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.


  1. Hi
    I am a local historian based in Liverpool UK. I am in the process of writing a book about the city's links with America and intend to include some information about the William Brown. I wonder therefore whether you have any information as to who owned the vessel?
    I think (I put it no higher than that) that the ship was named after William Brown of the Liverpool merchants Brown, Shipley & Co. They were the most successful merchants in the Liverpool – American trade at that time: indeed it was claimed that the firm controlled one-sixth of all the trade between Britain and America. And they owned a small fleet of American-built ships. Perhaps it's a coincidence but any light you can throw on this would be most welcome.
    Best Regards

    Ron Jones (

  2. Yes please. More information on the William Brown would be an eye opening surly. On the contrary. Email me please.