The below information details some of the survivors and there history:
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“I was asleep below when I was aroused by a tremendous crash. I at once realised that something
serious was amiss, and calling to my mate, a Romford man, I told him I thought we must be ashore.
We ran up on deck with the rest and afterwards I stood at the gangway and assisted to hand the
women and children into the boat. The men all stood back until they had been got safely away but
there was no ‘falling in’ on the deck. When the vessel went down I was in the long boat. There were
about a hundred of us in it altogether but when the ship broke in two the falling funnel caught our
boat and smashed it throwing us all into the water”.
He was in the water clinging to a raft for fourteen hours before finally drifting ashore and being
PRIVATE JOHN SMITH
He was the master gunner of the Birkenhead and was washed ashore after the wreck on
driftwood to which Lieut Girardot and others clung. He was one of the surviving Naval officers
whose statements were sent home to the Board of Admiralty.
"On the morning of the 26th of February I was aroused from my bed by a severe shock. I instantly
ran on deck and found the ship had struck on a rock and was rapidly sinking. I was ordered by the
Captain to fire the rockets and burn the blue lights which I did. After so doing I went on the port
sponson to clear away the port paddle box. We had canted the boat when the fore part of the ship
went down. At the same time I and Mr. Brodie (master) were washed overboard. When rising to the
surface of the water I held on to part of the wreck. Leaving the piece of wreck I swam towards a
truss of hay where I found Mr Brodie. Finding it impossible to hold on to the hay any longer I made
for part of the wreck where I found Captain Wright 91st Regiment and nine or ten men. They
assisted me on the raft floating towards the shore".
JOHN THOMAS ARCHBOLD
THOMAS COFFIN joined th Birkenhead in the winter of 1850-51. He was on duty as the man at
the wheel when the troopship struck the rock. He was coxswain of the rescue cutter with a
number of men from the wreck including the surgeon Dr Bowen.
He was born in 1813 aboard H.M.S. Pitt of which his father was at the time shipkeeper. As a little
sailor boy he paraded on Southsea Common at Queen Victoria’s Accession. Later he saw active
service on the coast of Syria was in the Naval Brigade in the Crimea and fought in the China War
of 1860 where he received his only wound his upper lip being cut through by a Chinaman’s boat
hook whilst boarding a pirate junk. Mr Coffin left the service in 1871 as Quartermaster and
settled in Eastville Bristol. He saved relics of his adventures including the shell which he and
other seamen used as a drinking cup on the tramp to Caledon from Fish Bay. During that trying
journey they picked up nude a soldier cast ashore from the wreck who otherwise must have
died in that desert waste.
BENJAMIN TURNER was a second class boy on board the Birkenhead.
Seeing there was no other escape I took off my flannel and trousers and threw them overboard
and jumped into the sea and made for the shore as best I could. It was very dark at the time
you could not see one another in the water. I saw many poor fellows hanging with their arms
over a spar and their legs in the water taken down by the sharks. At last I managed to get on
shore along with two others - W Neal carpenter’s mate of the ship and a soldier whose name I
forgot. They were completely exhausted after being about fourteen hours in the water. I was so
burnt with the sun and salt water that it was quite three weeks before I could lay on my back.
We had some distance to travel before we could get any relief - my shipmates carrying me in
turns on their backs.
PRIVATE WILLIAM TUCK like his comrade-in-arms Colour Sergeant Drake had experienced
exciting adventures prior to the disaster of February, 1852. He was wrecked in the Torch in
1848. After escaping a second time when the Birkenhead sank he was in the Baltic in 1854 with
Sir Charles Napier and in 1855 served there again under Admiral Dundas and was at the
bombardment of Sweaborg. Fifteen years of his Royal Marine service was spent afloat in Naval
“After the Birkenhead struck the first thing I was called upon to do was to get the women and
children into a boat and dreadful was the scene! We had to push some of the women into the boat. I
went forward to help with the paddle box boat but I was too late. The foremast went over the
starboard side and as soon as the masts were gone she broke in two at the foremost part. I was in
commended by Captain Wright was Private Francis Ginn, of the 43rd Light Infantry, then a recruit
just turned eighteen. With others he stood on the troopship, awaiting patiently what seemed
certain death, while the safety of the women and children was secured by means of the boats.
When finally the Birkenhead went down, Francis Ginn found himself battling for life on the surface
of the treacherous waters. However he was a good swimmer and by removing his clothing he kept
going by alternately striking out shoreward and clinging for support to passing wreckage during
the long weary hours of that dreadful night and the following morning. Eventually at midday he
was picked up in a benumbed and exhausted condition by a Dutch fishing boat.