Into The Maelstrom
The Wreck Of HMHS Rohilla
Having finished working on the second edition of the Sub Aqua Association diver training manual I turned back to the wreck of the hospital ship. The SS Rohilla has always intrigued me, it was a wreck I used when introducing students to their first open water dive, being close to the harbour it was one often used for convenience.
I had read many years earlier a book about the ship which centred on those lost who originated from ‘Barnoldswick’ a small cotton weaving town in Lancashire. I wondered what else there might be to the story and set about writing a book at least for myself, as research progressed I sound found that I would not be able to do justice to the story without writing a comprehensive manuscript. I began contact with many individuals some professionally and have now many new acquaintances, and close friends. They have helped provide additional information and material that has helped to produce a wonderful manuscript. The book is something I am very proud of! I have a new publisher for this project who seem as enthusiastic as I do.
Built in 1906, by the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast (of Titanic fame) as a passenger and cruise liner, the Rohilla joined her sister ship ‘Rewa’ (featured briefly in the book) as a permanent troop ship. In August 1914 the Rohilla was requisitioned as a Naval hospital ship. Of those who survived the loss a Miss Roberts also survived the sinking of the Titanic. Amongst the crew were 15 men from a small cotton weaving community, the men were amongst those responsible for the care of Prince Albert brought onboard the Rohilla at Scapa Flow, the Prince was later crowned King George.
In a severe gale the ship ran aground just 600 yards of the shore, so close to safety yet so far in terms of the insurmountable circumstances. The story unfold's to explain many heroic attempts to save those onboard including carrying a lifeboat over land to launch in poor sea conditions. Many more interesting facts and features await the reader – a book not to be missed. To effectively illustrate the book I have used line drawings and original photographs of the vessel as well as photographs of artefacts from the ship and her wrecking, ,any photographs never having been published before!
Many more interesting facts and features await the reader, a book not to be missed.
Following the release of the book, I was invited to run an exhibition at our local archives centre. I put together quite a bit of the material I had gathered when writing the book made up of illustrative and text based content as well as artefacts from the ship itself, I had the full side of the exhibition room.
The exhibition proved far more popular than I had imagined and I was happy to extend it for an additional four weeks. I met with many interesting people who were related to the Rohilla in one way or the other, including a sweet lady whose was named Rohilla after a suggestion by her mother's midwife.
She presented me with a copy of her birth certificate which will feature on the Rohilla side to my website in the future. Rohilla like many I met throughout the exhibition remain firm friends today. The photographs below were captured during the exhibition, indicating a fraction of the material I had on display.
The story of the tragic loss of the Rohilla has become a passion for me and I am still as intrigued today as I was when I started writing the book. I am often surprised on finding new leads, new directions to follow and frequently have new acquaintances that contribute to my understanding and I welcome any additional help.
Since the release of the first edition I have continued to collect whatever information and photographs I could. 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 revelations such as more accurate mortality rate. I have longed question the figure of 84 / 85, which is the figure stated across many widely used web pages. Having shared information with John Wilson, 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 and I am indebted to John for his commitment to finding the true figure. I knew straight away that this new mortality rate would prove a contentious issue, 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 ordered from many of the online retailers and good book shops. 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 using the link below.
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