Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/78

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ings which thinly fringed the tropical wilderness. It included officials, scientists, soldiers, servants, and laborers, who sailed from Rochefort in the Medusa frigate and three smaller vessels on the seventeenth of June, 1816.

The French Navy had been shattered and swept from the seas by the broadsides of Nelson's fleets, and its morale had ebbed. This mission, moreover, was not a strictly naval affair, and the personnel of the frigate was recruited with no particular care. The seamen were the scrapings of the waterfront, and the officers had not been selected for efficiency. They were typical neither of the French arms nor people. It seemed a commonplace task, no doubt, to sail with the summer breezes on a voyage not much farther than the Cape Verd Islands and disembark the passengers and cargo.

Captain de Chaumareys of the Medusa was a light-hearted, agreeable shipmate, but he appears to have been a most indifferent seaman and a worse master of men and emergencies. When no more than ten days out from port he discovered that his reckoning had set him thirty leagues, or almost a hundred miles, out of his course. This was not enough to condemn him utterly, because navigation was a crude art a century ago and ships blundered about the high seas and found their way to port in