Thursday, December 24, 2009

Betsy and Eliza vs. Napoleon, Part III

So, back to Betsy and Eliza and their party, hovering near the mouth of the Amsterdam harbor in May of 1805...

According to the captain of the ship, Stephenson (whose journal is transcribed in a 1953 article in Maryland Historical Magazine by Dorthy Quynn and Frank White), a few hours after the incident with the confused pilot, the Erin was forcibly put under guard between two armed warships. And, "by way of doubly securing us if it was not already done," two additional boats rowed around the Erin all night.

The next day, buffeted by strong winds, the passengers on the Erin began to feel the want of food: a month had now transpired since their last stop, in Lisbon, and they had expected to land in Amsterdam some days before. "Our fresh provisions were all consumed," Captain Stephenson recorded, "and we found ourselves reduced to salt Beef and Biscuit, fare not very well relished by passengers particularly ladies." And of course, at this point Betsy--seven months pregnant--was eating for two.

The captain tried to communicate the problem to the armed sloop hovering nearby--many times. "To all of which someone on board with true Dutch Sang-froid answered Yaw, Yaw, and paid us no further attention."

Then, for some reason, the Dutch ordered the Erin to unmoor, despite the strong winds--which resulted in the ship being blown too close to the armed sloop. At that point, someone on the sloop "told us that if we came near enough to touch him, they would fire into us, and send us to the Bottom, and that we might fully comprehend the force of his generous offer, he repeated it in very good English."

It's clear from the journal that Stephenson himself had more than a little sang froid, or at least a dry sense of humor. He follows this report with the comment that "we could not reconcile ourselves [to the] thought of drowning, especially in a climate as cold as Holland is, where to drown is a double death, as you are sure of being half frozen before you get comfortably full of Water..."

He goes on to say that no one "but the principal officers" knew why armed force was being used to prevent the Erin from landing. He later found out that various rumors were circulating: the ship was carrying yellow fever, or "combustibles to destroy the Dutch fleet." Some even thought the Erin--an unarmed merchant ship--had "some designs of taking Holland." The captain added, "It never once entered the heads of those poor people that all this stir was only to prevent a man and wife coming together."

Stephenson then came under pressure from the passengers--particularly Betsy's brother William--to send out one of the Erin's lifeboats in an attempt to procure some food. The captain strongly urged against this plan, saying it was too risky, but at length was obliged to give in. William Patterson, accompanied by "the surgeon" (a Dr. Garnier, who presumably was around to attend to the pregnant Betsy), and some seamen set off in the boat, but there was an immediate outcry from the warships. The captain called to "Mr. P.--told him it would be madness to push the business any farther as the guns were pointed and matches holding over them."

The sight of guns pointed at them seemed at last to have a discouraging effect on the boating party, and they turned back. The captain remarked that "the surgeon who was warm for going appeared to be in full as great a hurry to get back, as he did not take time to step into the ship but rolled over the ship's side in on deck."

The whole abortive incident at least caught the attention of the Dutch admiral--who apparently hadn't understood the situation--and the next day "brought a full supply of everything, an assortment of wines and liquors, and a very polite message from the Admiral."

At least Betsy and Eliza and the rest had something decent to eat and drink. Now--since it was pretty clear they weren't going to be landing in Amsterdam--the only question was where to go next.

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