Jeremy Seal, in Treachery at Sharpnose, covers a story that I have wondered about since, as a small child, I first saw the figurehead of the Caledonia in Morwenstow churchyard. Somewhat taller than me at the time, holding cutlass and shield, she ignored me, looking blankly towards the sea.
Higher Sharpnose Point, February 2008
Higher Sharpnose Point is two miles north of Steeple Point, which I have written about before – here. I was christened in Morwenstow Church more years ago than I care to remember. This coast has deep meaning for me, just as it does for everyone born in the immediate hinterland.
The Reverend Hawker viewed our forefathers as ‘a mixed multitude of smugglers, wreckers and dissenters of various hue’. A colourful population in those days, obviously, but I wonder if this was the whole story.
Today, I am happy with the label ‘dissenter’, and I have done some casual wrecking in my life – (wrecking: a term used locally for scouring the shoreline for whatever washes shore – in my youth it was wood and various floating objects that had washed overboard from passing ships – nowadays it is plastic junk. Shipwrecks still occur but very rarely).
But ‘smuggler’? No.
It is strange to read about your own locality. It never quite sounds like the place you think you know so well, and, although it is a pleasure to read about it, (like seeing your name in print), it is a shock to find that someone else sees it in another light.
Above Hawker’s Hut, February 2008, The rocks that swallowed the Caledonia.
What happened to the nine man crew of the Caledonia, from Arbroath, on 8th September 1842 was truly terrible. The recently restored figurehead in the churchyard is a poignant memorial to those interred there.
The author tells of his research and the journey he took to find the ‘truth’ of what happened. In the end he comes up with definite facts through which he weaves an interesting story. I found the research fascinating; I was disappointed at his apparent dismissal of Hawker, and felt the fictional account of the final voyage to be ‘film-of-the-book’ and tending to take the edge off it – (a clue to this is in the title):
“He laid a hand upon his brother-in-law’s shoulder. It had been nine months, he briefly realised, since he had laid his hand there, on their departure from Rio. Then the business of the ship was calling and their reconciliation was done.
……. An hour later, somewhere off Boscastle, the storm hit them.”
That’s not my idea of real history. One of the problems I have with the book is that, by interpreting the facts in this way, the author is straying into areas that he has condemned the eccentric parson for entering.
But do read it. It is a good tale. I enjoyed it and read it straight through – beginning to end.
Higher Sharpnose Point, February 2008 – a fraction of the sea met by the crew of the Caledonia.