Nelson’s Navy in 100 Objects
Frontline Books (2021)
ISBN 978 1 52673 132 6
Hardback, 301 pages, colour, and black & white illustrations
I do think that examining a subject in 100 objects is a unique and original way of presenting a story. Gareth’s previous books in this genre, looking at Napoleon and Wellington, are well-presented studies that should be on every serious Napoleonic historian’s bookshelf. They are, in effect, encyclopaedias on the topic.
Nelson’s Navy in 100 Objects is no different. This work, effectively completing the trilogy, covers all aspects of the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars. The 100 ‘objects’ cover such subjects as Haslar Hospital, copper sheathing, ship’s toilets, prisoners of war, speaking trumpets, press gangs, powder horns and slave shackles.
The foreword provides a brief biography of Nelson. The author states however, and I quote from the book:
This book is not about Nelson, but using a vast variety of images of contemporary items, it aims to explain the complex organisation, the ships, the bureaucracy, the men and their achievements; but more than anything else, to convey the systems and the routines, the challenges, the trials and tribulations of everyday life of a sailor in the navy of King George and to give a feel for the real essence of what it was like to serve in ‘Nelson’s Navy’.
While there have been many detailed works on the subject published over the years that naval historians will have in their libraries, this book provides a comprehensive study of the subject, presenting overviews of each topic. The ‘Contemporary Print of Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth’ introduces the examination of the health of seamen, while an image of a ‘Ship’s Biscuit’ begins the account of the food given to seamen. The images have been carefully chosen to introduce a subject. ‘A Cannonball Embedded in the Oak Timbers of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar’ opens the section on the type of projectile used by the Navy in action, complete with images of these projectiles. ‘A Hand-Operated Seawater Pump, HMS Victory’ introduces the problem of leaky warships and the use of bilge pumps; ‘A Purser’s Button’ explains the role of the Purser on board ship; ‘Model of the Murray Shutter Semaphore System’ provides a very concise description of the way by which the Admiralty could convey messages to the naval bases around the coast.
A very interesting section entitled ‘Colourised Photograph of Nelson’s Foudroyant which Ran Aground at Blackpool in 1897’ looks at the wooden warships that had survived from Nelson’s time into the 19th and 20th centuries. The book is generously accompanied by many images that examine and explain the story. It is a book that once you dip into it for a specific topic you will drawn into the other entries; a very addictive volume once you pick it up!
The one criticism I have of this book, and others in this genre, is that while it is generously illustrated with images to accompany the text, there is no reference as to the origin of these pictures. There is a list of contents and an index but knowing where the objects are would have been a useful research source to include.
Despite this minor criticism, Nelson’s Navy in 100 Objects is a very good reference work that deals with every aspect of naval life during the Napoleonic Wars. It provides a comprehensive source of information covering all aspects of the subject. If you have an interest in naval matters of the Napoleonic Wars, then this title is highly recommended and would be a welcome addition to your library.