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False Shipwreck'd Sailors’: Shipwreck imposters and charity in Nineteenth-Century England

Strand Campus , London

23 May laughtonmain

Speaker: Cathryn Pearce, University of Portsmouth

Chair: Alan James, Senior Lecturer in War Studies

Whether inhabiting the coastal regions and port cities, or even further inland, a certain class of beggars self-fashioned themselves as shipwreck victims to exploit the sympathy of the compassionate. It was a ‘dodge’ with a long history, reaching its height in the nineteenth century. Maritime philanthropic societies such as the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society (SMS) were particularly concerned about shipwreck impostors, whom they saw as dangerous to benevolence and charity. The SMS was among a network of organisations working to control those termed ‘turnpike sailors,’ while offering support to genuine shipwreck victims. Who were these individuals, how did they operate, and how did shipwreck societies seek to solve what was actually a wider societal problem?

Cathryn Pearce is a senior lecturer in naval and maritime history at the University of Portsmouth. This paper is being developed from a larger project on shipwreck, lifesaving and coastal communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Hosted by the Laughton Naval History Unit of the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War on behalf of the British Commission for Maritime History and the Society for Nautical Research


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