The Burning of the
“Sarah Sands”

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Youth’s Companion for 10 November 1898 and In Black and White Magazine Christmas Number the same year, there entitled “On a Burning Troopship.” Collected in Land and Sea Tales in 1923 with a short Introduction. Also in the Sussex Edition, page 115 Volume 16, Burwash Edition Volume 14, and Scribners Volume 35.

The story

This is a story of bravery and discipline by soldiers at sea. A detachment of the 54th Regiment is en route to India in 1857 when their ship catches fire in the Indian Ocean.

Through heroic efforts, including the jettisoning of barrels of ammunition from a magazine very near the blaze, the troops put it out and steam triumphantly into Mauritius. There they hold a modest celebration and re-embark in the Clarendon which is even more uncomfortable than the Sarah Sands. Here they have a worse disaster, they run out of tobacco ! They are replenished by an American vessel which refuses payment on learning who they are. The Commander-in-Chief praises their conduct in a General Order and one of the men is recommended for a Victoria Cross; but as his brave act was not ‘in the face of the enemy’ he is turned down. This story does not appear to have been noticed by the thirty-odd biographers and commentators we have consulted.

Further reading

  • C. T. Atkinson, The Dorsetshire Regiment (OUP, 1947)
  • William Murray, The Narrative of the Burning of the Sarah Sands Steam Troopship (Alnwick, 1906)
  • Lieutenant E. Schlotel, Narrative of the Burning of the Sarah Sands (Bemrose & Sons, 1870.)
  • William Makepeace Thackeray, Roundabout Papers (Smith, Elder & Co., 1879) Volume XXII, p. 22.
  • The Mariner’s Mirror, Volume 61, No. 1 (February 1971, p. 61)
  • KJ 66/13 and, for `the complete story, KJ 196/13, 197/09 and 198/08.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved