British Numerical Signals (1806 edition)

Buried in the remarkable Georgian Papers Online project is this 1806 British Numerical Signals volume. For those of us who read naval fiction and pay scant attention to the scenes where signals are being rapidly exchanged among ships, this tome is a revelation. Included in this tabbed book are five hundred different signals that form the lines of communication in both peace and war. For example, number 117 means “If the whole fleet to chace[sic], two guns” or number 251 denotes “The ships companies will have time for dinner or breakfast”. The initial pages are comprised of hand-colored signals, while the back pages list in alphabetical order the ships of the Royal Navy, each with its number of guns and its own unique numerical designation. I now have a new appreciation for the hard-working signals crew. I am gobsmacked!

Compare the above to Captain Marryat’s A code of signals for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service; including a cypher for secret correspondence (4th ed, 1826); while this work was intended for the merchant marine, all commissioned ships in the Royal Navy were required to carry a copy of this work. (Preface)

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