The Illustrated London News

William Henry Anderson Morshead

This feature article appeared in the May 8, 1852 issue of the paper. The author was the captain of HMS Dido.


In our Journal of last week we gave our Correspondent's painfully interesting narrative of the fate of the Patagonian Mission Society in Tierra del Fuego. We now engrave the views of the localities of the calamity, from the Sketches named by our Correspondent; and subjoin, almost entire, Captain Moorshead's [sic, Morshead] official report received by the Admiralty.

Having received Information from the Rev. G. Packenham Despard, of Redland, Bristol, honorary secretary to the Patagonian Missionary Society (says Captain Moorshead), I learned that the party—consisting of Captain Allen Gardiner, R. N., superintendent; Mr. Williams, surgeon and catechist; Mr. Maidment, catechist; John Irwin, carpenter; John Badcock, John Bryant, John Pearce, Cornish fishermen—left England in September, 1850, in the barque Ocean Queen. I also learned that the stores had been forwarded to them in June last, via the Falkland Islands; and should the party be unable to maintain their position at Picton Island, Beagle Channel, being provided with partially-decked launches, that they would fall back on Staten Island. Having called at the Falkland Islands, and embarked these stores, consisting of 30 casks, cases, &c., I sailed from thence on the 6th of January, 1852, and stood along the north coast of Staten Island, with large ensigns flying at the mastheads to attract attention, and fired shotted guns into the mouth of St. John's Harbour, Cook's Harbour, and New Year's Harbour ; and observing a flag-staff erected, with a flag on it, on New Year's Island, I came to an anchor under it, at 8 P.M. on Sunday, the 11th. The next morning, Jan. 12, I sent Lieutenant Gaussen in the cutter to ascertain, the cause, and went myself at the same time into New Year's Harbour, and found a ship's long boat lying hauled up on the beach, with Aladdin, Apenrade, on the stern. She was fitted with oars cut from trees on the spot. By a tally left on the beach I found the schooner J. E. Davison, of New York, W. H. Singly [sic, Smyley] master, had called here on the 16th of October, 1851, on her way to Picton Island to relieve the missionaries. I returned to the ship at the same time as Lieutenant Gaussen, who reported that pieces of wreck were on the island, but, excepting the flag, which he brought on board, there were no indications of how or where any vessel could have been lost. It blew a perfect hurricane that night off the land, and, being unable to heave the ship up to her anchor, I fully expected to be blown off with the loss of anchor and cable, but the ship held on with 90 fathoms of chain in 22 fathoms water. I sailed the next day, but could not attempt the Straits of Le Maire, as it still blew free from the southward. Having passed Cape St. John, I stood along the south coast of Staten Island, and got a good view of Port Vancouver, the only harbour on the south side of Staten Island ; and seeing no signs of the party being there, I made direct for Picton Island till the 17th, when the weather proving very thick and hazy, with squally baffling winds, I was compelled to bear up, and stood along the east and south coast of New Island, getting a good view of Richmond Roads. I endeavoured to beat up to Picton Island through Goree Roads, and got well up so as to open the Beagle Channel, when, the wind tailing, and current setting to the southward, I bore up, and anchored in Goree Roads for the night.

The next day, Jan. 18, it blew a heavy gale from the southward; but the ship rode well, with two anchors ahead, and 100 fathoms of chain.

Jan. 19.—The wind having moderated in the night and shifted to the northward, I weighed at four in the morning, and beat up through Goree Roads and stood along the south-west coast of Picton Island, and, passing Cape Maria, beat up to the north-east coast of the island. The wind again falling light, it was long before we could tow the ship to her berth in a cove formed by an islet on the coast, called by Captain Gardiner Banner Cove, and the scene of his early troubles.

The following day, January 20, was devoted to scouring the coast and the adjacent islet, and after many hours of fruitless search, without a sign of the party, and when on the point of giving them up, some writing was seen on a rock across a river, which we instantly made for, and found written, “Go to —bour.” On another rock adjoining we read, “You will find us in —bour.” On a third piece of rock we read, “Dig below,” which we instantly did, but found only a broken bottle, without any paper or directions. On searching one of the numerous wigwams in the neighbourhood, we read on one of the poles, “A bottle under this pole;” but we could not find it, although we sent for shovels and crowbars, and dug deep and carefully for it; but it was evident, from some fragments of stores found on the spot, that the mission had rested there.

H. M. S. “Dido,” in Pioneer Cove, Spaniard Harbour, Tierra del Fuego

Accordingly, the next morning, January 21, I sailed early for Spaniard Harbour, and entered it on the same evening at seven o'clock. Our notice was first attracted by a boat lying on the beach, about a mile and a half inside of Cape Kinnaird. It was blowing very fresh from the southward, and the ship rode uneasily at her anchor. I instantly sent Lieutenant Pigott and Mr. Roberts, the master, to reconnoitre and return immediately, as I was anxious to get the ship to sea again in safety for the night. They returned shortly, bringing some books and papers, having discovered the bodies of Captain Gardiner and Mr. Maidment unburied.

From the papers found, Mr. Maidment was dead on the 4th September, and Captain Gardiner conld not possibly have survived the 6th September, 1851. On one of the papers found was written legibly, but without a date, #8220;If you will walk along the beach for a mile and a half you will find us in the other boat hauled up in the month of a river, at the head of the harbour, on the south side —delay not—we are starving.” At this sad intelligence, it was impossible to leave that night. Although the weather looked very threatening, neither the aneroid barometer nor sympiesometer being very unfavourable, I held on for the night.

Pioneer Cavern, the Resting Place of Mr. Maidment, of the Patagonian Mission

I landed early the next morning (January 22), and visited the spot where Captain Gardiner and his comrade were lying, and then went to the head of the harbour, with Lieutenant Gaussen, Mr. Roberts, and Mr. Evan Evans, surgeon. We found there the wreck of a boat, with part of her gear and stores, with quantities of clothing, with the remains of two bodies, which I conclude to be Mr. Williams (surgeon), and John Pearce (Cornish fisherman), as the papers clearly show the death and burial of the rest of all the mission party.

The two boats were thus about a mile and a half apart. Near the one where Captain Gardiner was lying was a large cavern, called by him “Pioneer Cavern,” where they kept their stores, and occasionally slept, and in that cavern Mr. Maidment's body was found.

Among Captain Gardiner's papers, which I will notice presently, I extract the following:—“ Mr. Maidment was so exhausted yesterday that he did not arise from his bed till noon, and I have not seen him since.” Again, on the 4th of September, alluding to Mr. Maidment, he writes:—#8220;It was a merciful providence he left the boat, as I could not have removed the body.” Captain Gardiner's body was lying beside the boat, which apparently he had left, and being too weak to climb into it again, had died by the side of it. We were directed to the cavern by a hand painted on the rock, with “Psalm 62, v. 6-8,” under it.

Their remains were collected together, and buried close to this spot, and the funeral service read by Lieut. Underwood. A small inscription was placed on the rock near his own text, the colours of the boats and ship struck half-mast, and three volleys of musketry was the only tribute of respect I could pay to this lofty-minded man and his devoted companions, who have perished in the cause of the Gospel for the want of timely supplies; and before noon the Dido was proceeding safely on her voyage.

In looking over the papers found in the cavern, I am enabled to trace out the wanderings and many of the sufferings which beset the party up to the time of their unhappy end. Some of the papers are on private affairs, unconnected with their position, and some on religious subjects, but I quote only from those which bear upon their fate.

Having arrived at Picton Island on the 5th of December, I860, they landed and pitched their tents on the 6th, but were compelled to re-embark in consequence of the annoyance of the natives, until their boats could be got ready. Their boats were named the Pioneer and Speedwell, and they finally disembarked and slept in them on December 18. The ship sailed the next day, and their troubles seem to have commenced.

Both boats immediately got under way for the opposite shore, on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego, to a place they have named Bloomfield Harbour, as the natives annoyed them, but, before clearing the anchorage, the Speedwell got on the rocks, lost her anchor, and injured her rudder. It appears to have been blowing fresh, as both boats swamped their dingies and lost them. The Pioneer reached Bloomfleld Harbour, but returned the next day, and joined the Speedwell. Both boats then weighed for Bloomfield Harbour; but on this occasion the Pioneer grounded, and the Speedwell, having been out all night, rejoined her the next morning. On January 6 I find both boats in Lennox Harbour, where they had gone to beach them and stop their leaks; but, in tacking, the Pioneer was thrown on a nest of rocks, and she was not afloat again until the 17th January. They left Lennox Harbour on the 20th January for Bloomfield Harbour, to refit their boats; but, finding the natives there in great force, they bore up for —bour, which they reached on the 24th January. Here they seem to have experienced many vicissitudes, from the surf and storms, till the 1st of February, when the Pioneer was driven on the rocks, and her bow stove in irreparably. The party in this boat then took to a cavern, but, finding it damp, and the tide washing into it, they hauled the wreck of the Pioneer on the beach, and, covering her with a tent, they made a dormitory of her; the Speedwell being higher up, at the month of a river which they named Cook's River, after a lady and benefactress to the mission.

Feb. 18.—The tide rose higher than usual, and I find the following remark by Captain Gardiner:—“The box which contained my most valuable books and papers was floating about in the surf, and the beach strewn with its contents in all directions. By this unforeseen accident I lost a reference bible, my private journal, and some useful memoranda, chiefly on missionary subjects, which I had been collecting for many years; also my rings, and a purse containing £8 8s., all the money I possessed, with the exception of 5d.; all my warm clothing was washed away, but providentially thrown up again by the tide in the course of two or three days.”

Feb. 28.—Mr. Williams is unwell in the boat, and Captain Gardiner removes to a tent to make room.

March 13.—This tent, named a Hermitage by Captain Gardiner, is burned down.

It appears two casks of biscuits and one of pork had been buried at Picton Island to disencumber the boats, and nourishing food being wanted, as Mr. Williams and J. Badcock have got the scurvy, they resolved to go to Picton Island for it, which they reach on the 23d of March, intending to remain there till the expected vessel arrives from England with stores. Having got these provisions on board, and finding the natives still troublesome, they print the notices on the rocks mentioned above, buried some bottles, and returned to —bour on the 29th of March.

In the beginning of April another of the party (J. Bryant) gets the scurvy, and the disease gaining on the others, they became enfeebled in consequence.

April 23.—They have provisions enough to last for two months, but some are very low; and a fox pilfering from them, they kill him by putting a piece of pork opposite the muzzle of a gun attached by a string to a trigger, and, as they can only issue pork three times a week, they dine off this fox and salt the remainder. Altogether they appear to have been very frugal with their supplies. I find a notice of five large fish caught, and an account kept of the number of ducks shot; as their powder has been left on board the ship, and a flask and a half being all they have, they keep it for emergencies.

May 12 is a note of the biscuit being short; and, altogether, as they have not supplies for more than three weeks, all but the sick go on short allowance.

May 19.—The preserved meat is out, and Mr. Williams appears to be failing.

May 22.—Set apart for special prayer on behalf of the sick, for supplies of food, and the arrival of the expected vessel.

Frequent mention is made of the tide washing into the cavern, carrying away their stores, and endangering their sleeping boat, which they endeavour to counteract by building breakwaters of stones, but in the night the surf washes away their work of the day. On one occasion I find Captain Gardiner and Mr. Maidment have to escape from the cavern to save their lives, and taking refuge on a rock washed by the surf, they kneel down in prayer.

June 11.—J. Irwin, another of the party, takes the scurvy, and misfortune seems hovering around them ; their fishing-net is swept away, and J. Badcock dies on the 28th of June, and is buried on a bank under the trees at Cook's River: after performing the last offices they retire to their boat for prayers.

July 4.—Having been seven weeks on short allowance, and latterly even this having been curtailed, the party was utterly helpless; everything found in the shape of food is cooked and eaten; a penguin, a shag, a half-devoured fish washed up on the shore, and even the salted fox washed out of the cavern, is thrown up again on the beach, and used for food. Captain Gardiner writes:— “We have now remaining half a duck, about 1 Ib. of salt pork, the same quantity of damaged tea, a very little rice (a pint), two cakes of chocolate, four pints of peas, to which I may add six mice. The mention of this last item in our list of provisions may startle some of our friends should it ever reach their ears; but, circumstanced as we are, we partake of them with a relish, and have already eaten several of them; they are very tender, and taste like rabbit.”

July 22.—They are reduced to living on mussels, and feel the want of food, and sometimes the craving of hunger is distressing to them. Capt. Gardiner writes: —“After living on mussels for a fortnight, I was compelled to give them up, and my food is now mussel broth and the soft part of limpets.”

Jnly 28.—Captain Gardiner writes of the party in the other boat:—“They are all extremely weak and helpless. Even their garden seeds, used for broth, are now all out.”

August 14.—Captain Gardiner takes to his bed; but a rock weed is discovered, which they boil down to a jelly, and find nourishment from.

August 23.—John Irwin dies.

August 26.—J. Bryant dies, and Mr. Maidment buries them both in one grave. John Pearce, the remaining boatman, is cast down at the loss of his comrades, and wandering in his mind; but Mr. Williams somewhat better.

Sept. 3.—Mr. Maidment has never recruited from that day of bodily and mental exertion. The remaining remarks I transcribe literally, and they must speak for themselves.

“Sept. 3.—Wishing, if possible, to spare him (Mr. Maidment) the trouble of attending on me, and for the mutual comfort of all, I purposed, if practicable, to go to the river and take up my quarters in the boat: this was attempted on Sunday last. Feeling that without crutches I could not possibly effect it, Mr. Maidment most kindly cut me a pair (two forked sticks), but it was with no slight exertion and fatigue in his weak state. We set out together, but soon found that I had no strength to proceed, and was obliged to return before reaching the brook over our own beach. Mr. Maidment was so exhausted yesterday that he did not rise from his bed until noon, and I have not seen him since; consequently, I tasted nothing yesterday. I cannot learn the place where I am, and know not whether he is in the body, or enjoying the presence of the gracious God whom he has served so faithfully. I am writing this at ten o'clock in the forenoon. Blessed be my Heavenly Father for the many mercies I enjoy—a cornfortable bed, no pain, or even cravings of hunger, though excessively weak—scarcely able to turn in my bed—at least it is very great exertion; but I am, by his abounding grace, kept in perfect peace, refreshed with a sense of my Saviour's love, and an assurance that all is wisely and mercifully appointed; and pray that I may receive the full blessing which it is doubtless destined to bestow. My care is all cast upon God, and I am only waiting his time and his good pleasure to dispose of me as He shall see fit. Whether I live or die, may it be in Him. I commend my body and my soul to his care and keeping, and earnestly pray that He will take my dear wife and children under the shadow ot' his wings, comfort, guard, strengthen, and sanctify them wholly, that we may together in a brighter and eternal world praise and adore his goodness and grace in redeeming us with his precious blood, and plucking us as brands from the burning, to bestow upon us the adoption of children, and make us inheritors of his heavenly kingdom. Amen.

“Thursday, Sept. 4.—There is now no room to doubt that my dear fellow-labourer has ceased from his earthly toils, and joined the company of the redeemed in the presence of the Lord, whom he served so faithfully. Under these circumstances, it was a merciful providence that he left tbe boat, as I could not have removed the body. He had left a little peppermint-water which he had mixed, and it has been a great comfort to me, but there was no other to drink. Fearing I might suffer from thirst, I prayed that the Lord would strengthen me to procure some. He graciously answered my petition; and yesterday I was enabled to get out and scoop up a sufficient supply from some that trickled down at the stern of the boat, by means of one of my indiarubber overshoes. What combined mercies am I receiving at the bands of my Heavenly Father! Blessed be his holy name!

“Friday, Sept. 5.—Great and marvellous are the loving kindnesses of my gracious God unto me. He has preserved me hitherto, and for four days, although without bodily food, without any feeling of hunger or thirst.”

Then follows Captain Gardiner's unfinished letter to Mr. Williams, quoted in our Journal of last week. Captain Moorshead has also forwarded two unfinished letters, written by Captain Gardiner shortly before his death (found in the cavern, and addressed to his son and daughter). Captain Moorshead has also sent the following list of papers and other articles found near the boats, hereafter to be sent to England:—

“A list of articles belonging to the late Captain Gardiner enclosed—viz. a mahogany case, containing two silver pencil-cases, two halfpence, a piece of a thermometer, a half-crown, a silver watch, and two memoranda regarding his effects; a spyglass, a piece of a quadrant, a leather case containing letters and papers, a sketch-book, two pocket-books, one Patagonian vocabulary (manuscript), manuscripts, three memorandum-books, 22 books, a few pamphlets and periodicals, an atlas, and chart.” Eight letters addressed to the mission party, in Captain Moonhead's care, all having been exposed to the air and sea for months, are nearly valueless in themselves, but may prove of interest to their friends.

The Remains of Capt. Gardiner, R. N., and the “Pioneer,” His Sleeping Boat

The following admirable letter upon the melancholy fate of Capt. Gardiner appeared in the Times of Wednesday:—

“Sir,—While deprecating with you the rashness with which enterprises like that referred to are often entered on, I would desire to point out, in terms of strong admiration, the high spirit and unflinching constancy with which Capt. Gardiner carried out his ill-fated mission. It is not judgment, or want of judgment in the adaptation of means, that should bind us to the good or evil of a proposed end. Means and end we must ever keep distinct; for while no Napoleonic dexterity in the use of the one can justify the other, so no errors in the pursuit can possibly affect the true value of an object aimed at. Of Captain Gardiner and his friends, or the Patagonian mission, I never heard till now; bnt I find—and all who read his journal must find—that a most noble and lofty spirit has lately passed to its rest on the desolate shores of Tierra del Fuego; and I would fain desire that the luxurious and self-indulgent of this land should be helped to contrast their enervated life with his self-denying career—with all self-sacrifice, whether in Patagonia or St. Giles's—and to recognize that, In spite of every mistake in judgment, no Stephen beneath the showered stones, no Ridley or Latimer at the flaming stake, was ever more distinctly and unquestionably a martyr to an uncompromising sense of duty than he whose fearful death we now deplore. There need be little fear that many will be found to covet that fate, those miserable days prolonged without food or water, that friendless and unsupported death beside the boat-home he was too weak to crawl into; little fear, indeed, of a crash of candidates for such a lot; but much and just fear that many will turn with a scoff from the “injudicious” sufferer, and hug themselves anew in the consciousness that they are far too wise, too sensible, too prudent, ever to have acted his part; and thus the benefit of his example be lost. His loyalty and courage, his manly fortitude and uncomplaining endnrance, are a legacy to his country, one of which his own fine profession may especially be proud—a profession which has never been more rich in such qualities than in the present day. Let such conduct ever be duly appreciated, in whatever cause, that if we do not go and do likewise, we may see to it that we in our own path do equally. The abandonment of home and country, wife and children, the braving of danger, privation, and death from a sense of duty, is no such trifling work that we can in any case afford to speak lightly of it. When done in the cause of science, however unsuccessfully, however uselessly, men gladly bring their tribute of applause and sympathy, as is testified by a subject now prominently before the public. No religious mission could be more vague or visionary than, to some minds, appear the Arctic expeditions; yet the sympathies of all parties freely go with the generous explorers, appreciating their conduct, judging it by its motive, not its result, and readily making allowance for the very different views which different minds will take of any given subject. Let us use this candour in deciding on the conduct of Captain Gardiner, and, in pronouncing on the brave dead, let our consciences reverently bear him this testimony—He hath done what he could.”