The ‘Ocean Child’ and the sinking of the RMS Tayleur

Posted on June 5th, 2014 by The British Newspaper Archive

Gill Hoffs, author of The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ used The British Newspaper Archive extensively for her research. She got in touch to tell us the touching story of the ‘Ocean Child’.

We’d love to hear about what you’ve discovered too – email press@britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

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Sinking of RMS Tayleur by Gill HoffsPut simply, my book could not have been written without The British Newspaper Archive. 

The 1854 disaster made headlines around the world, but has since been largely forgotten. It was the subject of a massive cover-up and was then eclipsed by another shipwreck in 1912, the Titanic.

 

Discovering the victims of the disaster

 

Previous books and articles about the RMS Tayleur have focussed on the vessel itself, how the iron hull confused the compasses and contributed to the ship crashing into a cliff in the middle of the day. I wanted to let the unfortunate emigrants speak for themselves.

The accounts of the shipwreck in The British Newspaper Archive allowed me to read their words for myself and revealed the names of many of the hundreds on board.

I was then able to search for other mentions of them – important instances in their childhoods, what happened to the survivors afterwards, their births, marriages and deaths.

In one case, I even discovered what one of them looked like – the double of my own little boy – and his story made me cry.

 

‘Boy, about twelve months old’

 

Of the 70 children on board the Tayleur, only three survived. One was an anonymous baby nicknamed the ‘Ocean Child’ who was plucked from the wave-swept deck by an elderly man just before the ship sank.

In a time before cheap photographs, the enterprising reverend looking after the orphan placed a description in the newspapers. The child was described in the following way:

‘Boy, about twelve months old, unweaned, fine skin, blue eyes, dark eyelashes, light curly hair, square prominent forehead, two lower teeth, without any marks whatever on the body; of a lively affectionate disposition, and has apparently been much petted; supposed to belong to the middle classes’.

Description of the Ocean Child

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 02 February 1854
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Piecing together the Ocean Child’s story

 

It was incredible to be able to follow the newspaper reports and establish what happened to the child. The little boy was fostered for a month by Reverend Armstrong of 22 Herbert Place, Dublin before being reunited with his grandmother.

The detail in some accounts is amazing and very helpful for researchers:

The Ocean Child is reunited with his family

Dublin Evening Mail – Wednesday 22 February 1854
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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According to a reporter who visited little Arthur, he became ‘an object of attraction to visitors’.

Arthur Charles, the Ocean Child of the RMS Tayleur
Hereford Times – Saturday 04 March 1854
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

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Buy a copy of The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ to read more about the tragedy and find out what happened to Arthur and the other survivors.