This painting is the second of a pair which illustrate different times during the same incident. The first painting is entitled ‘A Perfect Hurricane’ also available through this website.
Throughout 1798 the little 20-gun La Prompte was stationed in the West Indies. On 21st September, when on passage to Bermuda for stores, she captured a French schooner, the Courier du Cap and after taking all her people prisoner and putting a prize crew aboard, both vessels continued towards Bermuda.
On the evening of the 23rd, the wind began to freshen and by midnight was blowing a full gale. As conditions worsened the next morning, La Prompte watched helplessly as the prize ship sprung a leak and went down with all hands.
At 5pm, when it was thought the storm was at its height, the wind seemed to explode to double its strength. A hurricane had struck. The storm mizen staysail at once blew to pieces and although her rig was snugged down, with no topgallant masts or yards aloft and not a stick of canvas set, she was held down practically on her beam ends by the weight of wind in her rigging. Now her situation was desperate too, for she was making water and would sooner or later capsize.
With the situation so critical, Captain John Spread then exercised a fine piece of forthright seamanship and ordered the mizenmast to be felled. Not only did this reduce the windage aft, but as the ship drifted to leeward of the wreckage, so the remaining cordage still attached helped to tug her stern to windward like a sea anchor. (This is the moment of the painting.
At the same time a breaking sea struck her weather bow and round she came before the wind, bringing her upright once more. Immediate disaster had been averted, but the hurricane was to blow for another ten hours. Darkness was now upon them and seas were becoming mountainous. As the night wore on conditions became worse. The stern dead lights were smashed, seas were bursting in and running the length of the gun deck and not a bulkhead still stood.
Miraculously the boat lashings held and none was lost. At 3 am she was knocked down on her starboard beam-ends, shifting the ballast in the hold and throwing the provisions casks into crazy confusion. Now with a heavy starboard list it seemed she could not possibly survive – then, not half an hour later, when it seemed the little ship could take no more, the wind quite suddenly eased.
This moment is the subject of ‘Survived’. It is just after sunrise; the little La Prompte, still with a slight list and much water yet to be pumped, is no more than drifting before a moderate breeze. A heaving swell is all that remains of the tempest. With no mizen mast, the main topmast and topsail yard gone, not a stitch of sail left and the main yard swinging crazily with no lifts or braces, she appears all but derelict.
Men are already aloft. Some are cutting away the rags that were her sails while others on the main yard are rigging new lifts and braces. Some are on deck sorting the tangled cordage. The work of re-rigging and mending new sails continued throughout the day and by 7 o’clock, she was able to set her courses and shape for New Providence with a WNW breeze.