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The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

Continue reading The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

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A Brief Overview of the War of 1812


..And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof, through the night, that our flag was still there…
The Defence of Fort McHenry
Francis Scott Key

Although it would be difficult to discern, simply from reading her novels, the world Jane Austen lived in was one constantly at war. During her lifetime (1775-1817) she saw the American war for independence (known as the Revolutionary War) the French Revolution, Britain’s war with France (fighting Napoleon from 1803-1815) and the War of 1812, which is largely forgotten in light of the other, “major” wars which overshadow it, in both British and American history.

With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (and no, the 1812 overture was not written for this war– it was written in Russia, in 1880, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, commemorating Russia’s battle and eventual triumph over Napoleon’s forces) and the introduction of the newest American Girl Doll, Caroline Abbott, interest has been renewed in this war which saw not only at British invasion of Washington D.C., with troops burning the White House, but also the battle which inspired the poem, The Defence of Fort McHenry, which would later be titled The Star Spangled Banner, and adopted as the United States’ national anthem.

war of 1812
The battle which inspired the poem, The Defence of Fort McHenry, by Francis Scott Key.

War of 1812

The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States and those of the British Empire. The United States declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by Britain’s ongoing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, outrage over insults to national honour after humiliations on the high seas, and possible American desire to annex Canada. Tied down in Europe until 1814, the British at first used defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie in 1813, seized parts of western Ontario, and ended the prospect of an Indian confederacy and an independent Indian state in the Midwest under British sponsorship. In the Southwest, General Andrew Jackson destroyed the military strength of the Creek nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 on April 6, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large invasion armies. The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C. American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed all three British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans.

The White House in Washington D.C. after being burned, 1814

The war was fought in three principal theatres: (1) at sea, warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other’s merchant ships, while the British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and mounted large-scale raids in the later stages of the war; (2) both land and naval battles were fought on the American–Canadian frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River; and (3) the American South and Gulf Coast also saw major land battles in which the American forces defeated Britain’s Indian allies and repulsed a British invasion force at New Orleans.

Both sides invaded each other’s territory, but these invasions were unsuccessful or temporary. At the end of the war, both sides occupied parts of the other’s land, but these areas were restored by the Treaty of Ghent.

American General Andrew Jackson leads his troops in Louisiana

Early 1800’s in the United States

In the United States, victories at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and in the Battle of Baltimore of 1814 (which inspired the lyrics of the United States national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) produced a sense of euphoria over a “second war of independence” against Britain. Peace brought an “Era of Good Feelings” in which partisan animosity nearly vanished. Canada also emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity, having repelled multiple American invasions. Battles such as the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm became iconic for English-speaking Canadians. In Canada, especially Ontario, memory of the war retains national significance, as the invasions were largely perceived by Canadians as an annexation attempt by America seeking to expand US territory. In Canada, numerous ceremonies are scheduled in 2012 to commemorate a Canadian victory. The war is scarcely remembered in Britain today; as it regarded the conflict as sideshow to the much larger Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe. As such it welcomed an era of peaceful relations and trade with the United States.

From Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

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Two Views of Napoleon

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign
by Count Phillipe-Paul de Segur

This is a raw account of Napoleon’s Russian 1812 Russian Campaign from not just an eye witness, but a French officer and aide to Napoleon. Phillipe-Paul de Segur was rarely more than a few feet from Napoleon’s side throughout this campaign and doesn’t swerve from making observations on Napoleon both positive or negative. But a great deal of the power of this book comes from the stark observations of the horror this heedless march into Russia caused.

There is good reason that this account, first published in 1824, has been republished so many times – It is very good – and was used as a main source for a number of authors including Tolstoy (who cobbled a number of events for War and Peace from it), Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand. Interestingly it was not until 1965 that the first English version was published.

It is such a short period of history, fewer than six months, but the foolish action cost Napoleon his dominance in Europe and marked his turn in power. For it is here that he lost thousands of men, and showed just how vulnerable he could be.

In the Spring of 1812, Napoleon, angry that the Russian Emperor had deifed the Treaty of Tilsit and ignored his Continental system, decided to throw all his forces into invading Russia. The Russian Army met and tried to stop the relentless onslaught of the French at the River Neimen, but defeated they fell back in retreat, burning everything as they went.

Napoleon pushed hard on to Moscow – thinking the Russians would sue for peace once he was in that all important city. They didn’t – and by October 19th with a huge army, few supplies and the harsh winter approaching, he realised had to retreat through the burnt decimated country back to the safety of the west. Napoleon knew, as all the army did, it was already too late….yet they had to go.

That is the background to this very moving account

Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Greenwood Press Reprint
Language: English
ISBN: 0837184436
List Price: from £5.50

The Black Room at Longwood:
Napoleon’s Exile on Saint Helena
by Jean-Paul Kauffmann

This is a strange mixture and I have to admit to very much disliking it when I first picked it up. It is a translated version of what was originally a French work and the English to me seemed a bit florid and dramatic. I am not sure if that is the translation or if the French naturally write in that style. I would, however, recommend people who are interested in Napoleon to persevere – it is a strange sort of book but worth the read.

I say this for two other reasons – firstly because Kauffmann has read just about every primary source about Napoleon’s exile on St Helens – a tiny island pretty much in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and secondly because Kauffmann knows first hand about captivity.

After reading this book a little, and not enjoying it, I read the author biography – this man spent some years as a captive in Beirut in the 1980’s. Returning to the book I started to realise that this is more than just a book about Napoleon, or about a travellogue to the island. This is a story about captivity and its psychological side. Kauffmann is very clearly the right man to write about it. The oppression of captivity overwhelms the writing sometimes. Kauffman clearly found the place oppressive – he keeps talking of the town itself squeezed between two mountains – it is one of his repetitive themes and I get the sense that if he didn’t sail out there expecting to dislike the place, his dislike of it coloured his later writings about it.
I think this book could just as easily be named 8 days on St Helens as the book is divided into chapters for each day. So his trip is dealt with chronologically – the information about Napoleon ducks and dives – often with seemingly little logic to it. However if you are looking to learn about Napoleon’s last years they are touched on – more so Napoleon as a man is revealed. His impatience (he drove each day on the island in a carriage with two wives of his officers – but went at such high speed as to throw them around – a demonstration of power?) and his arrogance.

There are also interesting insights into the man prior to his captivity – for instance I never knew Napoleon couldn’t speak perfect French – (he spoke it badly and confusingly at times – muddling his words and pronunciations). However I don’t think Kauffman explains anything new to most scholars of Napoleon. He mentions that Napoleon considered going to America before settling for surrendering to the English – why did he change his mind?

You can read this book on many different levels – a story of St Helens, a mixed bag of Napoleonic history, or a story of captivity. All have different merits in this – but they are all mixed together. I don’t know that I would recommend making a special trip to get it – but worth reading if you haven’t much else to do.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows
Language: English
ISBN: 1568581718
List Price: £7.85

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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Capt Gronow and Sir Harry Smith Write their Memoirs

Captain Gronow:
His Reminiscences of Regency and Victorian Life, 1810-60
By Christopher Hibbit


This is a very difficult book to review as I liked it a lot, but I still have a number of reservations about it – mostly about its editing.

First, let me tell you about Captain Gronow – he was one of life’s observers, and might have slipped through history with only the vaguest of mentions in a few diaries had he not needed to resort to his pen in the 1860’s in order to support himself. He wrote four books which were stacked to the gunnels with anecodotes, slanderous stories and all sorts of gossipy snippets. These were snapped up by his Victorian audience who were keen to read about the sinful vagaries of that bygone era, the Regency.

Christopher Hibbert has done a pretty good job in collecting together some of the better stories and putting them into this one volume. He has also created some sense to the mass of stories by organising them into chapters. These chapters include subject headings like “The Prince Regent, His Family and Friends” and “Rakes, Dandies and Men about Town”. So it makes it an easy volume to browse for those of you reading this for fun.

There are a few things with this book that I do find difficult. The first is that Hibbert never questions the veracity of what Gronow says. There are several apocryphal stories in here which Gronow tells (the one of Brummell’s aunt being milkmaid is one which springs instantly to mind) – which I feel, as the editor, Hibbert should have at least footnoted. Gronow was writing up to 50 years after events, he certainly could not have recalled all the detail and I think that makes it vitally important that the editor check the facts. Indeed, it is probable that Gronow lifted this story straight out of the pages of Brummell’s first biographer – Captain Jesse – anyway.

Secondly – Hibbert should have checked the dates. Gronow mixes up the dates of the battles of Nive and Nivelle. An easy thing to check, and it is not like Hibbert doesn’t know his Peninsular War detail.

Thirdly – while most of Hibbert’s footnoted descriptions of Regency People are very good and succinct – he does make at least one mistake mixing up Frances, Lady Jersey with her daughter in law, Sarah, Lady Jersey.

I certainly do feel that of all the edited volumes of Gronow’s books to come out so far, Hibbert’s is definitely the best. However, unless you have a plethora of Regency Books yourself and understand the times well it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun reading Gronow without a editor to explain some of the events and people Gronow is gossiping about.

Also worth reading: Regency Recollections: Captain Gronow’s Guide to Life in London and Paris

Publisher: Trafalgar Square
ISBN: 1856260135

The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith 1787-1819

The Autobiography of Harry Smith was written, by his own admission in the same way he lived his life – at a gallop. It is wonderful that they have republished this book because it was first released around the turn of 1900 and so was desparately difficult to get a hold of.

This book is the first, and best volume, of the two that were published posthumously. They cover his military life as an officer in the 95th Regiment from his first disastorous expedition to South America when he was still a teenager through his years campaigning on the Peninsular War (1808-1814), Waterloo and the occupation of France.

His writing style, while stilted to modern ears, does not take long to learn to enjoy and he packs his book with hundreds of anecdotes of various army characters and snippets of life. He is just so good humoured and his stories so energetic without malice that you cannot help but enjoy him.

I know Harry Smith best for his highly romantic and impetuous marriage to a young Spanish girl, following the seige of Badajoz in 1812. Their life together, and her rapid adjustment to the harsh realities of campaigning were fascinating enough to be the subject of at least one historical novel, Georgette Heyer’s book “The Spanish Bride” – but I think I liked reading the original story in Harry and Juana’s word’s better.

There are other truly wonderful biographies from officers of the 95th (which was later called ‘The Rifle Brigade’) in the Peninsular War also available from Amazon, including George Simmon’s, A British Rifleman and John Kincaid’s, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade. But Harry Smith is a gem.

Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 0094797404

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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Soldiers of Fortune: First Hand Accounts of Regency Battles

A Dorset Soldier: The Autobiography of Sgt. Williams Lawrence 1790-1869
by Eileen Hathaway (Editor), William Lawrence

An excellent book for collectors of Peninsular War accounts, and especially those interest in light Regiments for this book follows the life of Sergeant William Lawrence – or should I say the military life. It was first published in the 1880’s, some 20 years after Lawrence’s death – and this I believe is the first reprint since then. He was an illiterate man and dictated these when in his 60’s, some 40 years after events.
It begins when he runs away from his apprenticeship and joins the army – or tries several times to join the army and ending up with the 40th Regiment of Foot (the closest) just before they set off for South America in 1806.

The book is just full of fascinating little detail of everyday life in the army – of transportation and some terrible (but brief) accounts of battles fought. In fact the book itself is very Brief – reminding me a lot of another published account by a non-officer – ‘A Soldier of the 71st’. This gives a glimpse of life in the ranks. The editor, Eileen Hathaway, has done a phenomenal job footnoting the text so much of Lawrence’s background and family is explained – and detail which might not be familiar in the Peninsular War – such as seige works – can be easily understood without specialist knowledge or dredging out other reference books. It also comes with a number of extremely useful small maps which illustrate small parts of the text – I really liked that feature. There are a number of black and white reproductions of pictures in the middle- I wish publishers would do these in colour – I’d be willing to pay the extra – they just look so drab, and it is hard to get enthusiastic about black and white reproductions of uniforms. Luckily the back cover has the 40th uniform reproduced in colour and I did like the watercolour on the front cover, which was painted especially for this book.

Lawrence is an engaging story teller – not quite in the self-deprecating vein of someone like John Kincaid – but he is enjoyable. There is a great amount of detail in here which complements other Peninsular War accounts – but it is also wonderful for London and British travelling – Lawrence’s account of sharp practices by London Hackney Cab drivers and Inn land-ladies makes priceless reading.
List Price: £12.95
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Spellmount Publishers; (July 1996)
ISBN: 1873376510

The Prince’s Dolls: Scandals, Skirmishes and Splendours of the Hussars, 1739-1815
by John Mollo

The men of the Prince of Wales regiment – the 10th Hussars, were the ultimate reflection of the contrasts in Napoleonic Warfare. At once fashionable dandys who dressed in immensely expensive uniforms, but also courageous and daring cavalrymen. John Mollo’s history of this regiment covers its beginnings in 1739 until the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 although the majority of this history is focussed on the Prince of Wales’s involvement in the regiment. While the Prince of Wales poured all his ambitions for military splendour into this regiment he never actually served overseas with them – all his association with them was superficial.

The personalities in this regiment were often larger than the regiment itself (no mean feat!) – Beau Brummell, the Prince of Wales himself, Lord Henry Paget (later the Marquess of Anglesey), the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate sons, and Captain Hesse (probably a royal bastard himself). With so many men inextricably linked with highest of the upper-classes there is ample room for a great many wonderfully salacious and scandalous anecdotes which lighten the book. Mollo does not leave it there though, he does a good job in covering all the elements of military life including the regiment’s service in the Peninsular War and the general life and discipline for the ranks.

It is such a pity that most books, this one included, don’t reproduce their illustrations in colour – this one has a number of good pictures, but they are all in black and white. I would certainly recommend reading this book in conjunction with Myerley’s recent work “British Military Spectacle” – which examines in much more detail the structure of the army during this period.

Hardcover: 255 pages
List Price: $39.95
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books / Leo Cooper (March 1997)
ISBN: 0850524938

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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The Mariner

Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.



A Mariner is in common language the same as sailor or seaman. Mariners are sometimes employed on board merchant ships, and sometimes in men of war. In merchants’ employ, the mariners are accountable to the master, the masters to the owners of the vessel, and the owners to the merchant, for any damages that may happen. If a vessel is lost by tempest, the mariners lose their wages, and the owners their freight: this is intended to make them use their utmost endeavors to preserve the ship committed to their care.

Mariners on board the king’s ships are subject to strict regulations, which, however, depend on certain fixed laws passed at different times by parliament. Mariners who are not in His Majesty’s service are liable during the time of war to be impressed, unless they enter voluntarily, to which they are encouraged by bounties and high wages: and every foreign seaman, who, during war shall serve two years in any man of war, merchantman, or priviteer, becomes naturalized.

The mariner represented in the plate is of a higher rank and estimation than common sailors: he understands the art of navigation, or of conducting a vessel from one place to another, in the safest, shortest, and most commodious way. He ought therefore to be well acquainted with the islands, rocks, sands, and straits, near which he has to sail. He should also know the signs which indicate the approach to land: these are, the appearance of birds; the floating of weeds on the surface of the sea; the depth and the colour of the sea. He should, moreover, understand the nature of the winds, particularly the times when the trade winds and monsoons set in; the seasons when storms and hurricanes may be expected, and the signs of their approach; the motion of currents and tides. He must understand also the working of a ship; that is, the management of the sails, rigging, &c.

Navigation, or the proper employment of the mariner, is either common or proper. The former is usually called coasting; that is, where the ships are on the same or very neighboring coasts; and where the vessel is seldom out of sight of land, our out of reach of sounding. In this case little more is required than an acquaintance with the lands they have to pass, the compass, and the sounding line.

To gain a knowledge of the coast, a good chart or map is necessary.

The compass, or mariners compass, as it is usually called, is intended to direct and ascertain a ship’s course at sea. It consists of a circular brass box, which contains a card, with the thirty two points of the compass fixed on a magnetic needle that always turns to the north, or nearly so. The needle with the card turns on an upright pin fixed in the centre of the box.

The top of the box is covered with glass, to prevent the wind from disturbing the motion of the card. The whole is inclosed in another box of wood, where it is suspended by brass hoops ot keep the car in a horizontal posisition, whatever the motion of the ship may be: and it is so placed in the ship, that the middle section of the box may lie over the middle section of the ship along its keel.

The method of finding, by the compass, the direction in which a ship sails, is this: The compass being suspended, the mariner looks horizontally over it in the direction of the ship’s wake* , by which he sees the point of the compass denoting the direction of the wake; the point opposite to this is that to which the ship is sailing according to the compass; and knowing how much the compass varies, he can tell the true point of the horizon to which he is going.

The sounding-line is a line with a plummet at the end: it is used to try the depth of the water and the quality of the bottom.

In Navigation proper, which is where the voyage is long, and pursued through the mail ocean, there are many other requisites wanted besides those already mentioned. Here a considerable skill in practical mathematics and astronomy is required, and an aptness in using instruments for celestial observations.

One of thiese instruments the mariner in the plate is represented holding in his right hand, while he is pointing to his ship with the other. The boat which is to carry him on board the ship is drawn to shore.

At a distance in the sea is represented a light-house, erected on a rock, and having in the night a fire or other considerable light at the top, so as to be seen at a great distance from land. The use of the light-house is to direct the ships on the coast, to prevent them from running on the shore, and from other injuries by an improper course.

The wages of a mariner depend upon his employment, that is, whether he be in the King’s service or on board a merchantman: they depend also upon the size of the ship, and upon the situation which he holds in it.

There is no profession of more importance to the interests of this country than that of the mariner. Government therefore provides, for those who are disabled, a place in Greenwich Hospital; and to the widows and children of those who are slain in defending their country, small pensions are granted. Greenwich Hospital is supported by the nation, and by sixpence a month deducted out of every seaman’s wages.

*The wake of a ship is the print or track impressed by the course of the ship on the surface of the water.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

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