Members of Crewkerne & District U3A heard about a 200 year old shipwreck off of the Dorset coast at their March meeting in the Henhayes Community Centre. Guest speaker Philip Browne explained that a chance meeting with a neighbour, inspired him to write his book The Unfortunate Captain Peirce, which was published in 2015.
In January 1986, Philip’s neighbour told him he was going to stand on the cliffs at Purbeck in a midnight vigil to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the shipwreck of the East Indiaman the Halsewell. Philip Browne told members: “The coastline of Dorset is littered with shipwrecks but this particular one caught my imagination.” Intrigued by the story, Philip spent years researching the tragedy at sea. He discovered that the dramatic circumstances and the scale of the tragedy in 1786 had made a huge impact on the public consciousness at the time.
Over the years, King George III visited the site, Turner painted a picture of the ship being dashed against the rocks, many poems had been written about the disaster and Charles Dickens featured the Halsewell in a short story, titled The Long Voyage. Philip Browne explained that three ships had set out from the Thames on the six month journey to India. The other two ships had made it through the atrocious weather conditions without incident but the Halsewell began to flounder and of the 240 crew and passengers on board, only 74 survived.
Among those who lost their lives were Captain Richard Peirce, his two daughters who were travelling to India in the hope of marrying rich husbands and two nieces. Workmen from the Seacombe and Winspit quarries, led by local stone merchant Mr Garland, had used ropes to haul some of the survivors up the sheer face of the cliffs, in an act of group heroism spurred on by sheer ‘grit and determination’. U3A members were thankful to Dorset historian Philip Browne for his talk on the shipwreck of the Halsewell and wished him well with his book, The Unfortunate Captain Peirce, which is published by Hobnob Press and based on customer reviews has received a five star rating online.