Bella Bathurst

The Wreckers: A Story of Killing Seas, False Lights and Plundered Ships

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An “entertaining” historical investigation into the scavengers who have profited off the spoils of maritime disasters (The Washington Post).
Even today, Britain’s coastline remains a dangerous place. It is an island soaked by four separate seas, with shifting sand banks to the east, veiled reefs to the west, powerful currents above, and the world’s busiest shipping channel below. The country’s offshore waters are strewn with shipwrecks—and for villagers scratching out an existence along Britain’s shores, those wrecks have been more than simply an act of God; in many cases, they have been the difference between living well and just getting by.
Though Daphne du Maurier and Poldark have made Cornwall famous as Britain’s most notorious region for wrecking, many other coastal communities regarded the “sea’s bounty” as a way of providing themselves with everything from grapefruits to grand pianos. Some plunderers were held to be so skilled that they could strip a ship from stem to stern before the Coast Guard had even left port. Some were rumored to lure ships onto the rocks with false lights, and some simply waited for winter gales to do their work.
This book uncovers tales of ships and shipwreck victims—from shoreline orgies so Dionysian that few participants survived the morning to humble homes fitted with silver candelabra, from coastlines rigged like stage sets to villages where everyone owns identical tennis shoes. Spanning three hundred years of history, The Wreckers examines the myths, realities, and superstitions of shipwrecks and uncovers the darker side of life on Britain’s shores.
“Bathurst, who won a Somerset Maugham Award for The Lighthouse Stevensons, offers a spellbinding tale of seafaring men, their ships and the ocean that cares for neither.” —Publishers Weekly
“A fascinating, haunting account of pillagers, plunderers, and pirates.” —John Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas
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441 printed pages
Original publication


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