While the castaways on the raft were suffering the tortures of the damned, the cavalcade of lifeboats had found their way to the shores of the Skeleton Coast and with the aid of helpful Moors and a trek along the coast, most of the survivors had found their way to St. Louis. Eventually, the missing 150 souls on the raft were considered and a ship of the original fleet, the Argus, set out to locate the wreck and if possible the raft but this was a forlorn hope. In was in fact the survivors on the raft, who spotted the Argus's top-masts and frantically waved handkerchiefs until they were seen. The ship pulled alongside and 15 men of the original 150 climbed aboard the Argus after two weeks spent in purgatory.

The long tortuous nightmare of the raft of the Medusa had ended and the tragedy slowly unfolded to the horrified listeners as the 15 survivors told their story. A day or two later and their fate would have never been known but as the remnants of the castaways staggered into Senegal harbour they were greeted with mixed feelings by the architects of the disastrous plan.

When news of the disaster reached Paris the Government and Monarchy were rocked to their foundations. De Chaumereys was a restored Royalist and a representative of a restored aristocratic class and as such it was an extreme embarrassment to the Establishment particularly as the British were so accomplished a sea-going nation.

There was of course an enquiry and a trial which was almost as tortuous as the voyage itself. There were many conflicting views and versions of the events, with the leading players defending their actions, and the issue became clouded with one blaming the other. What was clear and in no doubt was the gross incompetence of the Captain and his part in the debacle. His loyalty to the Monarchy saved him from the death penalty and his sentence was commuted to three years imprisonment and loss of all titles and decorations which in the circumstances was extremely lenient.

The final irony of the whole sorry fiasco was that the Medusa did not sink at all. The Argus found the wreck in shallow water and transferred all her gold and supplies to her own holds along with 17 seamen who unbeknown to anyone had elected to stay aboard.

Three years later Theodore Gericault was inspired to paint his masterpiece "LE RADEAU DE LA MEDUSE" which still inspires foreboding {despite the invitation to "step aboard"} in all who see it hanging in the Louvre .


Although I have known this painting for many years, it is only comparatively recently that I learned the story of the shipwreck, which for me enhances the canvas no end. In fact I have found that some knowledge of why an artist chooses such and such a subject is quite fascinating and I now find that it is an integral part of knowing a picture to understand and to be acquainted with the subject or the story behind it. Just to look at a picture is not enough for me now and a whole new vista opens up beyond the portals of merely saying "that's nice" and moving along to the next. Some of this information though, is quite difficult to come by, particularly in the case of French artists and paintings. We are very insular in art as in so many other things on our own little raft. It was only by chance that I came across an out of print copy of a book which gave me much of the information for this article (why are out of print books so much more interesting than those easily obtainable?). So if you desire a much more detailed version of the story then seek out a copy of "Death Raft" by Alexander McKee. For more on Paris try www.oocities.com/parivision2003


index page Sign Guestbook View Guestbook 1