A Story of Killing Seas, False Lights and Plundered Ships
A fine wreck has always represented sport, pleasure, treasure, and in many cases, the difference between living well and just getting by. The Cornish were supposedly so ferocious that notices of shipwrecks were given out during morning service by the minister, whilst the congregation concocted elaborate theological justifications for drowning the survivors. Treeless islanders relied on the harvest of storms to furnish themselves with rafters, boat hulls, fence-posts and floors. In other places, false lights were set up with grisly ingenuity along the coast to lure boats into destruction. With romance, insight and dry wit, Bella Bathurst traces the history of wrecking, looting and salvaging in the British Isles since the eighteenth century and leading up to the present day.
'For a fully laden general cargo to run to ground in an accessible position is more or less like having Selfridges crash-land in your back garden,' she writes, 'a Selfridges with the prices removed.'
Far from being a black-and-white crime, wrecking is often seen as opaque by its practitioners - the divisions between theft and recovery are small. No successful legal prosecution has ever been brought; the RNLI was founded by wreckers - even today lifeboat crews maintain the right to claim salvage. In settings ranging from the eerily perambulatory Goodwin Sands to the wreck-strewn waters off the coast of Durham, these murky tales of resourcefulness and quick-witted opportunism open a beguiling vista of life at the rough edges of our land and legality.
First published 2005.
'[Bathurst] is wry, perceptive, laconic, occasionally downright funny and uncannily skilled at recreating atmosphere...a pleasure to read' Daily Telegraph 'Entertaining and gossipy...Bathurst pens vivid accounts of hazardous stretches of our coastline and the depredations of the inhabitants' Sunday Telegraph 'A luminious tale of shifting sands and treacherous seas' The Guardian 'The beauty of this finely judged book is that, for all her detailed research and assiduous journalism, Bathurst never forgets that the whole attraction of 'wrecking' is its mystery ! This is a marvellous follow-up to her first book THE LIGHTHOUSE STEVENSONS, rich in the lore of the sea, but steeped in the everyday experience of the people she meets' Observer 'She has a dazzling gift for descriptive writing. Her accounts of a trip out to the macabre, ghost-haunted and ship-killing Western Rocks in Scilly ... are supremely enjoyable passages of writing with a sense of reality, courage and precision one can only applaud' Independent 'Bathurst has followed her excellent THE LIGHTHOUSE STEVENSONS with an equally successful trawl of the related story of wreckers ! A brilliant evocation of the sea. She has a very sharp turn of phrase and an arresting ability to conjure up the coastline's many moods ! Bathurst provides a compelling reminder of the sea's ageless power and how much our island and its people have been moulded into shape by it' Sunday Times
Bella Bathurst is a freelance journalist whose portfolio includes work for the Observer, Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Independent on Sunday, Guardian, Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Her first book, The Lighthouse Stevensons: The Extraordinary Story of the Building of the Scottish Lighthouses by the Ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson, was widely acclaimed. She published her first novel in 2003.