Annual Reports of the [U.S.] Secretary of the Navy

March 3, 2017

There are selected runs of this title (what adds to the confusion is that the title varies) that allow us to glimpse the workings of the US Navy from the early part of the 19th century into the 20th. The Annual reports of the Secretary of the Navy contains the volumes for 1821-1843; the Annual Reports of the Naval Department run from 1855 to 1932; and the Annual reports of the Navy Department. Report of the Secretary of the Navy. Miscellaneous reports covers the same time period. They are not just dry recitations but hold fascinating historical value; for example, the volume for 1823 details the Navy’s involvement in the suppression of the slave trade in Africa along with letters recounting the Navy’s role; the 1851 volume has a passing mention of the “disastrous” invasion of Cuba; and the 1917 tome discusses the Navy’s anti-submarine efforts.

Each volume is a goldmine of information: personnel statistics; funding; reports of the various departments within the Navy, including the Marines; and contemporary primary source documents, such as reports and letters.

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.

Another Seafaring Dictionary

February 15, 2017

Admiral William Henry Smyth had more than one career – he sailed on a merchantman, then entered the Royal Navy and had numerous exploits during the Napoleonic Wars, undertook a hydrographic expedition of Sicily and the nearby Italian coast, wrote multiple treatises, advanced astronomy to such an extent that he was elected to the presidency of the Royal Astronomical Society, co-found the Royal Geographical Society, wrote biographies, and also was a numismatist. What attracted me to this polymath was his The Sailor’s Word-Book (1867), a posthumous tome that exceeds seven hundred pages. He takes into account loan-words from other languages that English seamen would have been familiar with. Here is his entry from The Dictionary of National Biography written by none other than John Knox Laughton.

 

The Passing of Douglas Reeman

January 24, 2017

This brief note from his wife says it all:

Update 73
Posted by Kimberley Reeman

15 hours ago
 

January 23, 2017

21:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time

“Good night, sweet prince… and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

I will never say good-bye, dearest of men. I will say, I will always love you. I will always be your girl. I will never forget you.

You have their hearts.”

An interview with him can be found here in an issue of Quarterdeck, a publication I encourage all to subscribe to and read. For those of us who came to his works through his Richard Bolitho novels (written as Alexander Kent), I can’t think of a better tribute/introduction to this man than reading The Bolitho Newsletter that appeared with every new Bolitho novel. They are all so informative and average 8-10 pages each full of background information that will inform every devotee of this genre. A bonus is the separate 1994 Bolitho short story – Homecoming – that is available for online perusal.

Here is his obituary from The Times; here is a remembrance from The Old Salt Blog; and here is another by George Jepson from the April 2017 Quarterdeck.

My late father introduced me to Hornblower when I was very young; I was so glad to return the favor by introducing him to the Reeman/Kent novels as they became available. Needless to say, the Hornblowers and Bolithos are in the pride of place in my rather substantial library of British naval fiction. Fair winds and calm seas.

The Parker Report on the Royal Navy

November 29, 2016

Why are Royal Navy vessels failing? Why does it take so long for newer ships to be built? Will the Royal Navy even have enough ships? These and a host of other questions, along with solutions, are contained in An Independent Report to Inform the UK National Shipbuilding Strategy as authored by Sir John Parker. This report comes out as the  House of Commons Defence Committee releases Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy that warns of low-replacement rates for the Royal Navy’s current ships. Correspondence as well as oral and written evidence generated in the issuance of the latter report are here.

Life below Deck

November 7, 2016

It is rare indeed to find reminiscences of seamen; so many were illiterate.  These are some volumes that speak to the life below deck.

Bates, Joseph. Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates. (1868).

Firth, C.H. ed. Naval Songs and Ballads (1908. Compiled by a pre-eminent British naval historian, “…the ballads describe with vividness and realism certain aspects of maritime life, and supply a life and colour which is lacking in formal records….”(vii)

Gardner, James Anthony. Recollections of …. (1906).

Goodall, Daniel. Salt Water Sketches; Being Incidents in the Life of Daniel Goodall, Seaman and Mariner (1860).

Glascock, W.N. Naval Sketchbook (2d ed, 2 vols, 1826).

Leech, Samuel.  Thirty years from home, or A voice from the main deck (1843).

Nicol, John. The life and adventures of John Nicol, mariner (1822).

Wathen, James.  Journal of a Voyage in 1811 and 1812 to Madras and China…. (1814).

Naval Exploits from the London Gazette

November 3, 2016

The Bulletins of State Intelligence were supplements to the [London] Gazette where you can find military and naval exploits culled from the main paper and presented without the “clutter” of many of the other news items. Originally named the Bulletins of the Campaign, the title later morphed into the Bulletins and Other State Intelligence. The above highlighted link contains all three titles in an almost complete run from 1793-1883. As far as I can tell, each volume has its own index; I have not found a cumulative index as of yet.

Great Britain. Naval Intelligence Division. Handbooks

October 31, 2016

During World War I, the NID published dozens of “country studies” to acquaint planners with aspects of countries little-known or explored. In fact, some of the volumes, such as those on Saudi Arabia, were based on native sources (5). Each study contains information on geography, native plants, populations, languages, spelling, place-names, diseases, military forces, and importantly, routes through the country. These works were never intended for the general public so it is rare to find them. For a more inclusive look at the NID, please read this dissertation – Studies in British naval intelligence, 1880-1945.

War Diaries, Part A, of the German Naval Staff

October 29, 2016

These translated volumes contain the information that the German Naval Staff used to base their operations on. Items can range from the mundane; i.e. total number of coal cars filled, to more pertinent data, such as did the water temperature in the Mediterranean allow for the operation of midget submarines. Each diary is generally divided into five parts: Items of Political Importance, Report on the Enemy, General Situation, Submarine Situation, and Merchant Shipping. Much valuable information can be gleaned from these sources. Additional information about these records can be found here.

Who Is Jack Aubrey’s Role Model?

September 23, 2016

I guess that depends on whom you read. Two names, however, rise to the top: Admiral Thomas Cochrane and Admiral Edward Pellew; both individuals possessed the prerequisite skills that would have attracted Patrick O’Brian. The former was more flamboyant and controversial, the latter is considered the greatest frigate captain in the Royal Navy.

The partisans for Cochrane can point to this article – The real master and commander – that certainly presents a strong argument for Cochrane being the role model for Aubrey.

The case for Edward Pellew, who, if you remember, was featured in the early career of Hornblower, is convincingly laid out in this article – The Master and Commander revealed: The real Captain Jack Aubrey, at your service.

I am of the opinion that it is both, but be that as it may, here are some primary sources (along with a few secondary ones) that support their cases.

 

Thomas Cochrane.

The trial of Charles Random de Berenger, Sir Thomas Cochrane, commonly called Lord Cochrane, the Hon. Andrew Cochrane Johnstone, Richard Gathorne Butt, Ralph Sandom…1814 [Trial proceedings on conspiracy of stock fraud. See below]

 

The case of Thomas Lord Cochrane, K. B. : containing the history of the hoax, the trial, the proceedings in the House of Commons, and the meetings of the electors of Westminster (1814) [This deals with Cochrane’s supposed role in the Great Stock Exchange Hoax of 1814. This work is his rebuttal.]

An address from Lord Cochrane to his constituents, the electors of Westminster. (1815) (From his prison cell]

A letter to Lord Ellenborough from Lord Cochrane. (1815) [Ellenborough is the judge who sentenced him.]

Narrative of services in the liberation of Chili, Peru, and Brazil, from Spanish and Portuguese domination (2 vols., 1859)

 

The autobiography of a seaman [Thomas Cochrane] (2d ed., 2 vols, 1861) (NAM Rodger, in his Command of the Ocean, labels this work as “A mendacious work of self-justification….” 794)

The life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, tenth Earl of Dundonald; completing “The autobiography of a seaman.” ( 2 vols, 1869) [Written by his son, the eleventh Earl of Dundonald]

 

His speeches in Parliament. (use Cochrane or Dundonald, depending on the decade you are searching). You also have recourse to the Naval Chronicle and the London Gazette.

Edward Pellew

There does not appear to be a great deal of writing by Pellew available online. Here are his speeches in Parliament.

Some of his dispatches can be traced through his biographical memoir in the Naval Chronicle; others are available via the London Gazette.

Some works of interest:

A narrative of the expedition to Algiers in the year 1816, under the command of the Right Hon. Admiral Lord Viscount Exmouth (1819)

 

The life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth (1835) [With a few examples of his writings in an appendix.]

 

Types of naval officers drawn from the history of the British Navy; with some account of the conditions of naval warfare at the beginning of the eighteenth century… (1901) [Chapter 7 on Pellew]

 

Edward Pellew (1934) [A goodly number of letters both to and from him.]