Comparative history of eighteenth century wrecking legislation: problems of legal definitions, jurisdictions and prosecution in British and Swedish courts

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    This paper reviews the debate and development of legislation in eighteenth century British and Swedish legal systems, concerned with the luring of ships with the intent to cause wreck. It critically analyses enactments that criminalised the practices of ‘wrecking’ as the deliberate plunder or opportunistic ‘harvest’ of wrecked materials on the shore and issues faced in formulating a legal definition for such acts. Furthermore, it scrutinises passed and proposed legislations that prohibited the use of ‘false lights’ and other means of luring vessels into unsafe coastal waters and highlights problems in the application of such statures to prosecute those deemed to be ‘wreckers’ or ‘vrakplundarer.’ By drawing upon legal discussions, accounts, and case studies of wrecking events in both British and Swedish archives, comparative debates regarding the definitions of, evidence for and irregularity with which successful prosecutions were brought forth are analysed. Through a ‘New Coastal History’ approach, this research discusses the issues faced in the development of littoral legislations and subsequent jurisdictional complexities in their enactment. The archive sources of this debate thus span across crown, common, and maritime codes, laws, and legal systems in attempts to successfully prosecute the act of ‘wrecking’ in its variety of practices. As a comparative legal study, this paper draws attention to the perceived lawlessness and moral corruption of coastal societies during this period in both Swedish and British national consciousnesses, and contrasts the legislative approaches of two nations increasingly reliant upon the security and development of their maritime economy. As literature concerning the legal history of wrecking, this paper makes a contribution to the wider discussions of nationalism in an age of global expansion and the growing concern over coastal populations in their exposure and moral corruption. Ultimately this paper argues that a pressing need for more robust legislation towards illicit coastal activity is evident in both British and Swedish courts during the course of the eighteenth century and questions the basis and evidence with which such arguments are brought forth.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2023
    EventThe European Society for Comparative Legal History's Seventh Biennial Conference - University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany
    Duration: 21 Jun 202323 Jun 2023


    ConferenceThe European Society for Comparative Legal History's Seventh Biennial Conference
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