Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Divided into ten chapters, How to Survive in the Georgian Navy introduces readers to a wide range of topics concerning life in the Royal Navy during the reigns of George I, II, III, and IV. When the War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1715, Britain possessed more naval ships than any other European nation. Her merchant trade was expanding to encompass the entire world and the ships carrying imports and exports required protection, which necessitated a naval presence in the far reaches of the British Empire. This, in turn, required both financial backing and a good infrastructure to support the ships and crews stationed in these distant ports and waters.
Chapter one focuses on the navy’s personnel, officers and ratings alike, and what they did aboard the ships. The next chapter is concerned with how these men joined the Royal Navy. War necessitated a large number of men, but in times of peace, far fewer were needed. For example, at the time that the wars with France ended in the early nineteenth century, 145,000 men served in the Royal Navy. The majority (126,000 to be precise) soon found themselves unemployed.
It was important that a ship’s crew work together; rules and regulations provided for the smooth running of the ships and, as a result, sometimes required men to be disciplined. This is the topic of chapter three: Crimes and Punishment: Discipline in the Georgian Navy. The flip side of this was the need to not only feed the crew and allow them periods of downtime, but also to maintain their health. The latter was particularly important since the majority of deaths stemmed from disease or accident. For example, one in thirty-one men died each year as a result of these two culprits between 1792 and 1815, whereas one in 403 succumbed in battle. These are the topics discussed in chapters four and five: Victuals and Time Out: Food, Drink and Recreation in the Georgian Navy, and Keeping a Healthy Crew: Medicine in the Georgian Navy.
During an eighty-one year period, beginning in 1714, the navy lost 1,027 ships. More than half of these foundered; the rest were the result of wrecking, fire, colliding, or mutiny. While chapter nine specifically examines “Mutiny in the Georgian Navy,” chapter six explores “A Matter of Survival: Storms, Shipwreck and Fire on Board Ship.” Chapter seven discusses naval expeditions of a scientific nature, whereas chapter eight concerns warships and sea battles. The latter includes firsthand accounts of the battles of Cape Passaro (1718), at Finisterre (1747), and of Quiberon Bay (1759). Most such accounts come from a ship’s officers, but the author also includes one written by an ordinary seaman who was aboard HMS Orion during the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
The last chapter talks about “Women at Sea in the Age of Sail.” Often seen as bad luck, the historical record mentions that in 1379, the French attacked during a bad storm. The sailors blamed the sixty women who were aboard and tossed them into the roiling sea. Some were of questionable character, but others were members of the upper crust. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, they could be found on navy ships, sometimes to entertain the men who weren’t allowed shore leave. Other times women actually worked in some semi- or unofficial capacity, or found themselves aboard because they were fleeing from enemy troops. A minority chose to disguise themselves in male attire and join the navy.
The epilogue discusses the Georgian navy’s legacy during a critical period in history. As Pappalardo writes, “aided by both the technological advances of the equipment and techniques and the attitude, training and skill of the men of the Royal Navy . . . gained Britain undisputed supremacy of the seas for the next century and firmly established Britain as a leading global power.” (136)
Interspersed throughout the 144 pages are black-and-white illustrations. The endpapers are in full color. The front depicts the two halves of the world; the back is a painting of Admiral Earl Howe’s victory over the French fleet on the Glorious First of June 1794. The use of a very small font size is the only drawback, but to use a larger one would have necessitated making a book of either greater dimensions or additional length. This volume also contains a Timeline of Major Naval Battles and Events, a bibliography, and an index.
Pappalardo, Principal Records Specialist (Naval) at The National Archives in London, packs a wealth of knowledge into this pocket-sized, hardback book that is entertaining and informative. The narrative is both a historical introduction to the Royal Navy between 1714 and 1820, and a collection of contemporary, illustrative quotations from the officers and men who served aboard British warships or in administrative capacities. How to Survive in the Georgian Navy is an excellent overview for those unfamiliar with this period of British naval history, or an exceptional summary for those seeking to reacquaint themselves with it.
Review Copyrighted ©2019 Cindy Vallar
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