The escape of some of the crew | State Library of New South Wales

The escape of some of the crew

Throughout the long night of December 24th, 1789, the crew worked at stabilising the sinking Guardian. They pumped out water, which was flowing in through the damaged hull. They also threw much of the heavier cargo overboard. By the next morning, many of the men were becoming disillusioned. Although Captain Riou tried to maintain discipline, some of the crew refused to work and hid from the officers, despite threats to throw offenders overboard. Some dealt with the immediate danger by breaking into the supply of liquor and becoming extremely intoxicated.

Several of the officers suggested to the Captain that they give up the ship and escape in the smaller boats. But Riou stated 'I have determined to remain in the ship.' But by the evening of December 25th, Riou finally acknowledged that the ship was sinking and would probably be lost. He gave permission for the small boats to be loaded with supplies and hoisted out. Altogether, just over 65 men left the damaged ship in the small boats, but only ten of them survived. Around 60 men remained with Captain Riou on board the Guardian. All survived.

The following extract tells the story of the ten men who survived the escape from the Guardian. They drifted for days in the ship's launch, commanded by Thomas Clements, before finally being picked up by a French merchant ship, Vicountess of Brittany.

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Selections from Melancholy Disaster of His Majesty's Ship The Guardian, Bound to Botany Bay with Stores and Convicts, Lieut. Riou, Commander, &c., London: Printed for Thomas Tegg, 1880.
Printed material  MLMSS 5711/6 (Safe 1/233b)