'He probably knows more naval history than any English speaking man living. Pity he don't produce a great work instead of piddling about in the byways of naval history'. So wrote Alfred Thayer Mahan to Stephen Luce in 1890 about John Knox Laughton.
Now is an appropriate time to consider the role of the British Navy and its cultural significance. 2005 marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the apogee of British naval glory. Trafalgar is a story of national tragedy as well as triumph, of course, as Britain’s stunning victory over the French came at a huge cost, namely the loss of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
In the bicentenary year of Trafalgar it is appropriate to remember that the history of Britain, its current situation and future prospects reflect an overwhelming geographical fact. Britain is a collection of islands at once alongside, but not attached to the European Continent.
With over seven hundred volumes published, the Variorum Collected Studies Series has branched out considerably from its origins in late antique and medieval history. Recent forays into imperial history, for example, have generated collections of articles by some of the biggest names in the field.
2005, the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar, has seen a spate of publications relating to Nelson and Trafalgar. Some of us may be justified in thinking that there were already too many books on these subjects. By 1990 there were over 100 biographies of Nelson. Now there are more. Do these books take our knowledge any further forward, and where do Nelsonic studies go from here?
General Edward Braddock’s failure to capture the French Fort Duquesne and his defeat at the Battle of Monongahela on 9 July 1755 is often cited as a turning point in the European contest for North America leading to what the English called the Seven Years’ War (1756–63).
Notwithstanding the outpouring of heavyweight publications that attended the 2005 Trafalgar bicentenary, popular perceptions of life in Nelson’s navy still revolve around the brutal, filthy, drink-sodden hellhole presented in recent television adaptations of Hornblower and William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth trilogy.
Sarah Pearsall has found her sea legs in her analysis of Atlantic families who were launched alone and adrift ‘into the ocean of the world’ (p. 47). Family members in Britain, the Caribbean, and the American colonies were divided by the Atlantic in a period of revolution and war (1760–1815).
'From the Sea of Perpetual Gloom to the Holiday Cruise'
As its title suggests, this book covers developments in the medical service of the Royal Navy and among people who travelled aboard ships, whether as serving seamen, convicts, slaves or migrants.