A Social History of British Naval Officers 1775-1815, Evan Wilson

A Social History of British Naval Officers 1775-1815, Evan Wilson

The career path of the British naval officer of the Napoleonic Wars is a familiar one - the young midshipman, the key moment of taking the lieutenants exam, the urgent wait for promotion to post captain, and after that the slow rise through seniority to join the flag officers. Although this outline is broadly correct, this book demonstrates that there is much more to the story. This study is based around a database of randomly selected commissioned and warrant officers, chose to be large enough to be statistically valid but small enough to allow detailed research into the individuals involved. As a result we are able to move away from the famous and successful, generally taken from the ranks of the post captains, and look at the wider picture (including the huge number of under- or un-employed officers, especially at the lower ranks). The inclusion of the top warrant officers - pursers, surgeons, chaplains and ship's masters - is also of great value, as they are often neglected.

Wilson also looks at how naval officers compared to their land-based contemporaries - looking at their attitudes, education, pay and how they were seen when on shore. A key question is if naval officers were seen as gentlemen on shore (they certainly considered themselves to be so), and what impact that had on the Georgian definition of gentility. The naval officers were generally from the 'middling sort', less well educated than fellow gentlemen, and relied on their professional skills and physical labour for their rank, so they didn't fit comfortably within the Georgian gentry.

This book thus gives us a more realistic view of the reality of life for a British naval officer during the long period of the Great Wars, looking away from Nelson and his band of brothers and into the mass of less famous and less successful men without whom the navy would not have been able to function. 

1 - The Education of Young Gentlemen
2 - Commissioned Officer's Careers
3 - Warrant Officer's Careers
4 - The Wardroom as a Social Space
5 - Patronage and Promotion Prospects
6 - Pay and Prize Money
7 - Domestic and International Comparisons
8 - Naval Officer's Social Status

Author: Evan Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 312
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 2017

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