HMS Birkenhead, also referred to as HM Troopship Birkenhead or Steam Frigate Birkenhead, was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. She was designed as a steam frigate, but was converted to a troopshipbefore being commissioned.
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, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm on board, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely and escape the sinking.
Only 193 of the estimated 643 people on board survived, and the soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the unofficial "women and children first" protocol when abandoning ship.
The sinking of the Birkenhead is the earliest maritime disaster evacuation during which the concept of "women and children first" is known to have been applied.
The term "Birkenhead drill" became defined as courageous behaviour in hopeless circumstances and appeared in Rudyard Kipling's 1893 tribute to the Royal Marines, "Soldier an' Sailor Too":
To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies -- soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too
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