The Shipwreck of RMS Tayleur

Book Review The Shipwreck of RMS Tayleur, the lost story of the Victorian Titanic.    By  Gill Hoffs  Book cover The story of the Tayleur has been related twice or three times now but in this latest iteration of the tale Gill brings new angles to the narrative. There is additional insight from her background as a psychologist which delves into the people’s mindset to develop the story. The tale dwells on the horrible suffering of the victims as they struggled to survive the wreck reiterating the eyewitness accounts of the survivors as related in the contemporary newspapers. These were embellished for the Victorian reader in a mellow dramatic style. The panic among the passengers was criticised by captain Noble for preventing him cutting the foremast in an attempt to make a bridge to the shore. There are the usual comments on substantial survival of the crew with inordinate proportion of losses among the women and children. The discipline of the troops aboard the Birkenhead shipwreck is a comparison. A little more critical analysis of the situation might suggest that inappropriate clothing (for swimming), inability to swim, panic, inability to climb across planks or ropes to the shore etc made chances of survival slim. It seems that many women remained below decks in what they saw as safety only coming up at a late stage after the ship had slipped out from the shore and become partly submerged. un. Those that survived mainly reacted rapidly and crossed the plank to shore in the first attempts to escape before the ship heaved out from the rocks . Many of the survivors were crew who climbed masts and swung ashore from ropes. Thus physical ability, mental attitude and survival skills prevailed compared with seasickness, panic and lack of knowledge rather than lack of compassion and failure to aid women and children. Full advantage of internet genealogical sources are used to develop powerful pen pictured of the passengers and victims. The reasons why some of the passengers were emigrating to Australia to escape a chequered background is fully investigated. While one man was known to have been jailed for sheep stealing Gill Hoffs went deeper to discover from contemporary accounts how his crime had been detected. Deeper study of the passengers reveals that Dr Conyingham who died with all his family was an experienced goldfields doctor who had returned to Scotland to bring them out to a new life. He had even organised the shipping of a prefabricated dwelling and surgery of his own design. This takes the narrative far beyond what has been discovered so far. Detail of Captain Noble’s life, death and burial at Toxteth at the tragically young age of 35 explains why he disappeared from all records examined to date. Gill investigates the failure of captain Noble’s leadership in the last hours of the Tayleur in terms of mental paralysis of thought following his serious fall the day before the ship was launched. In some ways this is inconsistent with the attempts to wear ship just off Lambay including the dropping of the two anchors. The sideways impact of the Tayleur on Lambay was arguably more damaging that a bow on collision but that would have been dictated by the tidal flow around Tayleur bay. Notwithstanding possible mental paralysis Captain Noble, was, in the end able to leave the ship, swim ashore and safely climb onto the rocks. He managed this at the very end of the disaster and except for those taking refuge in the masts he was last to leave the deck of the ship. The illustrations are limited to some general views of emigrant ships and Australian goldrush illustrations but include a photo of Noble’s grave in Toxteth. The entire story told by Gill Hoffs is a detailed account of the personal stories of the passengers, crew and victims of the Tayleur Tragedy, well worth reading. There is substantial new information and analysis which adds colour and interest to the terrible story. Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, 2014, £19.99 ISBN 9781783030477