The Wreck of the William Brown: A True Tale of Overcrowded Lifeboats and Murder at Sea

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9780071456319: The Wreck of the William Brown: A True Tale of Overcrowded Lifeboats and Murder at Sea

'We cannot all live - some of us must die, the boat is so leaky.' Such was the ghastly pronouncement on a tiny lifeboat perilously adrift in the treacherous coastal waters off Newfoundland. Moments later some of those aboard were thrown over the sides of the boat into the vast, freezing depths of the ocean, sacrificed so that others might survive.

The icy seas that saw the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 had witnessed some 70 years earlier the similar fate of a small sailing ship, the William Brown. This was a vessel of hope, packed with emigrants from Britain to America, people full of the expectation of a better life. During most of the 19th century the passenger trade in thousands of emigrants to North America was immensely profitable. But the men who owned the ships were interested only in profit, not in providing adequate living conditions for the long voyages or in supplying lifeboats. And so, just like the Titanic, when the smaller ship collided with an iceberg and began inexorably to sink, there was not room for everyone in the lifeboats.

An unlucky 14 found themselves tossed unceremoniously into the freezing sea. Miraculously, only a few hours later the others were rescued. And that was not the end of it, for the questions began. What had really happened? Who had dared to play God? And why? What begins as a simple story of hard choices in the course of a maritime disaster becomes a gripping narrative of greed. When the aftermath of tragedy threatened to expose the common practice of sailing without adequate provision of lifeboats, a motley collection of politicians, lawyers, jurists and reporters conspired to indict a simple seaman who was in truth the only true hero of the catastrophe.

A compelling tale of disaster at sea, a portrait of a forgotten world and a fascinating re-creation of one of the century's defining maritime trials, this melange of adventure on the high seas and legal back stabbing in the annexes and courtrooms of power is not without parallel today.

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A dramatic story of disaster at sea and the scapegoating of an innocent man

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