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Here’s an excerpt from my non-fiction book on an Australian convict, Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway. After nearly a month lost at sea, the remaining three cedar fetchers finally reach land …

Pamphlett, the only reasonable swimmer, volunteered to go ashore to obtain drinking water. He fastened the keg to the running rigging, stripped off his clothing, climbed over the side and swam towards land. His health had deteriorated greatly and his strength weakened by the hardships of the previous three and a half weeks at sea. An exhausted Pamphlett battled for more than an hour through current and surf to get the keg to shore. As soon as he touched the sandy bottom in the shallows he struggled to his feet and hobbled up the beach as fast as he could, collapsing beside the fresh water. He drank like a horse. Temporarily satisfied, he stumbled back across the golden sand to the edge of the sea to retrieve the keg he had left there during his mad dash for the stream. But he was forced back to the spring for another extended guzzle. In all, he tottered between the keg and the delicious, cool, clear, fresh water three or four times. When he eventually attempted to fill the keg he found himself too weak to do so, from swimming and from stretching his stomach with several pints of water.

A strong onshore breeze sprang up. Pamphlett saw his friends beckoning him to return to the boat so they could up-anchor and sail out of the way of the breakers. He stood watching the big surf and the little boat being tossed about in the swell just beyond the breaking waves. He knew he lacked the strength to swim it. Instead, he yelled to his companions to raise the anchor and to let the surf bring the vessel ashore. A very thirsty Parsons succumbed to the temptation of a limitless supply of drinking water, reluctantly agreeing to land. Parsons, who could swim a little, and Finnegan, a non-swimmer, climbed out of the boat and clung to it tightly while guiding it as best they could through the breaking surf to the beach. Within five minutes of landing, the relentless movement of the waves over the sand firmly embedded their trusty craft.

Fresh water was priority though, after 25 days at sea. Parsons grabbed the pint pot brought ashore by Pamphlett for the purpose of filling the keg. He lolloped desperately towards the stream, falling down in front of it. He scooped up a cupful of water and bolted it. He gulped down another pint, and another, and another, until he had polished off 13 pints in succession. Sawyers had enormous capacities for fluid, although the claimed quantity made no allowance for spillage or partly filled pots caused by the great hurry Parsons was in to quench his thirst.

Finnegan did not bother about the etiquette of using a cup, choosing instead to lie down in the middle of the water, lapping it and sucking it in as rapidly as he could. But his constitution could not cope with the foreign substance and he vomited. Again he drank furiously and again he was sick. He repeated this cycle several times.

Thomas Pamphlett book cover

Exhausted and bloated the three survivors sat naked on the sand. Their clothing was in the boat where they shed it to swim ashore. Pondering their next move they watched in vain as waves of an ever-increasing size broke over their transport, covering it with spray. They were too weak and the surf too rough to consider salvaging anything from their battered boat that afternoon. Surveying their surroundings, the long sandy beach continued south for as far as they could see, but to the north it seemed to finish with a rocky headland about two miles away. Behind them was a low ridge of sand dunes, bare of trees or any other material suitable for a fire. In any case they had no means of lighting one. Believing they were still some considerable distance south of Illawarra, they ascended a nearby dune to seek a resting place for the night. Tomorrow they would free the boat and continue north along the coast supposedly towards their original destination.

With no shelter against the pouring rain they rested their weary bones on the wet sand. Pamphlett lay between the other two where he was afforded at least some protection from the elements, he being the weakest of the trio due to his long swim.

After a sleepless night suffering from cold and hunger, daybreak was a welcome sight. They dragged themselves to their feet and stood on top of the dune when they were horrified to see the remains of their boat, broken up overnight by powerful surf. Their means of reaching civilisation had disintegrated into a useless shell, with pieces of wood scattered about the ocean. Some of their food and equipment had washed up on the beach. They went down to the high-water mark to retrieve what they could. The contents of two of their three bags of flour were ruined by sea water but the third had only been penetrated about two inches at one end. Discarding the spoiled flour they apportioned the good among the three bags. Each bag weighed 20 to 30 pounds, the limit they thought their weakened state would allow them to carry any distance.

Breakfast was a revolting mixture of uncooked flour and water prepared in a bucket. Along with the keg, axe, scissors, tin pot and an old jacket belonging to Finnegan, these items became the sum total of their possessions. They had no other clothing, it being lost when the boat broke up. In that state, and each with a sack of flour on his back, their only food, and containers full of water, they commenced walking north along the beach believing they were south of Sydney and possibly somewhere south of Jervis Bay.

How wrong they were! The trio were actually nowhere near Jervis Bay. They were not even south of Sydney. Their navigational abilities did not match their boatmanship or survival skills. They were in fact more than 500 miles north of Sydney and walking further away from it.

– end of excerpt –

There are still some print copies at certain sites although this book is mainly available as an ebook through Amazon, Google Play, Apple iTunes and Kobo: