The Burning of the Sarah Sands



This book tells the story of the Sarah Sands, a pioneering auxiliary screw steamer launched in Liverpool in 1846. The second ocean-going iron steamer ever built, the Sarah Sands made a series of remarkable voyages across the Atlantic, on the Pacific coast of the Americas, and to Australia, carrying passengers, mails and cargo. Pressed into service as a troopship during the Crimean War, it was the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 that would see the ship become a cause célèbre noted by Kipling, Thackeray, and many others. These events, the stories of the people involved and the medals they received, form the heart of this book.

While carrying 368 officers and men of HM 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment and a number of their families, on 11 November 1857 the Sarah Sands caught fire while in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Managing to jettison most of the cargo of gunpowder through herculean efforts, the soldiers and crew fought the fire for over 16 long hours, during which time an explosion ripped a hole in the ship’s stern. When eventually the fire was extinguished, half of the Sarah Sands was a burnt-out shell. Despite this, the ship managed to reach port safely in Mauritius and would go on to sail the oceans until she was finally wrecked on the Laccadive Islands in 1869.

The first full account of the Sarah Sands, this book commemorates the heroic – and sometimes quarrelsome – men and women who were aboard her during her most famous voyage and details for the first time of each man’s medal entitlement.