Halsewell 1786

The Halsewell

With the use of images, I wish to revive the memory of the 168 souls or more who were lost to the sea on January 6th, 1786, with the wrecking of the Halsewell. My work shines a light on the scale of the tragedy and pays tribute to those who were lost that fateful night and subsequent morning. Some of them will never be identified, some have no grave or even evidence of their existence. I hope that my work can help to remember them, give them the respect they deserve and bring them and the event back into collective memory.

The Halsewell set sail on January 1st and the commander, Captain Richard Peirce was planning on this to be his final voyage, taking his two daughters and nieces out to the colonies for marriage. He did not know it would be the final voyage. In addition to the family, there were paying passengers and East India Company soldiers all outbound for India. The captain had several young boys in his care, the officers, and the sailors, and these all made up the souls onboard the fated ship.

Although only six days into the passage having already suffered a snowstorm and freezing conditions the Halsewell difficulties continued as she sailed into a great storm. She was taking on water and had lost most of her masts. Turning back to run for the shelter of Studland Bay, she ran out of sea room and was driven onto the rocky coastline with ragged vertical cliffs. The Halsewell broke to pieces with only a few individuals making it onto the cliff to spend the rest of the night, the others all perished.

The wrecking is a tale of incredible survival and great loss.

The loss of life with so few bodies recovered, most lost to the sea and never given back creates the context for the conceptual art piece. So, with no traces of the ship left above or below the surface I ventured to use the sea itself that took the individuals as the memory of the lost with what could be considered the last view of a drowning person. The minimal repetitive representations are all unique, as each of the individuals, and is interfaced with a poem written at the time. The memorial comes with a listing of what names I have and the others as unknowns for the individuals lost.

When the collection of 168 images is viewed together the scale of the loss begins to hit home, and the experience of viewing the individual images creates an almost real experience for the viewer, seeing someone drown through their own eyes.

This wreck, now long forgotten except by a handful of people, was at the time of wrecking a national tragedy on the scale of the Titanic. So, I think that it is fitting that my images can reignite history and share the horrors of that fateful night.