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Wreck History

Painting by W. Turner of the Halsewell wrecking.

The Halsewell was a fine example of an East Indiaman, built by Wells of Blackwell. She was around 750 tons when loaded, and was in the charge of Captain Pierce as she set sail for India from England at the beginning of January 1786. The voyage was to be the captains last as he was retiring after this trip. As well as the ships crew, soldiers of the East India Company were also on board as well as civilian passengers, included in the passenger list was the captains two daughters.

On the night of January 5th 1786 the Halsewell got caught by bad weather conditions on its journey through the English channel. In the early hours of the 6th she was finally blown into the cliffs along the Dorset coast between St Albans Head and Anvil Point, about 3 miles West of Swanage lighthouse.

As the waves pounded the the ship against the cliffs many of the the souls on board were taken by the sea and drowned. However, many of the survivors of the initial wrecking managed to gain a foothold at the base of the cliffs and in the caves around that area. The only way of escape was to scale the almost perpendicular cliff face, a dangerous undertaking even in calm conditions but in the middle of a cold winters night and surrounded by a raging storm the outlook was not good.

It is understood that two men did eventually scale the cliffs, and raise the alarm. a rescue was then started by the locals that went on well into the morning, unfortunately only a small number were rescued, the rest were either lost to the sea, overcome by the cold or fell from the cliffs. The captain and his two daughters perished that night.