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Maritime Disasters: HMS Birkenhead

May 19th, 2016 by Piper Smith

HMS Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. Iinitially designed as a frigate, she was converted to a troopship before being commissioned. On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops primarily of the 73rd Regiment of Foot to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Gansbaai near Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats on board for all the passengers – however the soldiers famously stood firm, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people onboard survived, the soldiers’ chivalry gave rise to the “women and children first” protocol during the procedure of abandoning ship, while the “Birkenhead Drill” of Rudyard Kipling’s poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.

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