The below information details some of the survivors and there history:
It was this gallant officer then Ensign Lucas, who supervised the placing of the women and
children in the ship’s boat. This officer and Lieutenant Girardot of the 43rd were on watch
together the night the Birkenhead was wrecked and heard the night orders given to the naval
officer of the watch. He was always under the impression that a small grass fire high on the shore
at Danger Point misled that officer who probably thought it was at Cape Agulha lighthouse.
Ensign Lucas sent home - three weeks after the wreck - an account of his experience which is of
After serving with the Army through the difficult years following the Birkenhead disaster he retired
from his regiment after his appointment as company commander in 1859 and for many years
subsequently he was a magistrate in Durban in addition to various other appointments in Natal
South Africa. During the latter part of the period he held important post of Chief Magistrate at
Durban. He returned to England in 1897.
CAPTAIN GOULD ARTHUR LUCAS
"I remained on the wreck until she went down; the suction took me down some way, and a man
got hold of my leg, but I managed to kick him off and came up and struck out for some pieces of
wood that were on the water and started for land, about two miles off. I was in the water about
five hours, as the shore was so rocky and the surf ran so high that a great many were lost trying
to land. Nearly all those that took to the water without their clothes on were taken by sharks;
hundreds of them were all round us, and I saw men taken by them close to me, but as I was
dressed (having on a flannel shirt and trousers) they preferred the others. I was not in the least
hurt, and, am happy to say, kept my head clear; most of the officers lost their lives from losing
their presence of mind and trying to take money with them, and from not throwing off their coats.
There was no time to get the paddle box boats down, and a great many more might have been
saved but the boats that were got down deserted us and went off. From the time she struck to
when she went down was 20 minutes. When I landed I found an officer of the 12th Lancers who
had swum off with a life preserver, and 14 men who had got on with bits of wood like myself".
JOHN FRANCAIS GIRARDOT
He was the son of a large landed proprietor in County Armagh and in Wiltshire. He was born at
Cheltenham, and joined the Army in 1851 his war service including the Cape (Kaffir War), Crimea,
and Indian Mutiny. He retired in 1858. In 1902 he was living at The Argory in Moy Co Tyrone. At
the time of the disaster he was Cornet Bond of the 12th Royal Lancers detachment .
In May 1902 he wrote “after leaving the service I was with the Italian Army in 1859, when they
and the French were fighting with the Austrians. In 1864 I took a bag of despatches for the
Princess of Wales to the King of Denmark. I was going to join the Danish Army, who were fighting
the Prussians at Dybol. I was with the headquarters at Sonderburg. I knew the King of Denmark
and the Crown Prince very well. I dined with the King twice after delivering the despatches. Any
papers I had about the Birkenhead were burned about four years ago, when I had the great
misfortune to have my house nearly completely burned down.”
CAPTAIN R M BOND-SHELTON
John O'Neil was the son of a farrier major of the 7th Dragoons and was born a soldier on
shipboard at Malta. As a boy he sailed to South Africa with the 91st Regiment in 1842, and was
shipwrecked in Table Bay. He fought in two Kaffir Wars under Sir Harry Smith, and also in
operations conducted in those early days against the Boers. In 1852 O’Neil, a corporal then,
was sent on escort duty to Robben Island with prisoners.
Afterwards with the two privates who accompanied him he went on board the ill-fated troopship
Birkenhead at Simon’s Bay to return to the headquarters of his regiment.
He escaped death by swimming ashore through the heavy breakers and the threat of sharks.
COLOUR SERGEANT JOHN O`NEIL
He was born at Parsonstown King’s County Ireland in 1827 and joined the Army at an early age.
He served 12 years and 201 days with the colours and afterwards for 20 years in the Auxiliary
Forces his last corps being the Mid Ulster Artillery of which he was Paymaster Sergeant. In 1902
he was living at Dungannon County Tyrone. Thirty years of his thirty two as a serving soldier
were in non commissioned rank. His active service included the Kaffir War 1852-53 the
expedition across the Orange River to Wasteland (battle of Berea) and the Indian Mutiny. He
was with the draft of the 73rd Regiment on the Birkenhead and aboard the cutter assisting with
the rescue of the women and children as the she sank. A heavy sea was running at the time
and after about twelve hours of standing out to sea they were all picked up by the schooner
Lioness of Capetown. The Lioness put out a boat to search for other survivors picking up some
40 or 50 who were clinging to the floating rigging.
COLOUR SERGEANT KILKEARY
He was standing on the forecastle when the troopship struck the rock and was thrown down by
the force of the shock. In the terrible moments which followed he attempted to save the life of
Cornet Rolt of the 12th Lancers and almost succeeded in doing so. When the ship sank he was
one of those who, on regaining the surface, clung to the main topmast from which he was
rescued with another Royal Marine (John Cooper), on the following afternoon by the schooner
Lioness. Sgt. Drake always spoke warmly of the courageous conduct of Captain Salmond the
This veteran survivor of many perils of the sea was Dorsetshire born and bred. His father was a
game-keeper to Lord Portman and young Drake was trained to be a woodman. However he
decided on a career at sea - in September 1843 he joined the Royal Marines.
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