Wreck of HMS Birkenhead

In December of 1851, the Birkenhead sailed from Cork in Ireland, under the command of Captain Robert Salmond.

She left Simon's Town on the morning of the 25th February, after loading 350 tons of coal and provisions. She had 638 people on board, including 20 women and children, 138 ship's officers and crew as well as 480 army officers and drafted men to aid Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith in the Eighth Frontier War being waged at the Cape (East London).

At about 02h00 on the 26th February, she struck a submerged rock off Danger Point and in an instant the lower deck flooded, drowning many men in their bunks. All the surviving men, officers, women and children went up on deck. Lieutenant -Colonel Seton of the 74th Foot Regiment took charge of all the military personnel. The men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders and 60 men were sent to man the pumps.

She was a 1400 ton British Iron Paddle Frigate built in 1845 and converted into a troop carrier in 1848. While captained by Capt. R Salmond and transporting troops from Simon's Town to East London for the Frontier War, she struck a rock 1½ nautical miles off Danger Point near Gansbaai.

In the face of death, the troops on board first allowed all the women and children to escape in the life boats before they attempted to save themselves.

The Birkenhead sank on the west side of the rock in a depth of 35 metres and although 445 lives were lost, every woman and child was saved.

It was due to this gallantry that the Birkenhead secured her place in history.

Her Majesty's steam troop-ship, the Birkenhead, having on board a large body of soldiers, was wrecked on a reef of rocks, at the Cape of Good Hope, by which fearful catastrophe 438 officers, soldiers, and seamen, lost their lives! Of 630 persons on board, 192 only were saved. The circumstances of this distressing calamity were so peculiar, and the heroism and self-devotion displayed by the sufferers so remarkable, that it has been judged becoming to give a detailed narrative of the wreck in the Appendix to the Chronicle