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Patriotism and pageantry

Representations of Britain’s naval past at the Greenwich Night Pageant, 1933

Emma Hanna

This chapter explores how ideas and images of Britain’s naval past were represented by the historian Arthur Bryant and the president of the Royal Naval College, Admiral Barry Domvile, at the Greenwich Night Pageant in June 1933. Bryant sought to revitalise the present by romanticising the past, motivated by his desire to raise awareness of Britain’s past glories to halt a perceived decline in patriotism during the interwar period. Using material sourced from a range of archives, including the National Maritime Museum, the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives and the National Archives, this chapter shows how representations of Britain’s naval heritage was utilised in debates about the nature of British identity in an era of imperial decline and an increasingly volatile international situation in the period before the Second World War.

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Particular skills

Warrant officers in the Royal Navy, 1775–1815

Evan Wilson

Historians of the Royal Navy in the age of sail have focused their attention on two groups of men: the commissioned officers and the lower deck. Few have bothered to study the men in the middle: the warrant officers, whose particular skills were necessary on board. Masters, pursers, chaplains, and surgeons – the warrant officers of wardroom rank – straddled the civilian and military worlds. They therefore provide a unique window into both the Royal Navy’s command structure and the continuing significance and evolution of social status boundaries in Georgian Britain. This chapter focuses on warrant officers during the half-decade following the Battle of Trafalgar, when British manpower resources were stretched thinly and exhausted from more than a decade of operations. Between 1805 and 1808, the Admiralty enacted a series of reforms designed to alleviate some of these problems. To make a career as a warrant officer more attractive, the reforms granted surgeons uniforms, increased surgeons’, pursers’ and masters’ pay, and gave all of them a larger share of the prize money spoils. The reforms acknowledged, both implicitly and explicitly, that warrant officers sat uncomfortably in the naval hierarchy. They were crucial to the Navy’s operations, but they lacked the social prestige and promotion prospects of commissioned officers. The reforms suggest that naval administrators were finally beginning to recognise the significance and social standing of warrant officers.

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Edited by: Quintin Colville and James Davey

A New Naval History brings together the most significant and interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary naval history. The last few decades have witnessed a transformation in how this topic is researched and understood, and this volume captures the state of a field that continues to develop apace. It examines – through the prism of naval affairs – issues of nationhood and imperialism; the legacy of Nelson; the sociocultural realities of life in ships and naval bases; and the processes of commemoration, journalism and stage-managed pageantry that plotted the interrelationship of ship and shore. This bold and original publication will be essential for undergraduate and postgraduate students of naval and maritime history. Beyond that, though, it marks an important intervention into wider historiographies that will be read by scholars from across the spectrum of social history, cultural studies and the analysis of national identity.

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Navy, nation and empire

Nineteenth-century photographs of the British naval community overseas

Cindy McCreery

From approximately 1860, the vogue for both individual, carte-de-visite portraits taken in professional photography studios as well as group photographs, often taken outdoors, swept across the British Empire. Photography studios from Plymouth to Cape Town catered to an increasingly enthusiastic naval community. This chapter focuses on photographs taken in the 1860s of officers, their families and associates in and beyond the Royal Naval base at Simon’s Town near Cape Town, South Africa. Individual studio portraits such as ‘Officers of HMS Racoon, 1857–61’, outdoor shots of officers, women and children at naval picnics, photographs of dead officers as well as commemorative photographs of officers visiting Napoleon’s former tomb in St. Helena and Sir John Moore’s tomb at Corunna indicate the links made between the past and the present, and between, Navy, nation and empire. The album also provides a unique documentary record of Prince Alfred’s 1867 visit to the Cape whilst captain of HMS Galatea. When compared with the more formal, professional album of this cruise held in the Royal Archives in Windsor, the Wits album helps us to understand how photographs both identified and supported members of the British naval ‘family’ ashore as well as at sea.

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Barbara Korte

General-interest periodicals are a pre-eminent source for the study of popular views and major discursive formations around the Navy. This chapter offers a cross-title analysis of some of the most widely read family magazines published between 1850 and 1880 (Chambers’s Journal, The Leisure Hour, Household Words and All the Year Round). They reveal the wider social and cultural context in which the mid-Victorian naval-heroic discourse was situated: issues of masculinity, class, a new professionalism, technological advancement and a qualified attitude towards heroes and heroism. The magazines’ depictions of the Navy were not simply laudatory. Above all, they reflected concern that at a time when Britain was still the only world power, its Navy appeared to have entered a post-heroic phase.

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‘My dearest Tussy’

Coping with separation during the Napoleonic Wars (the Fremantle papers, 1800–14)

Elaine Chalus

This chapter draws the unpublished diaries of Elizabeth (Betsey) Wynne Fremantle, 1801–14, and her correspondence with her naval husband, Captain Thomas Francis Fremantle, during the Napoleonic Wars. It examines a working naval marriage that developed into a trusted, complementary partnership and explores the way that the couple dealt with separation through their correspondence. The intertwining of family, Navy and nation in the Fremantles’ correspondence – striving to establish themselves and better their family’s future prospects – is representative of many ambitious naval couples of the time. By the time that the war was finally over, their family had grown to eight living children, their estate had been expanded significantly and the family’s naval, social and political position was well on the way to being secured. Betsey Fremantle played no small part in these achievements and this chapter’s examination of her contributions throws light on the role of the Georgian naval officer’s wife in time of war. It highlights the nature of female agency and examines the women’s part in the development and deployment of vitally important personal, social and political networks in forwarding naval family interests.

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Memorialising Anson, the fighting explorer

A case study in eighteenth-century naval commemoration and material culture

Katherine Parker

An informative example of the conscious act of naval hero-making are the commemorative medals struck in 1768 by the brother of George Anson. Anson had died in 1762, so these medals were not only a memorial to his life, but also a deliberate attempt to control his legacy. What the medals include, and omit, offers a fascinating opportunity to examine what some thought worthy of commemoration in eighteenth-century British culture. This chapter uses the medals as a prism through which to examine the interconnections between naval careers, material culture and the process of commemoration. In addition, the chapter offers a revaluation of the historiographical role of exploration in the eighteenth century and repositions exploration as an explicitly naval activity in the British context.

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Cicely Robinson

The National Gallery of Naval Art was situated within the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital from 1824 until 1936. This collection of British naval paintings, sculptures and curiosities was the first ‘national’ collection to be acquired and exhibited for the general public, preceding the foundation of the National Gallery by a matter of months. Installed in the wake of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Naval Gallery, as it was more commonly known, was founded to ‘commemorate the splendid Services of the Royal Navy of England’. This chapter explores how naval heroism was constructed and commemorated within the gallery space, particularly through the presentation of combat and the recognition of resulting injury, amputation or fatality. Nelson was represented at numerous points across the gallery space, providing us with the most thorough example of this heroic construct. Situated upon the same spot in the Painted Hall where the body had been laid in state in 1806, this site of naval veneration bordered on a quasi-religious mausoleum. This chapter examines the role that the Naval Gallery played in the apotheosis of this national hero, establishing an initial commemorative prototype upon which a wider national Nelsonic mythology can be seen to have developed.

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Britain and the sea

Jan Rüger

This conclusion builds on the varied contribution to the volume by outlining how naval histories can impact on the wider discipline of history. It also considers some of the scholarly questions prompted by the volume, and offers thoughts on the future of naval history.

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The Admiralty’s gaze

Disciplining indecency and sodomy in the Edwardian fleet

Mary Conley

This chapter examines the ways that the British Admiralty treated both acts and allegations of indecency during the early twentieth century. Despite the trope of the gay sailor, remarkably little attention has been devoted to the history of homosexuality in the Victorian and Edwardian British Navy. The chapter historicises the role that the state has played in disciplining sexuality and the potential effect that such efforts had upon the maintenance of discipline and efficiency of the fleet. While few personal accounts have been left, court martial cases offer a lens through which we might understand how sex was expressed afloat. The source base for this chapter includes select courts-martial cases of indecency that are contextualised with a broader statistical survey of Admiralty disciplinary records pertaining to indecency. Research from these courts-martial records suggests the limited effects of punitive disciplinary reforms in deterring acts of indecency and the difficulties that the Admiralty faced in policing men’s sexual activities aboard ship. In particular the chapter finds that a significant proportion of these cases involved boy ratings as both perpetrators and victims.