The Burning of the
“Sarah Sands”

Notes on the text

(by John McGivering)

[Page 161 line 10] iron steamer she was the Sarah Sands, built at Liverpool in 1847, the second iron ocean-going screw steamship in the world. (Brunel’s Great Britain (1845) was the first. It may be noted that there had been several iron ocean going paddle steamships before either the Great Britain or the Sarah Sands [A.W.]

[Page 161 line 13] Indian Mutiny the revolt against the British by the Bengal army, 1857-1858.

[Page 161 line 18] 2nd Battalion of the Dorset regiment later amalgamated with the Devonshire Regiment and, since 1st February 2007, part of “The Rifles”.

[Page 162 line 3] Colours beautifully embroidered regimental banners on poles with badges and battle honours, carried on parade and treated with great respect. See Note to “The Mutiny of the Mavericks” Page 233, line 19 (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 162 line 6] perhaps a dozen women other accounts all disagree – the average being ‘five ladies and six women’ The Embarkation Certificate however, signed by Lieutenant Colonel Mottat, states that the passengers were 12 officers and 2 sergeants, together with 354 men. The columns for ‘women’ and ‘children’ are endorsed none, but another hand has added ‘One Regimental Schoolmistress’ and she is never heard of again !
Alastair Wilson writes: The fact that the Embarkation Certificate says ‘none’ for women and children is explained by the fact that it would have related only to the ‘official’ women – those women (wives of selected soldiers) and their children, who were ‘on the strength’. It was one of the scandals of the Victorian army that when a regiment went overseas, only a proportion of the wives were allowed to accompany their husbands. The remainder were left at home to fend for themselves as best they could, on what they could earn, and what their men could send them.

The Colonel’s family, and any other officers’ wives, would have been embarked as passengers, at the officer’s expense, and so would not have featured on the Embarkation Certificate, which was the authority for the shipping company to claim its fee for transporting so many personnel. It also was the authority for the victualling of the troops; soldiers received a ration scale of so many ounces of bread or biscuit, beef or pork, sugar, tea, etc., per day. The ration for ‘official’ women and children was two-thirds that of the male ration. [A.W.]

Three of the ladies were Lieutenant Colonel Mottat’s wife and daughters, whom he helped into a boat commanded by Very, the Third Officer, who immediately pulled away from the ship, saying that his orders were to lay off until told to return; Major Brett, second-in-command, saw the Colonel in the boat and at once took charge of operations, saying: ‘We shall fight on until driven overboard!’ (Atkinson).

[Page 162 line 11] pier-head jumpers The phrase should not be taken too literally. On some occasions, no doubt, in order to complete a crew, a man or men would join at the very last moment possible, leaping on board as the ship was passing out through the dock gates. Usually, in a semi-ironic manner, the phrase means someone who has joined the ship at very short notice. It is still used today in the Royal Navy, and probably the Merchant marine as well. [A.W.]

[Page 162 line 21] the troops, who must have picked up a little seamanship the regiment had previously served in boats in Canada where the rivers and lakes formed an important part of the transport system.

[Page 163 line 6] Captain Castles His name was Castle and he wrote to the Daily Mail (28 December 1898) complaining that Kipling had been misinformed; his crew had been signed on at the Shipping Office in the East India Dock Road, Poplar, London and were not pier-head jumpers. Kipling, however, has followed Schlotel’s narrative which looks upon the crew in a very unfavourable light.

[Page 163 line 23] A ship’s quartermaster, Richard Richmond a senior rating, responsible for steering the ship, amongst other duties; he had secured the Colours to the bulkhead when they came aboard and obviously felt some responsibility for them. He would also have had a knife in his pocket or on a lanyard.

[Page 164 line 4] The saloon the plan of the ship shows the saloon to be a compartment some forty feet long reached by a companion way (ladder) at the stern, the stairs dividing at a half-landing (from which the port and starboard magazines were probably reached) and turning forward to two alleyways, each about 20 feet long, lined by cabins and all, by this time, full of smoke from the fire on the deck immediately below. It is not clear if the Colours were on the bulkhead of the captain’s cabin which was amidships, with a skylight, at the after end of the saloon, or the engine-room bulkhead at the forward end.

[Page 164 line 28] signalling powder gunpowder for use in a muzzle-loading signal-gun. (See page 172 line 9.)

[Page 165 line 7] veered the stern of the ship-head to the wind an obvious misprint corrected in the Sussex Edition, Volume 16, page 118, line 16. This would have veered the stern of the ship to the wind.

[Page 165 line 10] his name is lost it was Lance Corporal John McCallum. (Atkinson).

[Page 165 line 24] It was necessary to make some deviation… this is Schlotel who modestly omits to mention his part in the proceedings.

[Page 167 line 4] engine-room this was forward of the Saloon with coal-bunkers and a Ladies Cabin above it.

[Page 168 page 28] twenty feet the drawings of the ship show the distance from the upper deck to the top of the keelson as just under twenty feet

[Page 169 line 29] trade winds the prevailing winds that blow towards the equator from the North-east and South-east

[Page 170 line 5] four knots an hour in this context a knot signifies a speed of one nautical mile per hour, so ‘an hour’ is superfluous – a frequent mistake of Kipling’s.

[Page 170 line 13] screw-shaft at work it was just under 20 feet, but Kipling would be thinking of the larger vessels of his day like the Adriatic (1870) 31 feet deep and the Servia (1881) 48 feet deep.

[Page 171 line 7] Clarendon ‘not so comfortable or so large a ship as could have been desired’. (Schlotel).

[Page 172 line 6] grog usually a mixture of rum and water, but often applied to any alcoholic drink.

[Page 172 line 8] Yankee-Doodle a famous song by Edward Bangs, who flourished about 1775.

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

Yankee Doodle came to town
Riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it Macaroni.

[“Yankee Doodle”, or “Father’s return to Camp”. In some versions he came to London on his pony.]

blue lights pyrotechnics used for signalling at night

[Page 172 line 9] signal-gun see note to page 164 line 28.

[Page 172, line 10] Kedgeree a village on the west bank of the Hugli, 68 miles below Calcutta which gives it’s name to an anchorage mentioned in “An Unqualified Pilot,” a previous story in this volume. (kedgeree is also an excellent breakfast dish of rice, fish and eggs etc.)

[Page 172 line 15] general order No. 77, dated 27 February 1858:

His Royal Highness the general Commanding in Chief, has great gratification in making known to the Army … a report … recording the remarkable gallantry and resolution displayed by the Officers and Soldiers of the 54th Regiment on board the ship “Sarah Sands” … when that vessel took fire at sea…

The General Order is given in full in KJ 198/08. The Commander-in-Chief, a cousin of Queen Victoria, was George William Fredrick Charles, second Duke of Cambridge
(1819-1904), who saw active service in the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

This is probably a very early instance of a fire in a ship at sea being extinguished – and without a life being lost – fire in a wooden ship was usually the end of her.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved