Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
His career in the Royal Navy spanned five decades, nearly as long as his monarch, Queen Victoria, sat on the British throne. During his lifetime, he fought pirates and rebels, explored the Arctic and America’s Western frontier, studied flora and fauna wherever his journeys took him, and penned numerous accounts of his adventures and explorations. He entered the navy as a raw recruit and retired as an admiral. Yet, today, few know of him. (Not surprising given that the last biography of his life was published nearly a hundred years ago.) His name was Albert Hastings Markham.
Markham thrived on adventure, and those experiences showed him to be a man of courage and self-discipline. He possessed both moral fiber and a strong Christian ethic. He combined all of these to follow a career path that was initially chosen for him by his father, who felt that at least one of his sons should serve his country as so many of his ancestors had.
His bold undertakings began with his assignment to the China Station, where he participated in numerous engagements to suppress piracy and rebels during the Taiping Rebellion and the Second Opium War. He also spent time in Australian waters, aiding the navy’s attempts to stop blackbirders – men who kidnapped and sold Polynesians into slavery. In preparation for a potential voyage of exploration, Markham took a leave of absence to serve aboard a whaling ship. The experience and knowledge that he acquired made him one of the chosen few who once again took up Britain’s attempts to reach the North Pole in 1875, an activity that had abruptly stopped after the loss of the Franklin Expedition thirty years earlier. In fact, Markham reached the most northern latitude of any explorer – a record that stood for two decades – in spite of suffering from snow blindness and scurvy. He also journeyed to the American West to visit his family, who had moved there, and his inquisitiveness spurred him to visit with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Wichita tribes and to hunt buffalo.
During his career, he commanded the navy’s Training Squadron, where he impacted the lives of many young men, including Robert Falcon Scott, who would one day explore Antarctica. He did have critics and a few thought him a strict disciplinarian, but he also cared for those who served under him. The one incident that left a profound mark on him was the tragic loss of more than 300 men when the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, HMS Victoria, sank.
This book is comprised of eight chapters that follow Markham’s life and career. Each begins with a quotation, either from his own writings or from someone whose life he touched. Forty-one illustrations, contained in a center section, provide glimpses into his life and the world in which he lived, as well as artifacts pertaining to him. Also included is a collection of maps relevant to his numerous assignments around the word. Two appendices accompany the narrative: A Complete List of the Officers and Men of the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76, and Albert Hastings Markham’s Books and Articles. A bibliography and an index round out the narrative.
Jastrzembski loves history and specializes in writing about nineteenth-century heroes and wars that few readers know about. He breathes new life into Admiral Markham in an account that is both entertaining and informative. The inclusion of Markham’s own words further enhances the experience and provides a closer glimpse into this man. Anyone with an interest in naval history, especially that of the Victorian Era, will find this a rewarding and highly readable volume.
Review Copyrighted ©2020 Cindy Vallar
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