Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: First Hand Accounts - updated 23 June 2008
PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2008 8:50 pm 
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Authentic Voices - First Hand Accounts

First hand accounts from Nelsonian times form an interesting sub-genre of the literature of the period. Some of the most well known are listed here. I have not given publishers or ISBN numbers since many are out of print or appear in different editions. A useful source of books, in or out of print, is or . It is also worth checking ebay regularly. Many are available on line on Googlebooks. Please add any others that you have encountered in your reading.

Lieut. G S Parsons RN Nelsonian Reminiscences (published 1843)

These memoirs give a dramatic eye-witness account of the Napoleonic Wars, including the famous narrative of the capture of the Généreux and observant comments on Nelson’s years in Naples and the major characters involved in the events there, including Nelson and Lady Hamilton.

William Richardson A Mariner of England: An Account of William Richardson from Cabin Boy in the Merchant Service to Warrant Officer in the Royal Navy as Told by Himself [1780-1819]

After thirteen years in the merchant service, Richardson was picked up by the press gang in Calcutta and faced even more hardships in the Royal Navy. He describes his arrival on board the 48 gun frigate Minerva: ‘I was stationed to do any duty in the maintop; all my clothes were on my back, and with an old silver watch and one rupee, which constituted my all, I had now, as it were, the world to begin again; and a poor prospect I had before me…..’

William Dillon A Narrative of My Adventures (1790-1839)

As a fourteen year old midshipman, Dillon experienced one of the great fleet actions of the era ‘The Glorious First of June’, serving under Captain Gambier in HMS Defence and ended his career as Admiral of the Red.

Jacob Nagle The Nagle Journal: Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the year 1775 to 1841

Nagle was an American, an able and wily seaman, who served both in the United States Navy during the American Revolution and in the Royal Navy. His narrative includes his unhappy experiences aboard the Gorgon and subsequently the Blanche under Hotham ‘a Tarter’. It was Nelson himself who persuaded the men to accept Hotham.

James Anthony Gardner, Commander RN Above and Under the Hatches: being Naval Recollections in shreds and patches with strange reflections

Though he served in the times of Rodney and Nelson, Gardner saw only one major action so he has little to say about battles at sea. He has however, much to say about shipboard life, and his account is packed full of the horse-play, hard drinking and good fellowship of Nelson’s navy. There are eccentrics and pranks a-plenty and a fund of good stories. This must be one of the funniest books ever published about life in the age of sail.

John Drinkwater-Bethune A Narrative of the Battle of St Vincent; with anecdotes of Nelson before and after that battle

Colonel Drinkwater, as he was at the time, had a grandstand view of the battle aboard the frigate ‘Minerve’ and was so inspired by the experience that he compiled this account, based on discussions with Nelson soon after the event. It was a rather opportunistic venture which sold badly as it was overshadowed by Nelson’s own published account of the battle.

Thomas, Tenth Earl of Dundonald The Autobiography of a Seaman

A Scot, with a headstrong, tempestuous nature, Thomas Cochrane soon established a reputation as one of the most fearsome fighting captains in the navy whose exploits would inspire generations of future novelists.

William Robinson Jack Nastyface: Memoirs of a seaman

William Robinson volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1805 and soon became ‘inured to the roughness and hardships of a sailor’s life’ and emerged a battle-hardened veteran. His memoir contains a memorable account of the Battle of Trafalgar when his ship the ‘Revenge’ suffered 28 men killed and 51 wounded.

Aaron Thomas The Caribbean Journal of a Royal Navy Seaman

This journal has been transcribed by the University of Miami and a selection of notable extracts is available on line, together with an introduction, a biography of Aaron Thomas, a glossary and a bibliography:

James Durand James Durand: an Able Seaman of 1812, His adventures in ‘Old Ironsides’ and as an impressed sailor in the British navy

James Durand was an American seaman, impressed by the British. ‘The thought of serving with the British Fleet touched every nerve with distress and almost deprived me of reason.’ He saw service in American waters and reports that he was threatened with hanging, put in irons, and kept on water and maggoty bread for refusing to take part on the attack on Stonington, Connecticut.

James Scott Recollections of Naval Life

A lively and varied account of experience in many parts of the world from America to India, and including a goodly number of humorous anecdotes.

This book is available on Googlebooks. The easiest way to access it is simply to Google 'James Scott Recollections of Naval Life and up it comes.

The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner

Nicol was a volunteer who joined the navy in search of adventure, which he certainly found. He served in the American Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, travelled to Australia on the first female convict ship, encountered pirates....and much more, all narrated in a simple, readable style. The Canongate publication (available on Amazon) edited by Tim Flannery has a helpful and informative introduction.

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