Foundering of the Charlotte

Sir George Stuart White VC

George Stuart White from Broughshane, County Antrim, left The Royal Military College, Sandhurst in 1853, and on the 4 November was gazetted an Ensign in the 27th Inniskillings. For a year after he joined the Inniskillings, White seems to have remained in Dublin, where the Regiment was stationed in the Royal Barracks until placed under orders to proceed to India. In those days this entailed a horribly tedious voyage of some five months in hired sailing ships. As war with Russia had just been declared the Regiment was disappointed at missing the action in the Crimea. The Inniskillings sailed from Cork on 20 June 1854 aboard the Charlotte, bound for Calcutta via the Cape - where the ship would founder. Later, White transferred to the 92nd Regiment of Foot on 4 August 1863 and is portrayed, on the right, wearing that regiment's uniform.

After the Charlotte foundered White, who in his younger days paid scant attention to spelling and punctuation, wrote a letter to his father on 5 October 1854:

... we put in here for water on the morning of the 19th of September having been about three months at sea. I was on duty that day and of course could not get on shore all the others went on shore, Captain Warren who was on duty next day (20th) promissing to come on board again early next morning, but luckily for me as you will see afterwards, he changed his mind and came on board later on the evening of the 19th everybody advised me to stay on board that night and go on shore early next morning as the surf was running very high, but with the true madness of an Irishman I trusted to my powers of swimming in case of an upset to get on shore, and the boat was upset and I with great difficulty reached the shore without a thing but the clothes on my back, however I got into a very good hotel and made myself quite at home, next morning (20) it was impossible to hold any communication with the ship as the surf was fearful, the Port Captain (Lieut. Bennet, R.N.) who by the by is a friend of the Dungannon people and used to live somewhere near Church Hill made signals to the Charlotte to take down her Top Gallant yards and masts and to moor ship which was done accordingly, but at about 6 o'clock P.M. she snapped one of her cables and very soon after the other went and to the horror of all on shore we saw that the Charlotte was gone however the Captain got sail on her but owing to the taking down of the Top Gallant yards & masts this was not done as quickly as it might otherwise have been (my own opinion is that the Charlotte would have got to sea if this had not been done) the fore topsails also being unbent was against her, indeed every single thing was against her however she got clear this time but in endeavouring to beat back again in order to get out to sea the wind failed her and she went ashore on the rocks in the worst part of the whole bay and at the very worst hour, and there she stuck within 150 yds of the shore and not a thing could we do to give assistance to those on board. Ropes were shot on board from the shore but by this time it was so dark that those on board could not see them during all this time we saw every wave dash over her in clouds of foam and the shrieks of the women were awful as their children were washed overboard one after another every one on board being up to their middles in water, about 12 o'clock her masts went overboard with a fearful crash and many a brave heart was crushed beneath them, at this time we plainly distinguished Captain Warren's voice (he being the only officer on board) asking for a boat to be sent to them but every body thought such a thing impossible, however the Life Boat was launched and Lieut. Bennet and Captain Salmond (a native of the place) took command of her, and I hear, succeeded in getting alongside of her and asked for a rope but every body on board was so benumbed with cold and so afraid of letting go their hold as the waves were sweeping their comrades off one after another That this request was not complied with I saw none of this myself as I went up to the Hotel to dry my clothes, I having been up to my neck in water nearly the whole time firing rockets and other things to show those on board that every exertion was being made that could from the shore Numbers of the men jumped overboard thinking they could reach the shore by swimming but of these only two arrived alive. But I have forgot to mention that those in the Life Boat, having seen that no assistance could be rendered in returning were upset but fortunately none of the brave crew were lost, at about 1 o'clock A.M. (21st) she parted right amidships nearly all the soldiers remaining with the after part, which after an hour of the most fearful suspense was washed up higher on the rocks, several of those on shore dashed over the rocks to the rescue of the sufferers, I was the first to reach the poop and I shall never forget the sight. Bad as I had expected it my ideas fell far short of the reality men and women nearly all perfectly naked their flesh black with bruises and bleeding with cuts caused by the falling of spars etc were throwing their helpless bodies on the rocks. I succeeded in saving several both women and men amongst those saved was Captain Warren, 27th Regt, Captain Afflick of the Charlotte, his son, and the 1st Mate, and 4 women and about 98 soldiers the men behaved with the exception of my servant very well several of them performing feats of the greatest daring we got all the survivors into a thing they call a barrack here, and gave each man a blanket and left them to make themselves comfortable for the night not one moment were one of the three officers who were on shore off their legs that night and when I had time to think of it I found I had the same wet clothes on, that I had pulled the people out in, I had forgot to say that all who remained with the fore part of the ship when she parted were lost, Assistant Surgeon Kidd, who was on board at the time was washed overboard but was Miraculously saved by means of a swimming belt which he had bought for him at Cork, I think I now have given you all the account of the wreck which will be something like the official despatch, as I wrote it, Capt Stapylton not being any great hand with his pen and you will now say with me that I had a providential escape of being on board and indeed the only officer on board being Capt Warren reads better than Ensign White's being left alone in Command of so many men, Now for the consequence of the wreck. I have not one single thing in the world saved worth having but my card plate which was picked up the next day and the chain which Wadman gave me which one of the soldiers found some where or other a day or two ago but as I know nothing whatsoever about money matters I intend to do exactly as the others do. General Jackson in his answer to the report sent to him has been pleased to say that he entirely approves of all the arrangements made here for the men and that H.M. frigate Hydra should be sent round in order to take us to Cape Town there to await the earliest opportunity of being sent on to Calcutta I intend sending this letter to England by a vessel which leaves this the day after tomorrow in which Captain Afflick and his son return to England I shall feel quite sorry to leave this place I have been treated with such kindness by everybody, all the officers have sent in a return of their losses, but expect not to get more than £50 or £60 as the government are by no means liberal in like cases Since I wrote the former letter our chief occupation has been attending funerals about 30 bodies I think it is have been washed up, on Monday last I had a very disagreeable duty to perform which was to dig up some bodies which had been buried in the sand without coffins and Major Robertson the Commandant here sent me to see them dug up and put into coffins which I think was quite unnecessary I could scarcely get the men to do it and one body when they tried to lift it came to pieces in their hands it was a fearful afternoon tremendous thunder and lightning and the men were quite frightened at this who had never lost their courage on this wreck, when I say I think it was quite unnecessary I do not mean to send me but to put the men into coffins. I have nothing more to tell you about this affair but will write again from Cape Town when we arrive there hoping that this will find you all quite well in health and spirits.
I remain
Your very affectionate son