Gansbaai Tourism commemorates the shipwrecking of HMS Birkenhead on the 26th February 1852 annually by organising a number of special events around the occasion and this year, the 161st anniversary, is no exception.
The HMS Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. Built at John Laird's shipyard at Birkenhead, she was originally designed as the frigate HMS Vulcan, but converted to a troopship before being commissioned. She was wrecked at Danger Point on 26 February 1852 while transporting troops from Cape Town to Algoa Bay. Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived because there were not enough serviceable lifeboats on board. The soldiers stood firm allowing the women and children to board the lifeboats safely. This chivalry gave rise to the “women and children first” practice when abandoning ship and was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in his moral boosting work Soldier an’ Sailor Too:
“To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin’ to shout;
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies - 'Er Majesty’s Jollies - soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too!”
This year’s events take place over three days, starting with a picnic at Stanford’s Cove at 16h00 on Sunday the 24th February. On the Monday, the 25th, a presentation will be held at Great White House in the evening. Charlie Shapiro, who has dived on the wreck, will be the speaker and the Gansbaai Academia School Choir will perform as well.
On Tuesday, the 26th, invitees will meet at the Great White House for departure at 08h00 by boat to the Birkenhead Rock for a wreath laying at sea. Events will be concluded with a Commemoration Service which will be held at 11h00 at the Danger Point Lighthouse.
A limited number of people can be accommodated, therefore it is essential that bookings should be made with Glenda Kitley. She can be contacted via phone on 0722915564 or via email tot email@example.com.