Wednesday, 23 June 2010


On Friday se’nnight, four children, the eldest about six years old, went out under the rocks, a little distance from Budleigh Salterton to gather periwinkles; the tide coming in, they were unexpectedly surrounded by the sea, when providentially some fishermen, observing them in motion, took them for birds, and rowed towards the rocks with the intention of shooting them, but to their surprise, discovered their mistake, and rescued them from a watery grave.

There are three things about this short report from Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post of the nineteenth of June, 1816 that I find of interest. The first is the use of the word se’nnight, OED has sennight, meaning a week or in this case of a week ago. It is a word of great antiquity but now more or less lost to us.

The second is the image the passage gives of these four feral infants of the Regency, ‘the eldest about six years old’, scampering abandoned along the summer beaches of East Devon and foraging for their own suppers.

The third is the piratical nature of the boatload of Devon fishermen armed with fowling pieces, or whatever. I wonder what kind of birds they hoped to kill under the rocks and to what end. There are not many sea birds you can eat.

What was that great Tom Lehrer line?: “I just stand there looking cute/and when something moves I shoot.”

It’s a nice story, not least in that it has a happy ending. I do like a happy ending.

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