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 Corporal William Smith. Help wanted. Please.

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Dave

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PostSubject: Corporal William Smith. Help wanted. Please.   Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:33 pm

Corporal William Smith, born at Eydon Northamptonshire, enlisted in the 12th Regiment of Foot at Weedon, Buckinghamshire in 1848. He survived the wreck of HM Troopship Birkenhead in 1852 and served in the Frontier Light Horse in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

Hi, Came across this on Corporal William Smith. I knew he was on the Birkenhead, but did not know he took part in the Zulu War as well. Any information would be appricated.
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littlehand

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PostSubject: Re: Corporal William Smith. Help wanted. Please.   Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:20 pm

Hi Dave. Hope this helps.

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CORPORAL WILLIAM SMITH was born at Eyden Northants, enlisting in the 12th Regiment of Foot at Weedon Bucks in 1848. Following the wreck he saw active service with his regiment in the South African bush.

"In an account of the tragic circumstances he wrote ....
After four years service in England I embarked on board the Birkenhead at Spithead on January 1st, 1852. We took in men and stores at Queenstown. We had it very rough in the Bay of Biscay; made Madeira; then sailed on to Sierra Leone from thence to St. Helena. At Simon`s Bay we took in stores and a few Colonial troops. We left Simon`s Bay about 6 pm on February 25th en route for Port Elizabeth and East London as our different corps were stationed on the frontier. We surmised that Captain Salmond R.N., commanding the vessel, was anxious to get ahead of HMS Styx then on the Cape coast. At two o`clock in the morning on the wheel being relieved a tremendous shock was felt, and we knew the ship had struck. This was on Danger Point a short distance from Cape Agulhas. There was a panic for a short time but admirable discipline was maintained through the efforts of the officers. A few Congreve rockets were thrown up but were of no avail. A gun could not be fired as the magazine was almost instantly under water. Good order was eventually restored but the shock was so sudden. I believe twenty minutes had hardly elapsed before the vessel was in pieces. I was sleeping on the lower deck when the shock came and crowded up the ladder with others but found it difficult work. Some never came up at all but were drowned in their hammocks the water rushing in so suddenly. Most of the troops were fallen in on deck with the exception of some sixty men who were told off below to man the chain pumps; they never came up again but were all drowned like rats in a hole. After gaining the deck I went and assisted the crew in rigging the chain pumps I remained there, and I think it was about the hardest twenty minutes work I ever did in my life. We all worked like Trojans.
As I have said there were sixty men told off. I remember nothing about reliefs I know I remained below the whole time. I know very little about what happened on deck during this time. I think I was the only man that ever came up again from the pumps. Lieutenant Girardot was on the ladder giving orders and encouraging us. I was over my knees in water as it was gaining fast on us. I happened to be working nearest the companion ladder when one of the ships` officers told Lieutenant Girardot that it was no use attempting to keep the water down and we had better try to get the boats out or anything in the shape of a raft. With that I sprang up the ladder on deck and not a moment too soon as immediately the main deck was under water which poured down the hatchway so that it would be impossible for any to escape. In about two minutes the main crash came and I was washed into the sea. I saw Captain Salmond on the poop deck with a lantern in his hand surrounded by a crowd. I heard him say “I will save you all and the ship too.” Some short time after this the poop deck gave a lurch and went under. I don`t remember his telling the men to swim out to the boats; I might have been too far off together with the noise of falling timbers. The women and children were placed in the second cutter and the horses thrown over the gangway most of them swimming ashore. A master's assistant, Mr. Richards took charge of the boat which cleared from the sinking ship at once - had they remained the boat would have been drawn in the vortex. This and one other small boat were all that could be got afloat. Had there been time to get the long boat and the two paddle box boats afloat many more would have been saved. The boat with the women and children was fortunately sighted and picked up at sea the next day by a coasting schooner the Lioness and taken into Simon’s Bay. A small portion of the wreck was jointed into the sunken rocks with a part of the mainmast standing, to which a few men clung for some hours, till, becoming exhausted they fell off one by one into the sea and were drowned.
I managed fortunately to meet one of the ships` spars when in the water to which I clung and getting on top I stuck tight to it as I could not swim. I was about twenty hours in the water. Some others managed to get ashore in much the same way - I should think it would be about two and a half miles. I believe most of the swimmers were drowned in miscalculating the distance as the mountains looked much nearer across the water in the darkness. Many lost their lives by the falling and smashing of timbers others by the sharks which infested this part of the sea as the waters were tinged with blood in many places. The Birkenhead was an iron vessel - had she been a wooden ship she might not have broken up so quickly and there would probably have been more time and a better chance to escape. After being a long while without food we managed to scramble to a sort of farm owned by Captain Smales who had a small store. Here we got a glass of grog each and procured clothing food and shelter. Captain Wright who has served in the Cape before was the only officer who knew the coast. Information of the wreck was conveyed to the commanding officer at the Cape who forthwith despatched the Rhadamanthus sloop which took us to Simon`s Bay where we remained a few days to recruit our strength. We then proceeded further to join our different corps.

On returning to Cape Colony Smith joined the Mounted Rifles. In 1857, during the Indian mutiny, he made two trips to India with horses later serving in the mounted police with a spell as a convict warder. He volunteered for the Colonial Wars, went through the Transkei War in 1877, across the Bashee River under General Wavell; fought with the Frontier Light Horse in the Zulu War of 1879 under Colonel (later General) Buller V.C. and again in the Basuto War of 1880-1 under General Sir Mansfield Clarke. He returned to England in 1888 after an absence of thirty six years."
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