Book Review-‘The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the ‘Halsewell’, East Indiaman, 1786’ by P. Browne

By Jaap R. Bruijn, published December 2020


One cannot pretend that East India Company commander Richard Peirce had a very interesting career. It was merely one of many. Much was and is still unknown about the man, even his year of birth and his early sea life. What made him well known to his contemporaries was his final voyage in 1786 when his ship the Halsewell, with a partly unruly crew, hit the rocky coast of Dorset during a January storm. Two-thirds of his crew, including himself, lost their lives. Only 74 were saved, in a spectacular manner: quarrymen lifted survivors out of a cave with a rope hanging over the edge of the cliff above. Two mates, Henry Meriton and John Rogers, survivors of the wreck, told their story to the press. What resulted was their A Circumstantial Narrative of the Loss of the Halsewell (East Indiaman) Capt. Richard Pierce, which reached 20 editions, its fame resulting in Peirce receiving the nickname the ‘Unfortunate Captain’. Several poems and paintings related to the disaster were produced as well, and the illustrations of Peirce holding his two daughters in the sinking ship’s roundhouse, in particular, made a large public impression…

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Filed under: Other (Eighteenth C) | East India Company
Subjects include: Biography | Manpower & Life at Sea

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