Located at the Dangerpoint Lighthouse a monument and memorial stone has been erected for those who went lost at sea on the horrific morning of 26 February 1852.
Every year on the 26th of February ,Gansbaai Tourism organises a Commemoration in honour of those who lost their lives when the HMS Birkenhead sank off the Dangerpoint coast in 1852. The HMS Birkenhead started its journey in Cork, Ireland. It docked in Cape Town and was on its way to the Eastern Cape, on board the replacement troops for those fighting the war in the Eastern Cape . Also wives and families on the way to their loved ones.
Leaving Cape Town on 25 February in perfect weather conditions the HMS Birkenhead story still had a tragic ending. Early in the morning of 26 February sailing too close to shore, the sip hit an unchartered rock. The order was given to reverse and this caused the hull to break into two and the HMS Birkenhead Troopship started sinking.
The order was given by Captain Robert Salmond to launch the Lifeboats, but with the realization that it was futile and all would not be saved – a loud and clear order was give WOMAN AND CHILDREN FIRST. This has become known as the famous Birkenhead Drill and thanks to this call all the woman and children’s lives were spared on that fateful day.
In a record time of only 20 minutes the ship sank and with only debris and survivor’s floating around as evidence that the HMS Birkenhead ever were at the coast of Dangerpoint. The ship – Lioness was in the vicinity and made her way to pick up survivors. Some of these survivors found their way to shore and at least one incident was recorded of a shark attack – a brave soldier who gave up his space in the life boat for a struggling civilian.
With about 643 people on board the HMS Birkenhead only 193 survived that night to tell their tale.
Birkenhead Commemoration: A service is held annually at the Dangerpoint lighthouse at 11h00 on the 26th of February. This service is held by Gansbaai Tourism in conjunction with the Royal Navy Association, the Ganges and the Moths. It is attended by descendants, dignitaries from the British Consulate as well as the Overstrand Mayor and many more – all are welcome. In closing wreathes are laid at the Birkenhead monument. Weather permitting a trip to the Birkenhead rock is undertaken early on the 26th and biodegradable wreathes are thrown onto the rock.
On the evening of the 25th February a function is held where interesting and knowledgeable speakers give more information about the HMS Birkenhead Troopship and the happenings of the day it were laid to rest.
For more information on the annual commemoration service contact the Gansbaai Tourism Bureau on 028 384 1439.