LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

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


by Stephen Taylor.

The Caliban Shore accompanies the survivors of the East India Company’s schooner, “Grosvenor”, after she was wrecked on the south-east African coast in August 1782.

The story starts in India as passengers and crew make preparations to leave the country and return to England – some under a cloud, some having made their fortunes, and others in an unseemly hurry. We follow the trail of events that lead to the Grosvenor striking the rocks at on the shores of the Wild Coast, and the miraculous escape of 123 passengers and crew (out of 150), including women (one heavily pregnant) and children, the youngest only a toddler. After a few days taking stock, most of the men abandon the women and (all but one of the) children to their fate, and head for what they wrongly believe to be the nearest European settlement, nearly 400 miles south. Constantly splitting, re-grouping, and splitting again, they struggle against exposure, malnutrition, and disease, not to mention the intrusively curious (and sometimes aggressive) locals. Three months later, the first survivors reach safety, but even after two rescue missions, only eighteen survivors made it home. This might seem like proof of Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but over subsequent decades reports began trickling out of the north: a whole tribe – hundreds strong – descended from a castaway Englishwoman.

Written with wonderful attention to detail, and obviously supported by thorough research, in “The Caliban Shore”, Stephen Taylor has produced a gripping story, and one I found hard to put down.


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