This book takes a rather unusual approach to the history of the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary Wars. Instead of producing a standard narrative, the author starts each of his chapters with a section looking at events through the eyes of an invented figure – a press ganged miner, a shipping agent in the West Indies, a teacher or a marine – all from the less well documented levels of society. The events of a particular part of the naval war are first seen through their eyes, and then in a more traditional historical style.
This is an enjoyable, but rather unusual book. The author covers a wide range of topics, from the major battles of the period to the mutinies that rocked the fleet, the organisation of the Admiralty or the daily life of the sailor, focusing largely on the press-ganged landsman rather than the more familiar able seaman. I took some time to get used to this approach, but it does have the benefit of bringing you into the heart of the story and providing an alternative, but credible view of events. I found the merchant captain’s view of the war in the West Indies most effective, tracing how the fighting might have been seen by someone trading around the area, having to catch up with often outdated news as the naval effort changed year after year.
Some might find these invented figures somewhat intrusive, but I found them a rather effective tool, giving this book its unique selling point. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the claim that this is the period in which the Navy emerged as a superpower – that was a longer process that was already well underway during the Seven Years War, but this was clearly an important stage in the development of Britain’s naval dominance, which would come to dominate the period after the Napoleonic Wars.
1 – The Sons of the Waves
2 – Heart of Oak Are Our Ships
3 – Jolly Tars Are Our Men
4 – To Receive Them on Shore
5 – As Free Men, Not Slaves
6 – Steady, Boys, Steady
7 – Drub Them Ashore as We Drub Them as Sea
8 – ‘Tis to Glory We Steer
Epilogue – Cheer Up My Lads, With One Heart Let Us Sing
Author: Mark Jessop
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime