The Wreck of the Elizabeth.

From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston


  From a conversation with Mrs. Hasty, widow of the captain of the ill-fated Elizabeth, we gather the following particulars of her voyage and its melancholy termination.

  We have already stated that Captain Hasty was prostrated, eight days after leaving Leghorn, by a disease which was regarded and treated as fever, but which ultimately exhibited itself as small-pox of the most malignant type. He died of it just as the vessel reached Gibraltar, and his remains were committed to the deep. After a short detention in quarantine, the Elizabeth resumed her voyage on the 8th ultimo, and was long baffled by adverse winds. Two days from Gibraltar, the terrible disease which had proved fatal to the captain attacked the child of the Ossolis, a beautiful boy of two years, and for many days his recovery was regarded as hopeless. His eyes were completely closed for five days, his head deprived of all shape, and his whole person covered with pustules; yet, through the devoted attention of his parents and their friends, he survived, and at length gradually recovered. Only a few scars and red spots remained on his face and body, and these were disappearing, to the great joy of his mother, who felt solicitous that his rare beauty should not be marred at his first meeting with those she loved, and especially her mother.

  At length, after a month of slow progress, the wind shifted, and blew strongly from the southwest for several days, sweeping them rapidly on their course, until, on Thursday evening last, they knew that they were near the end of their voyage. Their trunks were brought up and repacked, in anticipation of a speedy arrival in port. Meantime, the breeze gradually swelled to a gale, which became decided about nine o’clock on that evening. But their ship was new and strong, and all retired to rest as usual. They were running west, and supposed themselves about sixty miles farther south than they actually were. By their reckoning, they would be just off the harbor of New York next morning. About half past two o’clock, Mr. Bangs, the mate in command, took soundings, and reported twenty-one fathoms. He said that depth insured their safety till daylight, and turned in again. Of course, all was thick around the vessel, and the storm howling fiercely. One hour afterward, the ship struck with great violence, and in a moment was fast aground. She was a stout brig of 531 tons, five years old, heavily laden with marble, &c., and drawing seventeen feet water. Had she been light, she might have floated over the bar into twenty feet water, and all on board would have been saved. She struck rather sidewise than bows on, canted on her side and stuck fast, the mad waves making a clear sweep over her, pouring down into the cabin through the skylight, which was destroyed. One side of the cabin was immediately and permanently under water, the other frequently drenched. The passengers, who were all up in a moment, chose the most sheltered positions, and there remained, calm, earnest, and resigned to any fate, for a long three hours. No land was yet visible; they knew not where they were, but they knew that their chance of surviving was small indeed. When the coast was first visible through the driving storm in the gray light of morning, the sand-hills were mistaken for rocks, which made the prospect still more dismal. The young Ossoli cried a little with discomfort and fright, but was soon hushed to sleep. Our friend Margaret had two life-preservers, but one of them proved unfit for use. All the boats, had been smashed in pieces or torn away soon after the vessel struck, and while it would have been madness to launch them in the dark, if it had been possible to launch them at all, with the waves charging over the wreck every moment. A sailor, soon after light, took Madame Ossoli’s servicable life-preserver and swam ashore with it, in quest of aid for those left on board, and arrived safe, but of course could not return his means of deliverance.

  By 7 A. M. it became evident that the cabin must soon go to pieces, and indeed it was scarcely tenantable then. The crew were collected in the forecastle, which was stronger and less exposed, the vessel having settled by the stern, and the sailors had been repeatedly ordered to go aft and help the passengers forward, but the peril was so great that none obeyed. At length the second mate, Davis, went himself, and accompanied the Italian girl, Celesta Pardena, safely to the forecastle, though with great difficulty. Madame Ossoli went next, and had a narrow escape from being washed away, but got over. Her child was placed in a bag tied around a sailor’s neck, and thus carried safely. Marquis Ossoli and the rest followed, each convoyed by the mate or one of the sailors.

  All being collected in the forecastle, it was evident that their position was still most perilous, and that the ship could not much longer hold together. The women were urged to try first the experiment of taking each a plank and committing themselves to the waves. Madame Ossoli refused thus to be separated from her husband and child. She had from the first expressed a willingness to live or die with them, but not to live without them. Mrs. Hasty was the first to try the plank, and, though the struggle was for some time a doubtful one, did finally reach the shore, utterly exhausted. There was a strong current setting to the westward, so that, though the wreck lay but a quarter of a mile from the shore, she landed three fourths of a mile distant. No other woman, and no passenger, survives, though several of the crew came ashore after she did, in a similar manner. The last who came reports that the child had been washed away from the man who held it before the ship broke up, that Ossoli had in like manner been washed from the foremast, to which he was clinging; but, in the horror of the moment, Margaret never learned that those she so clung to had preceded her to the spirit land. Those who remained of the crew had just persuaded her to trust herself to a plank, in the belief that Ossoli and their child had already started for the shore, when just as she was stepping down, a great wave broke over the vessel and swept her into the boiling deep. She never rose again. The ship broke up soon after (about l0 A. M. Mrs. Hasty says, instead of the later hour previously reported); but both mates and most of the crew got on one fragment or another. It was supposed that those of them who were drowned were struck by floating spars or planks, and thus stunned or disabled so as to preclude all chance of their rescue.

  We do not know of the time of this writing whether the manuscript of our friend’s work on Italy and her late struggles has been saved. We fear it has not been. One of her trunks is known to have been saved; but, though it contained a good many papers, Mrs. Hasty believes that this was not among them. The author had thrown her whole soul into this work, had enjoyed the fullest opportunities for observation, was herself a partaker in the gallant though unsuccessful struggle which has redeemed the name of Rome from the long rust of sloth, servility, and cowardice, was the intimate friend and companion of the Republican leaders and better fitted than any one else to refute the calumnies and falsehood with which their names have been blackened by the champions of aristocratic “order” throughout the civilized world. We cannot forego the hope that her work on Italy has been saved, or will yet be recovered.


THE following is a complete list of the persons lost by the wreck of the ship Elizabeth:—

      Giovanni, Marquis Ossoli.
      Margaret Fuller Ossoli.
      Their child, Eugene Angelo Ossoli.
      Celesta Pardena, of Rome.
      Horace Sumner, of Boston.
      George Sanford, seaman (Swede).
      Henry Westervelt, seaman (Swede).
      George Bates, steward.

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