The Wreck of the Rohilla
My enthusiasm for the wreck of the hospital ship Rohilla began as a recreational sport diver. As my experience grew and I advanced to become a diving instructor the wreck was the logical choice when introducing my dive students to their first open water dive. Although Whitby has a wealth of shipwrecks from two World Wars and numerous shipping disasters, being close to the harbour and in shallow water the wreck of the Rohilla has always been a popular dive site.
This website contains a wealth of information including the story of the Rohilla being featured on the BBC Coast series and its mention in the Whitby Gazette, the actual episode aired on BBC 2 in June 2012. 2012 will be remembered for the London Olympics, the Queens Diamond Jubilee which had the William Riley amongst over a 1000 vessels of every kind, and of course the Centenary of the RMS Titanic loss in 1912. The Rohilla has its own very unique link to the Titanic's loss in the form of a stewardess Mary Kezia Roberts. The Whitby Gazette carried a wonderful feature titled Launching Ceremony At Whitby, that first details the heroic attempts made during the Rohilla tragedy and presents the dedication of the 'new' lifeboat station house in 1919 and the christening of the Margaret Harker Smith, Whitby's first motor lifeboat.
In 199 my diving career came to an abrupt end as a result of a medical crisis, however although I was no longer able to dive I was still mesmerised by the Rohilla and found it the logical choice for my third book. When I began work on the book I was fortunate to have been able to establish contact with descendants of some of those who survived or perished on the ship, in doing so I felt guarded about stirring up feelings, however my contact was positively received and I feel honoured to share their stories and the significant contribution they make to my collective research.
Throughout the book there are many heart rending tales that only serve to highlight the despair those trapped aboard the Rohilla had to endure over the course of a weekend, the final fifty survivors were rescued after over fifty hours trapped on the wrecked ship. The rescue attempts involved six lifeboats and many daring feats of achievement, the tragedy is still recorded as one of the worst disasters in the annals of the RNLI. This website will serve to complement the book allowing me to add information that I could not include in the book, likewise the book has information and photographs that I have yet to add to the website.
In July 2013, the RNLI commissioned the Whitby Art Society to produce an anthology of the Rohilla disaster. The society was given just six weeks to complete the project whilst ensuring the standard of excellence for which the society was famed for. In September, the 64 paintings were brought together to complete a 2m x 2m mosaic of the tragedy presenting the tale of great endurance, bravery and sacrifice. The artwork is now part of an RNLI national touring exhibition entitled Hope in the Great War, commemorating the centenary of World War One, the exhibition pays tribute to the bravery of the RNLI volunteers who risked their lives to save those on the stricken Rohilla.
After the project was completed a book was produced to complement the artwork. The paintings are presented on individual pages with room for a short paragraph by the artist explaining where they got their inspiration for their work. The book is itself a work of art and is the only book of its kind to commemorate the tragedy in this way.
I secured a small number of the books straight away and would encourage anyone with an interest in the Rohilla to purchase a copy, whilst they are available as it was not intended as a money making investment and might not be re-printed. The books are available from the lifeboat museum and from the Sutcliffe Gallery here in Whitby.
HMHS Rohilla Centenary 2014
On the 17th January 2013 the first formal meeting of the Rohilla Centenary Team took place at the Whitby Lifeboat Station, made up of William Riley Trustees, Senior Lifeboat Crew, Clergy and Friends of Whitby Lifeboat. The objective of the team was to initiate, direct and oversee the Centenary activities in October 2014. Our aim was to mark the Centenary with a balanced celebration of the lives saved and a solemn memorial to those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
To celebrate the dramatic rescue of the survivors and provide a fitting memorial to those who perished, our hope was to involve as many families descendants and people connected with the Rohilla disaster as we could. We made a public invitation in an effort to hear from anyone with a connection the tragedy that befell the hospital ship Rohilla and the historic rescue attempts. The team received quite a lot of interest and we were able to include:
With the Rohilla Centenary now behind us I would like to offer my grateful thanks on behalf of the Rohilla Centenary Team to all those involved in making the centenary events possible. I gave radio and television interviews prior to the centenary but I was not able to credit everyone for all the hard work done to plan the centenary, certainly no one person is any more important than everyone else we all 'brought something to the table' and our plans would not have succeeded without each member of the team.
Into The Maelstrom The Wreck of HMHS Rohilla
Since the release of the first edition I have continued to collect whatever information I could along with any photographs connected to the ship and her crew. In 2013 I began work on the second edition of my book, however revising the book was no easy task and to some degree I didn't fully appreciate just how much new material I had to work with.
My publisher was really supportive and helped me create what is undoubtedly the definitive account of Whitby's greatest maritime disaster. One of my aims when revising the book was bring together more of the personal stories to the tragedy and I could not have done so without the support of many family descendants. It isn't possible to do the second edition justice here, as it contains so much new information together with a host of new illustrations and photographs many of which have never published before. In many ways, it has been an almost complete rewrite with the revised edition consisting of 320 pages which is significantly bigger than the first edition which has 128 pages.
I am pleased to have been able to include some new areas of research and some new revelation,s one being a different mortality rate. I have longed question the figure of 84 / 85 as there are 91 names on the monument, having shared information with a close family descendant of a Rohilla casualty we both agree that the figure of 89 is more accurate. It is not a conclusion that we came to overnight, in actual fact it was only after extensive research that the higher figure was accepted. I knew straight away that this new mortality rate would prove a contentious issue in the future, the former lifeboat museum curator Peter Thomson stubbornly refuses to accept the updated figure, relying instead on what he has read 'on the internet,' but I cannot apologise for where our research led us, those who venture along the same path will simply come to the same conclusion.
The book was released in September 2014 to coincide with the Rohilla Centenary and that of the Great War itself. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon although I would add that they have the book presented with the primary cover and not the actual one pictured above which brings a completely fresh look which I am thoroughly impressed with. I have received quite a lot of positive feedback from those who have the new edition which is definitely proving quite popular. If you would like a personally signed, dedicated copy of the book please do not hesitate to contact me.
I have been so busy with work on the second edition and the Rohilla centenary that I have not been able to update any of my websites for quite sometime, however I plan a major overhaul of the website when time permits. I will then be able to once again turn my attention to the Whitby Lifeboat and William Riley website's.
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions relating to the Rohilla please do not hesitate to contact me using the link below, I am always happy to receive feedback, good or bad in a hope of improving what I have to offer online.
Copyright © Colin Brittain 1999 - 2015