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EEIC Halsewell New

In the summer of 2016 MAST completed the first archaeological survey of the English East Indiaman Halsewell, wrecked on the Purbeck coast to the east of St Alban’s Head between Winspit and Seacombe 6th January 1786. She was starting a voyage from London to Madras. The work was part-funded by the National Trust.

She lost her masts in a violent storm in the English Channel, and was driven onto the rocks below a cliff on the Isle of Purbeck. Only 74 out of 240 passengers and crew survived. Launched in 1778, she was 776 tons, had three decks, was 42.5 metres in length and 11 metres beam. Throughout her career she was under the command of Capt. Richard Pierce who died with her.

Such was her fame and her fate that her wrecking inspired a number of odes, a William Turner painting, a Charles Dickens short story and even a royal visit from King George III himself who visited the scene shortly after.

Previous work

In 1967 divers located one of the ship's cannons, as well as coins, cannonballs, lead shot, tackle and glass. Some artefacts are held at Dorchester museum. The Worth Matravers church in Dorset has a mirror from the ship hanging above the main door.

There have been cliff falls along this area of the Purbeck coastline in the last two years and it is thought, according to local divers, that these may have buried a part of the site which in itself is located in a high energy environment, artefacts thus at risk of dispersal and erosion.

At work on the Halsewell

A diver on a boat getting readyDivers on a boat checking their gearThe captain looking out through binocularsStudents preparing underwater cameras

Survey and full report

MAST, in partnership with Bournemouth University, confirmed the position of the site using magnetometer diver searches and recorded the extent of the wreck to ascertain its complete distribution. This had never been done. A Bournemouth University student has recently completed her Masters Dissertation on the site and its history. An abridged version of the dissertation can be downloaded below. The majority of the diving and research has being conducted by BU students.

Download the abridged dissertation (PDF)

Download the diver and geophysical survey report (PDF)

Short seascape view


Small finds discovered in the wrecking area were raised that were at risk of dispersal from storms and tide. Some of them are pictured here. They include a possible marine service Brown Bess ramrod holder and some wrought iron chain link.

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