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26th February 1852 - THE BIRKENHEAD
In January 1852 the Birkenhead troop transport sailed under the command of Royal Navy Captain Robert Salmond for the Cape of Good Hope with reinforcements for the Kaffir War. The 74th had the largest draft on board, and the Officer Commanding Troops, Lieutenant Colonel Seton, had just been appointed to the command of the 74th in place of Lieutenant Colonel Fordyce, killed in action.
Besides the troops, who were nearly all young recruits, there were about twenty-six women and children. The ship went on the rocks off Danger Point, while rounding the Cape, and the water, rushing in, drowned many soldiers in their hammocks. The remainder fell-in on deck under their officers, manned the pumps, and got the few boats safely away with the women and children. When the ship broke up, Colonel Seton called on the men to stand fast, lest by jumping overboard they should endanger the boats, which were lying close by.
They kept rank and went down with the ship, there being only 193 survivors out of a company of 631; but all the women and children were saved.
The incident fired the world’s imagination, and the story was read aloud to every regiment in the Prussian Army, as an example of supreme discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.