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Treachery At Sharpnose Point

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Overview

While walking through a cliff-top graveyard in the town of Morwenstow on the coast of Cornwall, the author encounters a wooden Scottish figurehead that once adorned the Caledonia, a ship wrecked on the English coast in 1842. Through further investigation, Seal begins to suspect the townspeople, and chiefly the town's parson, Robert Hawker, for the Caledonia's demise on the jagged shores below. Though no one has ever been brought to court for "wrecking"—luring ships ashore to loot the cargo—it's a commonly held belief that this sort of cruelty did take place. But, is that what happened in Morwenstow?
Having meticulously researched maritime logs, broadsides of the day, and other first-hand documents, Seal weaves history, travelogue, and imaginative reconstruction in this marvelous piece of detective work, bringing us a mystery of the best kind—the sort that really did happen.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR JEREMY SEAL

"Seal's writing is vivid, humorous, and wonderfully chilling."—Outside

"Seal tells fascinating stories and complements them with lore that is funny . . . and mesmerizing."—Men's Journal

PRAISE FOR TREACHERY AT SHARPNOSE POINT

"Most compelling. This lively, well-paced book is highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Exceptional . . . Seal's riveting story will be a certain winner."—Booklist

Publishers Weekly
Seal's elegant writing, sharp eye for detail and passion for investigation don't entirely compensate for his somewhat mountain-out-of-a-molehill project. Seal (A Fez of the Heart) became interested in the Scottish ship Caledonia, wrecked on a merciless stretch of English coast in 1842, when he discovered its cracked figurehead in a cliff-top graveyard in the town of Morwenstow. Upon further investigation of public records from the year of the wreck, the ship's paperwork for customs, Morwenstow's church, etc., he began to suspect the townspeople, in particular their parson, Robert Hawker, an odd character of minor notability, of deliberately causing the ship to wreck so they could loot its cargo a fascinating premise, certainly worthy of book-length treatment. This book, however, doesn't recreate the story of the Caledonia from the rich material Seal unearths. Rather, it recounts that unearthing process, a considerably less engaging tale. Readers are treated to a few dramatic chapters set on the doomed boat, but more often the book centers on mundane events: Seal finds a crucial file in an archive; Seal does genealogy research on a computer with his sister; and he frantically spins through a strip of microfilm while begging for more time from an "aggrieved" librarian who wants to close for the day. Moreover, wrecking was not an uncommon occurrence in hard-luck 19th-century England, so Seal's growing horror as he digs deeper into the past seems a bit na?ve and oversensitive. B&w photos and illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
When travel writer Seal came across a ship's figurehead—a lovely woman—from 1842, he sought to make sense of it. The Caledonia was a Scottish merchant ship only a few years old when she was wrecked off the coast of Cornwall. The figurehead supposedly marked the graves of the ship's crew. Tied up in the story of the Caledonia is the legend of the wreckers of Cornwall, thought to purposely endanger ships on their shores, and the local vicar, R. S. Hawker. Hawker wrote stories about his role in locating and burying the crew and of the only survivor, but his versions and others did not jibe in Seal's mind. The author determined to trace the ship's route, identify who was on it, and locate their actual resting places. Following Seal as he digs through records and reading his re-creation of what might have happened to the ship Caledonia in more than a year of voyaging is an adventure in itself. Chapters bounce back and forth between Seal's investigation and his story, adding the flavor and color of the time. The book includes facsimiles of ships' records, burial records, and quarantines from British archives, along with pictures and correspondence related to the wreck, providing a fascinating recounting of commonplace lives that carried adventure, boring routine, struggle, and high risk. The lone survivor of the Caledonia went on to live through two more shipwrecks. Hawker told many stories. What of the wreckers of Cornwall? No one ever was punished for such crimes. Teen readers who favor history will find this an intriguing yarn. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes. Appendix. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interestin the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Harcourt, 316p, $24. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer: Patricia Morrow SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
KLIATT
In 1842, the merchant ship Caledonia wrecked off a particularly notorious stretch on the Cornish coast. The area around the village of Morwenstow was well known for its "wreckers," men and women who eked out a living with the help of marine salvage and were rumored to sometimes give nature a hand by luring ships onto the rocks with false lights. Seal's engaging book is essentially a "how-I-got-the-story" account. After coming upon the crumbling figurehead of the Caledonia in the Morwenstow cemetery, the author follows his curiosity about the wreck in local lore, the writings of the vicar R.S. Hawker, Admiralty archives, old newspaper accounts, and so forth. To reconstruct the events, Seal gives us facsimiles of crew lists, ship surveys, and Lloyd's Register, and fleshes them out with general information about 19th-century British shipping and vivid reconstructions of life aboard the ship and the apocalyptical storm that brought her to ruin. The book is a tour de force of research. The only false note is struck by the title. "Treachery" is an issue only when Seal misinterprets a detail that later turns out to be a complete hoax. The men on the ship were only victims, and the "wreckers" on shore only heroes. The book, which is well illustrated and has three pages of welcome maps, gives us a vivid picture of life (and death) at sea almost two centuries ago. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Harcourt, Harvest, illus.316p. maps., Healy
Library Journal
In 1842, the Caledonia was shipwrecked off the coast of Morwenstow, England. Shipwrecks were common at this time, but Seal (A Fez of the Heart) is convinced that there was something unusual about this ship's demise. Seal recounts the incident as a detective story, piecing together bits of research concerning the characters involved, the ship itself, and the period of "profound unrest" during which it sailed. The country's contentious "corn laws" reveal the politics of the time, and central to the story is the macabre 19th-century occupation of "wrecking," in which townspeople lured ships to shore and pillaged their cargo. Seal also delves into the backgrounds of the characters involved in the event, principally Morwenstow's scheming pastor, who saw himself as the "savior of the sea dead." The factual details are interesting enough, but most compelling is Seal's imaginative account of the final days of the Caledonia, which is interwoven into the narrative. This lively, well-paced book is highly recommended for all public libraries. Isabel Coates, Canada Customs & Revenue Agency, Brampton, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156027052
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Seal has written for numerous English newspapers. His first book, A Fez of the Heart, was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and short-listed for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. His second book, The Snakebite Survivor's Club, was a New York Public Library Exceptional Book of the Year. He lives in Bath, England, with his wife and daughters.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    enthralling historical speculative book

    While in the town of Morwenstow, author Jeremy Seal noticed the cracked figurehead of the Scottish ship Caledonia, which sunk off the English coast in 1842. Interested in learning more about the ill-fated vessel, Mr. Seal searched public records dating back to 1842, customs paperwork and local edifices like the church. Mr. Seal concludes that the townsfolk led by Parson Hawker caused wreck in order to salvage the cargo. When Mr. Seal examines the past through his mesmerizing theory, readers receive an enthralling historical speculative work. However, when Mr. Seal provides insight into how he conducts research and the steps he took to draw his conclusion, the book loses momentum. Though overall quite interesting, TREACHERY AT SHARPNOSE POINT could have been morbidly great with more insight into the 1842 Morwenstow Caledonia link and less Seal. Harriet Klausner

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