Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton

Alexander Seton was born at Tottenham, Middlesex, on October 4, 1918, and was the eldest surviving son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson's uncle, Alexander Seton. In November 1832 (the same month his cousin Alexander arrived at Fort Vancouver), Alexander Seton purchased a commission as Second-Lieutenant in the Royal North British Fusiliers, and served in Tasmania and India with his regiment.
In 1847 Seton made Captain and was transferred to the 74th Highlanders, stationed in England and Ireland. In 1852, as Lieutenant-Colonel, Alexander Seton took command of the drafts of raw recruits destined for the Cape of Good Hope, where his own regiment was already involved in the Kaffir War. Seton was 38-years-old when the paddle-wheeled iron troopship, Birkenhead, sailed from Ireland on January 7 1852.
At two o'clock in the morning of February 26, the Birkenhead struck a rock in False Bay, 20 miles southeast of Cape Town, and foundered. In spite of the urgency of the situation, Seton issued his orders with perfect calm -- "Women and Children First!" The crew prepared the ship's boats and loaded the man soldiers' families into them, while the soldiers themselves stood at attention on the Birkenhead's sloping decks.
The soldiers knew they were doomed, that there were not enough boats to carry them ashore and the distance was too far to swim. Seton made his way to the stern of the ship where he admitted to another officer that he could not swim. One of Seton's two horses made it to shore, but he did not. A survivor reported that Seton had been killed by the fall of a mast.

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