The Royal Charter was one of the fastest passenger ships of its time. Sailing from Melbourne to Liverpool, the ship encountered a raging storm just off the coast of Wales on October 25, 1859.
The Royal Charter had about 490 people on-board. Its holds were mostly filled with gold from Australian mines. Its boxes had £322,440 in gold, which in today’s money would be worth tens of millions of pounds. Much more gold was carried on-board by the passengers themselves – in their luggage, or sewn into their clothes and belts.
The ship was buffeted by what was considered Britain’s worst storm of the 19th century. It was blown onto a sandbank just off the coast of the Welsh village of Moelfre. Soon afterwards, the tide lifted the ship and smashed it onto nearby rocks. Only 40 of the roughly 490 passengers survived. What compounded this tragedy was that the gold that the people of the ship possessed weighed them down. Having sailed from Australia, and within a hair’s breadth of their final destination, several passengers refused to discard their precious hunks of metal.
Could there be a more unfortunate, yet fitting metaphor for the fallacy of sunk costs?
Just as the night is the darkest before dawn, our possessions and the status-quo weigh us down most strongly in those moments when it would most benefit us to discard them. In those decisive moments, would we be able to act with a sense of detachment?
Source: Sinking of the Royal Charter