Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Rather than focusing on the popular Age of Nelson, this volume examines the captains who served during the Seven Years’ War* – a war that spanned four continents and included “few set-piece naval battles.” (1) Britain’s ability to “transport men and supplies abroad and far inland . . . was decisive” and the superiority of the British navy determined the war’s outcome. (1) Thirty-six men, which the author refers to as the “cohort” and comprise 16% of the active post captains in 1757, are studied through their correspondence with the Admiralty. McLeod’s purpose is to investigate “the working relationship between the Admiralty and the captains in the cohort, and particularly those holding commissions affording them independent commands.” (1) At the same, she also compares the careers of these men since they each supposedly had “the same opportunities of professional advancement.” (2)
This information is then shared with readers in the six chapters outlined below. She ends each one with a summary of her conclusions.
1. ‘Interest’ and Ability: The Route to Post Captain
Through documentary evidence, this chapter reviews how the cohort entered the navy and then rose through the ranks.
The subheadings for this chapter include: ‘Young gentlemen who walk the quarterdeck’; The ‘passing certificate’ for lieutenant; Commissioned status; The pattern of first commissions issued during the inter-war years; The influences and ‘interest’ behind promotion; Promotion to independence as master and commander; The scope of convoy duty in providing opportunities to prove professional expertise at the outset of a naval career; and Promotion to post captain.
2. The Tools of the Trade: A Captain’s Duties Regarding His Ship’s Fabric and Equipment, and Her Influence on His Career
3. “The People”: Manning the Navy during the War
These two chapters focus on the practicalities of commanding a ship and the challenges the captains faced.
The subheadings for Chapter 2 are: Assuming his duties; Duties of a captain as regards the fighting qualities of his ship; Duties of a captain as regards the ordnance of his ship; Navigation; Ship design: building and French captures; and An example of the way in which a captain’s career was shaped by his ships.
Chapter 3 looks at Warrant officers; The recruitment of seamen to the navy; Pay; The retention of ‘followings’ and of crew members; Health; Discharge, desertion and death; and Discipline and courts martial.
4. Expertise and Courage: Opportunities for Individuals
This chapter looks at how the war provided the cohort with opportunities to excel both professionally and financially, while at the same time determining what some did better than others.
Within these pages, the reader learns about Gathering intelligence; The protection of trade; Prize money and the rewards of endeavour; Amphibious operations on French coasts and the rest of the world; Naval blockade of the French Atlantic ports; Naval blockade of the Mediterranean; The West Indian campaign 1759-1760; 1761 onwards – the extension of hostilities to Spain; and ‘Those in peril on the sea’.
5. Management: The Admiralty and Its Captains
Here the author demonstrates how the Admiralty imposed its authority on the cohort.6. Success or Failure: The Parameters
Subheadings include The system of communication between the administration and officers; The individual voices that can be heard; The degree to which naval captains were controlled by the Admiralty; Payments to officers delayed by deviations from precedent; Requirement to chart unfamiliar waters; The significance of half pay for commissioned officers; Compensation for death or wounds; The application for and granting of leave to captains; and Corruption.
This chapter discusses the captains’ careers after the war and why so few remained employed.
The subheadings here are Pre-requisites for a long active career; Employment during the peace; Promotion to flag rank; and Financial rewards.
As with most books of this type, McLeod begins with an introduction and ends with her conclusions. Throughout this volume, the reader will find various figures and tables. The former includes graphs, letters, and illustrations, while the latter incorporate material pertaining to convoy protection, shipbuilding, prizes that the navy purchased, reasons for discharge, deserters, and casualties. She also includes two appendices – The cohort with essential dates and summary of correspondence and Summary of careers of cohort – as well as a bibliography and index.
McLeod deftly shows that in spite of the relative autonomy captains seemed to have in commanding their ships, the Admiralty kept a tight rein over them. Her study opens an interesting window on the daily concerns of these captains and how political decisions, which they had to enforce, impacted the events that transpired at sea. Whether the reader is a student of British naval history or just has an interest in the Royal Navy, s/he will find this a fascinating and very readable look into the men who commanded the ships of the line.
* The period of the Seven Years’ War is usually given as 1756-1763. The author, however, marks the opening of the war two years earlier when the French attacked British trading posts in North America.
Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
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