It was a beautiful Sabbath
morning in the autumn of 1577: a few small clouds, tinged with red, sailed
slowly through the blue heavens, the sun shone brightly, as if conscious
of the glory and goodness of its Maker, diffusing around a holy stillness
and tranquillity, characteristic of the day of rest; the majestic Frith
flashed back the sunbeams, while on its bosom slowly glided the winged
granaries of commerce; there, too, lay its islands, glorying in their
strengththe May, shrouded in light, appeared as a leviathan sunning in
its raysand the giant Bass, covered with seafowl, rose as a proud
mountain of alabaster in the midst of the waters. A thousand boats lay
along the shores of Dunbar. It was the herring-seasonand there were many
boats from the south and from the north, and also from the coast of
Now, tidings were brought
to the fishermen that an immense shoal was upon the coast; and, regardless
of its being Sabbath morning, they began to prepare their thousand boats,
and to go out to set their nets. The Rev. Andrew Simpson, a man possessed
of the piety and boldness of an apostle, was then minister of Dunbar; and,
as he went forth to the kirk to preach to his people, he beheld the
unhallowed preparation of the fishermen on the beach; and he turned and
went amongst them, and reproved them sternly for their great wickedness.
But the men were obduratethe prospect of the great gain was before them,
and they mocked the words of the preacher. Yea, some of them said unto
him, in the words of the children to the prophet"Go up, thou bald head."
He went from boat to boat, counselling, entreating, expostulating with
them, and praying for them.
"Surely," said he, "the
Lord of the Sabbath will not hold ye guiltless for this profanation of his
holy day." But at that period vital religion was but little felt or
understood upon the Borders, and they regarded not his words.
He went to one boat, which
was the property of members of his own congregation, and there he found
Agnes Crawford, the daughter of one of his elders, hanging upon the neck
of her husband, and their three children also clung around him, and they
entreated him not to be guilty of breaking the Sabbath for the sake of
perishing gain. But he regarded not their voice; and he kissed his wife
and his children, while he laughed at their idle fears. Mr. Simpson beheld
the scene with emotion, and approaching the group"John Crawford," he
exclaimed, addressing the husband, "you may profess to mock, to laugh to
scorn the words of a feeble woman; but see that they return not like a
consuming fire into your bosom when hope has departed. Is not the Lord of
the Sabbath the Creator of the sea as well as of the dry land? Know ye not
that ye are now braving the wrath of Him before whom the mightly ocean is
a drop, and all space but a span? Will ye then glory in insulting His
ordinances, and delight in profaning the day of holiness? Will ye draw
down everlasing darkness on the Sabbath of your soul? When ye were but a
youth, ye have listened to the words of John Knoxthe great apostle of our
countryye have trembled beneath their power, and the conviction that they
carried with them; and when ye think of those convictions, and contrast
them with your conduct this day, does not the word apostate burn in
your heart? John Crawford, some of your blood have embraced the stake for
the sake of the truth, and will ye profane the Sabbath which they
sanctified? The Scotsman who openly glories in such a sin forfeits his
claim to the name of one, and publishes to the world that he has no part
or communion with the land that gave him birth. John Crawford, hearken
unto my voice, to the voice of your wife, and that of your bairns (whose
brining up is a credit to their mother), and be not guilty of this gross
sin." But the fisherman, while he regarded not the supplications of his
wife, became sullen at the words of the preacher, and, springing into the
boat, seized an oar, and with his comrades, began to pull from the shore.
The thousand boats put to
sea, and Mr. Simpson returned sorrowful from the beach to the kirk, while
Agnes Crawford and her children followed him. That day he took for his
text, "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy;" and, as he fearlessly
and fervidly denounced the crime of Sabbath-breaking, and alluded to the
impious proceedings of the day, his hearers trembled, but poor Agnes wept
aloud, and her ohildren clung around her, and they wept also, because she
wept. But, ere the service had concluded, the heavens began to lower.
Darkness fell over the congregationand first came the murmur of the
storm, which suddenly burst into the wild howl of the tempest. They gazed
upon each other in silent terror, like guilty spirits stricken in their
first rebellion by the searching glance of the Omniscient. The loud voice
of Psalms was abruptly hushed, and its echo mingled with the dreadful
music of the elements, like the bleating of a tender lamb, in the wind
that sweepeth howling on the mountains. For a moment, their features,
convulsed and immovable, were still distended with the song of praise; but
every tongue was silent, every eye fixed. There was no voice, save
heavens. The church seemed to rock to its foundations, but none flednone
moved. Pale, powerless as marble statues, horror transfixed them in the
house of prayer. The steeple rocked in the blast, and, as it bent, a knell
untold by human hands, pealed on the ears of the breathless multitude. A
crash followed. The spire that glittered in the morning sun lay scattered
in fragments, and the full voice of the whirlwind roared through the
aisles. The trees crouched and were stripped leafless; and the sturdy oak,
whose root had embraced the earth for centuries, torn from the deep
darkness of its foundations, was uplifted on the wings of the tempest.
Darkness was spread over the earth. Lightnings gathered together their
terrors, and, clothed in the fury of their awful majesty, flashed through
the air. The fierce hail was poured down as clouds of ice. At the awful
voice of the deep thunder the whirlwind quailed, and the age of the
tempest seemed spent.
Nothing was now heard save
the rage of the troubled sea, which, lashed into foam by the angry storm,
still bellowed forth its white billows to the clouds, and shouted its
defiance loud as the war-cry of embattled worlds. The congregation still
sat mute, horrified, death-like, as if waiting for the preacher to break
the spell of the elements. He rose to return thanks for their
preservation, and he had given out the lines
"When in thy wrath rebuke me not,
Nor in thy hot rage chasten me,"
when the screams and the
howling of women and children rushing wildly along the streets rendered
his voice inaudible. The congregation rose, and hurrying one upon another,
they rushed from the church. The exhortations of the preacher to depart
calmly were unheard and unheeded. Every seat was deserted, all rushed to
the shore, and Agnes Crawford and her children ran, also, in terror, with
The wrecks of nearly two
hundred boats were drifting among the rocks. The dead were strewed along
the beach, and amongst them, wailing widows sought their husbands,
children their fathers, mothers their sons, and all their kindred; and
ever and anon, an additional scream of grief arose as the lifeless body of
one or other such relations was found. A few of the lifeless bodies of the
hardy crews were seen tossing to and fro; but the cry for help was hushed,
and the yell of death was heard no more.
It was, in truth, a fearful
daya day of lamentation, of warning, and of judgment. In one hour, and
within sight of the beach, a hundred and ninety boats and their crews were
whelmed in the mighty deep, and, dwelling on the shore between Spittal and
North Berwick, two hundred and eighty widows wept their husbands loss.
The spectators were busied
carrying the dead, as they were driven on shore, beyond the reach of
tide-mark. They had continued their melancholy task for near an hour, when
a voice exclaimed"See! see!one still lives, and struggles to make the
All rushed to the spot from
whence the voice proceeded, a young man was perceived, with more than
mortal strength, yet labouring in the whirling waves. His countenance was
black with despair. His heart panted with suffocating pangs. His limbs
buffeted the billows in the strong agony of death, and he strained, with
desperate eagerness, towards the projecting point of a black rock. It was
now within his grasp, but in its stead, he clutched the deceitful wave
that laughed at his deliverance. He was whirled around it, dashed on it
with violence, and again swept back by the relentless surge. He threw out
his arms at random, and his deep groans and panting breath were heard
through the seas hoarse voice. He again reached the rockhe grasped, he
clung to its tangled sides. A murmur moaned through the multitude. They
gazed one upon another. His glazed eyes frowned darkly upon them.
Supplication and scorn were mingled in his look. His lips moved, but his
tongue uttered no sound. He only gasped to speakto implore assistance.
His strength gave waythe waters rushed around the rock as a whirlpool. He
was again uplifted upon the white bosom of the foam, and tossed within a
few yards of the wailing but unavailing crowd.
"It is John Crawford!"
exclaimed those who were enabled to recognise his features. A loud shriek
followed the mention of his namea female rushed through the crowd, and
the next moment the delicate form of Agnes Crawford was seen floating on
the wild sea. In one instant, a hundred plunged to her rescue; but, before
the scream of horror and surprise raised by the spectators when they
beheld her devoted but desperate purpose had subsided, she was beyond the
reach of all who feared death. Although no feminine amusement, Agnes had
delighted in buffeting the waters from a child, as though she felt a home
upon their bosom; and now the strength of inspiration seemed to thrill
through her frame. She was hidden from the gaze of the marvelling
spectators, and a deep groan crept along the shore. She again appeared,
and her fair hand grasped the shoulder of the drowning man! A shout of
wild joy rang back on the deserted town. Her father, who was amongst the
multitude, fell upon his knees. He clasped his hands together"Merciful
Heaven!" he exclaimed, "Thou who stillest the tempest, and holdest the
waters in the hollow of Thy hand, protectprotect my child!"
The waters rioted with
redoubled fury. Her strength seemed failing, but a smile of hope still
lighted up her features and her hand yet grasped her apparently lifeless
burden. Despair again brooded on the countenances of her friends. For a
moment she disappeared amongst the waves; but the next, Agnes Crawford lay
senseless on the beach, her arm resting on the bosom of him she had
snatched from a watery graveon the bosom of her husband.
They were borne to their
own house, where, in a few minutes, she recovered; but her husband
manifested no sign of vitality. All the means within their power, and that
they knew, were resorted to, in order to effect his resuscitation. Long
and anxiously she wept over him, rubbing his temples and his bosom, and at
length, beneath her hand his breast first began to heave with the
returning pulsation of his heart.
"He lives!he breathes!"
she exclaimed, and she sank back in a state of unconsciousness, and was
carried from the room. The preacher attended by the bedside, where the
unconscious fisherman lay, directing and assisting in the operations
necessary for restoring animation.
As John Crawford began to
recover, the film of death that had gathered over his eyes began to melt
away, and he gazed around in bewilderment, but unconscious of where he
was, and he sank into a troubled sleep; and, as he so slept, and his
strength returned, he cast forth his arms, in imagination, yet grapling
with death. He dreamed, and in his dream, he shouted for help. He prayed,
and in the same breath he blasphemed and reviled the trembling spectators
that his troubled fancy still pictured on the beach.
In a few hours the
fisherman awoke from his troubled sleep, which many expected would have
been the sleep of death. He raised himself in the bedhe looked around
wistfully. Agnes, who had recovered, and returned to the room, fell upon
his bosom. "My Agnes!my poor Agnes!" he cried, gazing wistfully in her
face"but, wherewhere am I?and my bairnies, where are they?"
"Here, faither, here!"
cried the children stretching out their little arms to embrace him.
Again he looked anxiously
around. A recollection of the past, and a consciousness of the present,
fell upon his mind. "Thank God!" he exclaimed, and burst into tears; and
when his troubled soul and agitated bosom had found in them relief, he
inquired eagerly"But, oh, tell me, how was I saved?was I cast upon the
beach? There is a confused remembrance in my brain, as though an angel
grasped me when I was sinking, and held me. But my head is confused, it is
fearfully confused, and I remember naething but as a dream; save the
bursting awa o the dreadful storm, wi the perishing o hunders in an
instant, and the awfu cry that rang frae boat to boatA judgment has
come owre us! And it was a judgment indeed! O Agnes! had I listened to
yer words, to the prayers o my bits o bairns, or the advice o the
minister, I wad hae escaped the sin that I hae this day committed and the
horrors wi which it has been visited. But tell me how or in what manner,
I was saved?"
"John," said the aged
elder, the father of Agnes, "ye was saved by the merciful and sustaining
power o that Providence which ye this morning set at nought. But I
rejoice to find that your heart is not hardened, and that the awful
visitationthe judgment, as ye hae well described itwhich has this day
filled our coast with widows and with orphans, has not fallen upon you in
vain; for ye acknowledge your guilt, and are grateful for your
deliverance. Your being saved is naething short o a miracle. We a beheld
how long and how desperately ye struggled wi the raging waves, when we
knew not who you were, and when it wasna in the power o ony being upon
the shore to render ye the slightest assistance. We saw how ye struggled
to reach the black rock, and how ye was swept round it; and, when ye at
last reached it, we observed how ye clung to it wi the grasp o death,
until your strength gave way, and the waves dashed you from it. Then ye
was driven towards the beach, and some of the spectators recognised your
face and they cried out your name. A scream burst upon my eara woman
rushed through the crowdand then Johnoh, then!"But here the feelings of
the old man overpowered him. He sobbed aloud, and pausing for a few
moments, added"Tell him, some o ye." "O, tell me," said the fisherman,
"a that my faither-in-law has said, I kenned before. But how was I
saved?or by whom?"
The preacher took up the
tale. "Hearken unto me, John Crawford," said he. "Ye have reason this day,
to sorrow, and to rejoice, and to be grateful beyond measure. In the
morning ye mocked my counsel, and set at nought my reproof. True, it was
not the speaker, but the words of truth that were spoken, that ye ought to
have regardedfor they were not my words, and I was but the humble
instrument to convey them to ye. But ye despised them, and as ye sowed, so
have ye reaped. But, as your father-in-law has told ye, when your face was
recognised from the shore, and your name mentioned, a woman screamedshe
rushed through the multitudeshe plunged into the boiling sea, and in an
instant she was beyond the reach of help!"
"Speak!speak on!" cried
the fisherman eagerly; and he placed his hands on his heaving bosom, and
gazed anxiously, now towards the preacher, and again towards his Agnes,
who wept upon his shoulder.
"The Providence that had
till then sustained you, while your fellow-creatures perished around you,"
added the clergyman, "supported her. She reached youshe grasped your arm.
After long struggling, she brought you within a few yards of the shore; a
wave overwhelmed you both and cast you upon the beach, with her armthe
arm of your wife that saved youupon your bosom!"
exclaimed the fisherman, pressing his wife to his bosom"my ain Agnes!was
it you?was it you?my wife!my saviour!" And he wept aloud, the his
children wept also. "There is nae merit in what Ive dune," replied she,
"for wha should have attempted to save ye, had I no! Ye were everything to
me, John, and to our bairns."
But the feelings of the
wife and the mother were too strong for words. I will not dwell upon the
joy and gratitude of the family to whom the husband and father had been
restored as from the dead. It found a sorrowful contrast to the voice of
lamentation and of mourning, which echoed along the coast like the peal of
an alarm bell. The dead were laid in heaps upon the beach, and, on the
following day, widows, orphans, parents, and brothers, came from all the
fishing-towns along the coast, to seek their dead amongst the drowned that
had been gathered together; or, if they found them not, they wandered
along the shore to seek for them where the sea might have cast them forth.
Such is the tale of the Sabbath wrecksof the lost fishermen of Dunbar.
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