Archive for the ‘Dorset’ Category

‘The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell, East Indiaman, 1786’ by Philip Browne

February 26, 2018

I have been in thrall to this book since the beginning of the year, having borrowed it from Weymouth library (several times). I can’t remember what led me to it as, to the best of my knowledge, the local libraries don’t have a ‘local authors’ section (I have asked, as I would like to be in it, if it existed).

As the Dorset coast is spattered with wrecks one comes across references to books about them quite often. The title of this one immediately piques interest. Why should Captain Peirce be any more unfortunate than any other captain who has experienced shipwreck? The cover gives a clue – in the facsimile of a contemporary painting he is clutching a brace of young girls to his bosom. For this reason the shipwreck became a cause célèbre for several years after it happened. The cover is a reproduction of one of the paintings about the disaster which appeared soon after the event. The young ladies in various states of distress in the painting are mainly daughters and nieces of Captain Peirce. Everyone in the painting died.

However, this is much more than a book about a disaster. Philip Browne has been forensic in mining contemporary records for information about the life of Captain Peirce, his connections, the East India Company and the faraway places it sent its ships to. When Browne says ‘it is likely that …’ one feels confident that he is right. This is a man steeped in the time and places of his book, who probably knows Captain Peirce, and his wife, better than their own family did.

The book begins with Captain Peirce’s first command of a ship. It follows him around the globe, eastwards, then westwards, on each voyage, showing his growing skill as a sailor and navigator, the profits he made, his rise in the world, and not forgetting the baby he gave his wife each time he returned home!

But the disaster looms. As with the movie ‘Titanic’ one knows the ending from the outset. But when it comes one immediately understands why Captain Peirce was designated ‘the Unfortunate’ from the day the Halsewell struck.

I went to hear him talk about how he did his research at Weymouth library on Saturday. Actually, the talk wasn’t about that. Nor did it cover the projected title showing on the day. He spoke, with great enthusiasm, on yet a third variant of his theme – how the ship got into difficulties in the English Channel, which compounded until …

I discovered then that the research took him five years, took him into the bowels of the British Library and other archives (including those of the East India Company), to the Netherlands, and all the way to India. The wreck is his passion.

Browne wears his learning lightly and has written a pacy saga, almost as if it were a novel of the eighteenth century on the high seas and in fashionable society. It is a rare achievement and I commend him highly for it. He has a real talent for turning research into a proper, rollicking, story. Enjoy.

NB If you are local to Weymouth – I have now returned their copy. 😊

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Sea Wall: a journey on the South Dorset Ridgeway by Jennifer Hunt (Archaeopteryx, 2016)

January 2, 2018

I came across this delightful little volume of thoughts, snippets, poems, lino cuts and two inspiring concrete poems at the Weymouth Book Fayre at the beginning of December last year.

The Fayre showcased what all us local authors have been producing. A huge range of books was available there, from stunning picture books of the coastline, through fiction (mine included), via local history (wrecks and castles and battles galore!), to poetry (such as this).

Jennifer Hunt used to live in the shadow of the South Dorset Ridgway, and learned long ago that ‘sea wall’ is what Martinstown people used to call the part of the Ridgeway that kept their village safe from the sea.

Some of the material was created as a result of an Artsreach project, walking the Ridgeway in the summer of 2015. Other poems were the result of her long and deep engagement with the land of the Ridgeway.

In 2016 and 2017 I took part in similar projects, experiencing the landscape over a couple of days and writing about it intensely for the SATSYMPH project (now, sadly, ended). If you ‘do’ Facebook you can access the work we did here : https://www.facebook.com/LBSPoetryParks/. I can attest to the power of clearing your mind and simply sitting or walking in the landscape. In my case sitting on Eggardon Hill in June of 2017. Your eyes and ears become much sharper, and you really smell the land – cut hay, the flowers crushed by your own feet, cowpats – all of it comes to you if you give it space. I got royally sunburned, to the extent that I still have the mark of Eggardon Hill in June upon me as I write this in the winter. I find that somehow very fitting.

But back to Jennifer Hunt’s Sea Wall. I particularly liked ‘West Wind’, a cinquain (a poem constructed of 2,4,6,8 and 2 syllables) which is as full of matter as a pie is full of meat *. The first stanza goes like this:

“Thick fog
wet as sheep’s wool.
Birds fly up underfoot.
A single apple tree in blossom.
West wind.”

‘Ah’, I hear you cry, ‘but that fourth line has 9 syllables, not 8!’ And I admire Ms Hunt as much for stepping outside the form and using the line that makes perfect sense as I do for her choice of the strict form in the first place.

Here are a few lines from the prose poem ‘Maiden Castle’. So much rapturous blueness:

“Clouds of small blue butterflies rose up from the grass. I looked them up in my Observer book – Chalkhill Blue, Blue Skipper, Silver-Studded Blue, Common Blue. White-chalk and blue-sky names, the colours of my childhood summers on these ancient hills.”

The two concrete poems are ‘Quern Stones’ and ‘Snail’ (which seems to have no formal title but is, determinedly, snailish). Consuming these is like eating a Cadbury Crème Egg – first you work your way around the outer shape of the thing, then you begin to investigate the luscious interior, turning the book this way and that to get at every sweet lick. Yummy.

The Illustrations are fresh and sharp and bring an extra dimension to the natural world being described.

If you enjoy the landscape of Dorset I am certain you will love this collection.

I don’t believe Jennifer Hunt’s work is available from The Great Zon, so look out for her at craft and book fairs in Dorset, or contact her via http://archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk/

(*which saying comes from : http://www.samuelfrench.co.uk/p/10731/hans-the-witch-and-the-gobbin)


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