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Wreck of Corbin

The wreck of "Corbin" was declared protected on 5 June 2011 and the protected area of coverage includes area one square kilometer around the wreck.

Hostory of Corbin

The Corbin was a French ship of 400 tons, which set sail from St. Malo with the Croissant on May 18, 1601, in search of trade with the east. Plagued by misfortune and ill discipline, the Corbin was destined for disaster and met its end on Goidhoo, or Horsburgh Atoll, on July 2, 1602. It was carrying a cargo of silver and attempted salvage at the time of loss was unsuccessful because of deep water.

At the start of the journey, a bad omen occurred when the mast broke and the crew threatened to jump ship. Sickness and desertions threatened the expedition before the ship had even begun to cross the Indian Ocean. The stifling heat had destroyed many provisions, the water was putrid, fish and meat had gone bad and were full of big worms, butter had turned to oil, and scurvy was rampant. A short stay of 15 days at Malailli, one of the Comoroes islands, vastly improved the health of the crew before they crossed the Indian Ocean. On July 1, some reefs and islands were sighted which were correctly recognized as the Maldives by the English pilot. The night was supposed to be spent beating about, but the Corbin was virtually left to herself. During the night the captain was ill and in his bunk, the mate and second mate were drunk and the watch was asleep. In the early hours of the morning of July 2, the ship struck the reef.

Of the 40 or so survivors, one band of 12 men stole a boat and made it to India. Only four of the remainder survived the five-year captivity. One of them was Francois Pyrard, who wrote about his adventures when he returned. It wasn't until February 1607, when an expedition from Chittagong invaded the capital, that Pyrard and his three remaining companions were taken to India and eventually returned to France. Ironically, it was the excellent cannon on board the Corbin that the raiding party was after, which eventually freed the captives. The treatment of Pyrard and his companions by the Maldivians was uncharacteristically cruel but their fate was largely determined by their conduct in the days following the wreck of the Corbin. All the silver and the most precious merchandise were stowed at the bottom of the ship which, after running onto the reef was under water and irretrievable. What remained of the silver was hidden in their waistbands.

During their first night on Fulhadhoo, they hid their waistbands for fear they should be searched by the islanders. At length, the sailors obtained little to eat and were dying of hunger, so they unearthed the coins and offered money for food, which they received. In turn, the natives would give nothing except for money and before long the coins started to run out.

Pyrard wrote: Those who had money, and who by this means could obtain food, filled their bellies without discretion; and being in a country where the air is very unhealthy for all strangers, even for those of a similar climate, they fell ill, and died one after another, nay more, in place of receiving aid and consolation from their fellows, those who were without money and in great need came and stripped them, and took their money before they were dead, the healthy who survived fought with one another who should have it, and banded themselves two against two, and finally messmate against messmate, with so little charity, that they would see their comrades and fellow countrymen die before their eyes without giving them any assistance or succour. I have never seen a sight so pitiable and deplorable.

Pyrard was taken with two other crewmembers to another island, Fehendhoo. Unlike the others, they had no belts of money and although this caused some trouble at first, they found they were better off with nothing, as little by little, the natives gave them some food. News of the wreck and the money reached Male and commissioners were sent to Fulhadhoo to secure the wreck on behalf of the sultan. All merchandise and money from shipwrecks automatically became the property of the sultan and Maldivians were prohibited from selling anything to the shipwreck victims. When the commissioner arrived at Fulhadhoo, he demanded to know who had the money from the vessel. To get hold of it, he arrested all the inhabitants, even the women, and had their thumbs put into cleftsticks and squeezed and bound with iron clasps, to see if they would confess. The villagers on the island of Pyrard's captivity were in no trouble when it was proved they had taken nothing, for which they were grateful. Pyrard took great pains to learn their language and by doing so was able to largely determine his own destiny and obtain an insight into Maldivian society never before seen by a westerner, on which he wrote extensively.

Pyrard wrote: I have remarked that nothing served me so much, or so conciliated the goodwill of the people, the lords, and even the king, as to have a knowledge of their language, and that was the reason why I was always preferred to my companions, and more esteemed than they.

The wreck of the Corbin may have passed unnoticed through history were it not for the historical accounts left by Francois Pyrard. His account of the wreck and ensuing captivity makes compelling reading and his description of life in the islands and the customs of the people make his book a valuable source of reference for historians and students of Maldivian history and culture.

Protected Areas

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