British Naval Biographies, Part II

A previous entry on this topic alluded to other works of importance. So here we go. John Charnock authored the six-volume Biographia navalis; or, Impartial memoirs of the lives and characters of officers of the navy of Great Britain, from the year 1660 to the present time; drawn from the most authentic souces, and disposed in a chronological arrangement between 1794 and 1798. It contains biographies of over two thousand post-captains and admirals who served in the Navy between 1660 and 1793 along with portraits. Much of his work was conducted in the British Museum and the College of Arms; he was also indebted to William Locker, lieutenant governor of Greenwich Hospital, who had amassed a large collection of naval biographies. (vol.1, p.xii) While many of the biographies are accompanied by quotations from other sources, Charnock maddeningly was not consistent in citing them.

Another multi-volume endeavor – Royal naval biography : or, Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains, and commanders, whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers at the commencement of the present year, or who have since been promoted, illustrated by a series of historical and explanatory notes – was written by John Marshall, himself a naval officer. These volumes, four tomes published in eight parts,  were published between 1823 and 1835 and concentrate on officers appointed from 1760 to the “present.” ( A four-volume supplementary series also accompanies the main work; supplement two is here. There is also a marvelous index to the entire work.) The biographies are presented by rank/seniority. The author, Captain Frederick Marryat has a laudatory memoir included. Many of the lives are buttressed by recourse to original sources; i.e., letters or dispatches as well as the contributions of the subjects themselves. Marshall acknowledges that much of what he wrote was based on previous compilations but argues his work has value because of all the added information he provided. (vol.1, pt.1, p.xi) As with the above work, citations are frustratingly sparse.

Other works of similar scope include: A naval biographical dictionary: comprising the life and services of every living officer in Her Majesty’s navy, from the rank of admiral of the fleet to that of lieutenant, inclusive. Compiled from authentic and family documents (1849, a compilation of 5,000 biographies of those on the 1845 Navy List; references to the London Gazette are so noted); British naval biography : comprising the lives of the most distinguished admirals from Howard to Codrington : with an outline of the naval history of England from the Earliest period to the present time (4th ed., 1853, with a very informative appendix introducing the non-sailor to terminology and ranks); Lives of the British admirals, with an introductory view of the naval history of England (5 vols., 1833-1840, from Roman times to the 17th century. Of course, since there was not an England in Roman times, it kind of begs the question, doesn’t it?); The naval biography of Great Britain: consisting of historical memoirs of those officers of the British navy who distinguished themselves during the reign of His Majesty George III (4 vols., 1828, references Charnock and other contemporary sources); and Naval history of Great Britain, including the history and lives of the British admirals. By Dr. John Campbell. With a continuation to the close of the year 1812; comprising biographical sketches of the admirals omitted by Dr. Campbell: likewise of naval captains and other officers who have distinguised themselves in their country’s cause (8 vols., 1813).


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