Archive for the ‘British’ Category

British Numerical Signals (1806 edition)

July 6, 2018

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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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.

Backgrounds of Royal Navy Surgeons

June 6, 2018

I have come across two recent studies by the same author that shed some light on the educational backgrounds of surgeons during the Age of Sail. Combing various archival and primary sources, Christopher H Myers has uncovered some fascinating data. Please peruse The Demography of Royal Navy Surgeons: Some Views on the Process of Prosopography, Journal of World-Historical Information, 2-3(#1, 2014-2015); and his Explaining the Socio-Economic Demographics of Victorian Naval Medicine.

1759 – A “Year of Miracles”

May 21, 2018

The Royal Navy in 1759 met with resounding success on several fronts during the brutal Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War to those in the North American colonies). What follows are links to both primary and secondary sources on these important battles.

The Battle of Lagos, off Portugal in August 1759, foiled a French invasion fleet. This engagement effectively destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet. Unfortunately, this battle is overlooked for reasons I cannot fathom. Notices in the London Gazette can be perused for further elucidation.

The fall of Quebec began the erosion of French hegemony in North America. The British fleet played a major role in the taking of this fortress, but its contributions are overshadowed by the Wolfe/Montcalm dynamic. Contemporary sources are Naval Chronicle, vol.3, pp.420+; and numerous notices in the 1759 London Gazette. I would also recommend A Journal of the expedition up the river St. Lawrence [electronic resource] : containing a true and particular account of the transactions of the fleet and army, from the time of their embarkation at Louisbourg ’til after the surrender of Quebec. (1759; repr. 1868?).

The Battle of Quiberon Bay further diminished the fighting capacity of the French navy by defeating its Atlantic fleet. Sources include the  December 22, 1759 London Gazette; Naval Chronicle, volume 3, pp. 389+. For a fascinating look at the exchange of letters, orders, and reports to and from the Admiralty and serving officers off the French coast in 1759, I recommend dipping into the “Achilles Letters – 1759″ contained within the “Barrington Papers”.

The 1759 volume of the Annual Register contains a review of the war  – “History of the Present War” as well as “State Papers” – primary source documents.

A 1760 compilation of most of the gazettes that pertain to the above – An Authentic register of the British successes [electronic resource] : being a collection of all the extraordinary and some of the ordinary gazettes from the taking of Louisbourg, July 26, 1758 by the Hon. Adm. Boscawen and Gen Amherst, to the defeat of the French fleet under M. Conflans, Nov. 21, 1759 by Sir Edward Hawke…. -adds to the feeling of contemporary involvement with this string of victories.

Some other noteworthy secondary sources that cover the above include:

Battles of the British Navy, (new edition, revised and enlarged, 1853), pp.195+

British battles on land and sea, 4 vols, 1897. vol.2, pp.98+

Search the Royal Museums Greenwich collections for maps/charts, medals, commemorative badges, paintings, and the like for the above conflicts.

 

 

 

 

A Recent Interview With Julian Stockwin

April 11, 2018

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Kydd series over the years. This interview with the author coincides with the release of the 20th novel in the series. BTW, if you do not subscribe to Quarterdeck, you are really missing out on news, reviews, and interviews.

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.

Birth of the British Navy

January 11, 2018

The only monarch labeled “the Great”, Alfred was instrumental in having constructed some of the largest oared vessels of his day. Please read the entry for the year 897 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. John Asser’s contemporary biography of Alfred bears testimony to Alfred’s use of ships in his various battles with the Danes.

“Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson

December 22, 2017

“The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.”

The rest is here. To see his tangential connection with the sea, please read this.

How Samuel Pepys Spent Christmas

December 19, 2017

He can be called by many names and guises: one of the great diarists whose eyewitness accounts of the Great Plague and the London Fire of 1666 are still gripping today; the father of the modern British navy; avid collector of books and manuscripts, among his other accomplishments. Dip into his diary to see how he celebrated/observed Christmas

How Admiral Nelson Really Looked

December 13, 2017

Most depictions of Admiral Nelson reflect an idealistic image of Great Britain’s leading sailor; the toll that his wounds took on him are almost always glossed over. A newly restored portrait shows what the rigors of war wreaked upon his visage; it is a sobering realization.