"Enchanting . . . Through the small keyhole of shipwreck, this book offers a deep vision of humanity that is the more uplifting for its lack of sentimentality. I cannot recommend it too highly." The Spectator, London
While researching her critically acclaimed first book, The Lighthouse Stevensons, Bella Bathurst came across a passage by Robert Louis Stevenson describing the aftermath of a shipwreck in northern Scotland's Pentland Firth. As the ship's crew sent out a distress signal, residents of a nearby village slowly emerged from their houses.
"There was no emotion, no animation, it scarce seemed any interest," wrote Stevenson, "not a hand was raised; but all callously awaited the harvest of the sea, and their children stood by their side and waited also." In The Wreckers (Houghton Mifflin, July), Bathurst reveals for the first time the untold history of those who live off the spoils of dying ships.
From Scilly to Swona, Britain's coastline is a minefield of battering seas, shifting sands, perilous reefs, and powerful currents. It also includes some of the world's busiest shipping and sailing channels. This deadly combination has left the shores of Britain littered with shipwrecks, and over the centuries generations of "wreckers" have forged a livelihood scavenging the cargo of wrecked vessels and, on occasion, helping to cause the accidents themselves.
Whereas The Lighthouse Stevensons told the extraordinary story of the building of lighthouses by four generations of the Stevenson clan, The Wreckers looks at the dark side of the same story, bringing to life those who opposed the building of lighthouses, which would curb shipwrecks and thus cut down on valuable spoils. Bathurst travels to eight wrecking "hot spots," researching the history of this sinister occupation over the past three hundred years, exploring the murky morality of wrecking and scavenging, and interviewing modern-day "land pirates" who divulge the secrets of their trade.
With its vivid descriptions of the world of coastal scavengers and fascinating historical narrative, The Wreckers is a lively, dramatic account that blends history with myth, superstition, and the old-fashioned thrill of dark deeds on the high seas.
Bella Bathurst is the author of The Lighthouse Stevensons, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, and of the novel Special. Her journalism has appeared in the Washington Post, the (London) Sunday Times, and other major periodicals. She lives in Scotland.