In the autumn of 1841, Sarah Strieve Dare was decidedly pregnant and while staying at a boarding house kept by “Mrs. Clarke at the south west corner of North Bridge Road and Middle Road” gave birth to her second son, John Julius Dare (later known as “Julius”). About two months after his birth, she sailed on the Viscount Melbourne – young children in tow – to join her husband in Macao.
The ship that she and her two first-borne children were travelling on, the Vincent Melbourne had left Singapore for Macao on a Saturday, 25th December 1841. Four days later they were shipwrecked on the Luconia shoal off Brunei in Borneo. The passengers and crew left their crippled ship in five boats.
The lifeboat, which ferried Sarah and her two children to supposed safety, also had fourteen Europeans and thirteen natives and servants on board. Likely not included in count of the Europeans would be baby Julius, a couple of months old, and his older brother, George, barely two years old. Singapore was 600 miles away. We can assume rain because the following recorded story refers to the powder for the guns being too damp to fire.. One would assume that travelling this distance in “the boats” with two infants would be frightening enough, but worse was to come. A junior officer of the Viscount Melbourne recorded the subsequent events in great detail:
About SIX A.M. as we were all assembled in the launch, hearing the captain read prayers, we saw a proa bearing down towards us. The captain ordered us to take the serang (boatswain over the lascars), along with us and speak to them, to learn if they were friendly; for we much feared they were pirates. If there was danger, we were to hoist a signal, and they would come to our assistance.
We accordingly started to meet them; we waved a white cloth as a token of amity, and they did the same. When we got alongside of them we spoke, the serang acting as interpreter; and they said that they came to conduct us safely in-shore, and that one boat was there already. So, by this we suspected that they had taken them prisoners, and wished to entice the rest of us to the same fate. They now said that they wished to see the captain; so we pulled back, and they soon came up with the launch, where all were ready, cutlass in hand, to receive them, in case of treachery.
They tried all they could to persuade us to go with them, and finally began to make fast to the launch with a rattan rope. When they found that we would not go with them, they assumed a very threatening aspect; so there being so few of us who could fight, and our firearms being useless on account of the preceding rain, the captain gave the order to cut and run. The cook with one blow of his cutlass severed their rope, and we all made sail.
When they saw this, they made sail in chase of us. We gained upon them at first, when to our surprise, they opened fire on us, first from their rifles, and finally from a swivel, the last shot passing through a blanket that was rigged as a screen from the sun at the back of the captain and passengers. It passed betwixt the captain and Mrs. Dare, and then scraping a piece off the skull of one of the lascars, who sat in the bow of the boat, it buried itself in the water. Another shot, cut away the leech of the second cutter’s lug.
They gained rapidly on our boat, we not being so well manned or skilful as the rest. When within a few fathoms they made signs for us to desist pulling, at the same time taking aim at us. Mr. Parkhouse, who was pulling the next oar to me, when he saw the rifle pointed towards us, dropped his oar, exclaiming, “Good God! There is one of us gone.” It was of no use persisting further, so they ran alongside.
The proa was about the size of a sloop, neatly built of teak, but cleverly covered with matting and bark, to make her appearance as lubberly and clumsy as possible. She had two long straight poles for masts, and a large lug made of matting to each. Besides this, they pulled fifteen sweeps a side.
When they first ran alongside the launch, there appeared to be only five or six half-naked fellows, who were fishing; but now her decks were crowded with Malays, armed and dressed in fancy costumes. Krises, very dangerous, crooked poisoned swords, clubs, spears and guns, altogether made them have a very ferocious appearance. They jumped into our boat; seized upon us; and would, I think, have dispatched us at once, had it not been for the interference of one who seemed to be their chief, who dashing away the swords of the most forward, ordered all but two to get into their own craft and to proceed in chase of our other boats, which by this time had got pretty far in advance.
They accordingly set their sails, and stood for the other boats, whilst we were obliged to steer for the land. Our preserver, a gentlemanly thief, was still with us, and he now began to lay his hands upon all our things, tying them all up in a blanket. But when those in the proa saw this, they, thinking, I suppose, that they were being sent after a shadow, whilst he was making sure of the substance, turned back, and running along-side, began to clear the boat of everything – clothes, provisions, and even our drop of water, about two gallons, for the sake of the keg. As they took our muskets, pistols and other arms, they repeatedly, jumped for joy, exclaiming “bagus” (very good).
When they came to our sextant, they seemed very much puzzled to know what it was, and made signs to me to show them the use of it, which I did. We repeatedly made signs to the chief to let us go after the boats, which by this time were nearly our of sight; to which he nodded his head assentingly, and shook us by the hand. Mr. Parkhouse now very foolishly pulled a small bag from his pocket, containing a fifty rupee note and some silver, which he gave to the chief, at the same time as pointing to our other boats. Directly he got this, the rest began to strip us for more.
They took his watch, Mr. Dainty’s watch and ring, but on me they only found a Dutch silver piece. There was a case of herring paste, which they made me taste before they would take it. They also threw our bag of biscuit into the water. When having taken everything, they now, to our great delight, told us we might go. They gave us a small basket of sago, and about three pints of water.
At this point, I stop to imagine the mix of fear and rage that I would feel to be left with an infant and toddler and only three pints of water on an open boat – water which would also have to meet the needs of twenty-seven adults.
The chief politely shook hands with us all; then stepping on board the proa they made sail towards the shore. Luckily for us, one of our boats was just in sight, that containing Mr. Penfold, who had offered the captain, if he would give him six Englishmen, he would rescue us, or share our fate, for they never thought we should return. Guess then our joy, when we saw him lying-to, though a great way off. We made sail, and stood towards him, pulling at the same time with all our might, uncertain for some time whether we gained upon them or not. Had it been night, we should have missed them, and must, unprovided as we were, have died a miserable death; worse, indeed, than the one from which we had escaped.
We came up with him fast, and in two hours after leaving the proa, ran alongside of them, and pleased enough they were to see us. Just as we reached them, away went our mast, and the cutter took us in tow. We soon came up with the launch, when the captain welcomed us heartily. Our boat not being worth repairing was condemned. Half of our crew went in the second cutter. Mr. Dainty and myself into the launch. The sails and oars being taken out of her, she was scuttled, and cast adrift.
We arrived at Singapore at about three p.m., after being twelve days in our boats. The second cutter had got in early in the morning. The first cutter did not get into Singapore until a fortnight after we left, having been to Sambas. The lascars, who deserted us, had been taken as slaves, and did not regain their liberty until twelve months after.
On January 17th, a boat was seen coming into Singapore River to Mr. Johnston’s landing steps at Tanjjong Tangkap. Dr. Little and Mr. Read saw the boat coming up to the steps and the former helped Sarah Dare ashore with her two boys, George and Julius. They had been thirteen days in the open boat at sea with few provisions and had lived to tell. Sarah would go on to give birth to seven more live children, one of whom would become the wife of Sir Thomas JACKSON.
Buckley, Charles Burton. An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore: From the Foundation of the settlement under the honourable the East India Company on February 6th, 1819 to the transfer of the Colonial Office as part of the Colonial Possessions of the Crown on April 1st, 1867. Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya Press, 1965.
Collis, Maurice. Wayfoong: The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Faber and Faber, 1965
King, Frank H.H.. History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation .Cambridge University Press, 1987
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