Gravesend author hopes book can spark acknowledgement in Princes Alice disaster amid anniversary
PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 August 2018
Monday (September 3) marks the 140th anniversary of the worst maritime disaster on the River Thames, and author Angela Jean Young hopes her novel Field of Dust can help to bring further awareness of the tragedy.
The historical novel is based on the sinking of the Thames paddle steamer SS Princess Alice - which claimed the lives of 650 Londoners on September 3 1878, and Field of Dust portrays the event against a backdrop of Northfleet’s once powerful Victorian cement industry.
The aftermath of the disaster was witnessed by the children of Robin’s Creek, Northfleet, one of whom - Florence Gant - features in the novel.
Florence is a real-life member of the Angela’s Victorian family, and it is through Florence that the unfolding tragedy is related.
When asked if she believes the disaster is an event that not enough people are aware of today, Angela said: “Absolutely - people haven’t heard of it and it’s shocking when we think about how awful marchioness sinking was, where around 50 people died, and this is a tragedy that took 650 lives.
“The biggest issue was the pollution which led to most people drowning - the majority of deaths were caused by people ingesting the pollution - it’s shocking that people don’t know about it.”
Angela said she first discovered her connections to Florence Grant while conducting some research: “Whilst looking into my mother’s family history I discovered Florence - potentially my great aunt.
“Realising that she didn’t seem to ‘fit’ within the list of my great grandfather’s 14 children I began to weave my own version of her life, creating fictional characters along the way.”
Steeped in mystery, romance and exploration, the novel is rich in history, delving into Jack the Ripper, Buffallo Bill’s Wild West Show and, significant on a contemporary level, the fight for womens’ rights.
Angela, who grew up in Gravesend, explores the terrible conditions of the poor at the time, and the danger that came with being a woman.
She hopes that the anniversary of the sinking of SS Princess Alice might spark people to discover more about what happened.