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Ripping Sea Yarn Published By Otago University

Ripping Sea Yarn Published By Otago University Press

On 10 March Otago University Press Women and Children Last: The Burning of the Emigrant Ship Cospatrick by Charles Clark. It's a ripping yarn:

* The Cospatrick's harrowing story includes a fight to stop a blazing fire onboard a ship in the South Atlantic (while on route to NZ), a huge death toll (479) and, a struggle for the few lifeboat seats available and a fight for survival while adrift at sea, one that saw some turn to cannibaiism.

* Charles Clark explodes the myth of "women and children first', showing how they were rarely among the survivors of wrecks at sea. In the event of a passenger ship sinking, there would usually be only room for one third aboard the lifeboats.

* Charles Clark, a New Zealander, worked a passage to the UK at the age of 15 and joined the British Merchant Navy. He was subsequently awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship and became a research chemist.


Women and Children Last to Survive Sea Disasters in the Nineteenth Century
A sea voyage in the nineteenth century was not for the faint hearted. Hazards were many and accidents commonplace, and fires most feared.

During the period there were a number of catastrophic ship-board fires, but that involving the New Zealand-bound emigrant ship Cospatrick was the most destructive. Nearly 500 people lost their lives when she burned and sank off the coast of Southern Africa in 1874. The episode was notorious. A desperate battle to quench a fire was followed by chaos as the inadequacies of the ship's boats became apparent, and there was a huge death toll as the ship was abandoned. Those who made it into the one lifeboat to remain afloat turned to cannibalism. Only three seaman survived.

In Women and Children Last: The Burning of the Emigrant Ship Cospatrick Charles Clark tells the Cospatrick story against the backdrop of safety at sea during the Victorian era. The title is ironic and is drawn from the convention 'women and children first', which held that the rescue of women and children should take priority over that of men. But gallantry usually vanished in the struggle for precious life-boat seats, and women and children were rarely among the survivors.

At the time the Cospatrick sank, maritime legislation required life-boat space for just one-third of the people onboard a passenger vessel. In the event of the ship going down, all others were likely to be drowned. Many life-boats were in poor condition, and those few that were successfully launched often lacked provisions. Many who survived the sinking of a ship perished onboard the life-boats, including fifty-nine from the Cospatrick.

About the author

At the age of fifteen, Charles Clark worked his passage to the United Kingdom to attend the Prince of Wales Sea Training School, and subsequently spent six years at sea in the British Merchant Navy.

On returning to New Zealand he studied part time at Victoria University, and was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship, which he used to support PhD studies in chemistry at the University of Stirling in Scotland. He has been a research scientist at the Australian National University and University of Otago, from which he retired in 2002.


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