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  • August 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Midshipmen and Quarterdeck Boys in the British Navy, 1771-1831

    S.A. Cavell

    In her work, Midshipman and Quarterdeck Boys in the British Navy, 1771-1831, S.A. Cavell takes a detailed look at the men and boys who made up this group of “young gentlemen,” and discusses current research and theories related to the social backgrounds of midshipmen and quarterdeck boys.

    Cavell begins the book with a chapter that distinguishes midshipmen and quarterdeck boys from other positions within the Royal Navy. This chapter also includes the definitions of other terms related to these youthful officers in order to set the stage for the research and arguments presented in the text. This foundation proves to be one of the book’s greatest strengths, as the author does not assume all of her readers will have intimate knowledge of military terminology or naval history. A majority of the text is also devoted to analyzing how recruitment trends among midshipmen and quarterdeck boys fluctuated over time, and Cavell makes an admirable effort to provide readers with the historical context of her research by examining how major events, such as the Napoleonic War, impacted those trends. She consistently offers clear and succinct explanations that inform those who lack an understanding of military definitions or historical statistics, without boring those who might already be familiar with the information. In doing so, Cavell widens the appeal of her work and makes it suitable as an introduction to midshipmen and quarterdeck boys, as well as a more detailed look at the Royal Navy’s junior officers and recruitment statistics during this period.

    In addition to explaining the complexities of military terminology and recruitment trends, the author also establishes the factual basis for her conclusions with numerous citations and an extensive bibliography. While analyzing the varying social backgrounds of midshipmen and the recruitment process during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cavell

    references several primary sources such as ships’ rosters and wage listings. These documents are then condensed and incorporated in the book’s appendix as graphs or charts. The decision to present this information to the reader is not only considerate, but also a practical way to strengthen the author’s arguments by clearly displaying the research that she conducted.

    Although thorough details and evidentiary support are certainly positive attributes of this text, sections of Cavell’s work might come across as dry or tedious to some readers due to the large amount of statistical analysis. However, Cavell is able to balance her factual explanations with personal insights from various midshipmen and quarterdeck boys. The author includes brief excerpts from the personal correspondence of young men who entered the ranks of the Royal Navy’s junior officers, which enables Cavell to humanize the midshipman and quarterdeck boys instead of reducing them to mere statistics. In the end, the author accomplishes the task of educating readers about the social backgrounds and recruitment statistics of midshipmen and quarterdeck boys from 1771 to 1831, while still offering her audience a compelling look at some of the individuals who filled those positions. 

    • Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, x + 245 pages
    • Illustrations, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $99.00
    • ISBN: 9781843837190

    Reviewed by Ashley Goethe, University of West Florida

  • August 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    On The Account: Piracy and the Americas, 1766-1835

    Joseph Gibbs

    Piracy has long been a topic of great interest to both scholars and the general public. Thanks in no small part to popular culture and a recent renaissance of the swashbuckling genre in literature and film, people often mistake piracy as a romantic and even heroic undertaking, forgetting the often cruel and bloody nature of real pirates. Joseph Gibbs’ On the Account: Piracy in the Americas, 1766-1835 reminds readers that pirates were criminals, driven by no more honorable motives than money and mayhem. Gibbs, like other maritime historians, seeks to dispel the myths that have arisen over centuries of embellished accounts of piratical acts. He does this by presenting primary sources, drawn from court transcripts, first-hand accounts of battles with pirates, and surviving victims of piracy. These sources are free from long periods of storytelling, thereby eliminating the gradual degeneration of the facts.

    Two aspects of this book immediately stand out that set it apart from other scholarship pertaining to piracy. First, Gibbs does not provide much in the way of analysis, allowing the information to come from the sources themselves. Thus, there is little that sheds new light on pirates or their actions. Indeed, in his introduction, Gibbs does not claim to offer analytical scholarship, stating that his primary aim is to present original evidence to modern readers. He has, on the other hand, guided readers through the documents with helpful footnotes that explain some of the references of the past that might otherwise not be clear. In fact, the footnotes provided in the text are the greatest strength of the book, presented in such a way that will certainly ease the research process for the academic or simply make the documents less confusing for the general reader.

    The other characteristic that makes Gibbs’ book different from others is that readers will not find material pertaining to the most famous names in piracy. As the title of the book suggests, the primary source documents come from the latter years of the Age of Sail, from 1766 to 1835, and not from piracy’s Golden Age of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Aside from the fact that few of the pirates mentioned in the book are well-known to readers, few of them are readily identified as pirates in the classic definition. The majority of the sources deal with mutineers and privateers (including Jean Laffite, arguably the most famous of the characters identified in the book). While mutiny was a criminal act, it did not always lead to piracy, and privateering, while essentially piratical, was legal. Even the Barbary Pirates, to whom one chapter is dedicated, were agents of the North African nations out of which they operated. Nevertheless, Gibbs’ decision to focus on these other forms of piracy does not take away from the value of the book, and it is to his credit that he chooses to break out of the comfortable realm of popular history.

    If the book has a weakness, it is Gibbs’ decision to edit the documents, altering some of the original texts in the interest of clarity. For instance, he replaced the archaic “long s” (ſ) with a standard lowercase “s.” Another example is the word “goal,” which Gibbs changed to “g[ao]l” in order for readers to recognize the old spelling for “jail.” In some cases, such changes disrupt the flow of the text and are largely unnecessary, but they are not enough to diminish the quality of the work.

    Overall, this book is quite engaging. It presents evidence of piracy in an age where other topics have long taken precedence, and it does so without resorting to exaggeration. On the Account is a must-read for anyone desiring a complete understanding of piracy in the Americas during the Age of Sail. 

    • Eastbourne; Portland, Oregon; and Vaughan, Ontario: Sussex Academic Press, 2012
    • 6-3/4” x 9-3/4”, softcover, xii + 249 pages. $49.95
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. 
    • ISBN: 9781845194765
    • Distributed in the United States by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, Oregon

    Reviewed by James R. Wils, Winterville, North Carolina

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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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