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Shipwreck on the Shoals

Wreck of the Spanish ship segunto

Two 19th century poets tell the story of the same shipwreck at the Isles of Shoals. Celia Thaxter’s poem appears to purposely provide a female answer to the masculine tragedy by James Kennard. Here side-by-side for the first time, they offer contrasting views of a mysterious event in Seacoast history.



READ: Much more on the Spanish Sailors


The Spanieards Graves
Wreck of the Seguntum

Sailing shipAre 14 shipwrecked Spanish sailors really buried on Smuttynose Island? Recent research shows no definitive evidence that the Seguntum (also "Sagunto"), sailors were buried on the Isles of Shoals in January 1813. But early records indicate that something happened -- and poets James Kennard Jr. and Celia Thaxter have turned the legend to poetry.

Although Thaxter told a friend, she came up with the idea for "Spaniards' Graves" (1865) while she worked "among the pots and kettles" of her home, we wonder. It is not unlikely that she had read an earlier poem "Wreck of the Seguntum" (1849) by Portsmouth poet James Kennard, Jr. Kennard was born in Portsmouth in 1815, attended school there and spent much of his time studying and reading at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. He suffered from a lame left knee which, from a short memoir by a friend, appears to have been bone cancer. He died at age 32. His work, as far as we can determine, is limited to a few poems that have not been widely read or reprinted since 1865.

Celia Thaxter appears to answer Kennard 's poem as she stands at the grave site meditating. She relates the action too, but focuses more on the loss of the living, connecting herself with the unknown Spanish widows. Thaxter's popular poem has often been reprinted, but this is the first time the two have appeared together.

   Smuttynose Island Murders
   Wreck at Rivermouth  

Sources: Celia Thaxter, Among the Isles of Shoals, Boston (1873), Jane Vallier, Poet On Demand, Peter E. Randall, Publisher (1991), Selections from the Writings of James Kennard, Jr., Boston (1849). Copyright © 2006 by J. Dennis Robinson. Originally published here in 1999.

CONTINUE with The Spanieards Graves

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