Breaking Seas, Broken Ships: People, Shipwrecks and Britain, 1854-2007

Written by Ian Friel
Review by Edward James

Breaking Seas, Broken Ships is the successor volume to Britain and the Ocean Road, which covered the period from the 13th century to the 1850s and takes the story on to the present day.  It follows the same format, selecting eight shipwrecks and using them each to illustrate a different aspect of British maritime history.  The term ‘shipwreck’ is used loosely to cover any type of maritime disaster. The book begins with the disappearance of the migrant ship City of Glasgow. Nobody knows what happened to her, she just failed to arrive in Canada, but the event (or non-event) is the peg on which to hang a chapter on 19th-century migrant ships.

I found this formula rather frustrating with the earlier volume but was happier this time, perhaps because I knew what to expect. The final chapter about the wreck of the container ship Napoli in 2007 is particularly interesting for its essay on the container revolution in cargo handling, while the wreck of the Torrey Canyon leads to a discussion on pollution.  An interesting and informative little book.