A MEMORIAL is to be dedicated to the victims of one of the worst maritime disasters of the 19th Century, highlighting its ties with Wirral.

HMS Birkenhead, a steam frigate built at John Laird’s shipyard, sank off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa in 1852. Of the recorded 638 people onboard, only 193 survived.

The disaster is recognised as the origin of the term ‘women and children first’, the so-called ‘Birkenhead Drill’ by which women and children would be the first to the lifeboats in the event of a maritime disaster.

A memorial is set to be unveiled on Woodside Promenade next month with Mayor of Wirral Cllr Dave Mitchell, the Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead and representatives of the armed forces in attendance.

The memorial was designed through a competition featuring local art colleges, organised and judged by Cammell Laird, Andy Liston of New Brighton Lifeboat Station and Wirral Council’s memorials officer Peter Jackson-Lee.

The winning design was submitted by Jemma Twigg of Birkenhead Sixth Form College.

The memorial was then created by Cammell Laird apprentices with materials donated and costs met by the company.

Mayor Mitchell said: “I look forward to dedicating this new memorial to those who lost their lives off the coast of South Africa 162 years ago.

"I am particularly honoured to be able to welcome our armed forces to remember this event, and to bring together the people of Wirral and South Africa in a spirit of friendship and solidarity.

“I would especially like to thank Mr Liston, who has worked tirelessly to help this memorial come about, and to raise awareness of the HMS Birkenhead and its place in naval history.

“The memorial will take its place alongside Wirral’s other important monuments to the fallen, including those at Hamilton Square and Woodside Promenade along with the wider Wirral community.”

Cammell Laird chief executive John Syvret said the company is immensely proud to build the memorial.

“This is a very powerful initiative that the company immediately wanted to support given our connection to HMS Birkenhead,” he said.

“It is very fitting that the tragic story of the ship, and the origins of ‘women and children’ first, should be remembered in the form of such a striking memorial on Merseyside for future generations.

“It is important that our apprentices understand the long history of Cammell Laird and what happened to many of the ships built here, some of which, like HMS Birkenhead, became very famous for what they did or what happened to them.

"This memorial helps ensure even after more than 160 years that the heroism and courage of the men that day is not forgotten.”

Wreaths will be laid by the Lord-Lieutenant and the Mayor of Wirral during the ceremony at 11am on March 5.