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4.6 out of 5 stars34
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on 26 March 2004
The Caliban Shore is one of those extraordinary stories that you comes across rarely, but which makes you marvel at the incredulity of what happened to a disparate band of (predominantly) Brits who were wrecked off the coast of Africa in 1782, hundreds of miles from the nearest Europeans and entirely ignorant of the people or land into which they had inadvertently blundered. As they try and work their way down to the Dutch settlements in the far south they begin to realise that none of them might make it out of this strange land.
Stephen Taylor does an excellent job of piecing together all the fragmentary truths, rumours and myths surrounding the Grosvenor castaways and weaving a fascinating narrative of what the ordeal was like for those who had to endure it. The story throws up many heroes and villains, mysteries and startling truths. It also provides an interesting account of the state of Indian colonial society in the 18th century and the state of the tribes of South Africa at the same time. Definitely well worth a read.
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on 10 August 2007
The Grosvenor was one of the finest East Indiamen of her day, but she ran aground on the treacherous coast of south-east Africa. An astonishing number of her crew and passengers, including women and children, reached the shore safely, but the castaways found themselves hundreds of miles from the nearest European outpost - and utterly ignorant of their surroundings and the people among whom they found themselves.

Drawing upon much new research, Stephen Taylor pieces together this extraordinary saga, sifting the myths that became attached to The Grosvenor from a reality that is no less gripping. Taking the reader to the heart of what is now the Wild Coast of Pondoland, he reveals the misunderstandings that led to tragedy, tells the story of those who escaped, and unravels the mystery of those who stayed. An unforgettable story of its time of how the survivors trekked for over 400 miles across the most hostile of lands suffering the most extreme of privations. After many months they reach safety amongst kind hearted Dutch settlers...but alas for many it was not to be!

Gripping story, told really well with great detail and a flowing easy to read narrative....great read!
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2009
This book isn't just about the shipwreck of the East Indiaman Grosvenor in south-east Africa and the travails of its survivors, which is covered in only a few chapters in the middle of the book, it's also a social and political history of the burgeoning British empire and, surprisingly, about the integration of some of the survivors in the African tribes' society. I was surprised about that last bit. I thought this was just going to be a dark tale about conflict and treachery such as in The Raft.

Firstly, I thought it was difficult to get the most out of this book because there are so many people in it! This might sound a bit trite -- of course there are many people on a ship! -- but after being introduced with their own little potted biography I soon forgot who each person was so the nuances of their own suffering was lost. It would have been nice to have had a dramatis personae to refer back to or, failing that, the author could have jogged the reader's memory at intervals.

I call this a "poignant" tale and not a dark one because there isn't really any conflict or treachery in it. All the survivors behaved remarkably well, or so the accounts of it say. They looked after the ill and injured as best they could and the worst thing anybody did to anybody else was to split up into factions to make their own way. Which they can hardly be blamed for. There were no fights, no robbery, no lust, no cannibalism (though one party did eat their shoes), no murder, no mutiny, few, and only half-hearted, attacks by "savages", no attacks by wild animals, plentiful drinking water for the most part (though urine was drunk at one point), and a general lack of anything very, well, dramatic. I was secretly a little disappointed about that.

One random point of interest I noted: on the frontispiece, "Loss of the Grosvenor, Indiaman" by Thomas Tegg dated 1808, which is a dramatic scene of the wreck, the ship is quite clearly called the "Grovesnor". What an elementary mistake.

I loved the language of William Habberley, young midshipman (I think), whose memoir is the most comprehensive and widely quoted source that Taylor draws upon. It's so quaint and punctilious. How he remembered all the details of such an ordeal can only be wondered at. The author does use many other sources, though, to complement Habberley's and he weaves them seamlessly into his excellent narrative. His language is plain and unadorned, just as it should be: he lets the story tell itself.

Another couple of books that I would recommend to readers interested in this one are: Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850 (which Taylor alludes to) and The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (which is more swashbuckling and sensational).
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on 28 May 2009
This is a well researched account of the varied fates of the survivors from the wreck of the "Grosvenor" in what is now Natal and the Eastern Cape, but set at a time before the Brits were in South Africa at all and before the Boers moved north-east and the Zulus started heading south. It takes the various tensions of eighteenth century British Bengal - class, racial, sexual, financial and political - and transports them to a wholly alien world. How the castaways react to each other, to the environment and to the native Pondo people (and the widely different ways in which the Pondo deal with the new arrivals in their land) make for an astonishing anaysis of the human condition.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2010
When the Indiaman, the Grosvenor, ran on to rocks and sank on the east coast of Africa in August 1782 there were more than a hundred survivors. They were officers and men of the ship's crew as well as a range of passengers, men, women and children. At the time of the wreck, the captain had believed his position to be 300 miles out to sea. His next mistake was to try to lead his motley band south towards the nearest Dutch settlement 600 miles away; much nearer refuge was available had he chosen to go north. A series of individual dramas - many of them tragic - ensued.

Stephen Taylor has done a remarkable job in piecing together the various elements and relating them with the control of a natural story-teller. His approach is scrupulously fair. Where facts are sparse or non-existent, he resists fantasising, making speculation perfectly clear for what it is. He resists romanticising, pointing out that of the handful who returned to England none were heroes. There are many surprises, not least those concerning the women who may or may not have been "assimilated" into native tribes, and a conclusion which rounds out the tale satisfactorily without denying the loose ends which will always remain.

A fine achievement.
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A tragic tale of shipwreck off the East African coast. Although a very sad account of the fate of men, women and children, the book also gives a detailed account of the various lifestyles of Europeans living and trading in 1780s India. Initially I thought that this was going to be an account of man and meteorology but the book is a good balance of biography, geography, history and maritime facts. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down in the wee hours of the morning.
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on 10 June 2012
The book starts slowly, but by the fourth chapter you won't want to put it down. I loved that Stephen Taylor takes you into the people's lives and describes so candidly what it was like to sail on an East Indiaman. I was heartbroken reading the goodbye between the Hosea and Chambers families, each one parting with their precious child. And it pains to think that many of the castaways would have survived had they turned north to the Portuguese settlement of Delagoa Bay. But Taylor has a way of writing that speaks volumes on humanity. You are at once shocked that the sailors will desert the women and children, yet at the same time moved at the devotion of the steward Lillburne for the young boy Thomas Law. What I loved most about this book, however, were the investigations into the fate of the castaways, particularly the women. Did they adapt to their new homeland and assimilate into the African tribes? The subsequent discussion is fascinating and captures the imagination. I would highly recommend the book for anyone interested in adventure, mystery, and the timeless tale of humanity.
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on 13 August 2008
The set up of the story took too long for me
By page 76 I was no nearer to weighing anchor than page one

By the time the wreck happened it turned into a hell of a tale
The survival instinct kicked in and all sense of comradmanship was abandoned

Wrong decision after wrong decision in the end cost many lives

The epilogue and folk law tales of the assimilation of people who may have survived amongst the natives was great
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on 17 October 2009
If you have enjoyed this book and the subject, you will certainly enjoy 'Wildflower The Barbara Crawford Thompson Story' by Raymond Warren. Barbara was a Scot who had emigrated to Australia ( that is a tale in itself, as her family survived one of the worst sea passages on record ), where she was basically abducted by a convict who was acting as a kind of licensed bounty hunter. Although some books like the HMS Rattlesnake journal, and Ray Mear's TV show, have mentioned the discovery of this 'woman' (she was a child) who was found amongst headhunters on 16th Oct 1849, it has taken this author 25 years to find out the full story about how she came to be shipwrecked and abandoned by her 'husband' amongst headhunters, how she was rescued and perhaps why her story was covered up, for it certainly has been. Why Hollywood has not picked up this stoy and made a blockbuster out of it, beggars belief.
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on 26 November 2013
This a great book. Stephen Taylor is very knowledgeable about the East India company and its shipping to which the first part of this book is dedicated. The second part is even better, dealing with the shipwreck of the 'Grosvenor' on what is now South Africa's 'Wild Coast'. The fate of the castaways, who ended up trying to walk all the way to Dutch settlements in the Cape colony (with hindsight they should have tried walking to Delagoa Bay, current day Maputo) was grim with only a handful surviving the ordeal. Interestingly, a few seem to have integrated with the local population and ended their days living with the Pongo tribes. The author has done a lot of research sifting through fragmentary evidence into the fate of these castaways (and possibly those of other shipwrecks) amidst the local population. All in all a very original, captivating book. Highly recommended.
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