1816 DEATH RAFT French Navy MEDUSA Shipwreck
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The human drama of the Medusa Shipwreck


Alexander Mckee

First published 1975 by Souvenir Press Limited, London

ISBN 0 285 62163 7

A black cloth bound book with silver lettering to spine - VERY GOOD + condition in a clipped and spine faded dust wrapper in VERY GOOD condition.

145 mm. x 220 mm. x 29 mm.
288 Pages

£6.50 + P & P



The Human Drama of the Medusa Shipwreck
by Alexander McKee

When in 1816 the captain of the French frigate-transport Medusa reported that he had lost his ship by stranding off the coast of West Africa, he gave no indication that what had happened was anything other than an ordinary shipwreck caused by poor charts of a little known coast.

His officers told the authorities a different tale, and when the terrible stories of mutiny, prolonged suffering, internecine slaughter and eventual cannibalism were related to the Minister of Marine in Paris he realised that he faced the shipwreck scandal of the century.

At the time the shadow of Waterloo hung over war-racked Europe, and made objective reporting, particularly in politically unstable France, an impossibility. When at last the true nightmare story became known, it was dismissed by everyone as an isolated incident, a human aberration that could never happen again.

Not only does Alexander McKee recreate one of the greatest sea tragedies of all time, hour by hour as it happened, using fresh source material, he is also the first historian to discover in this terrible drama a vital pattern of human behaviour under stress, a pattern that was to repeat itself, however different the outward circumstances, no matter what the century. He studied the behaviour of British seamen drifting on rafts in the same area of the South Atlantic at the same time of the year during World War II. He turned to the experiences of groups of North Americans confined in a hijacked jet in the Jordan desert in Summer, and to the South American survivors of an aeroplane crash marooned in the Andes in Winter.

His findings are clear: man reacts predictably under conditions of extreme hardship. What happened on the raft in 1816 happened again. The Medusa incident still has a lesson for mankind in self-understanding.

The author

Alexander McKee is the author of fifteen books mainly on naval, military and aviation history, which have been translated into over seven foreign languages including French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Danish.
During the war he served with the London Scottish and Gordon Highlanders and after 1945 he remained in Germany with the British Army on the Rhine. From 1948 to 1952 he was a staff writer with the British Forces Network in Hamburg, working mainly on radio documentaries.
After demobilisation he became a freelance scriptwriter, mainly for the BBC and received from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain the award for the Best British Radio Features Script of 1969. He has specialised in the problems of survival at sea, his books include a study of the Bounty mutiny and boat voyage in the South Seas, the story of the gold clipper Royal Charter wrecked in a hurricane on the coast of Wales, and the sinking of the battleship Royal Oak at Scapa Flow.
In 1958 he took up skin-diving again and for the last ten years has been director of the project to locate and excavate the 430-year old wreck of King Henry VIII's Mary Rose at Spithead, for which he received in 1971 the British Sub-Aqua Club's Diver of the Year award. His experience of navigation has been as an aeroplane pilot, a diver and a director of wreck-search operations in coastal waters.


1 Landlocked (June, 1816)
2 A Passage to Senegal (17 June to 2 July)
3 Stranded off the Sahara (Afternoon 2 July to morning 5 July)
4 'We Abandon Them!' (Morning 5 July)
5 'Land, Land!' (Morning 5 July to evening 6 July)
6 Terrible Darkness (Night of 6 to 7 July)
7 Intolerable Pressures (7 and 8 July)
8 Time Running Out (9 to 13 July)
9 'The Eyes of Argus' (The castaways, 9 to 19 July)
10 The Spectre at the Window (In Senegal, July and August, 1816)
11`There's One Who'll Never Get to France' (In Paris and St. Louis, September to December 1816)
12 Due Process of Law (At Brest and Rochefort, 1816-1817)
13 The Chaumareys Case (Rochefort, February to March 1817)
14 A British 'Medusa' (The Alceste in the South China Sea, February to March 1817)
15 'Shadows of Officers' (France and Senegal, 181721)
16 'Hideous Spectacle . . . Beautiful Picture' (The experience as Art, 1817-1824)
17 Repetition in the South Atlantic (The rafts of the Rio Azul, 29 June to 14 July 1941)
18 In the Deserts and the Mountains (The age of aviation, 1970-73)

Dust wrapper front
Books spine

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