Pirate FlagPirates and PrivateersPirate
The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

Pirate Articles
Pirate Links
Book Reviews
Thistles & Pirates

Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Nelson's Victory                    Royal Tars                    Wooden Warship Construction                Anson's Navy

Cover Art:
          Anson's Navy
Anson’s Navy: Building a Fleet for Empire 1744-1763
By Brian Lavery
Seaforth, 2021, ISBN 978-1-3990-0288-2 US $52.75/ UK £40

reviewed by Irwin Bryan


Brian Lavery has written many books about the early defenders of the British realm at sea and the Royal Navy. As a former senior curator at Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum, he is an acknowledged expert on the navy’s wooden world. In this book, he takes a fresh look at Admiral Lord George Anson’s career and his impact on improvements to the Royal Navy before and during the Seven Years War.

Anson led a 1740 expedition to the Pacific Ocean to capture a rich Manila Galleon and its Spanish gold! He then completed a circumnavigation like Francis Drake had done when he also captured one of the galleons. Although Anson’s Centurion was the only ship to return in 1744, the others having turned back, wrecked, or ruined, the voyage was considered a great success with 32 wagons full of treasure brought to the Tower of London, at a time when England needed a victory. This despite the loss of over 1,000 mariners to scurvy and other maladies. Unfortunately, this was a regular occurrence on long voyages in that era.
Anson’s seniority, success, and wealth made him the right choice to join the Board of Admiralty. At a time when corruption, fraud, and waste were rife among the navy’s vendors and shipyards, and senior officers’ applications of privilege were damaging the development of the officer corps, someone was needed who knew what the problems were and would be unaffected by offers of graft and influence-peddling.

This book presents the navy’s need for changes and the positive improvements that were made in thirteen chapters. These cover all aspects of naval service and administration. Each chapter focuses on different areas of concern, such as the ships, officers, crews, and shipboard life. Other chapters discuss the fleets, strategy and tactics, amphibious warfare and more.

This is a lavish oversize book printed on glossy paper with many contemporary paintings and illustrations throughout the text. A section of notes is followed by a considerable bibliography and index.

There is a lot of information in this book, but it is related in a clear manner without technical jargon, or the drone of facts found in textbooks. Despite my lack of familiarity with the Royal Navy in this time period, I feel fully informed now and understand how much better the navy was prepared at the start of the Seven Years War.

It was a surprise to learn that Anson served at sea again after his time at the Admiralty. As I mentioned before, Anson was still the right pick for the job. If you want to read about the Age of Sail or something other than the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, this is an excellent guide on the mid-eighteenth-century state of the Royal Navy, even for a novice on England’s wooden walls!

Review Copyright ©2022 by Irwin Bryan

Skull &
                        crossbones -- return to top of page

Cover Art: Wooden
          Warship Construction
Wooden Warship Construction
By Brian Lavery
Seaforth, 2017, ISBN 978-1-4738-9480-8, US $34.95 / UK £25.00

This latest addition to Seaforth’s A History in Ship Models series is a wonderful book detailing the construction of the Royal Navy’s sailing warships. Lavery uses his intimate knowledge of the models on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England to perfectly marry the text with the pictures. These visual representations often have added graphics to identify each part mentioned.

The publication begins with a description of shipyards in the eighteenth century. The layout and specific sites at the facility are explained using models of a private yard at Buckler’s Hard at Hampshire, England and the Royal Dockyards at Chatham and Deptford. (11, 16-17) These models are referenced repeatedly to illustrate what is being discussed. The roles of the shipwrights who do the majority of the work assembling the ship are explained. Lavery also presents information on the different parts of trees used and how timber is stored.

Several pages of models serve to illustrate the different types of ships these yards built. Like every other color image, a detailed caption describes each picture and begins with their collection catalogue number. Additional information on any model or picture shown can be obtained by going to the museum’s collections website and entering the corresponding reference number in the search box.

After the stage is set, all of the remaining chapters follow the sequence in which a ship is built. Each vessel ordered begins with a draught, or plan which “also included much detail of the dimensions of individual parts.”(36) Each draught had a ratio of 1:48, or one inch to four feet.

Beginning in 1715, the master shipwrights of the Royal Dockyards were required to produce models that included the galleries, all ports, deck heights, and many other features. This is named as “the starting point of this book.”(40) These improved models needed to show the hull’s waterline, true dimensions and shape. The draughts of any ordered vessels were sent to the shipyard’s Mould Loft where full-size plans of the various parts were drawn on paper covering the floor. These served as guides for the sawing of timber.

Once a slip is chosen and prepared, the actual building of a vessel can begin. Ships are made “from the bottom up,” which is probably the origin of that common phrase. The keel is the first part assembled and carefully positioned in the slip. Some of the highlights that follow include illustrations of the sternpost and bow structure (50-51), a model showing the interior of a seven-frame section with three gun ports (55), another “of a 74-gun ship showing different stages in the framing and planking” (68-69), and “a midship section . . . showing many details of construction.” (74) A variety of diagrams and models show the complex structure inside the hull made to support the weight of the decks and guns. Other photographs show different phases of decks and planking being built. Some of the required fittings are also provided, including anchors, capstans, the double-helm, and galley stove.

Due to signs of decay in ships recently built or repaired some design changes were introduced at this time. A method of strengthening the bow and stern was developed which called for the use of canted timbers afore and abaft the bow and stern post. Changing the sides from double wales to single wales with narrower strakes behind them and better fill between them was expected to “make a fair side.” (41)

The appendix divides any vessel’s construction into twenty-five parts and shows what the shipwrights will earn for the completion of each part (based on the different rates of ships built). Suggested readings are found on the last page. Information on the other two books in the series – The Sailing Frigate by Robert Gardiner and The Ship of the Line by Lavery – can be found on the inside back flap of the book jacket. Although there is no index, the subject matter progresses from gathering the labor and materials to having the new ship afloat.

From the framing until the launching only sixty pages remain. In a book so copiously illustrated, the reader expects only a brief overview of the parts and processes that follow. Incredibly, so many details are presented you can’t possibly remember them all after one reading. Anyone considering building an authentic wooden ship model or researching any aspect of ship construction would do well to begin with this excellent book. This is also a reference that writers and readers of fiction can consult time and again whenever their hero’s ship sustains damage.

Picture of Depteford Dockyard Model
                                found on page 17 of book (Source:
Deptford Dockyard (SLR2906) in 1772-1774.
Left side: shows Officers' houses and gardens, Offices, and Master shipwright's house
Bottom: Double dry dock, Grand Storehouse, Barges, Ship with floors crossed, and Ship being planked
Top: Dockyard gate, Smithery, Workshops, Dry dock, and Building slips

Model of Centurion from page 111 of
                                book (Source: Publisher)
Model of Centurion's Stern (SLR0442)
Shows Taffrail, Cove, Stern Windows, Gallery rail, Upper counter, Lower counter, Trenails planking, Frieze, and Quarter pieces

(Source: Seaforth Publishing, used with permission, images copyrighted


Review Copyright ©2017 by Irwin Bryan

Skull & crossbones -- return
              to top of page

Cover Art: Nelson's Victory
Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace
By Brian Lavery
Seaforth, 2015, ISBN 978-1-84832-232-5, $56.95 / £30.00
Also available as an e-book

She is a national and international icon with special place in the affection of the British people . . . HMS Victory represents the embodiment of British Naval mastery at its absolute height, when Britain’s supremacy over all of her actual or potential enemies was unchallenged and the Royal Navy enjoyed supreme command of the world’s oceans . . . (200)
These words of the National Register of Historic Vessels explain the importance of perhaps the most iconic and extant wooden ship from the Age of Sail. The orders to build her were given in 1758, the same year in which Horatio Nelson was born. Their careers and the legends they’ve become parallel each other, which is one reason Lavery’s examination of Victory and the admiral are welcome additions to maritime history. It is also a fitting celebration during her bicentennial.

Both Admiral Nelson and what would become his flagship began their naval careers in Chatham, and the early chapters discuss this historic dockyard, the building of Victory and the developments that led to her being the most advanced warship of her time, and Nelson’s early years both before and after he joined the Royal Navy. Prince William Henry would describe him as “the merest boy of a captain that I ever beheld,” while Rear-Admiral Lord Samuel Hood said of him:
There was something irresistibly pleasing in his address and conversation; and an enthusiasm, when speaking on professional subjects, that showed he was no common being. (50)
Lavery also looks at Victory’s voyages and battles as well as what her life was like following Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. Both of their lives had highpoints and lowpoints, which are portrayed not only through the author’s narrative but also from the perspectives of those who sailed aboard the ship. In her later years, visitors, such as Queen Victoria and Beatrix Potter, also recorded their impressions of her.

What makes Nelson’s Victory a valuable resource is that it is one of the few books examining her entire life in the water, from birth to present day. Most volumes focus on a specific period during those 250 years, such as when she was Nelson’s flagship or how events unfolded at the Battle of Trafalgar. Lavery, instead, discusses her life as a warship, a hospital ship, a venue to entertain or to hold a court-martial, a training ship, and a living museum. Efforts to preserve and protect her are also included. A bibliography, end notes, and index complete the book.

As guest curator of the recent exhibition HMS Victory: The Untold Story at The Historic Dockyard Chatham and someone who has served for more than two decades on Victory’s advisory board, Lavery has a firm grasp of both who this ship was and the legendary and national symbol she has become. The many wonderful illustrations – portraits, artwork, maps, diagrams, and photographs –make Victory and Admiral Nelson real, while the primary quotations supplement and enrich the reader’s understanding of who they were/are and why they are important then and now. Even those who have read multiple illustrated works on these topics will delight in rare gems, such as the sketch showing the faces and names of some of Victory’s crew during Nelson’s command or the photograph of the full-scale model of the warship built for the Royal Navy Exhibition in 1891in Chelsea. This oversized, full-color treatise is well worth the cost and is a fitting memorial to the ship, her most famous admiral, and those who worked on her or sailed aboard her.
Learn about Victory
Learn about Admiral Horatio Nelson

Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar

Skull &
                crossbones -- Return to top of page

Cover Art: Royal Tars
Royal Tars: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 875-1850
By Brian Lavery
Naval Institute Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-59114-743-5, US$37.95


When Brian Lavery set out to write about the men who manned the lower deck of British warships, he expected to tell their whole story. The more he delved into the factors influencing how these essential seamen evolved, the more he realized he could not do so in a single volume that included the past all the way to the present.
This first volume discusses this aspect of naval history from the first record of England establishing a navy under King Alfred through the first steam warships and the establishment of training schools for seamen. He divides the material into seven periods:  
  • The Early Seaman, before 1642
  • Civil War and Dutch Wars, 1642 to 1689
  • European War, 1689 to 1739
  • Imperial War, 1739 to 1783
  • The Crisis, 1783 to 1803
  • A Large Fleet in a Long War, 1803 to 1815
  • The Long Peace, 1815 to 1850
Within each chapter, he explores the average seaman’s character, skills, daily routine, and his attitudes toward those he served under and the regulations that affected his life. Lavery demonstrates how these men also changed history’s course on occasion, and uses their first-hand accounts, where available, of the battles in which they fought. In addition to the introduction and conclusion, the book includes an appendix (Tracing Naval Ratings), glossary, notes, bibliography, and index. Where appropriate the reader will find maps and diagrams that illustrate various aspects of the material. There are also several sections of drawings and paintings to further enhance the content.
Lavery has produced a readable and compelling account of these men who have often been overlooked, but were essential, to the Royal Navy. The narrative clearly shows the wealth of primary documents and exhaustive research he did to track down this information. Royal Tars not only shows how the lower deck, which did not initially exist, developed, but also dispels the stereotypical description commonly associated with seamen.

Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar

Skull &
                  crossbones -- return to top of page
Pirate Articles
Pirate Links
Book Reviews
Thistles & Pirates

Contact Me
Click on the Cannon to Contact Me