Medusa: The wreck, the scandal, the masterpiece, By Jonathan Miles

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The Independent Culture

Spread between the feverish world of Restoration France and the anarchy of the West African coast, Jonathan Miles's account of one of the most terrible disasters in marine history is an awfully compelling tale.

In 1816 a French ship on its way to repossess the colony of Senegal from the British, captained by a man who owed his position to political favour rather than any degree of nautical skill, ran aground and began to break up. The majority of its passengers and crew were deposited on a quickly built, ramshackle raft, which the captain cast adrift. The 147 people on board wasted their supplies, fought drunkenly, and eventually started to eat each other.

Only a handful of survivors made it back to France, where one in particular, Corréard, did all he could to expose the incompetence that led to the disaster. He made contact with Géricault, and helped the artist create his great work depicting the tragedy.

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