Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/376

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291
THE CALAMITY OF WRECK REEF

with a heartless disregard of their plight; for on his arrival at Tellicherry he sent his third mate, Williams, ashore with an untrue account of the occurrence, reporting the loss of the Porpoise and Cato, and saying that he had not only found it impossible to weather the reef, but even had he done so it would have been too late to render assistance. Williams, convinced that the crews were still on the reef, and that Palmer's false account had been sent ashore to excuse his own shameful conduct, and "blind the people," left his captain's narrative as instructed, but only "after relating the story as contrary as possible" on his own account. He told Palmer what he had done, and his action "was the cause of many words." What kind of words they were can be easily imagined. The result of Williams' honest independence was in the end fortunate for himself. Though he left the ship, and forfeited his wages and part of his clothes by so doing, he saved his own life from drowning. The Bridgewater left Bombay for London, and was never heard of again. "How dreadful," Flinders commented, "must have been his reflections at the time his ship was going down."

On the reef rapid preparations were made for establishing the company in as much comfort as means would allow, and for provisioning them until assistance could be procured. They were 94 men "upon a small uncertainty"—the phrase is Smith's—nearly eight hundred miles from the nearest inhabited port. But they had sufficient food for three months, and Flinders assured them that within that time help could be procured. Stores were landed, tents were made from the sails and put up, and a proper spirit of discipline was installed, after a convict-sailor had been promptly punished for disorderly conduct. Spare clothing was served out to some of the Cato's company who needed it badly, and there was some fun at the expense of a few of them