Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors” as Want to Read:
Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  368 ratings  ·  41 reviews
What became of the castaways was stranger than fiction...and more than decent Englishmen could bear. In the summer of 1783 the grandees of the East India Company were horrified to learn that one of their finest ships, the 741-ton Grosvenor, had been lost on the wild and unexplored coast of southeast Africa. Astonishingly, most of those on board reached the shore safely91 m ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2004)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Caliban's Shore, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Caliban's Shore

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  368 ratings  ·  41 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jun 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
It was a ship full of passengers who had paid good money for the greedy captain to take them home from India. The ship was considered one of the strongest of the 18th-century East India Company ships, but the captain was more experienced in fleecing men and women of the majority of their money than in maritime knowledge. Delayed by the anger of Lord McCartney, who didn't appreciate the captain's demanding ways, the ship left late in the season, missing the standard accompaniment of other East In ...more
Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it
The story of the Grosvenor, an English ship that sank off the west coast of Africa in 1782, is fascinating. Most of the officers, passengers, and crew made it to shore, where they decided to walk down the coastline towards a Dutch settlement.

It didn't take long for many of the younger, stronger survivors to leave those less able to fend for themselves behind, including several women and children. As the castaways headed south, they broke into ever smaller groups as they faced natural barriers,
Steven Clark
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was immediately impressed by Taylor's recounting of the Grosvenor. He is an excellent writer with a concise style that was never too erudite or long-winded. He sets the story up beautifully depicting 18th century India and the system there, as well as listing the passengers. I'm familiar with a lot of British India, and at this time it was a private enterprise dream under 'John Company....the east India Company. The perils and boredom of ocean travel are recounted, and the shipwreck is sad and ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
(This review was written after reading the book in its paperback edition - titled The Caliban Shore)

When the Indiaman, the Grosvenor, ran on to rocks and sank on the east coast of Africa in August 1782 there were more than a hundred survivors. They were officers and men of the ship's crew as well as a range of passengers, men, women and children. At the time of the wreck, the captain had believed his position to be 300 miles out to sea. His next mistake was to try to lead his motley band south t
Mar 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Not the greatest shipwreck book I've read lately. The prose is a bit dry and I'd guess the author is S. African as there were a few Afrikaans terms he used that I had to look up. Still, it's amazing to think about the world back when it was so much larger. There really is no equivalent today unless you look forward to space exploration.
Joanne Annabannabobanna
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: True Adventure, historical-non fiction
Recommended to Joanne by: No body
Memorable. Entirely riveting - could not put it down. Huge fan of this sort of lit. Although I read it a couple of years ago I can easily bring to mind vivid details of this incredible true story. Rates up there with "In the Heart of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick for its descriptive, nail-biting account.
Mar 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Taylor's excellent grasp of the English language was a little difficult to wade through. The first part of the book chronicles the Grosvenor's journey from India and subsequent wreck off the southeastern shore of Africa in the 1780's. The sheer number of passengers made it hard to follow as characters are concerned. The second part attempts to piece together what became of the survivors and the third part relies on the first two parts to retell the story through court documents after an ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
The tale of an East India Company shipwreck on the south east coast of what is now South Africa, Caliban's Shore is a beautifully written history that reads at times like a thriller. The research, though limited by the scant availability of sources, is exhaustive, and Taylor's story telling whips along at a pace one would not expect from such a subject. It seemed at some points that certain characters had been forgotten, but back they came to surprise me and complete a very good account of a fas ...more
Fredrick Danysh
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
In 1781 the East Indiaman of 741 tons was sailing the India Ocean off the southern coast of Africa when she encountered a storm and sank. This is the story leading up to the tragedy and of the struggle of the survivors to reach civilization. It gives an insight to conditions in Africa during the Eighteenth Century as well what occurs in a struggle to survive a disaster in a hostile environment. It was easy to read and I found it interesting.
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The Caliban Shore accompanies the survivors of the East India Company’s schooner, Grosvenor, after she was wrecked on the south-east African coast in August 1782.

The story starts in India as passengers and crew make preparations to leave the country and return to England – some having made their fortunes, some under a cloud, and others in an unseemly hurry. We follow the trail of events that lead to the Grosvenor sticking the rocks at on the shores of the Wild Coast, and the miraculous escape of
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! Taylor writes fluidly and his detail is what grabbed me from the start. Obviously he researched his subject well, not only the lives of those who were shipwrecked which he follows from start to finish, but also, more generally, the details of sailing at the time: the East Indiaman ship itself, and the routes which sailors had to follow in rounding the Cape from India, the difficulties in establishing longitude in those days, the dangers in the winds and seasons. I gained far m ...more
Bish Denham
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The author obviously did a great deal of research to relate this sad tale of a shipwreck gone terrible wrong. This is not a heroic story, like that of Shackleton and the crew of The Endurance. My only problem with it is that I had a hard time keeping the names straight, who was who, particularly when he got into the names of African people and tribes but that's because I'm so unfamiliar with the languages.

Overall a satisfying read.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
As tragic a ship wreck is hat's off to Stephen Taylor in making Grosvenor and it's crew and passengers come to life. This is not a fluid read, somewhat confusing at times compared to other readings on shipwrecks. India to Africa to Great Britan was the background just at times overwhelmed with too many characters in a story line that lacked transgression and fluidly to keep a readers interest at heart.
Peter Staadecker
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Very thoroughly researched, but the huge cast of characters and the very long timelines - including the background prior to the voyage, during the voyage, during the wreck, the descendants, the subsequent treasure hunt scams etc - lost my interest at times.
Kate Snow
Had the potential to be interesting, but never quite delivers. Whilst I appreciate the researches were not able to establish all the details of the events, the writing was a bit dry. I must admit that I skip read the second half.
Apr 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Interesting book, quite well written but felt that, like the castaways, it wandered a little towards the end. Took longer than usual to read as I had a break from it whilst on holiday
A thoroughly researched and very well-written account of what happened to a group of castaways after their ship was wrecked off the coast of South Africa in 1782.
Ian Gordon
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A striking and rich insight into a bygone age (not so many years ago).
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’d never heard of the wreck of the Grosvenor, but found this a captivating story.
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, a real non-fiction page-turner. It's the true and brutally interesting story of an English shipwreck on African shores in the late 18th-century. Almost everyone survives the impact, but things go south quickly after that for a variety of reasons, some of which (class divisions, utter ignorance of Africa) are particularly Colonial and some of which (poor morale in the ranks, unqualified idiots in leadership positions) are timeless.

I confess to having an affinity for a
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book tells the true story of a ship that was wrecked off the coast of South Africa in the 1700's. It tells the story of a series of passengers, from the crew, captain, maids, servants, to high society passengers. I found it a bit difficult to follow at many points, as the author would step back to tell the back story of several passengers before following what happened to them after the wreck. This book was highly recommended to me by a friend from South Africa, but I did not find it to be ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The second in a series of true-life shipwreck stories I have read (see Brian Hicks' Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew, which I rated 4 stars), this one suffers a bit not so much from the quality of the writing but from the paucity of documentation surrounding the wreck and the fate of its survivors.

The sad thing is that the remoteness of the Southeast African coast at the time of the wreck, along with bad political blood between England (the ships hom
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nautical, africa
For 18th Century British colonists traveling back and forth between India and the mother country, Africa was the equivalent of what is today known as "flyover country." Little was known of the topography, the people, the weather, or the plant and animal life. And if your ship crashed against the African shore, which would happen from time to time, you were stuck, possibly forever, in this unknown land. This is the story of one such ship, as related by a South African author. A little too much sp ...more
Stacy Jensen
Dec 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was one of my books that slipped through the system. I read it but forgot to write a review. This is what happens when I get too far behind. A fascinating true story about a shipwreck that occured in the 1700's to mostly British citizens returning from India. The writing is based on several survivors' journals and newspaper interviews. From time to time the writing got a little bogged down in conjecture. I'm sure it's very difficult to write on an event that occured over two hundred years a ...more
Tim Corke
A lengthy historical journal on the wreck of the Grosvenor and the individual stories of the shipwrecked crew and passengers as they deal with a strange environment that most haven't experienced before. Some survive, the majority do not, some disappear never to be heard of again whilst others seem to have integrated into the local's customs and traditions. The wreck becomes infamous and stays in the public's mindset for many years prompting many efforts to prove some of the unknowns of the wreck ...more
Roger Boyle
Jan 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing

It may help if you like boats, but this story is terrifically well told and reconstructs beautifully what it was probably like to be on a ship in 1782, and to be wrecked on the African coast. A masterful piece of research and re-telling.

I hope very much that Taylor found no need to embellish any of what is a fantastic story - I doubt he did. it kept my whole attention from p1 to the end and it makes me want to go and look at the sites, as the author did.
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read. I'd never heard of this ship wreck which happened on the coast of Africa in 1782. The book not only covers the sinking of the ship and the fate of the survivors, but it also tells you a lot about their lives and the times they lived in. Some reviewers have called this a drawback, but it was all very interesting to me. It is detailed without being too long. If you like historical tales, this is a good one.
Ray Parish
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and thoroughly researched work. It reveals as much about 18th-century trade and travel as it does about the individual lives of the passengers and crew of the Grosvenor. You come away with a clear vision of what getting from point A to point B entailed at the time, as well as the difficulties the traveller faced upon an unexpected arrival at point C somewhere in between.
Oct 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good and very well written history; there was a lot here about the African coast and early British imperialism that I didn't know. The author did an excellent job of piecing together primary sources and making them come alive.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this historical investigation into the wreck of the Grosvenor and its survivors. The author made this event come to life for me as he gave plausible narratives of those who survived. He did a good job of adding a personal sense to an event happening centuries ago.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon
  • Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny
  • Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum
  • The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu
  • The Wreck of the Medusa: The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century
  • Wreck of the Medusa: The Tragic Story of the Death Raft
  • Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail
  • Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History
  • A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier
  • The Ice Master
  • Quinine: Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World
  • On the Edge of Survival: A Shipwreck, a Raging Storm, and the Harrowing Alaskan Rescue That Became a Legend
  • Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy
  • Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe
  • The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory
  • Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
  • Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, in the Deserts of the Old World
  • Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
See similar books…
Stephen Taylor grew up in South Africa, and now works for The Times. He is the author of several celebrated books on Africa. The Mighty Nimrod (1989) was praised by Wilfred Thesiger as 'comprehensive and perceptive', while Jan Morris declared his history of the Zulu people, Shaka's Children (1994) a 'generous and truly moving work'. His most recent, Livingston's Tribe: A Journey from Zanzibar to t ...more