Monthly Archives: April 2009

Panton, Leslie & Company

In the third of Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels, The King’s Commission, freshly commissioned Lieutenant Alan Lewrie finds himself assigned the mission of escorting a covert British mission to arm Indians in North Florida and encourage them to raid into Georgia. The trade network of a company called Panton, Leslie & Company is used to contact the Indians and facilitate the transfer of arms and trade goods.

In The Captain’s Vengeance, Lewrie is again detached to undertake a covert mission against pirates based in Spanish New Orleans. Again, Panton, Leslie & Company is the front used for the operation.

As with most of the side trips Lambdin takes us on, Panton, Leslie & Company was real and it did work hand in glove with the British government.

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A Narrative of Joshua Davis

davis_jI stumbled across this transcription of the 1811 pamphlet titled A Narrative of Joshua Davis at the Navy’s online library. The subtitle slash promotional blurb reads:

An American citizen,who was pressed and served on board six ships of the British navy, he was in seven engagements, once wounded, five times confined in irons, and obtained his liberty by desertion. the whole being an interesting and faithful narrative of the discipline, various practices and treatment of pressed seamen in the British navy. And containing information that never was before presented to the American people.

It is an interesting read and also gives a bit on insight into the bitterness felt by Americans towards the British over the practice of impressment right before the War of 1813.

I’ve dressed it up a bit and posted it at scribd.com.

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A Misty, Moisty Morning


From Baltic Gambit as Captain Alan Lewrie’s HMS Thermopylae joins Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s frigates moving to attack the Danish fleet at Copenhagen:

Sails sprang aloft, even as the best bower was rung up, catted, and fished, and Thermopylae paid off the breeze from her anchorage, a faint wake beginning to form as she gained a bit of steerageway among the many warships preparing for battle, slowly threading her way to join up with Capt. Riou’s HMS Amazon.

“A tune, there!? Lewrie yelled. “Desmond, gather the lads, and carry us in!”

A moment later, and the Marine drummer lad, the fifer, Desmond and his uillean pipes, and the ship’s fiddler began One Misty, Moisty Morning, a gay, uplifting tune. Sailors began to stamp their feet in time, and several bellowed out the brief repeating chorus, of “And How D’ye Do, and how d’ye do, and how d’ye do, again!” whenever it came around.

As I’ve noted earlier, part of the enjoyment of Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels is that they immerse you in the 18th century.

I’m also a fan of Steeleye Span, so on this occasion a favorite music group and a favorite author coincide.

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Ships, Characters, and Cultural References from Baltic Gambit

The list of ships, characters, and cultural references from Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novel, Troubled Waters is available at scribd.com.

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The Breeze At Spithead. Part 9. The Grand Finale.

Now the dalliance of Parliament and the blinding stupidity of the Admiralty combined into what was a potentially deadly set of circumstances. Bridport had heard French fleet was out on May 3, but the winds were not favorable for the Channel Fleet to sail until May 7. Because the Seamen’s Bill had not passed Commons and the Fleet now knew of the Admiralty order to suppress all dissent, he knew fleet would not move. So he did the prudent thing and he didn’t order it to sortie.

The Fleet delegates now moved to force action. Sometime during the night of May 6-7 the delegates decided to remove all unpopular officers as a way of demonstrating their resolve and to remove potential flashpoints of violence. They also suspected that the Admiralty would attempt to deal with the mutiny ship by ship. To prevent this from happening all the ships in the mutiny were ordered to move to St. Helens where they could be sequestered from Admiralty agents and kept out of range of the militia congregating in Portsmouth.

Around 9 am the delegates began moving from ship to ship passing the word. Some officers were removed with every courtesy. Others were unceremoniously bundled ashore.
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The Alan Lewrie Novels: A Perspective

I’ve recently finished working my way through Dewey Lambdin’s series of novels following the career of his character Alan Lewrie. I stumbled onto the first by accident, was captured in the first paragraph, back in November and to a certain extent that novel, The King’s Coat, crystallized some ideas that had been floating around in my head about providing a researched resource covering life at sea, particularly life in the British navy, in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

It seems that I have nearly a year to wait until the next installment arrives, so I’ll close this chapter with my perspective on the novel and the character.

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The Wrecks of HMS St. George and HMS Defence

Anchor from HMS St. George at Strandingmuseum, Thorsminde, Denmark

Anchor from HMS St. George at Strandingsmuseum, Thorsminde, Denmark

Below we discuss the horrendous losses inflicted upon the British Navy by the storm that raged across the North Sea at Christmas 1811. In the course of writing it we stumbled onto some interesting resources and were afraid they would get lost in the shipwreck narrative.

In the immediate aftermath of the wreck of HMS St. George and HMS Defence both wrecks were heavily salvaged. The recovered bodies were buried in the dunes adjacent the wrecks, though the body of Defence’s captain, Captain David Atkins and those of two sailors were buried in a church cemetery.

The wreck of St. George was so remote that even though the cannon were salvaged and moved onto the beach, no one could come up with a way of moving the cannon from the beach to any other location and they were subsequently abandoned.

The sand as well as the wave action and storms visited on Jutland buried the wrecks. But they were not forgotten.

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The Christmas Gale of 1811

jutland

England’s lifeblood during the Napoleonic Wars was naval stores to keep its fleet at sea. The primary source of those stores was Scandinavia and Russia and the convoys carrying them traveled via the Baltic and North Sea. As we’ve already seen, this area was so vital that England was willing to expand its war with Napoleon to encompass heretofore neutral powers in order to keep this supply line secure.

The route was treacherous. The relatively shallow depth created significant wave action. The North Sea also caught incoming waves from the Atlantic which then collided with other wave action originating in the English Channel. The Baltic, in particular, was narrow. The weather often prevented accurate latitude calculations and longitude calculation, in the era before the chronometer, was decidedly problematic. A gale, from any point of the compass, immediately placed a ship in danger of being driven onto a lee shore.

This was never more clearly demonstrated than on Christmas Eve, 1811.

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Barracouta and the Pirates

I’ve note on a couple of occasions that it is rather incredible what the British sailor was able to accomplish (here | here). He established a psychological ascendancy over his foes that was so pronounced that he believed himself to be invincible and, surprisingly, his enemies often went along with him.

In the summer of 1812, HMS Barracouta (18) – a ship we’ve earlier encountered – was operating near Bantam in what is now Indonesia. While at anchor a group of natives rowed out and told the captain that if he would send a boat to a rendezvous on shore they would provide the sailors with fresh food.

Lieutenant Tyrell with eight men was sent in the launch, but being cautious they were heavily armed. They arrived at the rendezvous but the promised supplies were not ready so the men made camp to spend the night. The next dawn they noted a proa standing offshore. They thought it suspicious and kept it under observation. As they prepared breakfast, they saw the proa moving towards them. Tyrell ordered the launch loaded – just in case – and as the proa got closer they could see it was full of men. Tyrell says he “therefore thought it prudent to get off.”

We’ll let Lieutenant Tyrell tell the rest:

[T]he proa both out-sailed and out-rowed us. When she came near they began to fire. I was now convinced they were pirates, and determined to board them, knowing that to be the only chance; for, if they took us, they would have put the whole of us to death. As soon as we came alongside, we cleared our way with, our muskets, and jumped on board the proa. There were about 50 men in her, and we only nine. In about half an hour we cleared her. By this time we had drifted near the shore, and the few then remaining jumped overboard. I observed four or five reach the shore, most of them wounded. I had two men killed; the other six had no wounds of consequence. Just then the Leda [ed note, Leda was a 36 gun frigate under Captain George Sayer, whom we’ve already met] appeared in the offing, and we took our prize on board her, and got to the Barracouta about noon.

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The Breeze at Spithead. Part 8. The Second Spithead Mutiny.

When faced with the resolve of the Fleet, Spencer folded like a cheap suit.

He arrived in London at 9 am on April 22 and by 5 pm he had hammered out an agreement to meet the terms of the men at Spithead and was enroute to an audience with King George III on the subject of a royal proclamation of pardon. At 9 pm the pardon was signed and on its way to the printers. The copies of the pardon were delivered to Spithead early on April 23.

At 11 am the proclamation was delivered to the captains of the ships at Spithead and read to the crews. Aboard Royal George the men cheered and Lord Bridport’s flag was again raised over his flagship. Queen Charlotte, mindful of the fate of the Culloden mutineers, was skeptical. Questions were raised as to the authenticity of the pardon and the delegates eventually demanded to see the original bearing the king’s seal and signature. Eventually everyone was satisfied that a deal had been struck.

Queen Charlotte struck the red flag. One by one other ships followed suit, leaving Spithead for St Helens to await a suitable wind to set sail, until only Ramilles, Marlborough, Minotaur, and Nymphe held out over the fate of some of the officers assigned to those ships. The driving issue in two of these ships, Marlborough and Nymphe, was the removal of the captains of those ships who were in the habit of belaboring seamen with their speaking trumpets.

All seemed well. Unfortunately, then, as now, the culture within bureaucracies seems to have “do nothing” as its default setting rather than “do something.”

On April 22, Spencer notified the Privy Council that he had agreed to the increase of pay and provisions. The Privy Council did what any bureaucracy would do in dire circumstances; it formed a committee to study the agreement. The committee reported back on May 3 and Pitt brought the legislative package to the House of Commons on May 8 thereby winning at least an Honorable Mention in any “Too Little, Too Late” contest.

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