Archive for the ‘Primary Sources’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

The USS Lexington Has Been Found After 76 Years

March 6, 2018

The “Lady Lex” took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea, was seriously damaged, and finally sunk by US torpedoes. For more information, read about this battle in a 1943 Combat Narrative. You can read excerpts from the Lexington’s logbook here; you can view photographs and read the captain’s after action report as well.

A brief video shows the remarkably good condition of this ship after all these years.

 

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.

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.

Nautical Charts

December 6, 2017

Did you ever wonder what resources mariners could consult in the days of sail? The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection is a boon to researchers; it carries over 81,000 maps, charts, atlases many of which are available online. For example, limit yourself to the “nautical charts” category, and there are more than 1,000 examples available. But you can further limit your results to the granular level by selecting “where” (geographical location), “who”(cartographer), or “when” (by year). By this method you can find 38 charts or maps of the Caribbean dating from 1650 to 1846. So the next time Hornblower, or Kydd, or Aubrey sail to a certain part of the world, you can see what contemporary sources of the time revealed about it.

Search Thousands of Open Access Articles and Book Chapters on Matters Nautical

November 30, 2017

JSTOR is an aggregator of almost 2000 scholarly titles, containing back runs of major journals in fifty separate disciplines; it recently added thousands of books to its coverage as well. Marketed to libraries as a way to save space by having huge back runs of bound volumes replaced by online, digital equivalents, it is an expensive tool,  but one that has great value.

But JSTOR has an open content site that really needs to be explored by those interested in maritime studies. For example, entering the term “frigates” pulls up a vast array of literature, including a 1756 piece on sea currents; entering “James Cook” allows you to read his articles published in the Philosophical Transactions, works about him, and works that mention him in passing. Any term you can think of will probably yield some results; i.e., “whaling ships”, “navies”, “seas” all produce hits.

While not the most robust of search interfaces (after all, this is free), you can sort the results by relevance, oldest, or newest. In addition, you can limit your results to content type, publication date, or subject.

This tool is well worth an investigation; hundreds of thousands of articles, some dating back to the 17th century, await your perusal.

The Funeral of Lord Nelson

October 12, 2017

The hearse carrying Lord Nelson’s coffin is seen below in an 1806 aquatint. Contemporary accounts of the funeral can be found in: Fairburn’s (2nd) edition of the funeral of admiral lord Nelson (1806); [London] Gazette, January 14, 1806; Monthly Mirror, January 1806; and more depictions of the funeral.

(The Funeral Car of our late Vice Admiral  Horatio Viscount Nelson)