History : May-Jun 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 15 MILESTONES staunch monarchist. The fact that he had not sailed a ship in more than 20 years mattered little. Captain Chaumareys’s time away from the sea led to a series of fatal mistakes. He peeled away from the rest of the convoy and followed a solitary route. Ignoring more experienced officers, he misread the charts and ran the ship aground on July 2 in shallow waters off the coast of modern-day Mauritania in northwestern Africa. A storm followed, cutting short the crew’s attempts to relaunch. Nearly 400 passengers and crew aban- doned ship, the chaos accentuated by the large amounts of alcohol consumed by captain and crew. Chaumareys and the officers boarded the lifeboats, leaving 150 sailors and soldiers, including a fe- male cook, to huddle on an improvised raft measuring around 50 by 25 feet. The lifeboats were supposed to tow the raft to the coast, but Chaumareys felt it was too heavy and slowing the boats’ progress. In yet another poor decision, he decided to cut the raft loose. Abandoned to the waves, the 150 sur- vivors faced a horrific crisis. Space was tight on the raft, with people struggling for the drier area in the center. Freshwa- ter and food soon ran out. They had to drink seawater and even their own urine. The one box of biscuits on board was gone in a single day. By the third day, some of the crew were already resorting to can- nibalism, the flesh from the corpses cut into strips and dried in the sun before being eaten. “We saw that awful food as the only way of staying alive,” a survivor later explained. According to personal accounts, the number of survivors was quickly whit- tled down. Twenty people drowned on the first night. On the second, a fierce fight killed at least 65 more people. A LIFTING THE LID THE COVER OF CORRÉARD AND SAVIGNY’S BOOK ON THE MÉDUSE AFFAIR GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE Written by two of the survivors, a book about the behavior of the captain and crew of the Méduse triggered a wave of revulsion across France. W AKG/ALBUM MUSÉE DU LOUVRE/RMN-GRAND PALAIS THE RETURN OF THE BOURBONS DISPLAYED AT THE PARIS SALON in the fall of 1814, this allegorical oil painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin celebrates Louis XVIII’s return to France following the abdication of Emperor Napoleon I. He is surrounded by the royal family and a large number of former exiles. France is personified as a vulnerable woman, weakened by 25 years of revolution and war, who is saved by the Bourbon king, dressed in his coronation robes.