Wreckers by Bella Bathurst


Divers on oxygen about sums up this monumental work of journalism. I had hoped when I picked up this book at an airport to find something really informative about the vexed subject of wrecking. The author’s expertise on the topic is restricted to ability to interview a series of people. Research is limited to the discovery of a single conviction for wrecking in Wales and emphasis on the fictional accounts of various authors which have led to the genre of literature on false lights murder, mayhem and rum drinking. The coast is infested with bar fly sailors prepared to tell yarns about their forebears without being able to produce a single date or even the accurate name of a ship to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. The book sheds no useful light on the topic and is actually a treatise on salvage. That is if one distinguishes wrecking by luring or driving a ship ashore deliberately from removing the shipwrecked goods from a beach after the event. There are numerous accounts of battles between authorities and local people both in England and Ireland over the salvage of goods washed ashore. In many cases militia were engaged to shoot the looters who descended in great numbers at a shipwreck site. This type of activity must be distinguished from the prominent companies who had salvage as their main business and had considerable expertise in the recovery of ships and goods from loss. A trawl through the minute books of the customs and excise for the 1700s would have been a better source of information. Not but that extensive interviews with the UK receiver of wreck seem to have revealed more about archaeology – the science of speculation. Somehow the work of the Liverpool and Glasgow salvage association, Admiralty salvage section, Riesdon Beazley and others too numerous to mention have been glossed over. Whisky Galore was a serious study by comparison with this work. By the way pure oxygen is toxic when breathed at a depth in excess of 7 metres causing a convulsive attack which is normally fatal. Divers use air or mixed gases.

reviewed by Eddie Bourke

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