1 The Braithwaite Debt
“You realise you are now a very wealthy woman?”
The lawyer looked at her disapprovingly, as though she was to blame for her husband’s will. He had written it quickly just before he had left on his last voyage, it was only a short one but the French Privateer had been waiting just off the mouth of the Blackwater. He had saved his ship but got a musket ball in his chest and had died a few days later.
She nodded, she knew her husband had owned several vessels, small craft involved in the coasting trade with London, now she had learnt that he had shares in many others. Indeed it seemed that he had an interest in most of the barges that sailed from Colchester to London.
“What do you intend to do now?”
This was much more important, what she decided now could affect a great deal of business in the town. He looked at her clearly, Captain Bennet had been an experienced sailor, he had understood the sea, his wife was a mystery to him, she had come from a family in Cornwall and had only been married to him six months. Now she was the owner or part owner of a small fleet.
“As you know I have not lived here very long. I am not sure I want to continue living here, or if I should return to the West Country. My family comes from Cornwall and my Brother in law lives in Lyme Regis. I think I will return to Cornwall for a time.” She paused, she knew what he really wanted to know.
“As for my husband’s interests here, in the land and shipping, I think I would like you and Mr Cochran to continue to oversee them.”
The lawyer was relieved, this was just as he had hoped. He was about to put the papers away when an address on one of the papers caught Mrs Bennet’s eye.
“I didn’t know my husband had business in Weymouth?”
He picked up the letter,
“He didn’t really, it just concerns a loan of his, to a Captain Braithwaite. The debt is a considerable one, about £1000 and isn’t due for repayment for another year.” He paused, then continued. “The money is perfectly safe as Captain Braithwaite is a remarkable man, he is currently salvaging a sunken East Indiaman off the coast of Dorset. I gather he has already raised a large fortune from the wreck, indeed that letter was from him asking if he could repay early.”
“And what was your answer to be?”
“I was going to accept his offer.”
“Then will you send me the papers relating to Captain Braithwaite, I can easily visit Weymouth on my way to Somerset, and would like to be doing something.”
Two weeks later Mrs Charlotte Bennet, her maid and manservant were comfortably settled in Payne’s Hotel on Weymouth sea front. She was sitting in a large room on the first floor looking out over the sea. There were several small vessels on the calm water, a number of large rowing boats with covered awnings that were taking people for trips, a warship and two larger merchantmen moored further out and to the southern side of the bay a curious looking vessel with several other boats moored around her.
Her maid entered with a tea tray.
“Ah, Susan.” She smiled, “Thank you. Now have you asked about lodgings, we will need some if we are to stay for more than a few days?”
“Yes madam, they have suggested two places we can try.”
“Good, we will look at them tomorrow. Then see if we can find Captain Braithwaite.”
“Oh Madam, he is famous here.”
She walked to the window and pointed at the strange looking craft.
“He is there, that is where he is exploring the shipwreck.” She paused then added excitingly.
“He has a wonderful machine, it takes him down to the bottom of the sea where he can walk around just as if he were walking on the esplanade here.”
Charlotte turned back to the window.
“Now that does sound interesting.” She said to herself, “Tomorrow I want to find out more about Captain Braithwaite and his wonderful machine.”
To be continued
4 responses to “Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver”
Another story, I so enjoy your historical women! The paintings are lovely, are they of the Weymouth area?
The first picture is of Mistley a small harbour on the Essex coast, showing the sort of vessels I decided to give Mrs Bennet. The second is of Weymouth, the distant vessel is more or less over the Earl of Abergavenny. Both pictures date from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the story took place in 1806.
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Indeed Pauline is right, you do your women well
Thank you, I am glad you are liking it. As you may guess it is based on a true story, to paraphrase the words that come up at the end of some films -‘The names had not been altered, to honour the courageous.’