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  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Broke of the Shannon and the War of 1812

    Edited by Tim Voelcker

    June 1, 2013 marked the bicentennial of the stunning victory of HMS Shannon over USS Chesapeake. The battle’s anniversary prompted a symposium in Suffolk to shed new light on the battle as well as the battle’s victor, Captain Philip Broke, RN. The product of the symposium was Broke of the Shannon and the War of 1812, an anthology of works by sixteen eminent scholars of naval history, edited by Dr. Tim Voelcker. This body of work can be divided into two main sections: the War of 1812 from the American, British, and Canadian perspectives, and then the life of Philip Broke and the battle fought between Shannon and Chesapeake. There are also several works that examine related issues such as naval education, prize law, the Halifax naval yard, naval medical opinions, the Hampshire Mill, caricatures, and naval ballads.

    In the introduction, Voelcker states that his motivations for assembling this body of work is twofold: to raise Broke and HMS Shannon from obscurity while bridging the gap between academia and the general public. Consequently, readers will find that Broke of the Shannon and the War of 1812 is both an enlightening and accessible body of work. Some scholars and students might be disappointed by the lack of footnotes (only direct quotations are cited), however, Voelcker explains that this was an editorial decision. A bibliography and a list of suggested works for further reading, however, is included for those who wish to pursue the subject in greater detail.

    Important to this work are the three essays that provide an overview of the War of 1812 from multiple perspectives. John B. Hattendorf provides valuable insights concerning American perceptions of the War of 1812. In this well-crafted essay, Hattendorf places the War of 1812 within the context of American politics while connecting it to the maritime dimensions of the war. He also argues that the engagement between Shannon and Chesapeake, as well as the successful blockade of Stephen Decatur’s squadron, marked a turning point in the war. Previously, the Royal Navy had experienced a disappointing succession of defeats in single ship actions. The British victory helped restore national pride and confidence in a navy whose series of uninterrupted defeats were viewed with contempt back at home. Andrew Lambert provides an analysis of British strategy and the economic impacts of the war, which includes a discussion of the coastal blockades and commerce raiding. Chris Madsen discusses the defense of Canada, however, his essay does not match the quality of the essays penned by Hattendorf and Lambert. In their analysis, these three authors indicate that the war played a role in establishing distinct national identities in both the United States and Canada.

    Two essays that venture into the realm of cultural studies provide the social and political context for the War of 1812. In one essay, James Davey examines visual communication in the form of caricatures. Caricatures reflected public attitudes and perceptions of the navy and, in some cases, helped shape those attitudes. High qualityprints in either color or black and white are included to illustrate Davey’s arguments. In another essay, Richard Wilson explores naval ballads, which helped elevate Philip Broke and his victory over Chesapeake in the national consciousness.

    The essays concerning the life of Philip Broke paints a portrait of a man torn between competing desires. On one hand, Broke possesses a deep and abiding devotion to his wife and family yet finds himself dedicated to the idea of bringing honor and glory to the Royal Navy. Broke’s goal of bringing honor to the navy is finally realized when he defeats Chesapeake and is received as a national hero back home.

    Martin Bibbing presents a lengthy essay on Broke’s contributions to naval gunnery. In the essay, Broke is portrayed as a man frustrated with the shortcomings of naval gunnery yet committed to finding practical solutions. Broke was an advocate of constant gunnery practice and used much of his own private funds to train his crew in live fire drills. He also installed gun sights and established a system of “director control” which allowed Broke to “train all his guns on a target simultaneously.” Consequently, Broke established a reputation “as one of the leading gunnery experts of the age.” Bibbing provides detailed descriptions and technical drawings to illustrate the challenges that Broke overcame in improving naval gunnery. In another essay, Bibbing provides a detailed narrative of the fateful naval duel fought between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake.

    Related essays on a variety of specialized topics are found throughout the anthology. Gabriela Frei successfully distills the technical subject of prize law into digestible material for the lay reader. Peter Schurr reflects on Broke’s injuries received in combat and dispels misconceptions regarding his injuries and recovery. Julian Gwyn provides an interesting description of the Halifax naval yard. Martin Salmon discusses the fate of HMS Shannon. John Wain discusses the founding of the Chesapeake Mill where the remains of Chesapeake can be found. Colin Reid discusses the final outcome of the war and the subsequent peace.

    As a whole, Broke of the Shannon and the War of 1812 presents a strong selection of works that prove both interesting and accessible. The variety of essays is diverse which lends a sense of thoroughness to the study. Students of naval history and the War of 1812 will find this book a valuable asset and a fine addition to their collections.

    •  Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2013
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxvi + 226 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $38.95
    • ISBN: 9781848321793
    • Distributed in the United States by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland

    Reviewed by David Bennett, Exeter University

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Amphibious Warfare: Strategy & Tactics from Gallipoli to Iraq

    Ian Speller and Christopher Tuck

    Amphibious warfare is a concept utilized throughout history from ancient Egypt to the present day and employed by cultures all over the world, from the Vikings to the Chinese in the fifteenth century to both the Japanese and American forces in World War II. It also represents one of the most complicated types of warfare, requiring immense planning and cooperation between not only naval forces, but also military forces more associated with land-based warfare and air forces. Speller and Tuck take the complexity of amphibious warfare and explain it very clearly for even casual readers to understand.

    The authors offer valuable insight into the development of an amphibious operation from planning to execution using historical case studies from both World Wars, the Korean War and more modern conflicts such as the Falklands and the Gulf wars. While the introduction gives an overview of the history and different types of amphibious operations, the rest of the book’s structure follows the planning process, each chapter dedicated to a specific stage in the execution of an amphibious assault. This is extremely useful, as in each chapter, the former stages are often referred to. This in effect offers the reader to see each layer of amphibious warfare in a chronological time frame as well as the different elements of an assault from sea, land, and air forces. The authors also explain each concept clearly and concisely. The book also makes great use of campaign maps and photographs, which help visually explain concepts they introduce. Furthermore, the section of color illustrations of amphibious vehicles and vessels offers a look at different types from World War II, the Cold War, and modern day.

    Another strength of the book is the way the authors use their case studies to illustrate the concepts they introduce. With each case study, the authors focus on the particular concepts they explain in the chapter. In this way, readers can see the practical use of each concept. The authors do not focus on only western nations. They include discussions of Japan and its role in World War II and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Similarly, they do not focus on just victorious operations. They give details of failures or near failures. This offers the reader a balanced view of different levels of war, from low-intensity to high-intensity conflicts and major complications in amphibious warfare during planning or execution.

    The major problem with the book is the lack of citations or a bibliography. The authors attempt to mitigate this problem by adding a “Further Reading” section; nevertheless, readers who wish to see directly where the authors got their information from will be lost. As such, the book offers a very structured and easy to read introduction to the concept of amphibious warfare. Even a student new to learning about naval operations will find the text understandable. However, without citations and a bibliography, using the book as a stepping stone to further research may prove difficult. Even so, as an introductory book, it is extremely useful in gaining an understanding of modern amphibious strategy and tactics.

    • London: Amber Books, 2014
    • 7-1/2” x 10”, hardcover, 176 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781782741404
    • Distributed in the United States by Casemate Publishers, Havertown, Pennsylvania

    Reviewed by Adam K. Parker, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call: A Record, 1790-2010

    Herbert Ford

    Beginning with the arrival of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers from Bounty, along with the Polynesians who joined them, this book focuses on the importance of visiting ships to Pitcairn Island. Herbert Ford, noted expert on Pitcairn history and winner of the 2012 Bounty Anchor Award, started the Pitcairn Islands Study Center and has written two previous books on the subject: Pitcairn and Miscellany of Pitcairn’s Island. In this edition of Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call, he draws on primary resources including the records of the local government, letters of crew who visited, and radio interviews with the islanders.

    The layout follows that of a logbook, listing each ship arrival at the island for over two centuries. Although this does not encourage reading the book from cover to cover, a researcher investigating Pitcairn or the flow of ships sailing in the Pacific would find this volume indispensable. The initial entries tell of the fate of the infamous mutineers, which the author emphasizes as the reason so many ships stopped to visit the island.

    The first decades saw battles and deaths reduced the numbers of adult men until only John Adams remained to become the islanders’ revered leader. In 1814, when British naval ships Briton and Tagus arrived, the two captains concluded that removal of Adams to stand trial for mutiny would be cruel to the small community. These tales of the first decades of interactions with voyaging mariners include the return of Captain Bligh, against whom the original men had mutinied, and the short abandonment of Pitcairn in the 1850s when the island could not support the growing population. Many of the entries focus on the boat handling skills of the Pitcairn men who braved the surf to meet the ships, and Ford includes photographs showing the evolution of the boats from wood to aluminum. The author also stresses the pious nature of the islanders, noting their tradition of singing hymns as ships departed.

    Although the book includes a map showing the location of Pitcairn in the Pacific, and some photographs of the town and landscape, a map of the island itself showing the relation of the boat landing to Adamstown might be beneficial. This second edition remedied the previous lack by supplying a comprehensive index, a boon for researchers who possess only a ship name and not the date of arrival. Although the index references many people, not all names can be found without knowing the boat. A search for the famous cruising couple, Lin and Larry Pardey, yields only their boat Talesin, arrived on September 16, 1983 from Panama.

    Since the initial settlement by mutineers, the crews of whaling ships and clippers of the nineteenth century through to troops aboard navy ships of the World Wars, Pitcairn retains a fascination that Ford captures in the various anecdotes included, and makes the book far more than just a catalogue of ship names.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, 365 pages
    • Illustrations, bibliography, index. $75.00
    • ISBN: 9780786466047

    Reviewed by Laurel Seaborn, Salem, Massachusetts

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Origins of the Lost Fleet of the Mongol Empire

    Randall J. Sasaki

    Despite the growth of nautical archeology over the last forty years, less attention has been focused on the archeology of ships of Eastern Asia—Japan, Korea, and China—than elsewhere.

    The Origins of the Lost Fleet of the Mongol Empire, by Randall J. Sasaki, fills part of that gap. The book analyzes wrecks found off Takashima, in Japan. The ships, part of the second Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281, were sunk in the typhoon the Japanese afterwards named the Kamikaze, or Divine Wind.

    The long-forgotten wrecks were rediscovered in the 1980s, with research on the finding ongoing since then. An intact wreck was even discovered in in 2011. In 2004-2005, Sasaki, then a graduate student at Texas A&M’s Institute of Nautical Archeology, participated in these studies for his master’s studies.

    The book explores the results of his research, examining the origins of the ships wrecked off Takashima. Three different types of ships were found: flat-bottomed lapstrake boats, flat-bottomed carvel craft, and round-bottomed vessels. Sasaki identified both the origins and probable purpose of each type of ship based on its timber and construction (respectively: Korea, the Yangtze River, and Fujian Province).

    Sasaki clearly presents the logic behind his conclusions, explaining how the woods and fastenings discovered on the offered clues to their origins. He takes readers on a tour through the shipbuilding techniques of thirteenth-century Korea and Japan. He provides significant and fascinating detail on how shipwrights built the ships that ended up off Takashima.

    The book is well illustrated, with maps, period images, modern archeological photographs, and author plans. The mix is well-thought out. It offers readers insight into the events leading up to the invasion and typhoon. The drawings and plans are extremely useful in illustrating the construction and shapes of the ships found.

    This book is concentrated very narrowly on one aspect of Asian maritime archeology. If you want to know how Korean and Chinese ships were built during this period, it provides a wealth of valuable information. On the other hand, if your interests have a broader focus, this book may not hold your interest.

    For the model-maker, it contains enough information to make a start on building a representative model of a Korean, Yangtze, or Fujian ship. Completing the model requires additional research. For those whose focus is maritime history, it offers a window into the Mongol invasion fleet, including its origins, organization, and loss. For those into marine archeology, it is a fascinating look at how research is done.

    While unlikely to interest everyone, those who are interested in this topic will find The Origins of the Lost Fleet of the Mongol Empire a useful addition to their library.

    •  College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 216 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, maps, bibliography, index. $50.00
    • ISBN: 978-1623491949

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Fleet Book of the Alaska Packers Association, 1893-1945: An Historical Overview and List

    Donald H. Dyal

    The last large American fleet of ocean-going sailing ships was that operated by the Alaska Packers Association, seasonally carrying workers from San Francisco Bay to the mouths of Alaskan rivers and creeks to can salmon. This salmon canning business was very lucrative, second only to lumbering on the West Coast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    The ships that made up this fleet were very miscellaneous. None of them was purpose-built for the Association; all were purchased, usually rather cheaply, after hard service lives of fifteen to twenty-five years in the worldwide oceanic trades. (It is worth remembering that fifteen to twenty-five years was regarded at the time as the usually working life for a merchant vessel.) Remarkably, most went on to provide twenty-five years or more of service with the Association’s fleet, despite the rigors of the Alaska canning trade.

    Donald H. Dyal set out to research the extant fleet books in the archives and consolidate the information they contained into a single comprehensive fleet listing that would tell the remarkable half-century story of these vessels (and their steam or diesel-powered fellows). The heart of the book comprises thirty-six individual “biographies” of the sailing vessels of the fleet. Each vessel’s origins are presented in tabular form, followed by a short history covering its operations prior to, during, and after service with the Association. Dyal also includes remarks on surviving artifacts from the vessels, two of which (Star of India and Balclutha) are preserved to this day as museum ships. The powered ships are treated much more briefly, as are those vessel chartered by the Association and the Liberty and Victory ships it operated during World War II.

    One of the most interesting features of this new Fleet Book is the author’s excellent summary of the history of the Alaska Packers Association that opens the work. This presents not only a chronological summary of the Association’s story but also material on the routine of its operations; both important to provide context for a fuller understanding of the industry and the vessels in its service.

    Overall, The Fleet Book of the Alaska Packers Association is an invaluable reference for both researchers and aficionados of the later days of oceanic sailing ships. It is packed with useful material and, equally importantly, replete with pointers toward sources for those interested in greater detail.

    • North Charleston: CreateSpace, 2014
    • 8-1/2” x 11”, softcover, xvii + 208 pages
    • Photographs, notes, index. $44.99
    • ISBN: 9781499329209

    Reviewed by Henry Farrar, Baltimore, Maryland

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Silent Strength: Remembering the Men of Genius and Adventure Lost in the World’s Worst Submarine Disaster

    D. Allan Kerr

    Silent Strength (which takes its name from the motto of USS Thresher) is a compilation of articles by D. Allen Kerr published during 2013 to commemorate to fiftieth anniversary of the boat’s loss as tributes to the men who served aboard the submarine. As such, it does not concentrate heavily on the design or construction aspects, nor on details of Thresher’s loss, but more on its legacy.

    From an operational perspective, Thresher’s most important legacy (as Kerr notes frequently) was the development and implementation of SUBSAFE: the Navy’s quality assurance program designed to maintain the safety of the nuclear submarine fleet. Thresher also was the lead boat for the fleet’s advanced attack submarines designed to hunt down and overcome the Soviet Union’s expanding nuclear submarine force through speed, silence, deep-diving ability, and the deployment of advanced technologies.

     Thresher’s human legacy is the lives of the 129 sailors lost in this tragic disaster. The story of many of their lives is the central element of Kerr’s book. Kerr’s skillful writing brings out, over and over again, the accomplishments of seemingly ordinary men, from a whole range of social and educational backgrounds, who came together as a cohesive team to operate this submarine that was on the cutting technological edge of its time, thanks to training, dedication, enthusiasm, selflessness, and commitment. This is a fascinating exploration of the often obscure nature of the submarine service’s social history.

    Silent Strength’s melding of operational and technical history with evocative retellings of the lives of Thresher’s crew is a wonderful tribute to these men.

    • Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Jetty House, 2014
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xvix + 124 pages
    • Photographs. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9781937721190

    Reviewed by Michael O’Brien, Tampa, Florida

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Submarine Torpedo Tactics: An American History

    Edward Monroe Jones and Shawn S. Roderick

    During two world wars, the menace of submarine warfare against merchant shipping loomed large in naval strategic and tactical discussions. Germany’s U-boats came extremely close to forcing the Allies to the negotiating table during World War I and were a major threat to Allied success in World War II. How ironic it then is that the single incontestably successful submarine campaign against merchant shipping should have been that of the United States Navy against Imperial Japan in World War II.

    Submarine Torpedo Tactics lays out, in a wonderfully readable manner, the story of this evolution in the United States Navy from just before World War I to the present (within the limits of information publically accessible). The authors bring together a vast array of material, much of which has been published previously in snippets but never before presented together in such a coherent format. The net result is probably the best explanation yet of how submarine attacks have been and are now conducted. If a reader wants to know why American submarines were so successful in their assault on Japan’s shipping during World War Ii and they proposed to keep Soviet ballistic missile submarines at bay during the Cold War, this is the place to find the answers.

    Of necessity, the requirements of their thesis obliged the authors also to explain the development of submarine design in the United States. Their success is such that Submarine Torpedo Tactics may well be the best short outline of this process yet in print. It is concise, it highlights the major milestones, and it presents sufficient technical detail to make its case without overwhelming the non-specialist reader with esoteric terminology or concepts.

    Submarine Torpedo Tactics also includes a major bonus in the form of stories illustrating the lives of the operators, ranging from the antics surrounding theft of a totem pole by crewmen from the missile boat Growler through the installation (and use) of a Steinway grand piano aboard the attack submarine Sturgeon to vivid descriptions of underwater gyrations by American and Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

    Though short (in light of the magnitude of its topic), Submarine Torpedo Tactics displays excellence on so many levels. anyone—academic, lay researcher, or simply interested reader—can only learn from this most enjoyable and informative study.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2015
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, viii + 221 pages
    • Photographs, diagrams, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786496464

    Reviewed by Steven Fitzgerald, Wilmington, Delaware

  • May 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Sveti Pavao Shipwreck: A 16th Century Venetian Merchantman from Mljet, Croatia

    Carlo Beltrame, Sauro Gelichi and Igor Miholjek

    Many people forget (or never knew) that much of the eastern coastline of the Adriatic Sea was territory of the Republic of Venice until well into the eighteenth century. As a result, the waters off the coast of Croatia and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Montenegro and Albania are likely to be the final resting places of many Venetian ships, wrecked while trading within the Adriatic or voyaging from elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

    During the past twenty years, in particular, archaeologists have been searching these waters in the expectation of locating wrecks of Venetian ships. This book about the Sveti Pavao shipwreck is a preliminary report on six years of work on the site by members of a joint Croatian-Italian project that has been excavating and conserving objects from what is almost certainly a sixteenth-century Venetian merchant vessel, one of a number of such craft located in the same general area over the past thirty years.

    The wreck is quite deep (about 40 meters (130 feet) below the surface) and also quite concentrated. Because the team had very limited funding, it took a somewhat innovative approach to recording the site by making extensive use of photogrammetry. This both substantially cut the amount of time divers had to spend on the bottom recording data, since they could use photographs rather than manual measurements, and also opened up interesting possibilities for interpretation, because the imagery could be manipulated both to uncover information that might have been missed during a visual scan and to generate three-dimensional representations of the wreck and site.

    This particular preliminary report concentrates primarily on objects that have been recovered and undergone initial conservation. There is much cargo—mainly high-end luxurious metallic and ceramic vessels—coinage, and animal remains that may represent livestock transported as cargo or for consumption by crew and passengers. There is also an impressive array of mid-sixteenth–century ordnance, most of which are breech-loaders. It is interesting to note that the barrels of the breech-loaders are bronze, while the breech chambers are iron; an interesting detail for researchers.

     The remains of the hull are very limited. Nevertheless, photogrammetry and subsequent three-dimensional modeling proved very useful in interpreting the remains for archaeologists and, especially, for public display (since the team had decided to leave the hull elements in situ rather than raise them for conservation and display).

    This preliminary report provides a fascinating insight into elements of sixteenth-century Venetian trade and the ships that conducted it. We can only look forward to more information as research funding permits.

    • Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014
    • 8-1/4” x 11-3/4”, softcover, vii + 180 pages
    • Photographs, diagrams, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $70.00
    • ISBN: 9781782977063
    • Distributed in the United States by Casemate Academic, Havertown, Pennsylvania

    Reviewed by David Djanogli, Chippenham, Wiltshire

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Voyage of The Slave Ship: J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context

    Stephen J. May

    In the preface and introduction of The Voyage of The Slave Ship: J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context, Stephen J. May declares his intent to evaluate the background, history, previous reviews and his own opinion of Turner’s painting The Slave Ship. In the following chapters, he does just that, exceeding expectations with a copious amount of detail. He immediately catches the reader in the preface and deftly guides them through the first few chapters with a colorful historical background, setting the scene for the introduction of the painting, Turner, and the major players involved in the fate of the painting.

    May goes on to chronical the life of Turner and the painting. In the evaluation of the creation of the painting, he makes strong, declared postulations based on historical connections between those involved in the abolition movement and Turner. This gives a district life to the painting that would otherwise be missing. However, at times, May makes certain declarative statements without clear evidence or a disclaimer, such as his belief that The Slave Ship portrayed the savage acts aboard the slaver Zong, due to the extensive news coverage of the trail and, therefore, Turner’s enviable knowledge of the tale. Yet, May did not provide any hard evidence that Turner was absolutely aware of the incident or that he was directly influenced by it. While this is a fair conclusion given the facts, it is not certain.

    The discussion of the composition of the painting is sprinkled throughout the book, there is no one chapter dedicated to the content, brushwork or technique. Nor is there any discussion of the painting from a technical standpoint. This does not detract from the book, as May’s intent is not a simple discussion of the artistic qualities of the painting. Rather than throwing around confusing artistic terms, May choses to focus on the painting as a whole, such as how a laymen would see it, making the painting a more accessible experience for the reader.

    May does an exceedingly thorough job of explaining and examining everyone who had any influence on the fate of the paining; some might argue too thorough of an examination in some cases. Occasionally, he provides such an intense level of information about an individual other than Turner it begins to pass from supporting dialog into unneeded information, leaving the reader slightly confused about how the additional biographical facts connect to Turner or the painting. Some trimming of this excess may help streamline the points and connections May is trying to make. However, in many of the examples, the author’s digressions, as lengthy as they are, circle back around to make a point about the painting or Turner, such as in the case of his discussion of the sublime; which at first seems like an over explained idea, but then consistently reemerges throughout the examination of the life and players of the painting.

    Although at times May can delve a little too in-depth for the average reader, overall, he provides an accessible evaluation of the history and life of J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship and those men directly connected to it, that even the most historically or artistically challenged reader can relate to, enjoy, and understand.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2014
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 206 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786479894

    Reviewed by Michele Panico, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street

    Warren C. Riess with Sheli O. Smith

     In January 1982 a backhoe digging a trench at a New York City construction site uncovered the remains of a buried ship—an old one. The trench, one of four, was part of an archeological survey prior to clearing the site for the foundations of a thirty-story office building in Manhattan’s financial district.           

    It was soon apparent the ship likely dated from the early eighteenth century. It offered insights on a little-understood period of naval architecture. Construction could be delayed for only a short time. Any study or recovery of the ship in situ had to be completed by March 1.

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street, by Warren C. Riess with Sheli O. Smith, tells what happened next. It reveals the story of a month-long sprint to unearth the ship and the decades-long marathon to unlock the secrets of the find.

    The book opens describing the 28-day site dig. Riess relates an urban adventure worthy of an Indiana Jones movie. The excavation took place in February in pre-Giuliani New York City. The archeologists not only had to fight time and February weather, they had to contend with picket lines and gang violence. (Local community activists protested the lack of minority workers at the dig site until they learned the diggers were low-paid archeologists, not high-paid construction workers. A street gang attempted to fire-bomb the ship for reasons still unknown.)

    This is followed by a section describing preservation of artifacts and explains what was chosen for preservation and why. It provides a clear, understandable introduction to the science behind stabilizing fragile timber and artifacts.

    Riess next unravels the identity of the ship uncovered by construction. The chapter reads like a first-rate mystery novel, as Reiss pieces clues together. Evidence as diverse as the design of the ship, the timber used in construction, and even the species of shipworm which attacked the hull provided critical data. Combined with archival research, it allowed a tentative identification of the ship.

    For those most interested in sailing era naval architecture, this is likely the most fascinating chapter. The ship is revealed as a transitional design, a cross between the Dutch fluyte (or flyboat) and British merchant frigate. It was significant find.

    After developing the probable career of the ship, Riess explains how and why this ship ended up buried one-tenth of a mile from Manhattan’s present coast. To do this he examines the history of early eighteenth-century New York City. He takes readers into the commercial life of the city, and introduces them to the individuals who developed the lot in the 1740s and 1750s.

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street is a delightful book on several levels. In addition to adventure, mystery, and history, Riess introduces touches of comedy and tragedy describing missteps, near-catastrophe, and dropped opportunities occurring in every effort with tight deadlines and many participants.

    The only real disappointment—for model-makers—is a lack of technical detail about the ship’s design and construction. Riess promises that in a second book about the ship, one he is currently preparing. The Ship that Held Up Wall Street will hold model-makers until then.

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014
    • 8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, 112 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, sketch maps, notes, glossary, index. $29.00
    • ISBN: 9781623491888
    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.


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