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Sailors, Ships and Sea Fights: Proceedings of the 2022 ‘From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815’ Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail Conference

04 Jun 24

340 pages

David Childs

Helion is a publisher that takes the task of encouraging contributions from well-informed amateurs and young academics as seriously as it does those with a proven and established record. This can be shown by glancing through the titles and authorships of its series, ‘From Reason to Revolution, 1721 – 1815’, as well as its desire to encourage interest and participation by holding annual conferences of which this publication contains the proceedings of the inaugural one covering naval warfare between 1721 and 1815.

The result is a naval miscellany that includes chapters from scholars experienced and young on a range of topics with a preponderance of actions and campaigns. Refreshingly, these include articles on French, Spanish, Venetian and American operations and perspectives several of which cast a not-flattering light on aspects of British naval professionalism, such as the single ship actions of the War of 1812, which is balanced by an examination as to why the French failed to carry out a ‘Nile’ on the British fleet anchored and vulnerable off St. Lucia in 1778.  Of an earlier time, R.N.W. Thomas focuses on a neglected period, the Royal Navy in America between the end of the Seven Years’ War (1763) and the start of the War of Independence (1775).

Geopolitically, Paul Leyland, highlights the problem as to who controlled the port of Antwerp posed to naval strategists – a long-lasting thorn up to and including the First and Second World Wars, while Andrew Young pays tribute to Anson’s vision for the navy during his time as First Sea Lord. A study of Court Martial records from 1812 to 1818 indicates how naval punishments were moving from the sadistic use of the lash and capital convictions to a more humane use of alternative sentences. Fittingly the proceedings end with an examination of the life of naval pensioners ‘safe moored’ at Greenwich Hospital.

Your reviewer is well aware that this well-illustrated collection of essays may not appeal to many members, but for anyone who would like to move from the mainstream of naval history into waters less-frequently navigated which might reveal fresh ports to visit, this might provide a good guide.