Log in

Log in

Book Reviews

  • February 11, 2023 4:13 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    American Merchant Seamen of the Early Nineteenth Century: A Researcher’s Guide

    Anne Morddel

    Anne Morddel has undertaken a monumental task of explaining how to document American seamen who lived and worked during the first thirty years of the nineteenth century. The major problem facing scholars interested in the story of American mariners during the era is that merchant ships normally did not carry crew lists, and even when they did those lists rarely survived. Some information about mariners can be gleaned from the Seaman’s Protection Certificates, which offers descriptions of seamen in question, and details may be found in vessel registration documents. Otherwise, if a sailor got into trouble, there would be some record of them, or if a ship wrecked, was captured, or was stopped at sea there could be a record of an individual. Perhaps when a ship’s captain protested to a consul or to a port authority there could be some information about an individual. As one can see, finding information about individual sailors is much like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

    This volume reveals that some archives and records explained in this book are available at on-line repositories. Yet in most cases, only the archival finding aids or indexes of specific collections may be on-line. Should one be successful in locating the person in question, Morddel reminds us that British repositories send paper copies in the mail, while French and American archives generally send materials via email. To do such research, she also reminds us that scholars needs to be able to read French or even Spanish, and they need to decipher eighteenth and nineteenth century handwriting. A diligent scholar will ultimately find their individual and may even learn that their life at sea did not truly describe the extraordinary nature of their experiences.

    Offering examples of many different British, French, and American repositories, Morddel explains how novices can begin research about maritime topics. First, define the period in which the mariner served at sea. hen look for the ships on which the sailor served. During the period, sailors may have suffered impressment aboard a British warship, thus forcing the researcher to examine British documents. French authorities could have captured them, meaning research in French archives. Morddel offers many examples of the routes of research through archives. Concluding, she provides two case studies that highlight the twists and turns research often takes. One is about a seaman from Marblehead serving on a French privateer who the British captured and who subsequently served in the British Navy. The second was a Nantucket whaler who ultimately died in a French prison. Both reveal the expansive degree of research necessary to document the mariner in question.

    Morddel also offers as a final statement that those interested can get a very thorough survey and explanation of War of 1812 records concerning American mariners through an online course presented by the National Genealogical Society (https:www.ngsgenealogylorg/cgs/war-of-1812-records/). Ultimately, Morddel makes it clear in this useful book that those doing naval/maritime history will also encounter administrative, economic, and political sources at a variety of archives. Those interested in maritime history and documenting an individual who served a sea during the era will find this a very useful primer.

    • The Author, 2020
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, 97 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography. $14.95
    • ISBN: 9791096085095

    Reviewed by: Gene Allen Smith, Texas Christian University

  • February 11, 2023 3:12 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

    Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World

    Owen Rees

    Owen Rees wants to restore ancient naval narratives to a proper place in the historical record: The aim of this work is to bring the multitude of naval engagements, which pervade the ancient sources, into a broader modern awareness.” He leads his readers in the right direction. His introduction concisely and usefully describes the trireme and its functions in war, emphasizing the offensive tactics of the diekplous (breaking through gaps in the enemy line) and of the less clearly attested periplous (a sailing around), which is an encirclement tactic, one aspect of which is the kuklos, a wheel formation. Rees then handles his thirteen battles in individual chapters over the four parts of the book, with each chapter subdivided formulaically, and efficiently, into Background, Forces, Battle, and Aftermath, which means over half the book treats important historical matters as necessary military and political background to these battles.

    The ancient Greek world of the title is a single hundred-year epoch within the Classical Period (500-323): the battles appear in chronological order from Lade (494) to Cnidus (394). Eleven battles belong to either the Persian Conflicts (499-479) or the Peloponnesian War (divided into the Archidamian War, 432-421, and the Ionian War, 413-404). Naval tactics and technology changed throughout this period, as the Greeks learned from one another, but they acquired special importance after the Peloponnesian War. At Catane (396) the Carthaginians initially defeated the Syracusans with the newly developed quinquereme, and at Cnidus (394), Rees argues, the Greeks were split apart, turned against each other, and then had to seek the support of another strong ally.

    With certain exceptions—Salamis (480) and Arginousae (406) come to mind immediately—ancient Greek naval battles are typically stepping-stones to a definitive and historically more important—"more-glorious”—land battle. For example, Aegospotami (405) is not a straightforward naval battle. The Athenians were camped in a highly vulnerable location, as Alcibiades told them. After five days of the Athenian ships tactically showing the colors and backing off, and the Spartans playing coy, the actual disaster came when the Athenians disembarked and carelessly went foraging, and the Spartans landed their force, then hunted down and massacred the Athenians in a full-on ground assault, with their ships also hindering the enemy’s flight. Significantly, Rees prefers to conceptualize such battles as joint land-sea operations.

    The conclusion highlights the indispensable role of the fleet in resisting Persian aggression, providing the basis for Athenian expansionism, and, ultimately, causing Athens’ defeat after a quarter-century of warfare against the Lacedaimonians and their allies. However, an opportunity to examine Spartan naval operations more closely may have been missed, since after the Peloponnesian War Spartan hegemony (404-371) superseded Athenian naval dominance. Together the introduction and conclusion summarize the author’s principal views and indicate the author’s major themes, but if this project is to be extended long-term, a major infusion from maritime archaeology will be needed.

    Rees succeeds in reaching an essential audience. His writing is lucid, informative, and engaging for the knowledgeable general reader and for students at all levels. Each chapter has a rudimentary battle map; one chapter has two. An index would have helped, but an up-to-date bibliography and numerous endnotes allow such readers to pursue topics that draw their enthusiasm.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 416 pages
    • Maps, diagrams, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781473927301

    Reviewed by: Frank E. Romer, East Carolina University

  • November 12, 2021 2:31 PM | David Eddy

    Favourite of Fortune: Captain John Quilliam, Trafalgar Hero

    Andrew Bond, Frank Cowan& Andrew Lambert

    In introducing John Quilliam, a Trafalgar hero, to readers, Bond, Cowin, and Lambert state “that Quilliam is so little known in the wider world is all the more remarkable, given his extraordinary career, which can compared with those of the great heroes of naval fiction, Hornblower and Aubrey.” That may be the case for the wider world, but for members of The 1805 Club, Quilliam is a known entity, and held in high regard.

    In John Marshall’s Royal Navy Biography (1825), the only other biography written about Quilliam, we learn that “This officer may be truly styled a favorite of Fortune.” Bond, Cowin, and Lambert confirm this assessment.

    The authors trace Quilliam’s life from the island of his birth, the Isle of Man, through his service in the Royal Navy, to his return to his birthplace as a man considered by his fellow islanders as “Manx Worthy.”

    He entered the service at the age of seventeen in 1785 and worked in the Portsmouth Dockyard. Quilliam was rated as an able seaman, which indicates he had previous experience at sea. As he rose through the ranks he would draw on his dockyard knowledge.

    In 1792, he joined his first ship, the third-rate HMS Lion (64) and sailed to China. The objective of the cruise was to extend diplomatic relations with the emperor of China. Captain (later Admiral) Sir Erasmus Gower looked favorably on Quilliam: “Lion’s voyage to China had transformed him into a man-of-war’s man, Britain’s most important resource in her hour of need, and secured him the support of the Royal Navy’s senior captains.” The authors show that patronage from senior officers, such as Erasmus, James Gambier and Horatio Nelson, was helpful in Quilliam’s promotion prospects. Promotion through patronage was a common practice throughout the fleet. However, as in other historical analyses found in From Across the Sea: North Americans in Nelson’s Navy, an officer’s chance of promotion finally came down to performance. Quilliam had it in spades.

    Quilliam next transferred to the third-rate HMS Triumph (74), again under Captain Gower, who promoted him to quartermaster’s mate; a rank often interchangeable with that of midshipman. Although another captain replaced Gower before Triumph fought at the Battle of Camperdown, it appears Gower was greatly impressed by Quilliam’s performance during the battle and had him transferred to his own ship, the second-rate HMS Neptune (98) as acting lieutenant. Quilliam was aboard for only twenty days, having to transfer again, because he had been promoted to lieutenant.

    With his transfer to a sloop-of-war, Quilliam’s professional life would, for the most part (except for being aboard Victory at Trafalgar), center on serving in  and commanding Royal Navy frigates. He rose to post captain and acquired wealth from prize money.

    As second lieutenant, Quilliam applied his ‘dockyard matey’ skills at the Battle of Copenhagen, in which he quickly restored his damaged frigate to fighting trim. As a result of his performance at Copenhagen, Nelson selected him above other lieutenants to be Victory’s first lieutenant. His performance during Trafalgar and its aftermath ensured Victory survived the battle and the subsequent storm; despite, sadly, the loss of his benefactor.

    Quilliam returned to frigates as a post captain and served in the Baltic, where he successfully escorted critical naval store convoys from Sweden. The Baltic Fleet commander, Admiral Sir James Saumarez noticed his performance, and gave Quilliam command of two additional frigates.

    However, good deeds do not necessarily go unpunished. When Quilliam commanded a frigate on the Newfoundland Station during the War of 1812, his first lieutenant charged him with cowardice for not engaging what might have been one of the United States Navy’s ‘super’ frigates. Quilliam’s charge for cowardice was dropped, together with lesser charges brought forward by his subordinate. The reader will find it interesting to note why Quilliam even faced court martial in the first place.

    Quilliam returned to sea during the waning months of the Anglo-French War and the American War, performing his role as a talented convoy escort commander in the Caribbean. With the peace, he returned to his island home. He regained his seat in the House of Keys and married a local heiress (although he was quite well off himself). Both were in their late 40s at the time. He was active in improving the island’s fisheries and reducing the loss of life resulting in the many shipwrecks in Manx waters. Quilliam can be called the father of what is now the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

    This biography is a worthy read about a Royal Navy officer who was rather unique in his profession; not only a master at commanding a sailing man-of-war at sea and in combat, but also a master of the technology of building, maintaining and refitting the complex machinery of sailing warships. He was “truly styled a favourite of Fortune.”

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2021
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xvi + 181 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, glossary, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781399012706

    Reviewed by John A. Rodgaard, Melbourne, Florida

  • November 12, 2021 2:25 PM | David Eddy

    Big Guns in the Atlantic: Germany’s battleships and cruisers raid the convoys, 1939-1941

    Angus Konstam

    The defeat of Germany and the terms of peace imposed via the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 reduced its fleet to little more than a coast defense force capable of exerting little more than a degree of control within the Baltic. The Navy, however, had greater ambitions and realized its only viable strategy in the event of war with Britain was to strike against trade. Consequently, it developed and put into service warships capable of fulfilling this mission, epitomized by the powerful long-range panzerschiffe of the Deutschland class, the battleships of the Gneisenau class, and the Type VII and Type IX U-boats covertly designed in the Netherlands by the NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw.

    This paradigm held sway until the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement in 1935 that permitted the expansion of the fleet to thirty-five percent of the size of the Royal Navy. This encouraged the Navy’s commander, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, to plan for a balanced fleet to contend against the Royal Navy, an ambition encouraged by Adolph Hitler, who assured him war with Britain would not come before 1948.

    The outbreak of war with Britain and France in September 1939 forced Raeder to revert to the war against commerce using the available warships, both surface vessels designed for long-range raiding and less-suitable short-legged ships that were part of the plan for 1948, and also the U-boat force. Angus Konstam’s Big Guns in the Atlantic is a thoroughly workmanlike exposition of the Kriegsmarine’s surface raider war that ensued against British convoys in the North Atlantic from 1939 until 1941.

    In large part Big Guns in the Atlantic is a chronological presentation of these operations, starting with Deutschland’s cruise in September to November 1939 and culminating in the debacle of Operation Rheinübung and the destruction of the new battleship Bismarck in May 1941. Konstam effectively highlights the successes and failures of this campaign, emphasizing the strategic planning and tactical skill of the German commanders, the efficiency of the ships and their crews, and the importance of both weather and luck to the outcomes. He also notes the hobbling impact of limiting rules of engagement imposed by Berlin that prohibited risking ships in situations that might result in significant damage, rules that resulted from both a shortage of ships and a reaction to serious losses during the Norwegian invasion campaign in 1940.

    Konstam’s analysis of the overall campaign is both succinct and telling. He notes that the total damage inflicted on the convoys by surface raiders over a twenty-month period, some 270,000 tons of shipping, was no more than that sunk on average by the U-boat force each month from the summer of 1940 onwards. A Bismarck class battleship cost about one hundred times as much as a single U-boat and the size of its crew could man forty to fifty submarines. The big surface ships were compelling in their power but woefully deficient as effective commerce raiders compared with the submarines.

    • Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021
    • 7-1/4” x 9-3/4”, softcover, 80 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $22.00
    • ISBN: 9781472845962

    Reviewed by Charles Peterson, St. Louis, Missouri

  • November 12, 2021 10:29 AM | David Eddy

    Breaking Seas, Broken Ships: People, Shipwrecks & Britain,1854-2007

    Ian Friel

    Britain’s dominion of the seas was long-lasting and global, yet not immune from change. With the rise of new technologies, new vessels, and new world powers, Britain’s seapower and influence began to wane. This is where Breaking Seas Broken Ships: People, Shipwrecks, & Britain 1854-2007 begins. This compendium of unknown yet influential shipwrecks begins where its predecessor, Britain and the Ocean Road ended, at the mid-point of the nineteenth century. Dr. Ian Friel, a prominent maritime historian, continues to tell the story of an evolving Britain and its relationship with the seas that he began in the first volume, Britain and the Ocean Road. Breaking Seas Broken Seas is the second volume exploring its dominance of the seas to its fall from prominence.

    The volume begins with Friel acknowledging this period accounts for a multitude of societal, technological, political, and economic transformations of Britain and its interactions with the world. He frames these transformations through the stories of seven shipwrecks. The wrecks and accompanying histories reflect the myriad of changes that occurred through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries and contextualize them on a local, national, and global scale representative of the changing times addressed in this work. The idea of transformation in the volume is two-fold. First, it is the tangible change of the transformation of ocean-going vessels from wooden sailing to steam-powered iron and steel vessels. The 1850s marked the transition to new vessels, which continued quickly through the twentieth century to the cargo ships of the twenty-first century. Second, the change is evident in society and the place of Britain in the global theater. The volume starts with Britain exerting dominion over the seas, but as the wrecks progress through the World Wars, Britain is supplanted as the dominant sea power. This transition alters societal relationships and, as Friel states, maritime trades is slowly dying as it becomes increasingly global.

    A second theme Friel mentions specifically in his introduction, and is seen throughout the volume, is environmentalism. This theme is presented in two forms, as an agent to change and loss and as a resulting impact because of loss. The beginning chapters discuss the role of the environment as a factor for influencing the need to advance technologies for war and exploration purposes. It also discusses it as an important factor in the wrecking of vessels, particularly in specific locations. As the work progresses, the environmental aspect evolves to include the potential threats to the environment from wrecked and sunken vessels. Twentieth-century wrecks have the potential for causing significant environmental damage, and as the large oil tankers wreck and World War-era vessels erode, the threat of a large-scale environmental disaster is ever-looming, as Friel acknowledges.

    Breaking Seas Broken Ships presents a succinct overview of Britain’s maritime history through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. It uses seven lesser-known shipwrecks to provide this overview and illuminates their interconnectedness to various aspects of Britain’s imperial power, society, and overall relationship with the sea. Friel’s accessible writing style and the broad swath of evidence for each wreck and British society prove successful in discussing the strength and eventual fall of British sea dominance. Breaking Seas Broken Ships is a great continuation volume of the story of Britain’s relationship with the sea from Britain and the Ocean Road, providing a full picture of the intricate relationship of Britain and the sea while leaving room for future growth.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 20210
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 182 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781526771506

    Reviewed by Allyson Ropp, North Carolina Office of State Archaeology

  • November 12, 2021 10:26 AM | David Eddy

    Lepanto 1571: The Madonna’s Victory

    Nic Fields

    In 1571, galley fleets from the Christian Holy League and the Ottoman Empire clashed at the mouth of the Bay of Corinth. The Battle of Lepanto, the last great naval battle fought by oar-powered vessels, culminated in a victory for the Catholic forces and marked the end of unquestioned Ottoman naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. In Lepanto 1571, Nic Fields describes the commanders, personnel, and technology which shaped the battle and campaign, as well as the contrasting naval strategies and paradigms between the Christian and Ottoman forces. The author’s deep dive into the personnel and technology which partook in the grand naval battle permits a deeper understanding of what led to a resounding Christian victory.

    For instance, Fields charts the integration and development of gunpowder weaponry in the Spanish military from its earliest implementation in the fifteenth-century Italian Wars. By quoting contemporary French and Italian opponents of the Spanish harquebus, he captures their bewilderment at combatting such novel military technology, especially when their troop composition remained medieval in comparison. Spanish gunpowder and heavily armed Venetian galleasses proved the difference against the Ottoman Empire, so providing such background gives greater perspective on how the battle unfolded.

    Great detail on the major commanders and leaders of the two forces further allows the reader to sense the scope of the impending conflict. Lepanto truly involved the entire Mediterranean, with the Ottoman forces comprised of those from the Barbary Coast and the Levant, and Pope Pius’ V Holy League, led by the Spanish admiral Don Juan de Austria and the Genoan commander Gianandrea Doria, alongside Venetian, Tuscan, and Hospitaller forces. Fields examines their motivations and military characteristics, providing context for their future decisions in the upcoming battle.

    The breadth of Fields’ research reaches its zenith during his narrative of the Christian and Ottoman fleets approaching and engaging the other. He carefully outlines the order of battle, listing each ship and commander according to its position in formation, some accompanied by the vessel’s armament. The reader can then track the decisive ship movements which occurred during the battle with a degree of familiarity and understanding. Yet, the author’s narrative of the battle moves quickly and seems condensed. Since much of the primary documentation of the battle is subject to bias and exaggeration, which the author rightly identifies, it is undoubtedly difficult to delve into the minutiae of the engagement.

    Fields concludes his book by revisiting his thesis; that the Christian victory at Lepanto was not necessarily the decisive battle contemporary Christian leaders proclaimed it to be. Despite the destruction of the Ottoman fleet, the Holy League did not press their advantage and take the fight to the Ottomans Empire. Instead, the Ottomans rebuilt their fleets and maintained their control of the eastern Mediterranean, effectively splitting the sea between the Christian states in the west and the Ottoman Empire in the east, and the Holy League broke apart and resumed fighting each other. Fields, however, hints at the more substantial result of the battle; the Ottoman navy no longer appeared invincible to the Christian forces.

    All in all, Nic Fields’ Lepanto 1571, remains a wonderfully researched account of the characters, tactics, and technology which collided in the Bay of Corinth on October 7, 1571. He considers all aspects of the battle and its build up, fairly portraying both Ottoman and Christian forces. His conclusion does a wonderful job of explaining how the Holy League victory took on a mythos of its own and was celebrated throughout Europe in Catholic and Protestant states alike. Fields’ crafts a narrative which appeals to the hardened naval history enthusiast who aims to fully understand the motivations and context of the Lepanto campaign.

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxxvii + 426 pages.
    • Illustrations, maps, ,appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $42.95
    • ISBN: 9781526716514

    Reviewed by William Nassif, University of South Carolina

  • November 12, 2021 10:23 AM | David Eddy

    Taranto and Naval Air Warfare in the Mediterranean, 1940-1945

    David Hobbs

    The battle of Taranto, fought November 11-12, 1940 is probably the most famous battle involving carrier aircraft in the Mediterranean during World War II. It was far from the only one. Taranto and Naval Air Warfare in the Mediterranean 1940-1945, by David Hobbs, tell the story of that battle, and the rest of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s war in the Mediterranean during World War II.

    While Taranto is featured in the title, it is only a small part of this book. It may not have been the most important part. This should not imply Hobbs stinted coverage of that battle. He offers a comprehensive account and analysis of Taranto. It takes up only 41 pages in a 456 page book.

    Comprehensive is not a word applicable just to that chapter. It describes the whole book. Hobbs’s account begins with the opening of hostilities in the Mediterranean. It ends with the final Mediterranean operations of World War II in 1945.

    In addition to Taranto, Hobbs presents the role British naval aircraft played throughout 1940, including the preliminary activities immediately after Italy declared war on Britain and France and their role during the Battle of Matapan. This also includes actions against the French at Mers El Kébir.

    In 1941 he shows how Royal Navy aircraft were involved in the fighting in the Western Desert of Libya and Egypt, the Levant in Syria and in the Balkans supporting Greece. Naval aircraft is a more appropriate term than carrier aircraft. Hobbs shows land-based squadrons and warship floatplanes played a surprising diverse and important role during that year.

    The year 1942 includes descriptions of naval aircraft support of Operation Torch and the El-Alamein operations, and the Malta’s reprovisioning. The book reaches its climax during Operation Pedestal, the August 1942 operation to get a supply convoy to Malta. Pedestal was a major carrier effort, directly involving three Royal Navy aircraft carriers and indirectly engaging two others. It was the most decisive carrier action in the Mediterranean, even though the Axis only used land-based aircraft.

    Royal Navy aircraft support of Sicilian and Italian invasions were the highlights of 1943, while carrier support of the Southern France invasion and of landings in Greek islands and mainland are the focus of 1944. This is not a dramatic as previous years, if only because allied victory seems assured. Additionally, the less-glamorous escort carriers displaced the faster fleet carriers over these two years as Axis naval and air threats waned.

    Hobbs goes beyond just describing operations. He offers insightful analysis of the Royal Navy and its carrier activities during this period. He explains the reasons for the material shortages debilitating fleet aviation from 1939 through 1942. He gives the impression Taranto was originally viewed as an attempt to divert Italian attention, which exceeded beyond expectations.

    Taranto is an excellent addition to the series of books Hobbs has written involving Royal Navy aviation operations. It will not interest pure model-makers. For those whose interests lie in history or wargaming, especially those interested in World War II naval aviation, this book is worth reading.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2020
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 440 pages
    • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $52.95
    • ISBN: 9781526793836

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • November 09, 2021 10:32 AM | David Eddy

    A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War: Joannes Wyllie of the Steamer AD-Vance

    John F. Messner

    Offering a view to an often-written period in American history, John Messner explores the American Civil War from a foreign perspective. Similar to Joannes Wyllie, Messner was not born in the country that his story impacts. Instead, Messner, an American living abroad, writes about a Scottish mariner impacting American history. This book takes a deep dive into this mariner, his life before going to sea, life on the water, and the quiet life after returning to land through many secondary sources.

    It is unfortunate that some important local information is left out or misrepresented. The omission of Fort Anderson, its important use as the Quarantine Fort in the Lower Cape Fear region of North Carolina, and the few unquantified statements of Wyllie as the greatest blockade running captain shows the author's limited knowledge of local history. No question researching a person during a conflict with limited surviving records is a tall order to fill. Messner took a major undertaking in writing this book. Starting from a note on the back of a painting is an incredible launching point and the quintessential historian "rabbit hole" research project.

    Much of Messner's research was based on newspaper articles, some published during the American Civil War. However, many were published much later. The limited access to records to corroborate the reports leaves space for speculation. Being an American living in the American South, reading this book raises many questions of validity from Confederate records and the personal papers of Governor Vance and hopes of seeing equal information pulled from Union records. This, combined with heavy references to the writings of Wyllie's friend or Wyllie's recollections late in life, creates more questions of biased writing. Messner acknowledges the questionable validity and conflicting perspectives; however, does not offer definitive analytical explanations. Between the changing names of vessels and varieties of spellings common throughout, it is hard to trust that this book follows the same person and vessel. He even goes as far as to note all the other J. Wyllie's in active service with Joannes Wyllie. Combined with the age discrepancy stated early on, it lingers that there may have been a mix-up. In addition, offering so much leverage to Wyllie's recollections but not utilizing his spelling of the vessel he served on is an interesting choice.

    Civil War historians looking for varied sources and deep analysis may want to prioritize another work. While the approach of American history from a foreign perspective is fascinating, the long form block quotes take up several pages, and the heavy reliance on newspapers creates a concern. Readers choosing to add this book to their reading list will greatly appreciate the care Messner takes to explain terminology and geographic locations for those not too familiar with Scotland.

    • Dunbeath: Whittles Publishing, 2021
    • 6-3/4” x 9-1/4”, softcover, xxiv + 258 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781849954822

    Reviewed by Caitlin Menne, North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

  • August 24, 2021 10:17 AM | David Eddy

    Chasing the Bounty: The Voyages of the Pandora and Matavy

    Edited by Donald R. Caxton

    Chasing the Bounty: The Voyages of the Pandora and Matavy, edited by Donald A. Maxton, continues the tradition. The book examines the expedition sent to recapture the mutineers. It tells of events aboard HMS Pandora a 24-gun frigate dispatched in search of the mutineers and the cutter Matavy, built by Bounty mutineers and seized when Pandora arrived at Tahiti.

    The story is told through primary documentation. Maxton collected writings of those participating in the Pandora expedition, willing and unwilling. The quarterdeck view from Pandora is offered by Captain Edward Edwards (commanding Pandora), Pandora’s surgeon, George Hamilton, and Midshipman David Renouard. The book includes Edwards’s official dispatch to the Admiralty, Hamilton’s 1793 book about the expedition, and Renouard’s Voyage of the Pandora’s Tender (1791).

    The last is Renouard’s report about the activities of Matavy after Matavy became separated from Pandora, and sailed independently to the Cape of Good Hope. Renouard commanded Matavy after it was seized and became Pandora’s tender.

    Presenting the mutineers view of the voyage are letters written by Peter Heywood to his mother and sister during the voyage between Batavia and Britain, and James Morrison’s journal of the voyage. Heywood was one of the midshipmen aboard Bounty. Morrison was its boatswain, the driving force behind building the cutter seized by the Pandora.

    Other documents round out the book: Pandora’s Admiralty’s sailing orders, a statement on Pandora’s loss by Edwards, Bounty court marital results, and an anonymous poem about Bounty and Pandora believed written by an officer aboard Pandora. These place the main part of the book in context.

    Maxton took these documents, cleaned up the spelling and modified some punctuation and grammar to conform to modern standards. The result is a remarkable retelling of Pandora’s voyage from disparate points of view. Maxton captures each author’s voice. Edward’s writes in sparse language, while Hamilton is effusive. Heywood seems defensive, while Morrison is straightforward. (This is possibly due to when these were written. Heywood’s letters were written before the trial, Morrison’s account afterwards.)

    Maxton divides his material by chronological sequence. His chapters cover different stages of the expedition: the outbound trip, the hunt for the mutineers at Tahiti, the search for the rest of the mutineers, and the wreck of Pandora, He breaks up each account. Readers move from Edwards to Hamilton to Heywood to Morrison in each section. (The order varies by section.) While it keeps events in order, it also disrupts the flow of each narrative.

    Despite this, Chasing the Bounty is a valuable addition to Bounty lore. Much of its material has been unavailable for years in editions that contain errors. Maxton makes them available to modern readers stripped of inaccuracies. Maxton added introductory material, a glossary, and notes aiding readers’ understanding of the events. This book is a must for serious students of Bounty.

    • Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2020
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, x + 190 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781476639741

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • August 24, 2021 10:15 AM | David Eddy

    Revenge in the Name of Honour: The Royal Navy’s Quest for Vengeance in the Single Ship Actions of the War of 1812

    Nicholas James Kaiser

    The War of 1812 between the USA and Great Britain attracts little attention today in the United Kingdom, and not much in America, compared to other conflicts in which those countries have been engaged during their respective histories. It broke out on the declaration of war by the United States on a Britain nearly nineteen years into its desperate struggle with what had become the Napoleonic Empire, one that involved all countries of Europe as well as many others in the world.

    The new American war was received with little enthusiasm by the United Kingdom. What the year of 1812 is principally remembered for there and in Europe is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the epic battle of Borodino (the biggest battle of the entire French Wars) and the disastrous French retreat through the Russian winter. To contemporaries, however, the defeats at sea of 1812 at the hands of the small United States Navy provoked shock and initial disbelief to the British public and military. The Royal Navy’s ‘cult of victory’ had, over many years, built up the belief that a British frigate was capable of taking any frigate of any other nation, and was expected to. That  expectation had largely been fulfilled against vessels of Britain’s principal enemies the French and the Spanish, as well as of others, including against more powerfully armed ships such as the new French 40-gun frigates armed with 24-pounder guns, frigates taken by British 38-gun frigates armed with 18-pounders.

    The three large American 44-gun frigates were, however, yet another step up in power from the French frigates. The USS President, United States and Constitution were the most powerful frigates afloat in 1812, well built, manned and commanded. Their three 1812 victories against British 38-gun frigates, as well as successful American actions against smaller British vessels, provoked a public outcry, sending shockwaves through the navy and public in Britain and in Nova Scotia, Canada. American pride had been boosted by the victories at sea of their tiny navy, a much-needed boost following the ineffective American campaigns on land. British pride had been wounded. For both sides, the naval war had become a matter of honor to be upheld or reclaimed, as the author clearly points out, and of revenge to be exacted by the world’s most powerful navy.

    The author, Halifax-based Nicholas James Kaiser, effectively follows this theme through to the war’s conclusion in 1815, offering a fascinating and well-balanced account that covers all the important actions and their effects. His style flows smoothly, and he has contributed a most readable book to the increasing volume of works on the War of 1812, and one with a different slant to most. This is an offering firmly recommended to all interested in the maritime history of the period and of this war in particular.

    • Warwick: Helion & Company, 2020
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, softcover, 216 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, bibliography, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781912866724

    Reviewed by Roger Marsh, Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland

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.


Listing Type



Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software