The Halsewell East Indiaman... was wreck'd off Seacombe in the Isle of Purbeck on the 6th of Jany 1786, when Capt Pierce... two daughters, and two nieces... Capt Pierce... perished along with them

A view of the quarter-deck of the sinking 'Halsewell', occupied with fearful passengers. The group on the right of the image consisting of two men and seven women are likely to be Captain Pierce with his two daughters and two nieces, and others noted in the inscription. Henry Meriton and John Rogers, two of the officers who survived the disaster, recall in their ‘An Interesting and Authentic Account of the Halsewell’ (published W. Bailey, 1786) that the First Officer - who also died - was Pierce’s nephew. The other male in the group may be a depiction of him. Elsewhere on the quarter deck there are men shielding themselves from the oncoming waves, some drowning, and one in the act of climbing on the stairs leading up to the poop deck. On the poop are a man and woman holding on to their small child. To their right is a male passenger clinging to the broken stump of the mizzen mast. In the far-left bottom corner, a man holds on to the remnants of a mast. In the background are figures dotted around on tall rocks, away from the sinking ship.

The wreck of the East Indiaman 'Halsewell' was an event that shocked the country. On 1 January 1786, she began her voyage to Madras (Chennai) from London carrying a company of more than 240 crew and passengers. For four days, the ship was caught in a violent storm, sprang a leak, and on 6 January, was driven ashore under cliffs near Seacombe, west of Swanage. Overall, only 74 people survived, most of whom were rescued from the cliffs.

Inscribed: ‘The Halsewell East Indiaman/ Outward bound was wreck’d off Seacombe in the Isle of Purbeck on the 6th of Jany 1786, when Captn Pierce the commander, eight Passengers, most of the Officers, with the greatest part of the Crew were drown’d. Among the passengers were two Daughters, and two Nieces of the Captain, and three other young Ladies. Some of the Officers and Seventy one Seamen and Soldiers with great difficulty escaped upon the Rocks; but Captn Pierce, seeing that it was impossible to preserve the lives of his daughters, refused to quit the ship and therefore perished along with them.’

Object Details

ID: PAH8430
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Smirke, Robert; Jukes, Francis Pollard, Robert
Vessels: Halsewell (1778)
Date made: 17 Mar 1786
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 525 x 705 mm; Mount: 604 x 834 mm

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