The Raft of the Medusa

(Le Radeau de la Méduse by Theodore Gericault, 1818-19)

Beached some 60 miles off the shore of Africa, the passengers and crew of the Frigate Medusa constructed a raft to be towed by the Medusa's two launches to shore and safety. But fearing that the passengers of the raft may overcome and threaten those in the rescue boats, the raft was cut free, adrift with few supplies and no navigation.

In the first night 20 died or killed themselves. Storms on the sea proved the center of the raft (60ft long x 20ft wide) to be the only stable area, and so men fought to reach it. By the fourth day, only 67 remained of the original 146. Survivors resorted to cannibalism and the weak were thrown overboard and drown. By the eighth day, only 15 remained. Once rescued, only 10 of those 15 survived.

Nearly all in the two rescue boats survived, including the captain, who upon reaching Senegal commissioned an expedition to return to the wreck of the Medusa for the gold aboard.

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