The Wreck of the Medusa: The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century
The Wreck of the Medusa is a spellbinding account of the most famous shipwreck before the Titanic, a tragedy that riled a nation and inspired Théodore Géricault’s magnificent painting The Raft of the Medusa . In June 1816, the flagship of a French expedition to repossess a colony in Senegal from the British set sail. She never arrived at her destination; her incompetent captain Hugo de Chaumareys, ignoring telltale signs of shallow waters, plowed the ship into a famously treacherous sandbar. A privileged few claimed the lifeboats while 146 men and one woman were herded aboard a makeshift raft and set adrift. Without a compass or many provisions, hit by a vicious storm the first night, and exposed to sweltering heat during the following days, the group set upon each other: mayhem, mutiny, and murder ensued. When rescue arrived thirteen days later only fifteen were alive. Meanwhile, those in the boats who made it to shore undertook a dangerous two-hundred-mile slog through the desert. Among the handful of survivors from the raft were two men whose written account of the fiasco became a bestseller that rocked France’s political foundations and provided graphic fodder for Géricault’s world-famous painting.