Archive for May, 2015

Rules Governing Shipboard Life in the Royal Navy

May 22, 2015

We have all heard of the Articles of War, those dire pronouncements read to the assembled crew every Sunday. But a ship cannot be governed by just these rules; other guidelines must exist for the regulation of life aboard a sailing ship. Since the 1700’s such a book of rules does exist, though it goes under various titles as the years go by. The one under discussion is Regulations and instructions relating to His majesty’s service at sea / established by His Majesty in Council published in 1731. In its pages are found such topics as the role and responsibilities of the captain, master, lieutenants, surgeon, boatswain, sailmaker, etc., as well as the employment of pilots, the issuance of clothes and bedding, pay matters (including how much flag officers are to be paid), allotment of food, care of sick or hurt seamen, etc. These are not guidelines but are specific do’s and don’ts for all ranks. These rules were drawn up because “…the Orders and Instructions, which have been from Time to Time been issued for the better Government of the Navy, have been so imperfect, and, through Length of Time, become so perplexed, that the Officers of His Majesty’s Navy have been liable to fall into Mistakes and Omissions in the execution of their Duty.” (ii) The rules evolved over time as can be seen in successive iterations: Regulations and instructions relating to His Majesty’s service at sea (1734); Regulations and instructions relating to His Majesty’s service at sea (1757); Regulations and instructions relating to His Majesty’s service at sea. Established by His Majesty in Council (1790); Regulations and instructions relating to His Majesty’s service at sea : established by His Majesty in council (1806); The Queen’s regulations for the Royal Navy. Revised … (1862); and The King’s regulations and Admiralty instructions for the government of His Majesty’s Naval Service (1906). This work is still being published today – Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy (most recent edition, 2014).

have from Time to Time been issued for the better Go

vernment of the Navy, have been so imperfeEl, and,

through Length of Time, becomeso perplexed, that the

Officers of His Majefly s Navy have been liable to

fall into Miflakes and Omissions in the Execution of

their Duty. And that, for the preventing any Doubts

or Difficulties of this Nature for the future, they have

collected into a Book the several Rules and Orders now

in Force in the Navy, and made such Additions and

Alterations thereto, as they thought necessary for that

Purpose ; and have reduced


Interviews with Contemporary Authors of Naval Fiction

May 21, 2015

Quarterdeck, the newsletter of Tall Ships Communications distributed by McBooks Press, offers in practically every issue an interview with a current writer of naval fiction. In addition to book reviews, forthcoming books, features, book chapters, and announcements, Quarterdeck is the place to go for the musings of genre scribes. Interviews have included: Richard Woodman, Sean Thomas Russell, Douglas Reeman and others.

The U.S. Navy and Irregular Warfare

May 19, 2015

This brief CRS report – Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress – offers a succinct overview to the Navy’s role in irregular warfare and counterterrorism initiatives. It details recent events and explores the funding levels necessary to keep these activities viable.

Foreign Maritime Affairs of the Early Republic

May 18, 2015

State papers and publick documents of the United States, from the accession of George Washington to the presidency, exhibiting a complete view of our foreign relations since that time (3d., ed., 12 vols., 1819) presents a glimpse into the diplomatic relations of the United States before the publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States began in 1861. In these volumes will found translated documents from revolutionary France (vol.1), representations of traders and merchants from Baltimore decrying British seizure of their ships and goods (vol. 5), and, in turn, Spanish protestations against American privateers (vol.,12). The messages from the presidents can be found elsewhere, but many of the other documents are revelatory and not found easily in other sources. The American State Papers, Foreign Relation series, covers similar ground but continues through 1838; again, maritime matters figure prominently in the companion series on Naval Affairs.

British and Foreign State Papers

May 14, 2015

Published under the aegis of Great Britain’s Foreign Office (until 1968 when the Foreign Office was merged into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), this multi-volume work includes the text of treaties, diplomatic correspondence, foreign constitutions as well as some internal British documentation, mainly on the budget. Discussions and agreements dealing with naval matters are scattered throughout these volumes and provide valuable access points on a host of maritime matters: naval stores, excises, naval budgets, pay scales, etc. Foreign documents are translated into English. Almost a complete run from volume 1 (1812/14) until 116(1922) is available online.

Piracy Trials

May 11, 2015

The Law Library of Congress has digitized its collection of piracy trials. These are primary sources as they are the actual depositions and legal maneuverings endemic to legal proceedings. Of passing interest is The arraignment, tryal, and condemnation of Captain William Kidd, for murther and piracy, upon six several indictments, at the Admiralty-Sessions, held by His Majesty’s commission at the Old-Baily, on Thursday the 8th. and Friday the 9th. of May, 1701. More recent trials can be found at the Database of Maritime Piracy Court Cases.

Pirates plagued the early republic; peruse the “naval affairs” volumes of the American State Papers to see the activities; Great Britain was not immune from depredations either as you can see by the thousands of references to primary source material here. BTW, the results from both of these repositories are full text.

The Law and Custom of the Sea (volumes 49 & 50) is a two-volume work published by the Naval Records Society that details, among other activities, piratical actions from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

The “Annual Register”

May 8, 2015

First published in 1758 and authored during its first years by Edmund Burke, the Annual Register (complete run from 1758-1922; index 1758-1819)  is still being produced today. It is an yearly compilation of news and events of importance to Great Britain. (Here is a short history of this title.) This is an excellent primary source to consult with its contemporary reviews of history, politics, and literature along with sections on “natural history” as well. What is of particular importance to those who peruse these blog entries is its goldmine of information, easily overlooked but simple to find. For example, in the 1805 volume (I know, Trafalgar and all), you will find the following sections that are contained in other volumes, too: pp.518-579 contain eyewitness accounts of British naval (numerous Trafalgar documents) and army exploits; 580 has birth and death statistics; 581-583 presents food and stock prices; 584-586 shows the budget for the navy and army and the exact number of men “to be employed”; 586-594 outlines expenditures for “miscellaneous services” among them “foreign and other secret services” to the tune of 170,000 pounds and the revenue streams necessary to support all the government mandates; 595 starts a list of enacted public bills; while 605-741 collect “State Papers” including documents from Napoleon, treaties, letters, dispatches, pronouncements and the like from a whole host of governments and individuals. All translated into English, a boon for those who are foreign-language challenged. A marvelous place in which to immerse oneself for a flavor of the time period,.

Captain Frederick Marryat, RN – Father of British Naval Fiction

May 5, 2015

No, contrary to what you may have heard, Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Ransom is NOT the originating point for modern naval fiction, nor is Homer’s Odyssey, nor Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These works, while having a maritime background, are not informed by naval matters; in most cases, the naval aspects are more of a conveyance rather than an integral part of the narrative. Shipboard life and concerns do not loom large in any of these works. Again, the maritime acts as a backdrop to the main activities of the story; it is not the story itself. They are written by landsmen looking out to the sea.

Primacy of position as to the “Father of Naval Fiction” goes undoubtedly to James Fenimore Cooper (yes, he of the Leatherstocking Tales featuring the intrepid Natty Bumppo) who published The Pilot in 1823 (at least one source lists the date as 1824); he was followed by Marryat (portrait here; brief but informative biography here) with the first of his many nautical works – The naval officer; or Scenes and adventures in the life of Frank Mildmay (usually referred to as “Frank Mildmay”; 3 vols., 1829). (N.B. Many British novels of the 19th century were written in three volumes; come here for an explanantion.) His novels have the ring of authenticity because he spent decades in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of captain.  You can find individual volumes and his collected works online.

In the span of a decade, he wrote many “classics of naval fiction”, many of which reside on my shelves in various editions and bindings. However, nowadays he is unfortunately remembered more for his children’s stories, starting with Children of the New Forest. So infatuated was he with America that he travelled the country in 1836 and 1837; the result was his two-series, six-volume (again the three-volume model) Diary in America (this 1960 edited version contains much valuable information on the person and this diary).

Other noteworthy facts: When Napoleon died on St Helena’s on May 5, 1821, Marryat was there and produced a sketch of Napoleon 14 hours after he died. His A code of signals for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service; including a cypher for secret correspondence (4th ed., 1826; later editions entitled The universal code of signals for the mercantile marine of all nations, by the late Captain Marryat, R.N., with a selection of sentences adapted for convoys) was employed by the Royal Navy for fifty years.

His daughter, Florence Marryat, a prolific author in her own right, had published in 1872 the two-volume Life and letters of Captain Marryat. Most of his papers were destroyed after his death so this work provides some primary source material on his life.

As we leave Captain Marryat, I would be remiss in not mentioning three other Royal Navy officers, contemporaries of Marryat, who also wrote naval fiction: Frederick Chamier (bio here, writings here, notice the 3-part novel again); William Nugent Glascock (bio here, writings here); and Basil Hall (bio here, writings here).