Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

An Easy Way To Access the Hundreds of Naval Biographies in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900 edition)

July 4, 2018

I have recently found out that the 900 naval biographies in this valuable resource were written by John Knox Laughton; this site lists his contributions along with a link to the individual entries.

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Nathaniel Bowditch

May 2, 2018

 

Nathaniel Bowditch was an accomplished autodidact whose contributions to mathematics were so influential that he was offered a chair at Harvard but he declined. What is of more interest, at least as far as this site goes, are his immense contributions to navigation. His corrections to the standard work at that time – The Practical Navigator (9th ed, 1791) – were so extensive that subsequent editions were labelled New American Practical Navigator (2d ed, 1807). This compendium is still used today and is referred to as Bowditch; it is carried on every American ship. Various volumes from 1822 to 2002 are found here; the 2017 edition, now called American Practical Navigator is also available online.

Here is his chart of the Salem coastline.

A finding aid to some of his papers can also be accessed online as well as his translation of the four volumes of Laplace’s Celestial Mechanics.

His son left us his Memoir of Nathaniel Bowditch.

Also of interest is Eulogy on Nathaniel Bowditch, LL.D., president of the American academy of arts and sciences; including an analysis of his scientific publications. Delivered before the Academy, May 29, 1838.

His house still stands.

Portraits of British Admirals

April 3, 2018

The National Portrait Gallery holds well over 200,000 portraits of numerous people from all walks of life. I have narrowed its collection to a specific sub-group labelled Admirals. Here you will find in alphabetical order all portraits identified with the heading of “admiral”. This includes a small of number of non-English admirals but the vast majority are those English admirals both familiar and not so familiar, ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Portrayed in various mediums – oil paintings, busts, engravings, pen and ink drawings, mezzotints – these representations are accompanied by quite a bit of information such as clicking “extended catalogue entry” embedded in many of the portraits or by activating a “database” link that is present in some of these portraits. Another added feature is a listing of historical events that occurred at the time of the creation of the portrait; for example, a 1581 watercolor of Sir Francis Drake has appended to it “events of 1581”. In addition, numerous links are provided for each portrait allowing deeper dives into this rich collection. Of course, you can search for other worthies as well; I just limited it to a more manageable selection. One can easily get lost in this veritable treasure trove of likenesses.

Online Texts of “Robinson Crusoe”

February 23, 2017

As most of us know, the exploits of Alexander Selkirk form the basis for Robinson Crusoe. For those not acquainted with Selkirk, please peruse these contemporary sources: Richard Steel’s 1713 piece in The Englishman; Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and around the world, perform’d in the years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711…. (1712); and Rogers Woodes’ A cruising voyage round the world: first to the South-seas, thence to the East-Indies, and homewards by the cape of Good Hope. Begun in 1708, and finish’d in 1711 (1712). A 2005 article from The Smithsonian gives us a modern précis of Selkirk’s adventures.

The telling of Crusoe’s sojourn on the island actually spawned an entire genre of fiction – the robinsonade. Daniel Defoe’s The life and strange surprizing adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, mariner… was first published in 1719 and went through several editions; the one here is the third edition. This book was been reprinted/republished many times; here you will find hundreds of renditions in English from 1719 to 1922. Many more in other languages can also be perused. This site –  the Digital Library of the Caribbean – boasts almost 200 volumes of this title; what makes it unique is that it carries full-text versions beyond the copyright date barrier (that would be another essay in itself) of 1922.

Canadian Mariners

September 12, 2016

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography has a special topical section listing mariners. This is not limited to those born in Canada but rather lists those who impacted this country through maritime exploits/endeavors. Hence the inclusion of John Cabot (born in what is now Italy) and Newman Coyles (born in Dartmouth England). Extensive bibliographies are appended to each biography, and appropriate links are also included.

Robert Southey’s “Life of Nelson”

August 22, 2016

Robert Southey’s Life of Nelson (first British edition, 1813; first United States edition, 1813) has been in print since it was first published; it stands as one of his greatest works. If you want to see the correspondence with his publisher and others over this work, then this selection of letters, well over one hundred, should satisfy.

Naval Biographies from the DNB

August 8, 2016

The Sea” is a topical feature of the online Dictionary of National Biography; it contains “The stories of 37 men and women remembered for lives spent on, over, beside, and under the sea.” Among those profiled are the Nore mutineer Richard Parker and naval hero John Crawford. These biographies are well-researched and are based on primary and secondary resources.

Dudley Pope, 1925-1997

May 30, 2016

I do not know if everyone is familiar with Dudley Pope, but he was one of my favorite authors of both naval fiction and non-fiction. His Ramage books rank as one of the best series of British naval fiction taking place during the Napoleonic Wars; I am proud to say I own the entire collection in hardcover. An example of his non-fiction writing is his well-received 1981 book – Life in Nelson’s Navy. Description of his works can be found here. Biographical information is available at: Naval Marine Archive, Kay Pope (his wife), and The New York Times.

 

Additional Biographies on Royal Navy Officers

February 9, 2016

Contained within the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (1966 – ) are dozens of biographies of Royal Navy officers during the Age of Sail. Not content to just list Canadian activities, these articles discuss the entire careers of these worthies. Among those profiled are James Cook (with an interesting note on his writings), Lord Gambier, and Hugh Palliser. All the entries have bibliographies of primary and secondary sources as well as contemporary portraits. In addition, a separate section of this multi-volume work has biographical essays on mariners.

Jane Austen and the Royal Navy

August 24, 2015

Two of Jane’s siblings, Francis William and Charles John, had long careers in the Royal Navy, both ending their careers as admirals, the former as Vice-Admiral of the Red and the latter as Rear-Admiral of the Blue. Their naval exploits are detailed in contemporary biographical sketches: Francis’ are found here (pp.27-8) and here (pp.274-283); Charles’ here (pp.26-27) and here (p.74-77). The venerable Dictionary of National Biography contains a brief biography of Francis (pp.258-59). His descendants (some of them naval officers in their own right) published Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers in 1906 that contained letters to them from Jane.

For such a writer as herself, we are not blessed with many of her missives; the most modern edition of her letters – Jane Austen’s Letters (4th ed., 2011) – contains just over 160 items, We have a limited preview of this book; an older work that does not reflect modern editing procedures but does contain many letters is the Braeburn edition of 1884. A search through this work will find both letters addressed to these brothers as well as letters containing information about them. It is not perfect, but it will give the reader a glimpse into Jane’s view of the Royal Navy as seen through the lives of her brothers.