Would YOU throw someone out of a lifeboat to save yourself? A terrifying shipwreck, a freezing ocean and a savage battle for survival. The ultimate moral dilemma:
With a cargo of immigrants bound for a new life in America, the William Brown was a ship full of hope. It had set off from Liverpool five weeks earlier, on March 13, 1841, and was nearing the end of its voyage to Philadelphia.
A ship of 559 tonnes, it carried salt, coal and china, along with 65 passengers, mostly Irish and Scottish families, as well as husbands and wives joining spouses who had already made the journey from the old world to the land of opportunity.
There was thick fog as the ship entered the icefield west of Nova Scotia on the night of April 19. But rather than slowing down as other ships nearby were prudently doing, the better to avoid icebergs that might suddenly loom out of the darkness, the American captain, 48-year-old George Harris, kept the William Brown sailing at a brisk ten knots.
Harris was an experienced sailor, but he was under pressure from the ship’s owners to complete the voyage quickly because the vessel was about to be sold.