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Halsewell-A Shipwreck that Gripped the Nation

by Andrew Norman

The loss of East Indiaman HCS Halsewell on the coast of Dorset in southern England in January 1786, touched the very heart of the British nation. Halsewell was just one of many hundreds of vessels which had been in the service of the Honourable East India Company since its foundation in the year 1600. In the normal course of events, Halsewell would have been expected to serve out her working life, before passing unnoticed into the history books. However, this was not to be. Halsewell’s loss was an event of such pathos as to inspire the greatest writer of the age Charles Dickens, to put pen to paper; the greatest painter of the age J M W Turner, to apply brush to canvas, and the King and Queen to pay homage at the very place where the catastrophe occurred. Artefacts from the wreck continue to be recovered to this very day which, and for variety, interest, curiosity, and exoticism, rival those recovered from Spanish armada galleons wrecked off the west coast of Ireland two centuries previously. Such artefacts shed further light both on Halsewell herself, and on the extraordinary lives of those who sailed in her.

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Andrew Norman