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Women and Children Last: The Burning of the Emigrant Ship Cospatrick Paperback – 10 Mar 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Otago University Press (10 Mar. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1877372145
  • ISBN-13: 978-1877372148
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,853,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

A sea voyage in the nineteenth century was not for the faint-hearted. The hazards were many and accidents commonplace. Of the ways a ship might meet its end, destruction by fire was perhaps the most feared. Wooden sailing vessels were particularly vulnerable and without breathing apparatus it was next to impossible to fight a fire below decks. The period saw a number of catastrophic shipboard fires, but that involving the New Zealand-bound emigrant ship Cospatrick was certainly the most destructive. When she burned and sank off the coast of Southern Africa in 1874, nearly 500 people lost their lives. There was a desperate battle to quench the fire, a huge death toll as the vessel was being abandoned, and acts of cannibalism in the one lifeboat that remained afloat. This book is based on research carried out in Britain, New Zealand and Australia. While it relates the story of the Cospatrick and the nightmare survival of only three people, it also looks at the larger picture of safety at sea.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The back cover tells us that Charles Clark spent some years as a deckhand in the British Merchant Navy before embarking on his career as a research chemist. This background, together with his obvious skills as a different kind of researcher, is clearly evident in the expertise shown in the writing of an engrossing book.

We are introduced to the main story by way of fascinating vignettes of sailors cast adrift and eventually forced to resort to cannibalism. Then on to the Cospatrick, a three-masted barque which sailed from Britain for New Zealand in 1874.
Carrying a general cargo which included 6,000 gallons of spirits, the Cospatrick had 429 emigrants on board in addition to a crew of 44 and 4 passengers when it caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic. The account of the fire, the desperate battle to save the ship, the panic and confusion as the boats were lowered, are all graphically retold. Nearly 500 people died. In fact, there were only three survivors, three men who were later traumatised even further by the public exposure of their cannibalism.

The book is also very informative regarding the danger of life at sea generally in the 19th century. I was stunned, for example, to see an 1873 Board of Trade wreck chart reproduced that shows "Locations of the approximately 800 ship casualties that occurred on and around the coast of Britain during the first six months of 1873." (Yes, that really is 800!)

There are copious end-notes, six appendices and a good index. 'Women and Children Last' will be of interest to most general readers and deserves a permanent place in the library of any centre of maritime studies. I wish I'd had it when I was teaching English at the Portuguese Naval Academy. My students, I am sure, would have found it fascinating.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A little-known tragedy, rivetingly told 19 April 2008
By Ken Elvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The back cover tells us that Charles Clark spent some years as a deckhand in the British Merchant Navy before embarking on his career as a research chemist. This background, together with his obvious skills as a different kind of researcher, is clearly evident in the expertise shown in the writing of an engrossing book.

We are introduced to the main story by way of fascinating vignettes of sailors cast adrift and eventually forced to resort to cannibalism. Then on to the Cospatrick, a three-masted barque which sailed from Britain for New Zealand in 1874.
Carrying a general cargo which included 6,000 gallons of spirits, the Cospatrick had 429 emigrants on board in addition to a crew of 44 and 4 passengers, when it caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic. The account of the fire, the desperate battle to save the ship, the panic and confusion as boats were lowered, are all graphically retold. Nearly 500 people died. In fact, there were only three survivors, three men who were later traumatised even further by the public exposure of their cannibalism.

The book is also very informative regarding the danger of life at sea generally in the 19th century. I was stunned, for example, to see an 1873 Board of Trade wreck chart reproduced that shows "Locations of the approximately 800 ship casualties that occurred on and around the coast of Britain during the first six months of 1873." (Yes, that really is 800!)

There are copious end-notes, six appendices and a good index. 'Women and Children Last' will be of interest to most general readers and deserves a permanent place in the library of any centre of maritime studies. I wish I'd had it when I was teaching English at the Portuguese Naval Academy. My students, I am sure, would have found it fascinating.
HORROR AT SEA 16 July 2014
By Severin Olson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The fate of the cospatrick is one of the most terrifying in maritime history. Bound for New Zealand from England in 1874, the emigrant vessel catches fire two months into its journey near South Africa. A forty hour battle with the flames is lost and most are burned or drowned. Only two lifeboats are successfully launched and one soon vanishes forever. After ten days adrift only five are still alive; only three make it back to land. Over four hundred perish.

This was one of the last wrecks of the age of sail and was not destined for the fame of Titanic or Lusitania, so there isn't a great deal out there. Clark has produced a wonderful addition for our shipwreck library. Readers hear the full Cospatrick story including the fate of the three survivors.
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