History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 January 2008

Shipwrecked, with Diane Gaston!

I like to begin my Regency Historicals in an exciting way. I’ve written an encounter in a brothel, a Gretna Green wedding, a swordfight in Hyde Park (A Reputable Rake, my 2006 RITA winner), childbirth, and a duel in which the hero apparently dies. For The Vanishing Viscountess I wanted something especially exciting. I wanted a shipwreck.

I’d come across accounts of shipwrecks in my Annual Registers . The Annual Registers, a bit like almanacs, covered everything noteworthy from the preceding year, such as the issues before Parliament, general history, literature, and announcements of marriages, births, and deaths. Included is a section called Chronicles, which lists news events of the previous year. These accounts can range from events that have made their place in history, like the Peterloo Massacre, to events that seem trivial in comparison:

“Thirty fine ewes in lamb, the property of Mr. Minchin, Bramdean, were killed in a meadow at Alresford, by a dog. Only two or three of them were bitten, but the timid animals were driven into a ditch, and kept so close together that they were smothered.” (August, 1814)

I own Annual Registers for the years 1810 to 1820, the decade of the English Regency. Even though they are in horrible shape, they are among my greatest treasures!

Here are some samples of accounts of shipwrecks from my Annual Registers:

“The brig Leaner, Fish, 236 tons per register, of and for Shields, from London, in ballast, being driven northward by the late furious gales, found himself embayed in the dreadful storm from S.E. in the night between the 4th and 5th inst. And soon after struck, about 1 a.m., an outer rock on that dreadful part of the coast at Longside, near Slains-Castle. The vessel being thereby thrown on her beam ends fell with her gunwale under a shelving rock on the main land, on which at this awful moment, two of the crew jumped, and had with difficulty only just secured themselves, when looking round they found their unfortunate vessel, with all left on board, eight men and a young woman, passengers, had totally disappeared.” (March, 17, 1818)

Edinburgh. This forenoon, a most melancholy occurrence happened at Leith. During the whole morning it had blown a very strong gale from east, and a boat in attempting to cross from Leith, with her crew, consisting of four men, a woman, and a child, was lost within a hundred yards of the pier, and in sight of hundreds of people, without any possibility of affording them assistance.” (May 21, 1819)

“Fraserburgh. A shocking spectacle presented itself this morning on the north side of Kinaird’s-head light-house, where during the night the brig Adonis, of Liverpool, had been driven on the rocks and dashed to pieces, and all on board perished; the wreck of both vessel and cargo strewed along the shore, exhibiting an awful catastrophe, the cargo consisting of hemp and tallow. Several dead bodies were repeatedly seen this forenoon, dashing against the face of the rocks by the violence of the waves, one of whom had the appearance of having been a passenger, as he had on a long black cloak. Several articles of children’s clothes have been also washed on shore.” (Oct 25, 1819)

Of course, I can’t find the accounts I’d read before, the ones saying all the women and children perished...but I did just read of murders and robberies, fires and riots...and a baboon escaping...and a balloon ascension.

Thank you for having me as your guest at History Hoydens!

Do you have any questions about shipwrecks or Annual Registers? Or anything?

One lucky commenter picked at random from my two days of being a History Hoyden guest will receive a signed copy of The Vanishing Viscountess, the book that earned Mary Blayney’s high praise.

* Ship Image - a painting by Robert Salmon, 1821, courtesy of Athenaeum


Blogger robynl said...

Hi and welcome Diane; you do indeed have a treasure and I'd be excited,also, if I had these papers in my
The shipwreck accounts are very interesting; I have watched documentaries about some on TV and find it fascinating what items are recovered sometimes.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Hi Diane!
It sounds like quite an exciting beginning. My husband has a sailboat and a small fishing boat so shipwrecks are horribly fascinating to us. Did most of the people on board usually die? Years ago we went to the Idependence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia and I do remember art and info regarding shipwrecks.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Diane, it's amazing how evocative those tiny little entries are! I love their phrasing: "melancholy occurance" and "shocking spectacle".

Thanks so much for joining us in hoydendom!!!

12:10 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hi, robynl, great to see you here. I have a pendant made from a coin salvaged from a shipwreck. It is the same type of coin Mary Blayney used as her "Poppy's Coin" in her 2006 novella in Bump in The Night and in the 2007 novella, "Amy and the Earl's Amazing Adventure" in Dead of Night. Mary and I share the same generous friend, Lavinia, who gave these to us as gifts.

Hi, maureen!
The shipwrecks that are recorded in the Annual Registers are, of course, the most newsworthy of the year. It seems to me that most often the reports are of losses, but there are some survivors, usually. I read one account where they couldn't even figure out what ship went down; they never found any identifying items in the wreckage. Can you imagine? They just disappeared.
I imagine these accounts are not too pleasant to boaters and fishermen. The thing to remember is that the vast majority of sea vessels, then and now, do not sink.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a wonderful opening for a book! Is it your hero or heroine or both who are shipwrecked? (Or is that too much of a spoiler?). I so envying you having the Annual Registers (I've found copies in libraries but don't own any). Where did you find them? Did you get all ten as one set or have to hunt down each volume?

Thanks so much for joining us and for the wonderful posts!

12:50 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Those annual registers sound wonderful. I wish there was something like that for the States, like the Almanacs! I love shipwrecks. I remember watching Poldark and also reading about how ships were lured to be shipwrecked in Cornwall, so they could then take the cargo. Sounds like a fascinating opening!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Lauren, I too love the wording "melancholy event". The Annual Registers are full of phrases like that!

Tracy, my hero, Tanner rescues the heroine from the shipwreck. Neither of them expected to survive. Because she was a fugitive from a murder charge, it is the perfect opportunity to make a run for freedom. Everyone would suppose she had drowned.

I owe my Annual Registers to Kathryn Caskie. She called me one weekend and said a bookseller near her was getting rid of them and would I like a set. Would I!!!! He charged us $20 each book (highway robbery considering the shape they were in) which we gladly paid. I'm sure he would have just thrown them out.

My husband has a friend who has sent me rebinding equipment, so I may be able to put them into good bindings and preserve them even longer!

Elizabeth, when I was doing research for The Vanishing Viscountess, I read more than one article that stated there was no historical evidence that Cornish wreckers lured ships into the rocks.
But it is a great idea for fiction!

1:48 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I took a ride on a historical galley around the bay. Lots of wind and water and it was a beautiful day. They fired guns from below, a mock battle. Deafening.

I could only imagine the terror of being on a sinking ship, especially one involved in a storm or a battle.

Staying on board as it went down would have been just as bad as jumping into the raging ocean, even 100 yards away from a dock.

5:14 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Hey, Diane and NO, I am not stalking you. I post here all the time. Right, Hoydens? Right? Hello???

I love the idea that something as innocuous as an entry in a register inspired such a great story. And it is a really terrific book, ladies! Trust me!

As a non-swimmer the idea of being on a sinking ship scares me to the point of paralysis. I've been out on boats, but I am never totally comfortable on them.

I think that is why I love historical romance novels. I always learn something fascinating and memorable about where we came from and what events, great and small make up our history.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

That's why I love historicals, too, doglady!

8:14 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Bummer about there being no evidence that ships were lured to be wrecked on the rocks in Cornwall. But you're right it does make a good story!

9:02 AM  
Blogger anne said...

Hi Diane!
I think that it is fascinating to have this wonderful treasure. Your book sounds compelling and I look forward to enjoying this unique story.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Carissa said...

Hello! What a marvelous resource you've introduced here. I'd never heard of the "Annual Registers." Do you use them as inspiration for story ideas or more often as a resource for scenes like the shipwreck?

I might not get any writing done if I had them around. I'd lose myself reading them! There is nothing quite like having something from the actual period. I'm addicted to old journalers (Pepys and Aubrey are two of my favorites) and old newspaper articles (I adore the ads).

Happy writing!

9:40 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Diane's blogging, how could I not comment? Jetlagged I may be, and typing with one hand I may be, while the other hand props my eyes open, I wasn't going to miss a Diane event. In other words, Hoydenns, I'm glad to be back home from my trip.

Looks like 2008 is already off to a good start for the Hoydens. Lynna, for a few years, my parents didn't live too far from Joplin. Seeing the town it is today and then reading in your post about what it was like then suddenly makes Joplin and Baxter important.

Diane, gosh, I just had to read VV for the fourth time over the trip.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Diane, gosh, I just had to read VV for the fourth time over the trip.

I'm flabergasted. How nice to say that publicly.

12:15 PM  

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