Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: The Age of Wonder
PostPosted: Wed Nov 19, 2008 9:21 am 
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The primary focus of this forum is, of course, Nelson and his navy, though we aim to explore the wider cultural hinterland of the period too. I will try to keep this report short, though the book in question is so thought-provoking, so bubbling with ideas and insights, so fizzing with historical, biographical, scientific, literary and theological firecrackers that it is almost impossible to do it justice in a few paragraphs. It is by Richard Holmes (the literary biographer, rather than the military historian) and the title is:

The Age of Wonder: how the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science.’

[Harper Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-00-714952-0 pp 554, £25, but Amazon currently has it on offer for £12.50]

This book explores the movement that emerged in the latter half of the eighteenth century, mirroring the shift from Classicism to Romanticism in art, music and literature, to bring new, imaginative intensity and excitement to scientific work, with the scientist seen as a seeker on an exploratory voyage, lonely and sometimes perilous. And the metaphorical journey begins with a literal voyage on a Royal Navy ship, Captain Cook’s ‘Endeavour,’ which took the young Joseph Banks to Tahiti, where he studied not only the flora and fauna but also the habits and customs of the islanders and returned home to develop the new academic field of anthropology, and use his formidable networking skills and his Presidency of the Royal Society to nurture the advancement of science and scientists, and to move science from its austere, remote place in the universities to a wider audience by engaging the interest of the public through lectures and demonstrations, particularly in the fields of astronomy and chemistry. The book is, in effect, a group biography of Banks, Herschel and Davy; though the ideas, discoveries and achievements of many other figures, major and minor, are interwoven in the narrative.

Today, we speak of ‘the two cultures’, the divergence in understanding and sympathy between science and the arts. This book reveals a period when the pursuit of knowledge, philosophical preoccupations and creative thinking in every sphere of human intellectual endeavour were one. Humphrey Davy was not only a chemist of genius but a poet; William Herschel, the greatest astronomer of his age, was also a professional musician and composer; (‘Forget your crotchets and quavers’ said King George, appointing him his Personal Astronomer.) Herschel’s discoveries led him from the notion of a fixed universe to an ever-changing one, and thereby into philosophical contemplations on infinity, eternity, and man’s place in the universe. The poet Coleridge travelled to German universities to attend science lectures, was beguiled by astronomy and, as a result of his pursuit of the subject, wrote philosophical reflections on the nature of the infinite. Though the scientific principles of observation and analysis were strictly maintained in this new and vibrant approach, (‘Nullius in verba’ – ‘nothing upon another’s word’ was the motto of the Royal Society), perception, intuition and the creative imagination were also recognised as part of the scientist’s armoury in the search for truth.

Davy wrote: The perception of truth is almost as simple a feeling as the perception of beauty; and the genius of Newton, of Shakespeare, of Michael Angelo [sic] and of Handel are not very remote from each other. Imagination as well as reason, is necessary to perfection in the philosophic [ another term for scientific] mind. A rapidity of combination, a power of perceiving analogies, and of comparing them by facts, is the creative source of discovery.’

This sparkling intellectual curiosity was bolstered by an energy, courage and stoicism that rivalled that of the men of Nelson’s navy: Humphrey Davy almost killing himself by testing on himself the effects of nitrous oxide on the human body; Mungo Park enduring appalling dangers and sufferings in his explorations to discover and map the heart of Africa; Herschel, aided by his sister Caroline, stoically enduring night after bitter night mapping the stars in overwhelming cold, and refining the light-gathering properties of the great mirrors of his telescopes by polishing the surfaces unrelentingly for sixteen hours non-stop while Caroline fed him morsels. They were as driven and dutiful in their service to the advancement of human understanding as Nelson and his men were in their naval service, and as patriotic. (Davy was a great admirer of Nelson and never forgot that the flags that greeted his arrival in Bristol at the beginning of his scientific career were to mark Nelson’s victory at the Nile.) The descriptions of the eagerness of British scientists to outdo the French in scientific achievement, be it in chemistry, exploration, astronomy, or even in the practical application of science in the new endeavour of ballooning, sometimes border on the comic. (There was alarm that the French might achieve invasion by sending 5000 balloons each with two soldiers on board!) Nevertheless, there is also charm and grace in their respect and admiration for each other, and for all seekers of scientific truth whatever their nationality.

I do commend this book: it is humane in sympathy, and deeply impressive in its breadth and depth of understanding. Richard Holmes has the ability to explain complex concepts as well as scientific principles and processes in prose that is both elegant and intelligible, and he weaves scientific exposition, philosophical reflection, informed comment, and wonderful biographical detail, infused with the insight, sympathy and fairness that we have come to expect of him, into a seamless and satisfying whole. It is an exhilarating book that celebrates the excitement and passion to be found in the quest for knowledge, and reminds us that de-coding the mysteries of the universe does not diminish our sense of wonder but enhances it:

In Wonder all philosophy began: in Wonder it ends…But the first Wonder is the Offspring of Ignorance; the last is the Parent of Adoration.’ (Coleridge interpreting Plato in Aids to Reflection 1825.)

And how small the world was – it seems that everyone knew everyone else or at least moved in the same milieu. A constant stream of famous figures flits on and off the stage. Banks was a friend and correspondent of many, including Sir William Hamilton, and a devoted disciple of Carl Linnaeus in Uppsala; Byron was a friend and admirer of Davy. When Caroline Herschel severely injured her leg while working on the great forty-foot telescope, the local doctor who attended and cured her was none other than the great James Lind. Herschel, who scanned the heavens and observed Uranus, the first new planet to be discovered for a thousand years, made his discovery from the back garden of 19 New King Street, Bath. A few years later, a certain Mrs Nelson would take lodgings next door at No. 17 and write letters to her husband at sea about daily trivia such as the puff sleeves on her new dress…………


*one tiny point: Richard Holmes mentions in passing the battles of the Nile and Copenhagen and gets the date wrong for each!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2009 9:30 pm 
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I greatly enjoyed Dudley Pope’s The Great Gamble,(Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1972) his study of the battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Pope is best known as a novelist, of course, so serious naval historians might find errors of fact and weaknesses in interpretation, and subsequent works might have superseded the insights and conclusions reached here; nonetheless, I found Pope’s vigorous style, trenchant opinions and thorough research (the book is almost 500 pages) made for a satisfying read on more than one level.

Political historians will welcome his detailed and careful analysis of the prologue to the battle, the political machinations, confusions and complexities, and the appalling misjudgement that appointed a man like Sir Hyde Parker to a command for which he was totally unsuited. These, (together with the upheavals in Nelson’s personal life which were ongoing at the time,) are considered in great detail, using Danish as well as British sources, the first time, I believe, that any British historian has examined the Danish archives. Naval historians will appreciate his assured grasp of all things maritime and his detailed description of the progress of the battle. For readers like me, primarily interested in the social history and the revelatory personal detail and anecdote, Pope’s narrative, enlivened by the novelist’s ear for a story and a character, is both gripping and moving. There is an illustration of the famous letter, which I had never seen before, with its salutation ‘To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes’ and a whopping great blot, and also the revelation, in the words of the purser, Thomas Wallis, that ‘Lord Nelson wrote the note at the casing of the rudderhead, and as he wrote, I took a copy, both of us standing’. There is a lively narrative from young Midshipman Millard describing dashing Lt Yelland: ‘how he escaped unhurt seems wonderful; several times I lost sight of him in a cloud of splinters; as they subsided I saw first his cocked hat emerging, then by degrees the rest of his person, his face smiling, so that altogether one might imagine him dressed for his wedding day’; and also Millard’s gruesome experience of slithering on the body of his captain, lying dead under a flag.

Pope also brings vividly to life the appalling price paid by the Danes, with many personal details of those killed and the pitiful details of so many distraught families – underlining the cruel arithmetic of this unnecessary battle.

Pope's flavoursome writing style has the added spice of explosive and contemptuous comments on politicians and diplomats, coupled with sympathy and respect for the men who fought the battles. All in all, I found it an illuminating and engrossing read.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:18 am 
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I have mentioned on another thread (Foreign Officers) ‘The Commissioner’s Daughter: the story of Elizabeth Proby and Admiral Chichagov’ by Joanna Woods (Stonefield Press 2000 ISBN 0 9527126 2 8 ) and can recommend it for its interest on several levels: it is much more than just the romantic story of a young Englishwoman and a dashing Russian naval officer, though the trials they survived, including separation, parental disapproval and disinheritance (Elizabeth) and a brutal spell in the Czar’s prison for his suspect relationship with a foreigner (Pavel), confirm this as a great love on a par with Nelson and Emma. It is also a fascinating social history of life in the upper echelons of Russian society at a time when the country was being modernised at a cracking pace; of the stresses and tensions of living in an absolute monarchy, and an account that brings into the light the zeal and energy of a remarkable patriot who used his enormous talents and vision to modernise the Russian navy in the teeth of endemic corruption and much personal hostility.

Both Elizabeth and Pavel are remarkable personalities: she quiet, serene but with an inner steel and resolution; he volatile, prickly, quarrelsome, but brilliant and courageous. Their marriage survived Pavel’s virulent anti-British sentiments when the interests of Russia and Britain clashed; Elizabeth managed him beautifully. His blissful domestic life was a startling counterpoint to his turbulent and troubled career which swung from high to low. He was almost unhinged by Elizabeth’s death in childbirth at the age of 36, but he eventually recovered to fulfil her dying wish that he continue to serve his country. His prickly temperament, his capacity for making enemies and his admiration for freedom and democracy resulted in his eventual self-exile from Russia, despite his enormous contribution to her modernisation and a gallant role, in a military rather than a naval capacity, in the defence of Moscow when Napoleon attacked. Undermined by his enemies, he was accused of being unpatriotic with his constant raging against his country’s and his countrymen’s inadequacies; in truth, his anger stemmed from frustration at the difference between what his country was and what it could be. He eventually settled in England and took British citizenship for which he was never forgiven in Russia. He survived Elizabeth by 38 years, having buried her ashes in the grounds of the church where they were married, recording on her monument: ‘All my life’s bliss I buried here.’

In fact, despite the title, this is Pavel’s biography more than Elizabeth’s. Joanna Woods’ picture of a contradictory, difficult, energetic and visionary man, and her grasp of the political and social movements in a turbulent era in Russian and European history make for an informative and engrossing read. Biography, for me, can be a useful 'way in' to an historical period. Focus on an individual or small group sharpens your sense of involvement; and the interplay of the personal with contemporary political and social currents can enliven a narrative that might otherwise be unwieldy and difficult to navigate.

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 Post subject: Jack tar by Roy & Lesley Adkins
PostPosted: Sun Sep 20, 2009 12:54 pm 
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‘Jack Tar: life in Nelson’s Navy’ by Roy and Lesley Adkins,(Little Brown 2008)
ISBN 978-1-4087-0054-9

This is, quite simply, a wonderful book: widely, deeply and meticulously researched, thoughtfully and lucidly written and seamlessly collated. It’s quite a long book, of 390 pages, which because of other pressures, I delayed reading for too long, thinking inevitable interruptions would disrupt the ‘flow’. I needn’t have worried. The book is arranged thematically, so the reader can enjoy each discrete section as time permits.

Jack Tar will have a wide appeal – to the layman interested in history or to the researcher following up a specific line of enquiry. Even the most learned naval authority is almost certain to find something new here. The Adkins’ explorations are wide-ranging, and supported by a wealth of original sources that are as stimulating as they are satisfying. How men learned the ropes, what they ate and drank, how they coped with storms, with punishments, battle and captivity; how they spent their time and their money; how they felt about their situation, their service, their loved ones – the Adkins cover every aspect of a seaman’s life with an admirable blend of integrity, sympathy and necessary detachment.

The ship as community, from the ancient stories of Jason and the Argonauts, Odysseus and Aeneas in classical literature to the yarns of Captain Maryatt, Patrick O’Brian and C.S Forester, has always held a fascination for the landlubber. All stories are contained within a prison, in a way, whether you’re reading a story set within the confines of a family, a village, rival gangs or a ship. It is the ship as community that the writers bring so vividly to life in ‘Jack Tar’. For English people in particular, whose wars, until the Second World War, were experienced at second-hand, fought far away, either or foreign soil or on the high seas, by men often regarded otherwise as outcasts, the harshness of life aboard a warship, and the brutalities of battle could be glossed over in slick toasts to ‘our brave tars’. Roy and Lesley Adkins uncover the truths, sometimes deeply distressing and unpalatable, of the lives of the men who fought those wars. ‘None are so free as the sons of the waves’: how dreadfully ironic those words seem when you read of the privations, difficulties, cruelties and horrors suffered by the men of Nelson’s navy. Yet, the feeling I was left with was not just sympathy, but also profound admiration for these men who, in the hour of trial, almost invariably rose to the occasion with a courage, cheerfulness and competence that defy comprehension.

One of the many strengths of this book, and for me, I think, the most important one, is the wonderful treasury of original voices, collected from letters, diaries and memoirs, that the Adkins’ have sourced. Interspersed with the words of the ordinary seamen are quotations from letters etc. written by officers, which provide an interesting counterpoint to the men’s voices, and also offer a view of the seamen’s lives that is equally authentic and valuable, but from a different perspective.

I love these often rough, but true voices of ordinary seamen speaking to us across two centuries. They tell of their privations and difficulties, but also of their affections, their memories of home, their hopes for their return. In the midst of difficulties, they nevertheless made their ship their home, and forged bonds with their shipmates. One, in particular, moved me to tears. George Adams finds the body of his friend William Brown among the dead: ‘the rough, hardy features of the brave old sailor streaming with tears, he picked out the body of his friend…and gently carried it to the ship’s side, saying ‘Oh, Bill, we have sailed together in a number of ships, we have been in many gales and some battles, but this is the worst day I have seen. We must now part’! Here, he dropped the body into the deep, and then, a fresh torrent of tears streaming over his weather-beaten face, he added, ‘I can do no more for you. Farewell! God be with you!’

Roy and Lesley Adkins have done a huge service in writing this book; to us, who share their enthusiasm for the period and with whom they now share their knowledge, and also to the heroic, indefatigable, stoical men who served in Nelson’s navy. Thorough, scrupulously researched, and written engagingly and with admirable clarity, scholarship and accessibility going hand in hand, I commend ‘Jack Tar’ unreservedly.

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 Post subject: The Aristocrats, by Stella Tillyard
PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:04 am 
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The Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard (Chatto & Windus 1994) is a biography of the four daughters of the Duke of Richmond, the famous Lennox sisters, Lady Caroline, Lady Emily, Lady Sarah and Lady Louisa. Stella Tillyard has negotiated her way through a mass of diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, contemporary political literature and family papers to reveal not only the turbulent events within the family – scandals, feuds, elopement, divorce, paternal rejection and reconciliation are all here – but also the political movements and cross-currents of the eighteenth century which provide a valuable background to the main focus of this website. Lady Caroline married the politician, Henry Fox, and became a leader of the ‘Holland House set’, a notable Whig coterie; Lady Emily married an Irish Duke, was a notable Francophile, an admirer of Rousseau and Voltaire; Lady Louisa also married an Irishman and, though she feared the political turbulence among the Catholic population, became a revered philanthropist and benefactor to them. Lady Sarah, who was much admired by the young George III until he was forced into an arranged marriage with a German princess, led a scandalous life before marrying an upright and honourable soldier and rebuilding her reputation.

Stella Tillyard writes well and manages the huge wealth of material she has to draw on with enormous skill and fluency. Through the lives of these four women, we gain a greater understanding of the political events and social movements in England and Ireland over nearly a century, from 1740 to 1832. Three of them were the mothers of sons who went on to play significant and varied roles on the national stage. Caroline was the mother of the Whig politician Charles James Fox; Emily of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Irish revolutionary; and Sarah, initially the black sheep of the family, was the mother of Sir Charles Napier, the distinguished soldier, as much loved by his men as Nelson. It was the pennies of the common soldiery that paid for the statue of him that still stands, with Nelson, in Trafalgar Square.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:15 am 
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THE ARISTOCRATS - Sheila Tillyard


..... Extremely informative and very readable! I have had this book for a few years now. It was initially borrowed from the library, but I simply had to have my own copy. :)


- Mil -
aka ....


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 Post subject: Re: The Floating Brothel
PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2010 12:59 pm 
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The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees (Headline 2001; ISBN 0 7472 6632 eight - the little man in shades appears if you type a figure eight)

I am grateful to Stephen for recommending this book, a wonderful combination of social, colonial and maritime history, written with verve and style. Sian Rees uses the bare bones of prison books, court records and personal memoirs to flesh out a vivid and enthralling picture of the journey of one convict ship bound for Australia with over 200 female convicts on board, whose purpose was to ‘fulfil the sexual needs and provide a breeding bank for the men already there.’

The details of the journey itself rely heavily on the memoir of John Nicol, a seaman whose work did not appear until some 30 years after the event, so inevitably there will be ‘mis-rememberings’ and inaccuracies after such a lapse of time. However, Sian Rees shrewdly sifts the credible from the questionable, and with her lively vigorous pen, creates a gritty, fresh and lively picture of a remarkable journey. The female passengers were a mixed bunch – some desperate, ill-used, pitiful creatures who saw even a convict ship, with the chance of food and shelter, as an improvement on life in the stews of the big city, wondering where the next meal or bed was coming from; some are wonderful, feisty, outrageous, utterly irrepressible characters, ‘disorderly girls’ as the seamen called them, heroically undefeated by their situation, or their uncertain future.

To call the ship a ‘floating brothel’ is somewhat misleading: true, when they were in port, the women built up cash reserves for their future in return for services rendered. On board ship, however, liaisons seemed to be settled and non-commercial; any attempts to prevent fraternisation would have been a non-starter. The officers and the surgeon, Mr Alley, as well as the seamen, established relationships, some of which continued after the ship arrived in Australia.

The Lady Juliana was lucky in her naval agent and surgeon. Lt Thomas Edgar discharged his duty of care to the prisoners with the strictest honour and Mr Alley did his best to cope with the inevitable diseases and accidents of shipboard life. Delivering the babies that arrived en route was managed by the women themselves.
Only 5 passengers died on the journey. In the three succeeding ships, 25% died on the way, and the survivors were in a dreadful state of malnutrition and sickness. A convict on the lady Juliana knew who he should thank: ‘God bless our good Agent,’ he wrote.

Nevertheless, life aboard ship in those treacherous seas was harsh indeed and Sian Rees spares us nothing, from the searing heat and terrible thirst of the doldrums, to the inhospitable seas of the Cape Town to Sydney run when water entered the ship. ‘The eeriest sound in a Southern Ocean is not the scream of wind or the groan of overstretched canvas but the rumble of the wave imprisoned in the ship herself, rolling like an underground stream around her bilge. It ebbs and flows from bow to stern, thunderous as it passes, then fading away and returning.’

To the desperate colonists, on the verge of starvation, and with unrest seething and bubbling, the sight of the Juliana approaching the coast was an exhilarating one: here is Lt Tench: ‘my next door neighbour a brother officer, was with me; but we could not speak; we wrung each other by the hand, with eyes and heart overflowing. We raced for the harbour….’ And after ‘pushing though wind and rain, at last we read the word ‘London’ on her stern.’

Alas, since food and supplies were the most pressing need, the Lady Juliana’s main supply of ladies to comfort the colonists was dolefully deemed ‘an unnecessary cargo’, since they would have to be fed and accommodated. However, the arrival of another well-supplied ship saved the day.

There are several threads interwoven in the text that link us to other aspects of interest that we have discussed here: one woman escaped the gallows by the defence of none other than the eminent barrister, Mr Garrow; a ship sailing with the Lady Juliana was Edward Riou’s ‘Guardian’. When they made it to Cape Town, he gallantly petitioned successfully for the pardon of the convicts who had stayed with him aboard his stricken ship.

Sian Rees follows the fate of some of the women whose later lives were varied. Many disappear without trace, some died soon after arrival, many married colonists, some made a success of life either in Australia or in other parts of the world. Some against all the odds, returned home to England. And John Nicol? He wanted to marry his shipboard companion and stay with her and their son, born on the journey out, but was refused permission. For years, he planned and schemed to get back to Australia, but fate and the press gang always thwarted him. He never forgot Sarah Whitelam. ‘Old as I am,’ he wrote all those years later, ‘my heart is still unchanged.’ How fortunate that he never learned that Sarah married another man the day he left Australia.

There is an excellent bibliography but no footnotes. I have the paperback edition, and I wonder, once again, whether the hardback edition had more precise notes, linking specific quotations to their sources.

Here is a link to a picture of John Nicol on Roy & Lesley's site:

http://www.adkinshistory.com/images/Jac ... -Nicol.jpg

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:22 am 
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'Terrible Exile: the last days of Napoleon in St Helena' by Brian Unwin (I.B. Tauris 2010, ISBN 978 184885 287 7)


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Terrible-Exile- ... 1848852878

I can thoroughly recommend this excellent book which explores the final chapter in the life of Napoleon, his exile and death as a prisoner on the isolated island of St Helena. It is an engrossing work, drawing on a great number of little known diaries and recollections, in both English and French, to piece together the descent of a once- mighty emperor. It is instructive to note that the exploitation of the famous for personal gain is no new phenomenon, and at least one of the companions who escorted Napoleon into exile, Count de Las Cases, had as his main motive, the writing of a book which eventually made him a fortune. Others wrote to alleviate boredom, and commit to paper their frustrations and personal animosities. All have a degree of bias, and Brian Unwin picks his way carefully through this wealth of material with clear judgment, delicacy and fairness.

He brings to life the claustrophobic atmosphere at Longwood, Napoleon’s house on the island, the petty jealousies and rivalries between those who sought to have Napoleon’s ear, and paints a lively picture of the changes that the incarceration of a former emperor had on the social and commercial life of the island. He also explores all the available medical evidence and dismisses the rumours that Napoleon had been poisoned, and that a substitute body had been placed in his tomb.

Most importantly of all, he treats the two protagonists, Napoleon himself, and the Governor he hated, Sir Hudson Low, with a blend of sympathy and judicious criticism that does him credit. Napoleon was a megalomaniac with a grandiosity and self-delusion that almost beggars belief: he cannot, for example, understand why he was not allowed to live in England as a private gentleman, having voluntarily surrendered after Waterloo; and he maintained the delusion, as did Hitler, that had he invaded Britain successfully, the people would have greeted him rapturously as a liberator. Nevertheless, Unwin conveys the pathos and tragedy of the fall of a great man to the lowly status of prisoner and exile. His intransigent insistence on all the entitlements and protocols due to an emperor were, perhaps, the ploys of a man desperate to hold on to the last shreds of personal dignity and self-respect. But his constant complaints about his treatment by Britain are wearing when one considers that Blucher by his own admission would have had him shot without a qualm.

Sir Hudson Low, despised by Napoleon, vilified unfairly in biased memoirs, emerges not as a brutal villain, but a man caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. He dreaded a successful escape by Napoleon, and consequently fulfilled his instructions from London with more diligence than judgement. He could be irascible and petty but his portrait reveals a harassed, worried and insecure man, rather than a cruel oppressor. Napoleon rebuffed his courtesies and thwarted and exploited his weaknesses at every turn with a malice and churlishness that did him little credit; he even admitted, on occasions, that he had gone too far in his baitiing of the Governor. It was Lowe who ensured that slavery was abolished on St Helena, and for this alone he deserves honour and respect.

I always enjoy the exploration of the interplay of personalities behind the events of history and this book is certainly very satisfactory in this regard. The research is wide and thorough, the judgments fair and the sympathies perceptive and balanced – altogether a valuable contribution to our understanding of Napoleon’s ruin and final days.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2010 10:54 am 
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’Admiral Saumarez versus Napoleon – The Baltic, 1807-12.’ By Tim Voelcker.

The Boydell Press, 2008. List Price: £45.00; ISBN 978–1–84383–431–1; Hardcover, 280pp; 7 maps, 1 diagram, 1 photograph, 5 paintings and 2 miniatures (all reproduced in black and white); Appendices; Bibliography and Sources; Index.

Written in connection with the author’s thesis for his Phd in Maritime History from Exeter University, this book is a timely addition to the few other generally available works on the subject. These include the first biography of Sir James Saumarez, written in 1838 just two years after his death, by Sir John Ross one of the Admiral’s lieutenants during the Baltic Campaign, later an Arctic explorer: ’Memoirs and Correspondence of Admiral Lord Saumarez’, 2 Vols; and the more balanced account by A.N. Ryan, ’The Saumarez Papers: Selections from the Baltic Correspondence , 1808-12’, reproduced by the Naval Records Society in 1968. Tim Voelcker’s work is all the more welcome in that that the author has not only had access to research material and documents held in various archives, both in Britain and Sweden, than was perhaps available to earlier authors, but has strived (and succeeded in the reviewer’s opinion) to write an honest, reasoned account of the events. The book is also timely, in that it was published on approximately the 200th Anniversary of the events that it describes.

The opening chapter introduces the reader to the tense political situation in the Baltic in 1807 prior to the British Baltic Fleet’s arrival, whilst the second devotes some pages to Sir James Saumarez’ early years in the Royal Navy, thereby providing the background for his later career and achievements. Born in Guernsey in 1757, and thus being just one year older than Horatio Nelson, Saumarez first went to sea in 1769 when he sailed to the Mediterranean in the ’Montreal.’ Thereafter he spent five years in the Middle Sea, where his fluency in French was found to be useful in an early, but successful, attempt at the diplomacy which was to become so crucial in his later years in the Baltic. The period 1775-82 found him embroiled in the American War of Independence, where he received his baptism of fire at Charleston in 1776. He was first promoted to commander of the fireship ’Tisiphone’ in 1781, then the following year was made post in the 74 gun ’Russell’, taking part in the Battle of the Saints under Rodney. In this he somewhat pre-empted Nelson at St Vincent, by taking his ship out of the line to re-engage the French but, unlike the relationship between Nelson and Jervis, Saumarez unfortunately incurred Rodney’s displeasure. However, the action was typical of his character in always seeking to engage the enemy, in which regard he was also somewhat similar to Nelson and which was to stand him in good stead.

There then followed a period ’on the beach’ in Guernsey , during which time he married the love of his life, Martha, before being appointed captain of the 36-gun frigate ’Crescent’. In her he fought a celebrated single ship action against the French frigate ’La Reunion’ off his native Guernsey and for which he was knighted. In 1795 he became captain of perhaps his most well-known ship, the ’Orion’, and three years later was to be re-acquainted with Nelson in the famous episode where he and Captain Ball, in the ’Alexander’, came to the aid of the admiral’s dismasted flagship, ’Vanguard’. Later in the year Saumarez was effectively to become the second in command at the Nile, although he was not acknowledged as such by Nelson, nor was he raised to the expected peerage, omissions which were to be the cause of some friction and resentment, although he did receive the Order of the Bath. Saumarez was not present at Copenhagen, but more than made up for this in two successful actions at Algeciras, in 1801. He was also to miss Trafalgar.

Having briefly covered Saumarez’ early career the remaining chapters, as one would expect, are devoted to his five years as Commander-in-Chief in the Baltic. This goes into some considerable detail to explain the actions of those on all sides, British, Swedish, Danish and French, and it was by no means clear to the British Government, nor indeed to Saumarez himself in the early stages, how the Swedes should be treated. They were looked on as potentially hostile, certainly by the Government, but it was largely Saumarez' increasing display of tact and forbearance towards Sweden that changed minds in London. Chapters include such episodes as the Crisis at Rogervik in present day Estonia, where the Russian fleet following the destruction of the ’Sevolod’, was blockaded by the British and where Saumarez was dissuaded with some difficulty from trying to bring about the fleet action that he had initially craved but which might have exacerbated delicate relations with Russia; that of the Carlshamn cargoes, in which a number of British merchant ships and their cargoes were sequestered by the Swedes in that port, much to the consternation of British merchants and the Government, but which was really a face-saving measure by the Swedes, designed to allay the suspicions of French agents; and the Conversion to Peacemaker which describes Saumarez' gradual change from the man of action to that of skilled diplomatist, and where he is one of the first to realise that playing the heavy hand in the Baltic would have caused more problems than it solved and went some way to softening, or even diverting, the demands on Sweden from London.

Towards the end of his time in the Baltic, Saumarez had won over the Swedes and was making an impression on the Government in London that with the experience he had built up, he was the only man who could satisfactorily deal with the crisis in the north. On occasion he could also influence events, such as when he allowed the French General Bernadotte free passage across the Baltic to his new adoptive country, Sweden, even though he was still considered by those in London as an ally of Bonaparte. Saumarez however was convinced that this was not the case and that he had abandoned his former master. Whether by accident or design the British fleet, as well as two convoys of merchant ships, approximately 1,000 vessels all told, happened to be present as he crossed in his yacht. Bernadotte could not have failed to be impressed, firstly by the power of the Royal Navy, and secondly by the strength of the trade of the Baltic and it seems that Saumarez may have thought of this when granting him free passage. Bernadotte and Saumarez were seemingly much alike, the former a soldier the other a sailor, and both practical, forward-looking men. It is a great pity that they never met, but only conversed by letter, since one feels they would have had a lot in common. Saumarez contact with the Swedish Court and Government was through men like Count Axel von Rosen, the Swedish Consul in Gothenburg, who he came to know as a friend and wise counsel, likewise with Baltzar von Platen of the Swedish Government, the admiral and diplmat who was responsible for the Göta Canal.

Throughout the narrative, the author gives an insight into Saumarez' personal life and the loving relationship with his wife Martha, referring to some of their letters in the text where pertinent and where often Martha gives her husband sage advice on the situation in the Baltic – and also on his warm clothing! That they thrived on such communication was clear, even though the correspondence was often delayed. They had eight children, one of whom sadly died whilst Saumarez was still in the Baltic and could not return home. He finally returned home to England and Guernsey in 1812 when, as with his flagship Victory, his sea going days were over. He took up the appointment as Port Admiral at Plymouth and in 1830 was promoted to Admiral of the Red, the coveted peerage following in October, 1831. He died in 1836, at the age of 79, and was buried at Castel where he was joined by his beloved Martha in 1849.

Finally (!), the book is a great read (at least this reviewer found it difficult to put down!) and will repay re-reading, especially since the subject matter is somewhat complex. It is likely to become the definitive account of a largely unknown, but becoming more widely recognised, episode towards the end of the Napoleanic Wars for many years. If there are any faults I believe they are minor ones and largely to do with the illustrations. There are two portraits of Saumarez as an admiral, one a pleasing one by Samuel Lane, the other a slightly arrogant looking Saumarez by Thomas Phillips, which one somehow distrusts! It would have been nice to have seen one in colour, preferably that by Lane, and perhaps reproduced as the dust jacket rather than the action depicted off Guernsey which was rather earlier in Saumarez' career. I would also have liked a few more maps and thought that a brief summary of the main personalities would have been useful. Highly recommended for those who enjoy naval biographies of the period, those more interested in the politics rather than the battles, and certainly those who imagine that naval involvement in of the Napoleonic Wars ended with Trafalgar!

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Kester.


Last edited by Devenish on Wed May 25, 2011 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 11:15 am 
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The Naval Chronicle. 40 Volumes, edited by James Stanier Clarke and John McArthur.

Cambridge University Press, August 2010; List Price £1,000; ISBN: 978–1–108-01880–7; Softcover, 22,930 pp; 216x140mm.

Not so much a book report, as notification of the 'first complete printed reproduction of what was the most influential maritime publication of it's day.'

The quote above is from an insert received a few days ago, in another publication. Naturally, I have not read all of the 22, 930 pages (!) although I have now and again read some of the Chronicle's content, notably in Chatham Publishing's earlier, 7-volume edited reprint, of selected passages. I therefore have no idea if there have been any alterations etc, but it would seem not.

On the face of it, I suppose it would only have been a matter of time before such an important work was reprinted in full and it is perhaps a laudable undertaking, but on second thoughts one wonders just who would buy it with a price tag of £1,000 – certainly not me! The insert goes on to say, 'They (the extant copies) present significant conservation challenges and are difficult to find outside major libraries,' although in actual fact, I would imagine that it is probably the libraries, museums, etc., that will be the major buyers of the new reprint. To be fair though, you can apparently buy individual volumes for £26.99 each.

Apart from the cost however, 40 volumes is likely to take up some considerable shelf space in the home of the average enthusiast, which I imagine they would far rather devote to other books. To my mind, I believe it would have been far better, and more user friendly, if CUP had brought this reprint out on CD–Rom, much as was done with the volumes of the Mariner's Mirror a few years ago, and which had a fully integrated index. Perhaps this old institution has not yet heard of this modern concept, but if they have, perhaps they should have considered using this format – and producing it for rather less, thus bringing it within the reach of the average naval enthusiast. Let's hope it will be reproduced in this format in time to come. Meanwhile for my money I think I'll be staying with the Chatham edited version, although for anyone who might like to purchase the full CUP reprint, here's the link:

http://www.cambridge.org/series/sSeries.asp?code=CLNC

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 2:39 pm 
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I have to say that I was desperately disappointed with the Chatham edited reprint of the Naval Chronicle when I bought it a few years ago (mine is 5 volumes, Kester). It specifically excludes all the stuff of real interest to researchers, like ship movement reports, biographical memoirs, anecdotes, correspondence, etc.. I suppose I have to admit that it serves its intended purpose, but I can’t help thinking of it as a bit of an abomination – the editing has ripped out the soul of the publication and left no more than a rather dry contemporary account of the war.

But pick up and browse through one of the original volumes like a magazine (which is what it was), and you are instantly transported into the world surrounding Nelson’s Navy. It’s probably almost as good as time travel back to one of London’s coffee houses. Read which ship just brought her prizes into port, what happened in last week’s storm, which captain just got engaged, who has been promoted, letters about wonderful inventions that will transform the navy’s efficiency, poems about last month’s battle, biographies of the latest heroes, - and of course all the detail of the latest actions. And not forgetting a bit of spice in the latest court martials! How could anyone bring themselves to edit all that out?

I assume the Cambridge University Press reprint is a facsimile of the original, but if they have not added an index, then they perhaps haven’t really added anything.

By the way, beware of other reprints, some of which are OCR print on demand reprints, and even in the excerpts shown in the advertising for them, seem to contain large sections of complete gobbledygook from poor OCR!

I am sure you are right, Kester, that only libraries will buy the complete set at £1,000, and my recommendation for anyone who wants printed versions is to keep your eyes peeled on the antiquarian book auctions. I was lucky enough to pick up a run of the first 22 volumes (which cover the period in which I am most interested) in very good condition and beautiful leather binding at a cost per volume less than that of the Cambridge University Press paperbacks. Mine also contain some useful corrections hand-written by the original owner in 1814.

For those who don’t mind reading on a computer screen, all bar two or three volumes are available on archive.org and/or Google Books - which serves as a useful but far from perfect substitute for an index.

By the way, Kester, thanks for the Saumarez book report - that looks like essential reading.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:07 pm 
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Tony,

Whilst I would agree with you that the Chatham edition of the Naval Chronicle, edited into what you correctly reminded me are five volumes, omit much of the intriguing content of the original, I believe they provide a good starting point for anyone remotely interested in the doings of the Royal Navy of the period and covering perhaps the more important topics. I imagine this is perhaps what the author had in mind, besides bringing the Chronicle within reach of many at an affordable price, even though perhaps rendering it a bit 'dry' in the process.

As regards the CUP reproduction, as I say, I feel sure that it would have been far better to have put it on CD Rom. If they had done so, properly indexed as was the Mariner's Mirror and at an affordable price, I think they would have been on to a winner.

I'm glad you liked the Saumarez book report. The book is an intriguing read, which I'm sure you would enjoy. Incidentally I gather that Tim Voelcker is to give a lecture next year at the 1805 Club AGM at Greenwich in May, I think around the fifth. As you can imagine, he is a very good speaker on his subject (having heard him in Gothenburg) and next year I believe it is to include the British occupation of the various islands in the Baltic, such as Hanö.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Wed Jan 19, 2011 9:17 am 
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Physician to the Fleet: The life & Times of Thomas Trotter 1760-1832' by Brian Vale and Griffith Edwards, (The Boydell Press 2011)

The Scots use the term ‘a man o’ pairts’ to describe someone, usually from a humble background, who, through his own talents and industry, makes his way up in the world. Such a one was Thomas Trotter, a baker’s son from Roxburghshire, whose rich and varied life is rescued from undeserved obscurity in this admirable biography by Brian Vale and Griffith Edwards.

A bare outline of Trotter’s career leaves one awed: a Doctor of Medicine of the University of Edinburgh, both then and now one of the most distinguished medical faculties in the world; a humble naval surgeon who rose from medical officer on a slave ship to be Physician to the Fleet, admired by luminaries such as Howe and Nelson, who made an enormous contribution to the health of the fleet through controlling typhus, introducing Jenner’s vaccination for smallpox, and, perhaps most important of all, who played a major role in conquering scurvy, that curse of the seafarer’s life. In addition, on retiring from naval service, he wrote papers on various aspects of health and well-being, not least a work on alcoholism which was ground-breaking in its perception of the condition as a disease of dependency rather than a moral failing. Not content with that, throughout his life he was a prolific writer of poetry and published a volume of his collected works.

However, the authors, by the most diligent research, have not only brought into the light a remarkable and distinguished life, they have also deepened and enriched their work by contextualising Trotter’s experience and achievements within a thorough and fascinating exposition of each sphere he found himself in as he progressed through life: thus, his experience at Edinburgh University is seen against the background of the Scottish Enlightenment, that remarkable flowering north of the border that enriched Britain’s intellectual and philosophical life; his service on a slave ship - an experience that made him a convinced abolitionist - serves as a microcosm of the horrors of the larger trade; his achievements in dramatically reducing disease in the fleet are an opportunity to paint a broader picture of the difficulties of managing disease on board ships and to demonstrate how much the improved health of the fleet contributed to the effectiveness of the Royal Navy as a superb fighting machine that continually thwarted Napoleon’s maritime ambitions. Most enlightening of all, perhaps, is the authors’ enthralling investigation into the conquest of scurvy, and Trotter’s role in it. As they rightly say in their conclusion to their chapter on the subject, ‘a radical adjustment of the traditional version of events is called for.’

Trotter’s post-naval life is also thoroughly explored and his writings, both poetic and medical, are examined with a judicious blend of sympathy and careful analysis.

Trotter left no journals that give insight into the private man. Where there are gaps in the evidence, the authors’ speculations and deductions are always intelligent, credible and firmly rooted in what is already known. They have painted a convincing portrait of a fascinating figure: a devoted doctor, who not only cared for his patients individually, but who used detailed observation to make valuable deductions as to how disease in general should be managed, and whose conclusions were frequently remarkable for their foresight. Long before the discovery of vitamins for example, he wrote this about treating scurvy: ‘we contend that vegetable matter imparts a ‘something’ to the body [that] fortifies it against disease’. He was a man with a justified pride in his achievements that sometimes led to prickliness when he felt undervalued; a ferocious defender of his professional jusgements when they came under challenge;and a devoted husband who wrote a touching epitaph for his young wife, dead at 29. Excerpts from his letters and writings reveal a man of intelligence and conviction and a professionalism that combined both pride and humility: ‘The reader may smile at the Physician of the Fleet attending the stalls at a vegetable market or perambulating the country to acquire produce; but it never appeared to me beneath the dignity of the profession; nor did I consider it a mean task to serve the salad with my own hands from the Charon’s quarterdeck.’

All in all, this is an engrossing book. This biography of Dr Trotter has all the virtues of scholarship such as meticulous research and a sure grasp of the period in general together with an excellent command of all the disparate material relating specifically to their subject matter, but none of the vices such as turgidity and dryness. There is a wealth of factual information but it is presented in a style that is both lucid and elegant and the whole work is beautifully paced, with interesting digressions that provide an illuminating background to Trotter's life yet never interfere with the main thrust of this amazing narrative. Highly recommended.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports
PostPosted: Fri Feb 11, 2011 11:36 am 
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I have also recently finished reading Physician to the Fleet: The Life & Times of Thomas Trotter 1760-1832' by Brian Vale and Griffith Edwards, and would certainly echo everything that Anna has said. It was a most enjoyable read, and as the book is so wide ranging, it is far more illuminating than the more common biographies of naval officers. As well as the life of a naval surgeon, the subjects encompassed include the Edinburgh Enlightenment, naval tactics, the slave trade, the conquest of scurvy, naval hospitals, the control of typhus and smallpox in the navy, Trotter’s pioneering work on alcoholism, and his views on neurosis. The depth of research behind the book is quite remarkable, but as Anna has said, the subject matter is drawn together by the narrative of Trotter’s life to provide an accessible and engaging account of the times.

I had no doubt that the book would provide a comprehensive reassessment and radical readjustment of previous accounts of the conquest of scurvy, as Brian Vale had already broken the ground with an article on the subject in the Mariner’s Mirror in 2008 while researching Trotter’s life. Prior to that I had always been baffled when reading, for example, what Gilbert Blane wrote during the American War of Independence about the incontrovertible evidence of the effectiveness of citrus fruit and vegetables, only to go on a couple of pages later to propose some entirely different regime. Brian Vale at last provides a proper explanation of why the medical profession took so long to accept the evidence, demonstrates the positive role played by Navy Board, and describes the instrumental role played not only by Trotter, but by sea officers such as Gardner, Howe, Keith and Duncan.

This must surely be the best book published in the last year that relates to the navy in Nelson's time.

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 Post subject: Re: Book Reports - Trafalgar Geordies
PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 11:34 am 
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I've found this book a good read - Trafalgar Geordies and North Country Seamen of Nelson's Navy 1793-1815 (Tony Barrow - pub. North East England)

It's not only for Geordies! There is great background reading with chapters on Naval Recruitment and Conditions of Service - and - Press Gangs, to mention 2. Plus quite an amount on top Geordie, Admiral Collingwood (for the Geordies!).

These insights and background items give a real feel for the life and times of the ABs.

It seems well researched with lots of references and 'further readings' at the end of each chapter and is well illustrated with comtemporary paintings and portraits, as well as some maps of ship positions at Trafalgar.

Particularly of interest for genealogists and family historians are the appendices of north east seamen and their ships, the casualties and the recipients of the Trafalgar Medal.

As I said - a good read, and at 100odd pages not too daunting! Well worth a look.

Cheers, MTS


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