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The Trafalgar Chronicle: New Series 8

09 Jan 24

208 pages

Capt. M. K. Barritt

Part of the lure that draws Nelsonian enthusiasts into the 1805 Club is the range of outlets it offers them for publication. At the top end of the spectrum is The Trafalgar Chronicle, an annual journal claimed to be “the publication of choice for new scholarly research about the Georgian Navy, sometimes called ‘Nelson’s Navy’”. The editors seek to give each issue a theme, this time ‘An International Perspective’.

Their aim here was to reflect the central part that navies pay in geopolitics: tensions, disputes and concerns that loomed large at the opening of the 19th century just as they do today. The response seems to have been a bit thin, and three chapters have been reprinted from The Baltic Cauldron (NR 111(4), 120-2) to match two fresh studies, one of Russian naval power in the 18th century, and the other of Saumarez’s command in the Baltic in 1808-12. Both of these cover well-trodden ground and are based on secondary sources.

Much editorial praise is given to the contribution of a graduate student from Calcutta who provides a handy and accessible account of the Bombay Marine, precursor to the (Royal) Indian Navy. The emphasis is on the earlier years and on interplay with the warships of rulers and communities of the Indian sub-continent. There are some valuable pointers to studies by Indian authors.

The remaining contribution in this main section is an analysis of the sloop actions in the War of 1812. The sample seems a little small to justify rather a robust dismissal of the judgment of many naval historians that, when the ships involved were evenly matched, the skill and experience of the Royal Navy brought victory. In particular, it seems unlikely that, with the reservoir of officers to draw from, inadequate commanders and officers were being appointed at this stage in the long conflict of 1793-1815. A good case is made, however, that the United States invested more in munitions enabling more exercises in live-firing. Remedial instructions on gunnery training were issued by the Admiralty

The issue is bulked up with two other sections. There are three Biographical Portraits followed by another three Articles of General Interest. These do provide a cross-section of scholarly practice. Excellent analysis of the log of HMS Clyde which is amongst Captain Charles Cunningham’s papers in the National Maritime Museum lends credence to his Narrative of the mutiny at the Nore. Richard Parker is cast in a very different light to some recent sympathetic portrayals. Next comes the exploitation of on-line family research tools to show that Rodney and Kempenfelt were second cousins once removed. This reviewer could find no answer to his question: ‘So what?’ Local records are exploited in the account of the dangerous archipelago of Bermuda, the loss of HMS Cerberus and the career and demise of Captain Sir Jacob Wheate.

The general interest section is headed up by what is rather a ‘special interest’, namely naval swords. This really is an entry for an enthusiast. It will certainly be a standard reference for anyone wanting information on the presentation swords awarded by the Duke of Clarence, later William IV. An article on the subsequent career of a Royal Naval schooner as a privateer demonstrates the importance of cross-checking secondary sources. This theme is picked up in the final entry, which reveals the perils of mis-quotation, in this case of a reference often used to indicate that Nelson was opposed to the use of privateers. It is an absorbing study, exposing the misinterpretation by a combination of textual analysis of primary texts, careful research into context, and rigorous comparison with other references by Nelson to privateers and privateering.

There is probably something in this well-illustrated volume to catch the eye of NR members, though they may be pointed elsewhere for more information and deeper analysis. There are certainly some worthwhile lessons in historiography for anyone venturing into publishing the results of their enthusiastic research.