Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur -- The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic

I love cruises. You may have read about my experiences on various AIDA ships and my runner-up fame in the Mr. Pacific Princess contest (I really really should have won with my ballerina performance). The phenomenon of the pleasure cruise with its endless buffets, high-tech gyms, massage therapists and ABBA shows--emotional rollercoasters in themselves; I was the guy sobbing through 'Thank You For the Music' on the first row--is relatively modern. Really really modern in fact.

Just 150 years ago ship travel was vastly different. Passengers were used to bringing their own provisions, and they were also prepared to endure every possible horror to make the journey. And although these ships were basically spartan emigrant ships, the concept of comfort on the high seas was in its infancy.

Gill Hoffs' new book, The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur, grabbed me out of bed last night like a storm. I'd begun reading the book on my way to Berlin yesterday and just had to know how it turned out. Yes, just like the Titanic, it sinks. That was clear from the title. But there are so many questions surrounding the sinking and the individual fates of the emigrants aboard the ship--tragedies and triumphs so compellingly and respectfully portrayed by the author.

Bound for Melbourne, Australia from Liverpool the RMS Tayleur sailed with more than 650 people on board. It was 1854, a time when thousands of ships met disastrous ends asea and sometimes even in ports just metres away from safety. The RMS Tayleur would meet her end ramming into the small, rocky Lambay Island in the Irish Sea off the coast of County Dublin-- in mysterious circumstances, which have never been completely explained.

Gill Hoffs sets the scene generously with striking, often unsettling detail; and her descriptions of mid-nineteenth-century ship travel and the surrounding social conditions are convincingly well researched. These things alone would have kept me reading, but the jewels of this book are certainly the voices. The author resurrects the passengers of the RMS Tayleur and their stories in an approachable style that also serves as a suiting memorial to this tragedy.

From the sailing and sinking to the ensuing inquest, each moment comes alive through dozens of eye-witness accounts. Hoffs has compliled a thorough and thoroughly engaging multi-voiced work. And I'm so glad Hoffs made the decision to include so much of the survivors' own words, as well as those from at least one passenger who didn't survive. Hoffs gives the reader not only a feel for the times but also a feel for how the people spoke in mid-nineteenth-century England.

Hoffs also posits a possible contributing factor to the tragedy, an intriguing hypothesis that I won't divulge. I'm sure you'll want to read it for yourself. If you are keen on the history of ship travel--and even if you aren't; I'm not, except for my occasional AIDA cruise, and I loved this book--you'll love this one too.

The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur: the Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic (Pen and Sword, 160 pages)
Also by Gill Hoffs, Wild (Pure Slush, 146 pages). Read my interview with Hoffs HERE.

I must be off,
Christopher
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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Crack the Spine, Feathertale, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.  

7 comments:

  1. Wow - thank you for such an incredible review! Wish I could have seen you as Mr Pacific Princess - I'm sure you deserved to win. Any photos of the ballerina costume?

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  2. You're very welcome, Gill. It's an excellent read. Um, I'm sure there are hundreds of photos of my performance aboard the Pacific Princess, but I don't have them . . . sadly.

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  3. Thank you for this review! I am now interested in reading it. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi, Mary! Thanks for stopping by. If you like Bill Bryson type books, you'll like this one!

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  4. The Victorian Titanic, it sounds really interesting. Will they also make a movie?

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    1. Hmmm. I don't know. Maybe the author, Gill Hoffs, would know more about that. It would make a good movie. Some of the personal stories are definitely worth it.

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  5. Apologies for the late reply - things have been somewhat hectic (in a good way!). Thank you for the lovely comment, Laura, much appreciated! As for the movie idea, y'know, when I was researching the stories of the people involved in the wreck, and the wreck as a whole, I was amazed that this tragedy had basically been lost to history and wasn't better known. I think it would make an incredible film and if James Cameron (or anyone else) fancied making "The Victorian Titanic" I certainly wouldn't say no! Hope you enjoy the book :)

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