The following letter is from one of the three survivors of the Astrea shipwreck, who lost over 200 passengers, to his sister in Limerick. They ran aground on the 8th May 1834 and it was a number of weeks before families back in Ireland learned of the loss of their loved ones. This shipwreck was particularly poignant at the time as it took place near to the shore and the bodies of the ill fated emigrants washed on to the shore of the nearby town where the local fishermen took on the unenviable task of burying the bodies.
As recorded in The Belfast Commercial Chronicle, Wednesday, June 25th, 1834
Charlotte’s Town, Prince Edward’s Island
May 16, 1834
My Dear Catherine –
I suppose you have seen by the papers the melancholy announcement of the wreck of the barque Astrea, with the loss of all lives on board with the exception of three, the carpenter, a seaman, and your humble servant. I wont detain you by detailing the horrors of a shipwreck; suffice it to say, we struck against a rock at two o’clock, on Thursday morning, May 8th, and were dashed to pieces in less than twenty minutes. The boy ran down to the cabin and shouted out ” Ice or land ahead. ” The Captain and I immediately jumped upon deck, half dressed, and were not there more than ten minutes when she struck. The Captain immediately ordered the boat to be lowered and I was one of the first that jumped into it ; but I saw all the people on board make towards it with the same determination that I did, namely, to save their lives. The moment I saw them rush to the boat, I got out again, and made my way on deck. I was convinced that so many persons were getting into the boat that they would upset her directly. I was scarcely upon deck when the boat was dashed to pieces. The vessel was then thrown upon her beam ends, and I clung to the wheel and got my arms around it, determined to remain there until the wreck went down.- I was dreadfully washed by the breakers while on deck ; the sea was boiling over the entire ship’s side.
I was scarcely thus placed before the wheel was torn off by the sea, and dashed overboard on the other side. I now saw that the ship was irrevocably lost, and was determined to save my life, if I possibly could, so I plunged off the wreck without further hesitation, and endeavoured to swim to the opposite rock, which I could see pretty plainly by the foam of the breakers that dashed against it with great fury. I gained the cliff unhurt, when a beam of timber that had been cleft from the ship, struck me in the back, and drove me down the current about 40 yards in the opposite direction; however, the returning wave brought me back again, and threw me on the rock on my hands and knees. The timber at length drifted me off again, and I was then under the timber and water both for several minutes, when one of the beams struck into a nook of the rock, and remained stationary, by which means I was able to disengage myself from it, and finally, after many exertions, I ascended the cliff in a state of extreme exhaustion. I suffered so much from the cold that I was going to precipitate myself into the sea, and get myself drowned at once – but God in his infinite mercy ordained it otherwise.
The two men who had been preserved from the wreck, picked me up in the morning, and conducted me to a house which we found after about two hours walking, a mile from the place where we had been wrecked. The woman of the house behaved very kindly to us, and put me to bed, and gave me some hot tea, and put hot irons to my feet, which brought me to by degrees. I was next day conveyed to the house of a Mr. McAlpine, where I was kindly treated, and was afterwards seen up by Capt. Nuxley, of the Britannia, and taken to Charlestown, my present residence, where the physicians have behaved with great kindness to me, supplying me with money and clothes.
I intend to proceed to Upper Canada immediately, and look for some engagement, which if I do not get, I shall return home again. I am scarcely able to hold a pen I am so weak, and am cut, hacked, and bruised all over. I am afraid you will not be able to read a word of this, or make any thing of it, as I really little know what I am saying. I should not have attempted to write at all, but to quiet your fears, and let you see I am still alive, if not well. But you shall have a long letter from me with a full description of the wreck, as soon as I am able to hold a pen with ease to myself. This goes by Waterford, by a vessel which is leaving this for that port, and for which it will proceed immediately.
“JEROME N. SULLIVAN.”
The following is a video of the Astrea as it is today as viewed by Scuba Divers.