The Sinking of "Le Superbe"

 

Built in Antwerp between 1809 and 1814 on the plans of the naval engineer Jacques-Noël Sané."Le Superbe", a 3 masted, 74 guns, 3,000 tonnes, 56 metres long, 15 metres abaft, had a crew of 570 (sailors and riflemen), was described as "the prettiest vessel of the French Fleet".

 

On April 4th, 1833 "Le Superbe" was anchored off Smyrna (now Izmir) captained by André-Charles Theodore Du Pont of Aubevoye.

 

From Luxor she had previously brought back the Egyptian obelisk, a gift to France from Pasha Ali Mehmed and which can now be seen in the Place de La Concorde in Paris. This was typical of the use of French warships during peacetime.

 

At the beginning of December, 1833 after the corvette "Cornelia" which had to make a detour by Thessalonica to load the survivors of a shipwreck of a merchant ship leaving "Le Superbe" and "La Galatée" at anchor.Rear Admiral Hugon ordered the two ships to leave their anchoring and to join the "Cornelia" in Naples where the Levant Squadron were getting ready for wintering in Toulon.

 

Saturday, December 14th, 1833, shortly after 0800, both ships sailed for Smyrna right behind two American frigates, and, almost immediately, were struck by strong winds which soon degenerated into a violent tempest.

 

They were immediately separated. For her part, "Cornelia", took a more northerly course, was driven by the winds towards Paros, and managed to take refuge in Crete.

 

"Le Superbe " was pushed into the strait between Tinos and Mykonos, and its sails tear.

 

Sometime later the hapless vessel can see the island of Paros to the south but cannot manage to enter Naoussa harbour.

 

Out of control she is driven by the wind towards the village of Parikia into, for them, uncharted waters because on board there were no navigation charts for this area and suddenly, at the mercy of the howling tempest the bowsprit breaks, killing a seaman.

 

Suddenly another mast breaks.December 15th, about 1600, the ship, partially dismasted, put out two anchors, on the starboard side (a grave error by the pilot who had, in the confusion, thrown them on the wrong side) allowing the huge waves to force the ship against the rock and thus, being tossed around, smashed into a reef.

 

On the port side, the sagging hull threatens to break in two.

 

The Captain shows tremendous courage: he harangues his panicked men, their instinct to jump overboard before a sure of way of leaving the ship is found and threatens to shoot any possible mutineers. "Le Superbe" then fired four cannon shots in order to alert villagers ashore.

 

The British consul, Petros Mavromatis, who witnessed the event recalls "monstrous waves ".

 

On board the second mate, Guigoux, agrees to try to get assistance ashore by swimming there. He reaches the beach successfully but the tempest is too violent to allow the islanders to put rescue boats (caïques) in the sea.

 

The Captain then orders ropes to be tied to empty barrels hoping that the wind will push them towards the coast so that the islanders can somehow tow the ship out of danger.

 

Another ship's officer, Maisonneuve, endeavours to pull the barrels and the ropes with a ship's boat but finding it impossible in the weather abandons the idea.

 

Finally, the big longboat is put in the sea by dint of huge efforts. She manages to take off about 120 men, but breaks up when hitting the beach.

 

A heroic Greek fisherman succeeds in making four return trips with his caïque, saving about a hundred seamen. The last 150 sailors were brought ashore on December 17th by which time the weather had brightened.

 

The British consular agent Nicolas Kondylis efficiently coordinated help for the survivors: Except for the sailor crushed by the fall of the bowsprit there were eight other deaths, all by drowning, by men who tried to escape the ship by jumping overboard.

 

The nine bodies are buried near the bank, on Cape Delphini.

 

Captain Du Pont's, testimony confirmed that their reception on the island was very hospitable. All the survivors were given warm clothing and they were accommodated for a whole week.

 

It can be imagined the impact of that amount of men had on a very small village community. It was necessary to send to Syros for supplies. They made the most of the week by recovering six small cannons, from the wreck.

 

The village was later honoured by France for it's assistance.  All survivors subsequently arrived back at Toulon on January 26th, 1834.

 

At Toulon Captain Du Pont was officially congratulated and became a Rear Admiral in 1858.

 

The American frigate captained by Paterson, very nearly perished.

 

Another French ship "Drossée", in the area at the time, driven towards the town of Andros, without sails or masts, was miraculously blown out to sea by gusts, and then managed to make Milos.