Pure Slush

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Sickness and a Shipwreck

<  FOUR Notes to Myself

Not Three, But Four For Me!  >

by Gill Hoffs


Gill Hoffs was first published online by Pure Slush in August 2011, and just a few months later contributed to slut Pure Slush Vol. 1 ... and she has been a regular contributor both to Pure Slush online and in print ever since. This includes Wild: a collection (originally published in print June 2012). Gill's contribution to the theme 'four' continues some of the stories she wrote about in her 2014 non-fiction publication, The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the 'Victorian Titanic'.


When the RMS Tayleur set sail from Liverpool for the Australian Gold Rush in January 1854, those on board knew the glamorous new White Star Line vessel would make history – unfortunately they didn’t anticipate how.

The Tayleur was beautiful, a famously luxurious clipper with airy quarters below decks and plenty of room for cargo, including blank gravestones and bottles of brandy. Approximately 700 travellers were on board seeking a new life, or at least an escape from their old one. Amongst them were four 4-year-olds: Margaret, Ellen Ann, Henry, and an upholsterer’s daughter from Yorkshire. Despite the ship’s glamour, seasickness was a problem for many and a lot of the families on board took refuge in their berths at the beginning of their trip.

Foul weather and a strong tide paired with flaws in the vessel leading to a deadly conclusion. Just 48 hours into the maiden voyage, the iron emigrant ship approached an Irish cliff rising “like a mountain from the sea”. They were meant to be heading south through the Irish Channel, not west into an island. They shouldn’t have been anywhere near it.

When shouts of “Land!” were heard below decks, the younger children were delighted. Despite only being two days into a four month journey, they were too little to accurately gauge the passage of time, and were convinced Australia had been sighted and their journey – and seasickness – was at an end. They were half right.

The upholsterer’s daughter was excited to hear of their proximity to land. Her father told later of how he bounced her on his knee while listening to the commotion above decks, leaving the little girl with her mother in their berth while he climbed the steps to see what was going on. He didn’t have a chance to bring either of them up to join him when the tide sucked the ship off the rocks, pulling it beneath the waves. He had a very lucky escape.

About half an hour after land was sighted, the Tayleur was swept against the rocks protruding from the water near the base of some cliffs. A combination of ill-judgement and bad luck meant less than half of those on board were saved despite the ship being so close to land that the first to leave the wreck simply jumped ashore.

Margaret and her family were either drowned or crushed between the rocks and the wreckage. The captain tied Henry to his father’s back as his mother and baby brother waited their turn on deck. Somehow he was lost to the waves, along with the rest of his family. Ellen Ann lost her mother but her father helped her to safety and she, along with an anonymous baby boy known as the “Ocean Child” and an ex-convict’s son, were the only three children out of the 70 on board to make it to the top of the vertical cliffs.

A total of 290 people survived. Your ancestor may well be one of them.


published 10 January 2015