Thursday, April 19, 2012

The William Brown

Though we know a great deal about sailing ships of the 1840s, we know little about the William Brown. No pictures of it survive, nor are there any descriptions of its rigging. Was it a brig, a barqe or a brigantine? Likewise, we have no images of the survivors or the drowned, no portraits of the captain or his crew. Unfortunately, when she sank, illustrated newspapers were still a decade away. 

The captain, second mate, 7 sailors and one lucky passenger appropriated for themselves the better of the only two lifeboats. This was known as a jolly boat, having a sail and a fairly deep draft. The other craft, a long boat, which could be propelled only by oars, was left for the remainder of the crew and as many of the passengers as could fit into her; this number came to some 9 of the former and 33 of the latter.

These figures indicate that about half of the passengers were left behind, and they stood on the deck, "shrieking and calling on the captain to take them off his boat." First mate Francis Rhodes's benediction for them was realistic: "Poor souls! you're only going down just before us." At about 11:20 p.m., less than two hours after the William Brown encountered the ice, an "eerie silence" fell, and the ship sank.

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