When storms swept RMS Tayleur towards the Lambay cliff near Dublin, ex convict Samuel Carby’s thoughts were for his new bride and son.
Abandoning the 200 gold sovereigns he had returned with from the Australian Gold Rush, he grabbed his family from their berths below decks and rushed them to safety as the ship sank, 48 hours into its maiden voyage.
The Stamford man’s family was the only one to survive intact.
Of the 650 people on board only 290 people survived - just three of them were women and three children, including the Carby family.
The wrecking made headlines 60 years before the sinking of the Titanic, which was also run by the White Star Line.
Now the Carby’s untold story has been featured in a book The Sinking of RMS Tayleur - The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic, where author Gill Hoffs tells the tale of the sinking of the Merchant Vessel, two days after it left Liverpool for Australia on 19, January 1854.
Gill, who spent two years researching, writing and editing the book, said: “I was amazed because their story was so romantic.
“It was not until much later during the research that I found out they had survived.
“I was so happy that he chose his family rather than his fortune.
“I fell in love with him a little when I discovered that he left the 200 sovereigns behind to save his family.”
Samuel was transported to Tasmania after getting drunk and slaughtering a sheep with a friend while celebrating his impending marriage. He was sentenced to a term of 10 years at Rutland Assizes.
He had to leave his fiancée Sarah Bunning and their baby boy Robert behind with his mum Alice. After being pardoned and making a fortune in the Australian Gold Rush, he returned to Stamford to marry his sweetheart Sarah, 37, and was taking his wife and young son Robert, 13, to a new life abroad when the tragedy struck.
When they returned to Stamford with nothing but the clothes they were standing in the community rallied. The family were fairly destitute and the Vicar of St Martins is said to have arranged a collection amongst the townsfolk, which is understood to have included a donation from Burghley House. The community helped the family with clothes and necessities and raised enough money for them to go to Australia.
Their son Robert, however, chose to stay back, and subsequently adopted his mum’s maiden name of Bunning. Samuel, 33, at the time of the tragedy, and Sarah returned to England some years later and lived near Manchester.
Robert lived in Stamford, eventually moving to Manchester where he lived until his death in 1919, but never spoke of his father’s heroism and his family knew nothing of their ancestors lucky escape until Gill contacted them.
Paul, Samuel Carby’s great-great-grandson, who lives in Grantham with his wife Candy, said: “I was born and brought up in Kent and we only moved up to Lincolnshire when I retired. The first time we visited Stamford 10 years ago I felt an immediate affinity with the town and this was long before we discovered the family connection. I always love to visit and feel a comfortable connection.”
Candy remembers her husband saying that he felt “strangely at home in Stamford” during their first visit.
“We knew nothing of the connection then,” she said.
“I later uncovered the family connection but still knew nothing of the wreck until Gill contacted me about 18 months ago.
“They were quite a family – Sarah’s father and grandfather were often being charged with drunken behaviour and occasionally ending up in the stocks. There is also a story in the Stamford Mercury of 19 October 1810 concerning her grandfather’s involvement in the ‘very aggravated assault’ on local businessman John McGuffog.
“Sarah’s brother William also made the headlines in the Mercury in September 1892 when he was jilted at the altar, slashed his fiancée’s throat and drowned himself in the river. Never a dull moment in family history research.”
Sarah’s grandfather William was the first Bunning to live in Stamford, moving from Bulwick as a young man and marrying in St Martins in 1790 before having 10 children.
There were several other people from the Stamford area on board RMS Tayleur, whose relatives Gill was not able to locate.
Survivors were Thomas Ashby, 25, Thomas Tebbutt, 26, from Stamford, Thomas Kemp from Lolham, who gave an account of the tragedy to the Stamford Mercury days after the sinking.
And Robert Searson, from Market Deeping and Catherine Webster, 23, from Stamford, who died.
The Sinking of RMS Tayleur - The Lost Story of The Victorian Titanic is published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd. It costs £19.99 and can be bought at http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/ or from Amazon and book shops.
Gill Hoffs can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.