Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors

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"This incredible true story reads like the wildest fiction."?Booklist
In the summer of 1783 the grandees of the East India Company were horrified to learn that one of their finest ships, the 741-ton Grosvenor, had been lost on the wild and unexplored coast of southeast Africa. Astonishingly, most of those on board reached the shore safely?91 members of the crew and 34 wealthy, high-born passengers, including women and children. They were hundreds of miles from the nearest European outpost?and they were not alone....

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Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors

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"This incredible true story reads like the wildest fiction."—Booklist
In the summer of 1783 the grandees of the East India Company were horrified to learn that one of their finest ships, the 741-ton Grosvenor, had been lost on the wild and unexplored coast of southeast Africa. Astonishingly, most of those on board reached the shore safely—91 members of the crew and 34 wealthy, high-born passengers, including women and children. They were hundreds of miles from the nearest European outpost—and they were not alone. "They surveyed one another with mutual incomprehension: on the one hand the dishevelled castaways; on the other, black warriors with high conical hairstyles, daubed with red mud..." Drawing upon unpublished material and new research, Stephen Taylor pieces together the strands of this compelling saga, sifting the myths from a reality that is no less gripping. Full of unexpected twists, Caliban's Shore takes the reader to the heart of what is now South Africa, to analyze the misunderstandings that led to tragedy, to tell the story of those who returned, and to unravel the mystery of those who stayed.

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Editorial Reviews

Sara Wheeler
Caliban's Shore is a fragmentary story but a powerful one, and Taylor has diligently glued the pieces together. Like all good histories, it opens a window onto the past -- in this case the exotic, pestilential and perilous world of those doughty men and women who braved the high seas more than 200 years ago.
The New York Times
Deirdre Donahue
With the success of The Perfect Storm and other maritime stories, accounts of disasters at sea have felled many a tree. What sets this superb history apart comes from Taylor's extensive knowledge of Africa. He describes the endless tribal wars, the emerging tensions with the Dutch and, especially, the Wild Coast terrain.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly
The Grosvenor's passengers and crew feared shipwreck and death, but "shipwreck and survival was not a possibility that anyone had much considered." When the England-bound mercantile ship ran aground in heavy seas off Africa on August 4, 1782, death would have been easier for the 125 who made it ashore. Drawing primarily on two contemporary reports, British historian Taylor reassembles the Grosvenor's story with precision and vision, making each passenger a character and each incident a fate twist. Merchants and children, Anglicans and Muslims, officers and gentlewomen were stranded without weapons or food on shores inhabited by the Pondo tribe in present-day South Africa. Fearful that the peaceful natives would turn hostile, the survivors struck out along the coast for known European settlements. But the bad decision-making that had resulted in shipwreck produced more disaster, and, by the end, only 13 survivors of the wreck are accounted for. Over the years, as news of the fate of the Grosvenor and its passengers drifted back to Britain, the ship and its fate became legendary, even Dickens contributing. The book may not resonate for Americans as much as for more direct descendants of the British Empire, but Taylor has brought the ship and its survivors to modern eyes with this commendable work. Photos. Agents, Caroline Dawnay and Peter Matson. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Looking at a map, one wouldn't think that a ship sailing southwest from India to round the Cape of Good Hope would encounter any great navigational hazards. The Indian Ocean is vast, islands and hidden reefs are few, and you could hardly expect to bump into the immense landmass of southern Africa. Nevertheless, one calm night in 1757, the sailing watch of the Grosvenor contrived to do just that. Travel writer Stephen Taylor delved into the archives of the East India Company to pull together not only an exciting shipwreck story, but the tales and conditions of most of the souls who were on board that night. The most interesting part of the story, however, comes after the Grosvenor pounded herself to pieces in the surf. Taylor specializes in Africa, and it is here that he really hits his stride. The huddled survivors had but to walk along a sandy beach for several hundred miles in order to reach safety in South Africa. However, native tribes, if not actively hostile to helpless white people, were certainly willing to strip them of their few possessions. The hardiest survivors soon broke up into several groups straggling southward while the weak gradually fell behind and the unlucky died along the way. What had begun as a routine passage to England soon became an epic survival story. The author's skill at portraying personalities at all levels, from nabob to barefoot seaman, makes this especially interesting. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Norton, 297p. illus. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Raymond Puffer
Library Journal
Raised in South Africa, British and U.S. newspaper correspondent Taylor (Shaka's Children) acts on his lifelong interest in the famous 1783 wreck of the 741-ton Grosvenor, an East India Company trade ship, off the far southeast coast of Africa. The result is an engrossing account of the truth behind the event. Most of those on board reached the shore safely, including 91 crew and 34 wealthy passengers, among them women and children. Once ashore, the tale takes intriguing twists and turns, and Taylor digs deep into formerly unpublished material and newfound stories left by some of the survivors to reveal their fate. Taylor nicely pieces together the various parts of this story, providing a solid analysis of the origins of the tragedy, relating the full story of those who returned, and unraveling the mystery of those who stayed. In the end, he provides more background on those who came to grief in the disaster than found in Percival R. Kirby's The True Story of the Grosvenor. Highly recommended for all nautical and South Africa history collections in academic and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/04.]-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327076
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/17/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 297
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Taylor is a former journalist and foreign correspondent. He is the author of Storm and Conquest and Caliban’s Shore. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

Maps x
Prologue xiii
1 'A Man of High Character' 3
2 Lord Macartney's Displeasure 20
3 Island of Oak 33
4 A Light in the Dark 53
5 'Nothing but Confusion and Dismay' 67
6 The Caliban Shore 79
7 Pondo's People 94
8 A Fatal Dread 104
9 'Never After Together Again' 115
10 Faultlines 125
11 Habberley's Mission 135
12 'A Sacred Charge' 145
13 Caliban Transformed 157
14 The Fate of William Hosea 170
15 'The Vilest Brutish Prostitution' 180
16 African Crusoes 195
17 The Quest 207
18 'Our Fathers Are Come' 219
19 Gquma's Tribe 230
20 'When the Long Trick's Over' 243
Epilogue 253
Acknowledgements 261
Sources 263
Notes 269
List of Illustrations 285
Index 287
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