THE steamship London, with Captain Martin, sailed for Melbourne on Saturday, the 6th of January 1866. On the 7th and 8th it blew fiercely; on the 9th the ship lost fore topmast and royal mast. The large spars were swinging to and fro with such violence that the crew was wholly unable to secure them; but as yet no person felt much anxiety.
About 3 p.m. a tremendous wave struck the ship, and carried the port lifeboat clean away from the davits. All that evening and through the succeeding night, the wind blew a very heavy gale, and the sea ran high, but the ship was still kept steaming easy ahead. At 3 a.m. on Wednesday, the 10th, Captain Martin sent for Mr. Greenhill, the second engineer, the chief engineer being ill, and informed him of his intention to change the course, and ordered full steam to be got up directly. This was immediately done.
Half an hour after the ship's course had been altered, she was again struck by a tremendous wave, which carried away the starboard lifeboat, and the same wave stove in another of the boats. At noon on this day the ship's position was latitude 46.48 N., longitude 8.7 W. A very heavy sea was running, which caused her to roll heavily. But no danger was even now anticipated; and all through the evening of Wednesday, and long after midnight, the ship continued to steam slowly ahead, the captain and his officers remaining steadily at their posts and the passengers appearing to have full reliance in Captain Martin.
At 10:30 p.m., on Wednesday, the ship still rolling deeply in a heavy cross-sea, and the wind blowing a full gale, a huge wave suddenly fell heavily into the waist or middle of the ship. It fell right upon the main engine-room hatch, measuring 12 ft. by 9 ft., which it completely demolished, letting tons of water down into this portion of the ship. Instant endeavors to repair the hatch were made with promptitude and vigor. Every spare sail, and even blankets and mattresses from all parts of the ship, were thrown over the aperture. But the sea soon tore away the frail structure, and poured down the hatchway, and in ten minutes the water had risen above the furnaces and up to the waists of the engineers and firemen below. The lower decks were also soon flooded. The engineer remained at his post until the water had risen above his waist when he went on deck, and reported that his fires were out and his engines useless. Captain Martin, with calm conviction remarked that he was not surprised; on the contrary, he had expected such a result.
Finding his noble ship at length little more than a log on the water, Captain Martin ordered his main topsail to be set. This had scarcely been accomplished when the force of the wind tore the sail into ribbons, with the exception of one corner, under which the ship lay to throughout the remainder of the night. The donkey engine was supplied with steam by a boiler from deck, and all the deck pumps were kept going throughout the night, and the passengers of all classes, now roused to a sense of their imminent danger, shared with the crew their arduous labors. Notwithstanding every effort the water still gained upon the pumps, and the gale continuing at its height, cross-seas with tremendous force were constantly breaking over the vessel. At a quarter after four o'clock on Thursday morning, she was struck by a stern wave, which carried away four of her stern ports, and admitted a flood of water at that end of the ship also.
From this time all efforts were useless, and at daybreak Captain Martin, whose cool intrepidity had never for a moment forsaken him, entered the saloon, where all classes of the passengers had now taken refuge, and, responding to an universal appeal, announced that "all hope was gone." This was solemnly received, a resigned silence prevailing throughout the assembly, broken only at brief intervals by the well-timed exhortations of Mr. Draper, a devoted Wesleyan minister, whose spiritual services had been incessant during the previous twenty-four hours. There was no good screaming or shrieking or rushing on deck. Dismay was present in every heart. Mothers were weeping sadly over the little ones, with them about to be engulfed; and the children, ignorant of their coming death, were pitifully inquiring the cause of so much woe. Friends were taking leave of friends, as if preparing for a long journey; others were crouching down with Bibles in their hands, endeavoring to snatch consolation from passages long known or long neglected. At this crisis the port pinnace was got over the ship's side, and Captain Martin, always at hand, addressing Mr. Greenhill under whose command this particular boat was placed, said, "There is not much chance for the boat; there is none for the ship."
"Your duty is done; mine is to remain here. Get in and take command of the few it will hold." Thus prompted, Mr. Greenhill, with his fellow engineers, and some few others, numbering only nineteen men and passengers quitted the ship, with only a few biscuits in the shape of provisions. The men shouted for the captain to come with them, but with that strong sense of duty, which was his chief characteristic, he declined to go with them, saying, "No, I will go down with the passengers; but I wish you God-speed and safe to land."
Some heroic sacrifices were made. One of the passengers in the boat, Mr. John Wilson, went down into the cabin the last thing, and endeavored to persuade a friend, Mr. John Hickman, from Ballarat, to attempt to save his life by going into the boat. "No," he said; "I promised my wife and children to stay by them, and I will do so. Good-bye, Jack," and so they parted.
When the boat was about full, one of the seamen cried, "There may still be room: fetch a lady." Mr. Wilson then sprang onto the deck in search of a lady whom he knew but not seeing her, and knowing that every instant was precious, he said to a young girl, "Will you go?" Seizing her, he took her to the bulwarks; but when she looked over the rails and saw the distance, which she must spring, she said in despair, "Oh, I cannot." There was no time for persuasion, and Mr. Wilson was obliged to drop the girl and jump from the steamer to the boat, into which he got safely. The ship was being carried over on to the boat, towards which it lurched heavily. The Captain, who continued to walk calmly up and down the poop, just before the boat put off, gave those in the boat their course. He told them that it lay E.N.E. to Brest. Before the boat could be got off, it was in great danger of being sucked down with the ship, which was rapidly settling beneath the water. The swirl of water round the stern that preceded the foundering had already begun, so the boat was hastily cut away.
Just at that moment those in the boat were piteously called upon by a lady, who, with a face livid with horror shrieked out, "A thousand guineas if you will take me in!" An awful scene, never to be forgotten. But in that solemn hour millions of money was accounted valueless. It was too late! One lost through rejecting the offer, and another could not buy it. (John 3:36).
Many times a thousand guineas would have been offered before this, if dying breath could have brought salvation. Yes, "Without money and without price," (Isaiah 55:1), you may be saved, and saved now. It's so simple, and yet only God-given. He, the sinless One, gave Himself for you, the sinner. Through His Holy Spirit may your eyes this moment be opened to recognize in Him your Substitute, and from your heart may you just thank Him who thus gave Himself for you.