John Drinkwater was a more lowly officer, but one of the most interesting characters of the siege. He was born at Latchford near Warrington in Lancashire in 1762, and his father was a former naval surgeon who had set up a medical practice at nearby Salford, on the edge of Manchester. It was only natural, therefore, that if he was going to join the army, it was likely to be a local regiment.
John Drinkwater in his captain’s uniform after the siege
American War of Independence
Once the French started helping the American colonies, a new wave of patriotism spread through Britain, with new regiments being recruited by private subscription, including the 72nd Regiment of Foot at Manchester. Drinkwater was a former Manchester Grammar School pupil who joined this regiment as an ensign in 1777. He was 15 years old, with no military experience, Continue reading
This year, 2017, is the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Eliott, who was governor of Gibraltar throughout the Great Siege (1779 to 1783). Lieutenant-General Eliott had a long military career and was eventually honoured with the title of Lord Heathfield. During the Great Siege, he had overall control of Gibraltar, both the military garrison and the civilian inhabitants, and his strategic skill is credited with the successful defence of the Rock. He is still commemorated on Gibraltar today, but elsewhere he is a largely forgotten hero.
Eliott commemorated on Gibraltar stamps, issued in 1967
on the 250th anniversary of his birth
Gibraltar is famed for its philately, issuing beautiful postage stamps to celebrate aspects of life on the Rock. In 1967, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Eliott, commemorative stamps were issued. One shows him holding the Gibraltar key; one has his portrait on a map of Europe; Continue reading
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!
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.
Today is Trafalgar Day, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805, in which the Royal Navy defeated the combined French and Spanish navy. In the battle, Nelson was killed, along with thousands of seamen and officers from both sides.
Last week we were revisiting Topsham, once an important port situated by the River Exe south of Exeter. Whenever we are travelling, we try to make time to look at some of the churches and churchyards that we pass. Often these have monuments dating back four or five centuries. If these were letters or other pieces of paper in a record office, they would be considered exceptionally rare, but as gravestones or church monuments, they are seldom noticed. You do not have to travel great distances, or look very far back in time, to find interesting monuments. Right on our doorstep at Topsham, we found a monument to a seaman who had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. At the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2005, many of these Trafalgar monuments, such as this one, were restored.
Memorial to Thomas Randle, Trafalgar veteran
The inscription reads:
WHO WAS MANY YEARS
IN THE ROYAL NAVY
HAVING SERVED IN SEVERAL SHIPS
AND AS QUARTERMASTER
ON BOARD THE VICTORY
AT THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
JAN. 2ND 1851
Thomas Randle did not originally intend to make a career in the Royal Navy. There was always a desperate need for recruits, and most men who wanted to join the navy at that time were signed up in their teenage years – some were only 10 or 11 years old. Thomas was forced into the navy by a press gang Continue reading