Retrospective: The War for All the Oceans

Some of the feedback we have received about our latest book, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (Jane Austen’s England in the USA), has expressed surprise that we have also written naval and archaeological books. All our books are described on our website, but we have decided now and again to look back over some earlier books. So as to commemorate the significant events that occurred in America during the War of 1812 (which actually lasted from 1812 to 1815), we are looking here at The War for All the Oceans.

Oceans UK paperback jacket

Oceans US Paperback jacket

UK and US paperback jackets

A trilogy

This book is the second of our trilogy of naval books – the other two are Trafalgar and Jack Tar. Although we refer to them as a trilogy, that doesn’t rule out future naval titles! After concentrating on the single battle of Trafalgar, we wanted to research what the Royal Navy was doing throughout the entire period of worldwide warfare from 1798 to 1815. The result was The War for All the Oceans, which relates the true and extraordinary story of the Royal Navy’s epic struggle against Napoleon. It is the first narrative account of the war at sea to include many neglected but fascinating episodes, alongside the more obvious events. We cover gallant duels between single ships, bloody large-scale battles, daring coastal raids and amphibious assaults.

There are also dramatic but little-known disasters, such as the massive Walcheren expedition against French naval bases in 1809, when the British were overwhelmed by malaria, not by Napoleon’s troops. Other stories include the capture and loss of HMS Diamond Rock, which was not a warship but a rock just off Martinique that the British took in order to command the approach to the French bases on that island; the controversial bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807; the capture of Banda Neira in 1810; and of course the War of 1812 against America, an often overlooked episode of history. As well as pitched battles and dashing naval actions, we focused on the experiences of the seamen and the harsh realities of life under sail and on land – from press-gangs to prostitutes and prisoners-of-war. These were arguably the most action-packed years of British naval history.

200 years ago

In the account of the 1812 War, we describe how, in August 1814, the British army along with a naval contingent reached Washington, where they inflicted much (often unnecessary) damage and even burned the White House down. In September 1814 Baltimore was attacked, but the plan was ill conceived, and eventually the British withdrew. This bombardment of Baltimore turned out to be more eventful than was realised at the time, because one eyewitness, Francis Scott Key, jotted down a poem. It was printed and circulated under the title ‘Defence of Fort M’Henry’ and was sung to the tune of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’, a British drinking song. Over a century later it was adopted as the national anthem of the United States. For further details, see this our newsletter 20.

Publication details

The War for All the Oceans was published in the UK in hardback by Little, Brown and then in paperback by Abacus (ISBN 9780349119168). In the US it was published in hardback by Viking and then in paperback by Penguin (ISBN 9780143113928). It has also been translated into Polish (ISBN 9788375100853) and was produced as an audiobook by Tantor (ISBN 9781400104833), read by Patrick Lawlor, an award-winning professional audiobook narrator. The War for All the Oceans is also available worldwide in all e-book formats.