Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 132,819 pages of information and 210,387 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

HMS Birkenhead

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1845 John Lairds built HMS Birkenhead, one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. She was designed as a steam frigate, but was converted to a troopship before being commissioned.

1852 She was wrecked on 26 February, while transporting troops off South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm on board, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely and escape the sinking.

Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived, and the soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the unofficial "women and children first" protocol when abandoning ship, while the "Birkenhead drill" of Rudyard Kipling's poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.


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