25 Aug 22
Posted by: D J CHILDS

There can be few readers of this review who have not at some time had to submit reasons in writing to their senior officer for some action taken that did not meet with approval. How refreshing, therefore, to read what could be referred to as a reasons in writing in reverse. And, of course, it is despatched by that prolific writer of letters, Admiral Nelson. Multi-tasked at his anchorage off Sicily, Nelson was in much need for intelligence as to the movements of the French fleet as well as having to ensure that convoys were sufficiently protected. Deprived of this information by the actions of two junior officers, Captain Frank Sotheron, in charge of the defence of Naples, who had retained the other, Captain Courtenay Boyle in HMS Seahorse, who had abandoned shadowing the French fleet, Nelson wrote a charming letter to the former expressing his trust in him but explaining carefully why ships should not be retained at Naples and then entrusted the latter with leading the fleet, at night, through the narrow and dangerous passage of Biche. Nelson’s trust was justified; both officers would reach flag-rank. That short letter to Sotheron, some 300 words, says oodles about Nelson’s leadership style and ability to exercise command even from a distance. And, it says oodles about the ability of this journal to provide constant insights into the world in which Nelson and his contemporaries lived, moved and had their being.

Other articles include: a biographical sketch of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, the naval commander at Quebec, who not only managed to transport Wolfe’s army through the awkward rapids above the city but organised the diversionary assault at Beauport that distracted Montcalm at the time Wolfe’s men were scaling the heights of Abraham; and an account of some of the officers who ‘missed’ being at Trafalgar.

On a quibble, the editors claim that the focus of this issue is “encounters with indigenous populations and enslaved people”, yet only two articles address these matters. Nevertheless, the story as to how the Royal Navy scooped up run-away black slaves from the beach at Princess Anne County, at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, during the war of 1812 is worthy of turning into a film. Well written, well researched, well-illustrated, this is a publication that will both delight and inform. A most enjoyable read.