Skip to main content

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur by Gill Hoffs


The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic

This is a long overdue review of a very interesting book. I knew nothing about the subject at all - and I confess to never having heard of the tragedy of the Tayleur before coming to this book. Reading the preface, though, I didn’t feel too bad; nor had Gill Hoffs until a visit to Warrington Museum a few years ago.

It’s surprising how little known the ship is really, given the parallels with the Titanic. Both were White Star Line ships, touted as the best of the best, and both sunk on their maiden voyages. The Tayleur may lack the glamour of the Titanic, but it is a compelling and awful story in its own right.

Hoffs (I do feel a bit weird about using surnames in my non-academic writing, but I’m going with it) has balanced the big story of the ship’s disastrous voyage with the stories of individuals on board and the details of life on-board. Some fascinating lives emerge. I was particularly taken with bad boy Samuel Carby, sentenced to ten years transportation in 1841 for stealing a hunk of sheep’s flesh – well it was a second offence. He’d served his time then returned to England to marry his sweetheart Sarah, get to know his now 13 year old son, and take them back to Australia and a better life.

There were many on-board the Tayleur for whom the challenges of life on the other side of the world were still preferable to the poverty and starvation they faced at home. The social details Hoffs weaves into her book are sobering and enlightening. I found aspects of life on the ship such as the rules the passengers were expected to obey and the rations they received especially interesting. Other things – women’s clothing, for example – took on an unexpectedly deadly cast as I read on.

I also enjoyed the use of good sizeable chunks of primary sources, both heading up the chapters and within them. They effectively set the scene, add detail, and give that firsthand insight that is invaluable. The eyewitness accounts of the chaos as the ship sank are heartbreaking: ‘And now began a scene of the most frightful horror’.

The story of RMS Tayleur is fascinating. The ship was so full of promise. It had a new design, stronger, faster, more luxurious, and a captain whose name was enough to draw crowds. But from the day of the launch there were bad omens and signs that not all was well. Of course, it is easy to be wise with hindsight, but it does seem that some issues ought to have been addressed before she ever took on her passengers. The fact that half of them survived actually feels quite remarkable in the circumstances.

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur gives a good insight into the tragedy itself as well as the wider social background of the period. Despite its terrible subject matter, I enjoyed the book a great deal. It is very easy to get drawn into, and I whizzed through it in a couple of sittings. It is some months since I read the book, but I can still remember vividly certain parts, and I’m sure some images will stay with me indefinitely.

My thanks go to the author and Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of the book. It is available in Hardback and as an eBook.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Interview With The Vampire: Claudia's Story by Anne Rice and Ashley Marie Witter

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden and the Borden Murders See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

The story of Lizzie Borden has a whiff of folklore about it, it feels hazy to me, apocryphal perhaps, something half known and uncertain like Washington and the cherry tree or the ride of Paul Revere. Shamefully, I had to Google both the latter two examples to double check they were the events I thought I was referring to. I choose them deliberately though - is it my Englishness that makes these events fuzzy to me? Do these stories live in the American psyche the way Magna Carta, Henry VIII and his six wives, and Jack the Ripper (to select three almost at random) live in mine? 
I remember a book we stocked when I was a very young bookseller at Waterstones in Watford that looked at the psychology of children who murder their parents. The copy on the back of the book talked of Lizzie Borden. I remember half wondering about the case, then shelving the book away and moving onto the next armful. But it stuck in my m…

Super Special Summer Picnic Book Chase

My nieces and nephews and I have a monthly book club, called Book Chase (although it sometimes gains an extra 's' to become Book Chasse). The rules are simple: we all bring something we've read during the last month, talk about it to each other, and eat snacks. We live tweet each meeting with the hashtag BookChase. Sometimes, when we remember, we Storify all the tweets too. This month, we remembered!

[View the story "SUPER SPECIAL SUMMER PICNIC BOOK CHASE" on Storify]