Dorchester author Philip Browne gave a graphic account of The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell as The Shaftesbury & District Historical Society’s February lecturer. The Halsewell, an outward bound 800 ton East Indiaman, foundered beneath the sheer cliffs of the Purbeck coast in the early hours of 06 January 1786, in the teeth of a ferocious winter storm. By daybreak, so the Reverend Morgan Jones reported, the ship had been smashed to pieces. Over 160 crew and passengers had drowned, including Captain Peirce and his daughters and nieces, who were perhaps hoping to find eligible husbands among the British in India. News of the tragedy had enormous impact, evoking responses from artists, poets and composers, and King George III made an excursion to the clifftop from Weymouth in 1789. There is a mass grave but no memorial, as the East India Company – consistent with its current fictional depiction on TV – was less than generous in its treatment of the disaster.
Philip Browne describes his struggles, first to find a publisher and then persuade bookshops to stock his admirable book, in the current issue of The Historian, the magazine of the Historical Association. His book is available from Hobnob Press.