Audley Henry Booth

HMS Birkenhead & Audley Henry Booth

She was wrecked on 26 February 1852, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay,
at Danger Point near Gansbaai 87 miles (140 kilometres) from Cape Town

Lieutenant Audley Henry Booth

Died February 1852, aged 22 years, at the sinking of H.M.S. Birkenhead.

Audley, born on 30th December 1829, was one of 2 children (Sister Augusta) born to Augustus and Mary Audley Booth of Halton Holegate.

He enlisted in Her Majesty’s 73rd Foot Regiment in July of 1849, aged 19 years, and was promoted to Lieutenant on 21st March 1851.

Audley’s Uncle John Booth married Hannah Franklin, the sister of Sir John Franklin—who disappeared whilst on expedition attempting to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage in the Arctic.

Records, gratefully received from All Saints church Friskney, show that the Booth family have a long history of men in the family being Vicars there from the 1700s to the late 1800s. Audley’s Grandfather, Uncle and great Uncle were 3 successive vicars at All Saints.

H.M.S. Birkenhead left Portsmouth in January 1852, under the command of Captain Robert Salmond. It was en route to take troops to fight in the 8th Cape Frontier War in South Africa. She travelled to southern Ireland, before heading for the Cape. 

She was carrying 480 officers and men, as reinforcements for British troops engaged in the Frontier War. 26 women and children were also on board the vessel.

She was wrecked on 26 February 1852, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay, at Danger Point near Gansbaai, 87 miles (140 kilometres) from Cape Town in the Cape Colony.

There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm on board, having been given orders to “Stand fast” by Lieutenant-Colonel Seaton, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely and escape the sinking.  Lieutenant Audley Booth and 50 of his men were below decks manning the pumps and died instantly.

Only 193 of the estimated 643 people on board survived, and the soldier’s devotion to duty, sacrifice and bravery gave rise to the unofficial “women and children first” protocol, or as it was first known ‘The Birkenhead Drill’,  when abandoning ship.

The Memorial Plaque in the church

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Header photo: The Wreck of the Birkenhead (1901) by Charles Dixon.