The Loss Of The Criccieth Castle by Cathy Woodhead

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'The Loss Of The Criccieth Castle' is a true account of survival in the South Atlantic.

Catherine Thomas travelled the world with her ship's captain husband in the early 1900s, then on 15th July 1912 disaster struck their vessel, the Criccieth Castle. It was mid-winter, in what is perhaps the stormiest region of the world, and for the next eight days the ship's company endured the most terrible sufferings. Seven men were drowned, and one by one the others died of hunger, thirst and the fearful cold. Day after day the captain stood at the steering-oar, watching his wife and four-year-old son lying helpless in the water at the bottom of the leaking lifeboat. Finally, when the survivors were too weak to pull on the oars or to hoist the sail, deliverance came.

The book has 178 pages and is an A5 paperback in black and white with a colour cover. There are 2 maps, 27 photographs, 12 paintings and 13 scans of documents. The appendices include a glossary, bibliography, documents concerning various Board of Trade Inquiries and an index. The ISBN Number is 978-0-9561469-1-5.

Reviews

By Jim McAdam in the Falkland Islands Journal 2017
The Criccieth Castle, a three-masted iron sailing ship, was wrecked to the east of Cape Horn in July 1912. She was about 180 miles off the Falklands and the crew abandoned ship into two lifeboats, one of which was soon lost with all hands. The remaining boat held Captain Robert Thomas, his pregnant wife, Catherine, 4 year old son, Bobbie and 15 seamen. During an eight day journey in a small open boat they suffered the most severe hardships, eleven of them (including Captain Thomas and his family) eventually reaching Cape Pembroke Lighthouse. A brief account of the adventure appeared in the Falkland Islands Journal (Elliott, 2000).

Cathy Woodhead has pulled together all the reports, accounts and available evidence to tell the full story of the loss of the Criccieth Castle. Focusing her book around the Thomas family, particularly Catherine, she goes into every detail of the last voyage of the ship, the sinking, the rescue and the subsequent fate of the Thomas family and most of the crew. As Robert Cadwalader rightly says in his Foreword “It is good that this story is being told before it slips from memory”. Cathy Woodhead was inspired by her mother (Jocelyn Greenway), who in 1958 using Robert Thomas' 1913 article in Wide World Magazine, ghost wrote the story for Catherine Thomas for the book 'The Last Of The Cape Horners'. Hence we can confidently accept the authenticity of Cathy’s account and the evidence presented, in full (in appendices) of the various official documents and accounts surrounding the sinking and rescue.

It is a truly remarkable story – indeed the similarity with the epic voyage of the James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia by Shackleton and his crew some 4 years later is drawn to mind. Whereas we have good accounts of Worsley’s superb navigational skills on that journey, Robert Thomas did not document the voyage but appeared to be basing his journey to safety on previous knowledge of the outline of the Falklands, a hurried estimate of the ship’s position as she sank and one compass bearing to sail to the Falklands. The fact that he reached Cape Pembroke Lighthouse in a small, overloaded open boat leaking badly due to damage sustained from smashing into the ship’s side while being launched, a scrap of a sail, no tiller (he lashed an oar on), was washed overboard once, had virtually no food or water and barely entrusting steering the boat to anyone else over the period of 8 days is nothing short of miraculous and deserves greater recognition in the lexicon of notable open-boat journeys.

Cathy Woodhead’s book does us a great favour by drawing all information on the loss of the Criccieth Castle between two covers. Her detail of other crew members and family trees will be of considerable benefit to other historians following the trials of the many sailors who plied around the Horn. In the Falklands, the fate of the lifeboat used is well documented. The book is well written, clearly illustrated and is thoroughly recommended to all interested in the Falklands, particularly its maritime history.


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