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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter II. Under Weigh


THE voyage of Mr and Mrs Duff in the East Indianman, Lady Holland, began with a storm, in which they narrowly escaped being wrecked. Thereafter a derelict was passed. At Madeira, while they were on shore, the ship had to put out to sea in order to avoid being driven ashore, and on account of stormy weather could not return for three weeks. As pirates were infesting these seas, a British frigate convoyed them to the Cape Verde Islands. They were detained there another week. Soon after they left these islands one of the pirates sailed past them with the frigate in hot pursuit. On Dassen Island the ship became a total wreck.

Early in February they approached the African coast, in doubt as to where they were, because cloudy weather had prevented the taking of observations. When the watch was changed at four bells, the lookout said to his successor: "I am very much mistaken if that is not land ahead of us." The sailor ran forward, followed by the captain and second officer, and almost at once the chilling cry rang out: "Breakers ahead! helm hard to weather." The warning came too late, for most of the passengers who had retired for the night were roused by the crash as the vessel struck a reef. Soon the waves dashing over the reef broke the ship's back, and the forepart sank. The passengers soon gathered in the " Cuddy," but so violent was the motion of the vessel that they could neither sit nor stand without holding on to some support.

After the Wreck

After the stupefaction produced by the suddenness of the catastrophe wore off, they all gathered round Duff as he commended them to God in prayer. The masts were cut down, and the gig with three sailors sent to find out where the party were. After some hours the sailors reported having found a sandy bay where landing was possible. The long boat was then launched, but, with the sailors' shout "there goes our last hope," the rope broke and the boat drifted away, giving a startling meaning to the sailors' cry.

Soon, however, to the surprise of all, the boat was discovered to be returning to the ship, and a voice calling for a rope was heard. It turned out that one of the most wicked of the sailors, who had concealed himself in the bottom of the boat, as it drifted near to the rocks and was in danger of being dashed to pieces, had, with the energy of despair, seized the oars and made his way back to the ship. The ship's company was now safely landed upon what they found to be Dassen Island, 20 miles south of Suldanha Bay, where there is now a lighthouse. Two Dutchmen, who were on the island gathering penguin eggs, ferried the ship's doctor to the mainland; he then made his way to Cape Town some eighty miles overland. When the governor heard the details he at once sent a brig of war, which was actually weighing anchor for other duty, to the rescue of the ship's company, for he said: "Humanity has the first claim."

On the morning after the wreck a sailor picked up a parcel, which had been cast ashore, containing a quarto copy of Bagster's Bible and a Scottish Psalm Book, somewhat shattered, but with Alexander Duff's name on both. These volumes, which had been wrapped in chamois leather and put in a box with other books, were all that was left of a library of eight hundred volumes and manuscripts. The company, who were all deeply affected when the sailor with glistening face brought them to the missionary, at once fell on their knees, while Duff, laying the book on the white sands read the 107th Psalm, and then returned thanks to God for the deliverance of the company. Never before or since, he tells us, did he hear such responses as accompanied that service. How did the missionary regard his loss? "They are gone, I can say without a murmur," for it appeared to him a message by which he was at length delivered, through the special intervention of an overruling Providence, from his struggle over his love for languages.

Two more Hurricanes

The voyage was resumed from Cape Town in the Lady Moira. The sailors sang their chanty "Sunday sail, never fail," but the ship soon ran into weather so rough that, struck by a hurricane, she nearly foundered off Mauritius. A second hurricane, at Sauger Island in the mouth of the Hoogly, tossed the ship on to the left bank of the river; When morning dawned the gig boat was warped to the shore by means of a hawser which had been made fast to a tree, and from that point, waist deep in water, the passengers waded ashore to a village. Caste, the most precious Hindu heritage, prevented the villagers from receiving the strangers, shipwrecked though they were, into their homes, so that the ship's company, drenched with water and covered with mud, passed that day and night huddled together in a ruined mud temple. Next day they reached Calcutta, eight months after leaving England. When a newspaper account of Duff's eventful voyage appeared, many of the people remarked: "Surely this man is a favourite of the gods, who has a notable work to do in India." No time was lost by the young Perthshire divine in putting his hand to that work, inauspicious though the prospect seemed to be.


 


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