begged Captain MacKellar of the Prince of Denmark to sail immediatelyfor the nearest port to obtain assistance for the shipwrecked survivors. Mackellar, however,had a beche-de-mer crew working some of the islands and had to provision those men whohad been left in isolated areas. Thus it was another two months before they brought news of the wreck to the French Settlement at New Caledonia. It was now 77 days since the
St. Paul
 had foundered.The authorities immediately commissioned the French steamer, Styx, to go to the assistanceof the survivors of the shipwreck. Captain Pennard, with the French ship's company left Portde France in New Caledonia on 27th December bound for the wreck of the
St. Paul
. Pennardknew only the general area in which the shipwreck had occurred and was of the opinion thatthe major island concerned was Adele Island, the most easterly of the Louisiades.On 5th January 1859 they approached Adele Island but realised that it was not the correct isle.In the far distance they could see a much larger island - Rossel Island, and on their way

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