Category Archives: Maritime and naval

Seafurrers and Jack Tar

Our book Jack Tar plays a role in a blog post called ‘Nelson’s Floating Menagerie’ (for November 14, 2016). This is a wonderful blog called ‘Seafurrers: True Tales of the Ships’ Cats that Lapped and Mapped the World’, which you can enjoy here.

Picture credit: “Illustration cobbled together by Ad Long”

Seafurrers is hosted by Bart the Cat, though we do suspect some human participation as well. Continue reading

Bottle Papers

Litter or letter?

In these times of sensitivity to the environment, a glass bottle washed up on the beach with a piece of paper inside is quite likely to be dumped in the nearest bin as rubbish, but it was not always so. In the 19th century such occurrences were newsworthy, and in October 1821 a report of such a bottle in a French newspaper was also published in British ones. The Graham Moore was a brig, and James Lash was her captain:

‘On the 15th ult. on the coast of St. Jean de Mont [about 60 miles north of La Rochelle], arrondissemont of Sables d’Olonne, department of La Vendée, was found a sealed bottle, containing a paper, stating, that it had been thrown from his Britannic Majesty’s ship the Graham Moore, on the 6th of July last, lat. 47d. 47m. N. long. 7d. 51m. W. Mr James Lash, an officer of the English navy, who had signed the paper, stated his intention to be to discover the direction of the currents in the Bay of Biscay.– Journal de Paris.’

In the 18th century mariners had been especially concerned with finding a reliable way of establishing the longitude of a ship at sea, but in Britain this was eclipsed by the wars with the Continue reading

Jack Tar Talk

‘Jack Tar’ remains one of our most popular talks, though until we finish our new book on the Great Siege of Gibraltar, we are not booking any more talks. We are, though, looking forward to giving a ‘Jack Tar’ talk (called ‘All at Sea in the Time of the Austens’) at the January 2017 meeting of the Jane Austen Society South-West (on the 28th). This is a very active branch of the Jane Austen Society, and it holds four conferences a year, each one lasting from 10.30am to 3.30pm, with morning coffee, buffet lunch and two talks. They are held in central Exeter (at Southernhay Hall, Dix’s Field, EX1 1QA). This gives you plenty of time to join – for further details, see their website page here (you do not have to be a member of the main Jane Austen Society to join).

jack-tar

We were recently alerted to a well-crafted and generous review of Jack Tar by author and historian Jonathan North. He posted the review on his interesting website that focuses on the French Revolution and Napoleonic history Continue reading

Quarterdeck

The latest quarterly issue of Quarterdeck has just arrived, for September–October, always a welcome moment. Its tagline is ‘celebrating maritime literature & art’, and readers will find many books that they will want to read – from the latest ones by well-known authors to little-known gems that have been brought back into print. We are delighted to be featured on page 3, with news of the book we are writing on the Great Siege of Gibraltar.

Quarterdeck cover

Several pages are devoted to Julian Stockwin, whose Kydd books continue. His latest book is The Powder of Death, a new standalone novel based on gunpowder being brought to England for the first time. We’ve not yet seen the novel, but it sounds fascinating as gunpowder looms large in the Gibraltar siege. Quarterdeck is published by Tall Ships Communications under the editorship of George Jepson and is distributed by McBooks Press. To download this latest copy (and back numbers), go to McBooks here.

A Forgotten Georgian Town

A tale of two villages

When talking of Georgian town architecture in Britain, places like Bath, Cheltenham, Buxton and even parts of London spring readily to mind. Melcombe Regis in Dorset is very little mentioned, not even as part of the port of Weymouth, yet King George III often spent his summers here. Weymouth is actually made up of two smaller ports, originally villages, that sit on either side of the mouth of the River Wey – with Weymouth on the south bank and Melcombe Regis on the north. Both were medieval settlements that competed as ports until 1571, when they were legally joined under a charter of Queen Elizabeth I and took the overall name of Weymouth. The first bridge linking the two parts was not built until 1597.

A statue of George III (who died in 1820) close to the seafront of Melcombe Regis (Weymouth), Dorset. It is now part of a traffic island

Regis derives from the Latin ‘rex’ meaning ‘king’. ‘Regis’ means ‘of the king’, and many places in England have that name, such as Lyme Regis. Melcombe Regis did not acquire this name because of George III staying there Continue reading

The Pillars of Hercules

The stretch of water between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is known as the Strait of Gibraltar, separating Spain and Gibraltar from north Africa (Morocco). The southernmost tip of Spain (and of Europe itself) is at the town of Tarifa, and here the African coast is only 10 miles (16 km) away. Gibraltar lies some 15 miles (24 km) north-east of Tarifa, and the African coast is almost 14 miles (22 km) away. Even though the distance to Africa is greater here, the promontories of Calpe (Gibraltar) and Abyla (Ceuta in Africa) were significant in Greek and Roman mythology, as they were believed to be the mythical ‘Pillars of Hercules’.

This picture shows the Strait of Gibraltar, looking westwards. The African coast with the promontory of Ceuta is on the left. Next comes the seaway of the Strait of Gibraltar that opens into the Atlantic. The right-hand half of the picture portrays the coast of Spain, with the distinctive darker outline of the Rock of Gibraltar in front.

Gibraltar StraitThe Pillars of Hercules looking westwards from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic

The myth of the Pillars of Hercules originated with the ancient Greeks and was adopted Continue reading

Saucy Romans

The Romans liked to eat well, and some of their choices of food are still regarded as wholesome today, particularly the staples of bread, olives and wine. They also had a liking for pungent fish sauces such as liquamen, muria and – the best-known one – garum. The production of these sauces was a by-product of the fish-processing industry, mainly in Roman settlements along the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal and north Africa, where there was an abundant supply of fish. Fish sauce, especially garum, was so popular that it was exported across the Roman empire as an expensive delicacy. Doubtless in far-flung garrisons on the edges of the empire, many ex-patriot Romans found garum a welcome reminder of home comforts back in Italy.

Roman meal
Raw materials for a Roman meal

Manufactured taste

Garum was produced on an industrial scale in purpose-built factories. One factory Continue reading

Selsey Scene

Our research recently took us to the seaside town of Selsey in West Sussex on the south coast of England, at the tip of the low-lying Manhood Peninsula, some 8 miles due south of the cathedral city of Chichester. Bounded by the sea on two sides, with fertile farmland to the north, Selsey was once virtually an island. Even now, there is only one main route into the town – the road from Chichester. It was on Selsey island that Christianity was introduced to Sussex around AD 680 when St Wilfrid was driven ashore during a storm and subsequently founded a monastery and cathedral there. Both have long disappeared beneath the sea due to coastal erosion.

Holiday camp

Today, Selsey is part-seaside resort and part-dormitory town for Chichester. For centuries the main occupations were farming, fishing and smuggling, but in the 19th century Selsey began to thrive as a seaside resort. During the 1930s, when holiday camps were becoming popular, Broadreeds Holiday Camp was built, designed on a Spanish theme. In World War Two, the camp was used as accommodation for handicapped children evacuated from London, though its location right on the south coast made it a target for attack. Continue reading

Wokingham Jack Tar talk

On Wednesday 18th May 2016, we are giving an illustrated  talk on ‘Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy’ at the library in Denmark Street, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG40 2BB, at 2.30pm. A large car park is close by. Tickets cost only £3, available from the library. You can phone and book a place, tel. 0118 978 1368. The library is open daily from 9.30am, except Sunday, and on Wednesday it closes at 1pm, reopening for events like ours in the afternoon. Alternatively, you can turn up on the day, but you may not get in!

What's On Wokingham

The year before last, we gave a talk at this same library on ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’, and it was packed out. Wokingham Borough Libraries do all sorts of events for their community, and we really like the library at Wokingham itself. Our talk on ‘Jack Tar’ will describe what life was like at sea during Jane Austen’s lifetime, something she was very familiar with as two of her brothers joined the Royal Navy. Our book Jack Tar has the subtitle ‘Life in Nelson’s Navy’ for the hardback, but it was changed to ‘The extraordinary lives of ordinary seamen in Nelson’s navy’ for the paperback.

We should have added a note to say that Jack Tar is available in paperback, published by Abacus. You can find it in some bookstores, order it from bookstores or buy it from online retailers . The ISBN is 978 0 349 12034 8. It was not published in the US, but is sold there by our UK publisher. To our frustration, it seems to be unavailable on most US retail websites at present. It is available as an e-book in various forms. If you have a good public library, they will have copies for you to borrow! Click here to the ‘Jack Tar’ page on our website.

Cans and can openers

The quest for preservation

There was a constant search for a successful method of preserving food for those who did not have easy access to fresh supplies, such as on long sea voyages when the diet for most seamen was hard biscuit and salted meat (pork and beef) kept in wooden casks. By the end of the 18th century a method of preserving food in airtight glass bottles had been perfected by the Frenchman Nicolas Appert, and ‘bottling’ fruit is still popular for preserving home-grown produce. Glass was fragile and heavily taxed, and so the search went on for better methods. In the early 19th century, canning was developed as a means of preserving food, but it only became cost-effective after the Napoleonic Wars, using thick tin-plated iron canisters, referred to now as tins or cans – the tinning prevented corrosion (nowadays, cans and canned food tend to be called tins and tinned food in Britain). These were bulk containers, not intended for household use. By the 1840s, the Royal Navy was ever more reliant on canned meat, Continue reading