Friday 28 April 2017


The modern travel industry has brought tourists to just about every part of the world, however seemingly inaccessible. I suspect however that, though the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic is widely known as the place of detention of the ex-Emperor Napoleon, very few tourists ever get there. I’m all the more glad therefore to welcome back my guest blogger, Lally Brown, has not only lived on the island, but has also put it to very good account in writing a very authoritative book about Napoleon’s exile there. You can find out more about Lally and her books at the end of her article, but first let’s hear here tell about one of the great “What Ifs...” of history. 

“Napoleon’s submarine and the escape that wasn’t”  
by Lally Brown

First of all a big "thank you" to Antoine for inviting me back to write another article for the Dawlish Chronicles blog, it’s both an honour and a real pleasure.

Like many other readers I was intrigued by Antoine’s excellent and informative post of 24th March 2016 concerning the Farfadet Submarine Disaster of 1905, and I was reminded of an extraordinary plot to rescue ex-Emperor Napoleon from his exile on remote St. Helena by submarine.

Over the five and a half years of Napoleon’s imprisonment on the island of St. Helena several escape plans were hatched. Apparently Napoleon studied all of them but declined to risk any. Some were quite bizarre and some sound positively dangerous. Would Napoleon really have allowed himself to be dressed as a woman and smuggled on board a ship in Jamestown harbour? Or been lowered down a steep cliff in a basket in the dead of night? I think not! However the submarine plot, if true, must be the most hazardous of all the proposals.

Robert Fulton
The submarine story is fascinating. It starts late in 1797 when an American inventor living in Paris, Robert Fulton (1765-1815) took an original submarine drawing designed by a gentleman called Bushnell to the French government. By towing an underwater bomb, called a torpedo, Fulton was convinced his submarine (called Nautilus) could successfully ‘annihilate England’s Navy’. The idea was initially well received, but before construction could start, for some reason the project was cancelled. Possibly because Napoleon was busy elsewhere in Switzerland, Italy and Egypt.

Fulton did not give up. In 1801 he managed to meet Napoleon who agreed to give him 10,000 francs to test his invention. Fulton moved to Brest where he conducted several successful experiments. He wrote: “I conceived every experiment of importance to be proved in the most satisfactory manner’

He submitted his report but in 1802 the Treaty of Amiens was signed and hostilities between France and Great Britain were halted and Napoleon lost interest in the submarine. Disappointed Fulton moved to England and approached the authorities there. At first all seemed to be going well and Fulton began his experiments, but when the promised funds were not forthcoming Fulton left England for New York in 1806 in disgust.

Fulton’s Submarine drawings in the World Digital Library (

Listed as having ‘no known restrictions on publication’

 It was while he was in England that Fulton apparently met the notorious Captain Thomas Johnstone (1772-1839). A very shady character who was to become central to the St. Helena submarine escape plot. Sir Walter Scott in his ‘Life of Napoleon’ described Johnstone as: ‘A smuggler of an uncommonly resolute character, and whose life had been a tissue of desperate risks.’

After Fulton’s departure for America, Johnstone stepped in and quickly took over the submarine plans and in 1812 at the outset of war with the U.S. the British Government commissioned Johnstone to build a torpedo system and a submarine and by 1814 Johnstone’s submarine was almost complete: ‘The hull was formed of sheet iron; her figure, that of a salmon swimming; her length, about twenty feet; and her space in the inner chamber, about six feet square. This was formed in an inside boat, formed of cork and wood.’

 Unfortunately for the hapless Johnstone war with the U.S. ended in February 1815 and the submarine no longer held any interest for the British, funds were withdrawn and the project shelved. However, when Napoleon was banished into exile to the remote island of St. Helena after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it seems that Johnstone became convinced his submarine design could be used ‘in the meritorious and humane service of rescuing the immortal emperor Napoleon’ from his South Atlantic rock.

Johnstone searched out people he felt might be willing to fund his ‘adventure’ to rescue Napoleon. In 1818 he managed to ingratiate himself with Barry O’Meara, the doctor who had attended Napoleon on St. Helena before being removed by Governor Sir Hudson Lowe. Barry O’Meara was a keen supporter of the ex-Emperor, lobbying in London on Napoleon’s behalf. Johnstone’s approaches proved successful and in 1819 he received £15,000 to start building a submarine. Where all the money came from is unclear but Count Montholon (Napoleon’s General and friend on St. Helena) says in his memoirs that ‘five or six thousand louis d’or was given to the funding of a submarine’. Johnstone immediately set up operations at Blackwall Reach on the Thames, telling the workers the submarine would be used for smuggling. It is possible the submarine was actually completed by late 1820, Sir Walter Scott says Johnstone’s vessel: ‘was actually begun in one of the building-yards upon the Thames; but the peculiarity of her construction having occasioned suspicion, she was seized by the British government.’

Personally I think it highly unlikely that Napoleon would have considered escaping from St. Helena inside a submarine, but let Johnstone himself have the last word. Below is an account Johnstone apparently gave to Frederick William Naylor Bayley, who included it in his own memoirs published in 1835. Whether it is fact or fantasy still remains a mystery.

‘I constructed two submarine ships, which I intended should be engaged in the meritorious and humane service of rescuing the immortal emperor Napoleon – the greatest man of his age – from the fangs of his jailor, Sir Hudson Lowe.
The Eagle was of the burthen of a hundred and fourteen tons, eighty-four feet in length, and eighteen feet beam; propelled by two steam engines of forty horse power. The Etna – the smaller ship – was forty feet long, and ten feet beam; burthen, twenty-three tons. These two vessels would be propelled – the large one with two engines of twenty horse power each , the small one with one engine of ten horse power, high pressure, well arranged, equipped with warlike stores, and thirty well-chosen seamen, with four engineers. They were also to take twenty torpedoes, a number equal to the destruction of twenty ships, ready for action in case of my meeting with any opposition from the ships of war on the station.

These two ships were to be stationed at a convenient distance from the rock (at St. Helena), abreast of Longwood House, the highest point of the island, being two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and because deemed inaccessible, of course unsuspected. All the accessible points were well fortified and guarded. In this position the two vessels were to lay at anchor at a cable’s length from each other, the smaller one close to the rock, well-fortified with cork fenders, in order to guard against any injury which might be apprehended from the friction or beating against the rock, which could at all times be prevented by hauling off or on, as occasion required. This smaller ship would be provided with a mechanical chair, capable of containing one person on the seat, and a standing foot-board at the back, so that the person at the back could regulate the ascent or descent at pleasure. Attached to this chair would be a patent whale-line, two thousand and fifty feet long, with all the necessary apparatus ready when called for.

Thus far arranged, the vessels were to remain submerged during the day, and at night approach the surface. Everything being then perfectly in order, I should then go on shore, provided with some other small articles, such as a ball of strong twine, an iron bolt, with a block, which I would sink into the ground at the top of the rock, opposite Longwood House, and abreast of the submarine ships. I should then obtain my introduction to his Imperial Majesty, and communicate my plan.
The residence of the emperor being surrounded by a chevaux-de-frise, and the stables being outside, the servants only had access to the house. I proposed that the coachman should go into the house at a certain hour which should be fixed, and that His Majesty should be provided with a similar livery, as well as myself, the one in the character of coachman, the other as groom; and that thus disguised we should pass into the coach house, and there remain unnoticed and unperceived.
Longwood House (by Lally Brown) - Napoleon's St. Helena residence
We should then watch our opportunity to avoid the eye of the frigate guard, who seldom looked out in the direction of the highest point in the Island, and on our arriving at the spot where our blocks, &c. were deposited, I should make fast one end of my ball of twine to the ring, and heave the ball down to my confidential men, then on the lookout below, who would make the other end fast to the fall belonging to the mechanical chair, by which means I should be able to haul up the end of the fall, which I should run through the block, and then haul up the mechanical chair to the top. I should then place His Majesty in the chair, while I took my station at the back, and lowered away with a corresponding weight on the other side, until we arrived safe at the bottom.
Embarked on board the Etna, into which we should have lowered, as it lay close under the rock, I should then cast off our moorings, and haul alongside the Eagle, and remain there during the day; in the evening, prepare our steam, and get underweigh as soon as it became dark. In this position I should propel by steam until I had given the island a good berth, and then ship our masts and make sail, steering for the United States.
I calculated that no hostile ship or ships could impede our progress, so as to offer any very serious obstruction, as in the event of an attack I should haul our sails, and strike yards and masts (which would only occupy about forty minutes), and then submerge. Under water we should wait the approach of the enemy, and then, by the aid of the little Etna, attaching the torpedo to her bottom, effect her destruction in fifteen minutes.

Death of Napoleon - by Paul Léon Jazet (after Steuben) 
Napoleon died on St. Helena on 5th May 1821 but if he had succeeded in escaping from the island, by submarine or any other means, our history today might be very different.

Those of you interested in learning more about Napoleon’s years on St. Helena might enjoy my book The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena and anyone interested in the ‘what if Napoleon had escaped’ alternative history scenario will surely appreciate Shannon Selin’s book Napoleon in America.

 About Lally Brown

Born and bred in Yorkshire, England, Lally embraced the Swinging Sixties with naïve enthusiasm. As a teenager in search of adventure she trekked overland to war-torn Israel, working on a small kibbutz driving a tractor and picking oranges to earn her keep. She managed to hitch-hike around the country staying in Haifa, Jerusalem and Acre. This amazing, and occasionally dangerous experience, was the spark that ignited her lifelong love of adventure and travel.

Lally has lost count of the number of homes she has had over the years but says her most memorable are those on remote St. Helena Island where ex-Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned and where he died; Montserrat in the Caribbean when the volcano erupted, Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

As she looks back, Lally is writing about her adventurous life using the journals she kept at the time. Her books prove that truth can indeed be far stranger than fiction, with erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, evacuations, abduction, drug smugglers, people smugglers, armed robbery, hangings, stowaways, bribery, corruption, political intrigues, riots, and much, much, more.

 To get more information on Lally Brown’s books click on the image above

And to learn more about Shannon Selin’s alternative history of Napoleon's career in America click on image on right:
The year is 1821. Former French Emperor Napoleon has been imprisoned on a dark wart in the Atlantic since his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Rescued in a state of near-death by Gulf pirate Jean Laffite, Napoleon lands in New Orleans, where he struggles to regain his health aided by voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Opponents of the Bourbon regime expect him to reconquer France. French Canadians beg him to seize Canada from Britain. American adventurers urge him to steal Texas from Mexico. His brother Joseph pleads with him to settle peacefully in New Jersey...

Tuesday 25 April 2017


I recently came across a book – undated, but clearly late 19th Century – entitled “Thrilling Narratives of Mutiny, Murder and Piracy”. It was published in New York, though the author is not named. It is however a treasure house of accounts of obscure maritime events. One of the most remarkable describes the loss of the schooner Betsey in 1805. I’ve found no other references to the case, other than a very brief mention in Wikipedia. The privations of the Betsey’s crew would make a good movie, rather like The Heart of the Sea.

The classic perception of a schooner - trim, elegant and practical
The Betsey may have looked more mundane than in this painting:
The topsail schooner Amy Stockdale off Dover – by William John Huggins (1781-1845)
The Betsey, was a small British schooner of about 75 tons and in November 1805 she departed from the Portuguese colony of Macao, on the Chinese coast, bound for the settlement of New South Wales. Other than her captain, William Brooks, and the mate, Edward Luttrell, none of the other eight crew members were British – one was Portuguese, three Filipino and four Chinese. By November 21st the Betsey had reached a point in the South China Sea about 270 miles West of Palawan, and about the same from the Northern tip of Borneo. Here, in the early hours of the morning, she ran on to a reef. An attempt was made to drag her off by sending a boat astern to drop an anchor. When hauling, the cable parted, resulting in both cable and anchor being lost, but no lives. With destruction of the ship now a distinct possibility the crew worked on through the hours of darkness on construction of raft from water casks – the boat appears to have been too small to accommodate the entire crew.  According to the book’s account “the swell proved so great that they found it impossible to accomplish their purpose.” All the time the weather was driving the damaged vessel onward across the reef – as far, as was estimated, as some five miles. At last lodged at a point where the water was only two feet deep, further attempts over the next three days and nights to free her proved futile.
The horror of shipwreck
There was no option now but to take to the boat and to the raft that had at last been completed. The intention was to head for the island of Balambangan, off the northern tip of Borneo. Captain Brooks, Luttrell the mate and three others were in the boat – with a bag of biscuits between them – while the remainder of the crew were on the raft. Soon after leaving the Betsey a gale arose from the north-west and the boat lost sight of the raft, which was never seen again. The gale continued for another three days “accompanied by a mountainous sea.” By this time the boat had run out of fresh water and the remaining biscuit was saturated with seawater. This forced Brooks and his group to resort to the measure which was often essential in such cases to drink their own urine. The storm had one advantage – it had blown the boat south eastwards so that on November 29th the cost of Borneo was sighted but it was not until dawn the following day that they managed to land.

The first objective was fresh water – luckily soon found – and while hunting for food they encountered two “Malays”. (One assumes that these were people of one of the indigenous tribes – nineteenth century accounts are seldom specific on such points). These two returned in the afternoon with two coconuts and a few sweet potatoes, which they exchanged for a silver spoon. Brooks and his group remained with their boat on the beach through the night but the next morning five more Malays appeared with more food to exchange for spoons. (One is impressed by Captain Brooks’ foresight in bringing the schooner’s cutlery with him).

The next group of Malays to appear – eleven in total – were less friendly and mounted an attack. Captain Brooks received a spear thrust in his stomach – the weapon lodged there – but the mate Luttrell manage to hold off his own assailant with his cutlass and ran to the boat. Captain Brooks managed to drag out the spear and also tried to run but he was overwhelmed and both his legs were cut off by the attackers. Another crew member – identified as “the gunner” was also badly wounded but managed to reach the boat. The survivors pushed her out and saw Brooks’ body being stripped. A sail was raised but shortly afterwards the gunner also died.
"A Piratical Proa in Full Chase": 19th C illustration by Charles Ellms.
Luttrell may have been attacked by something similar.

Course was now set for the Straits of Malacca where friendly shipping might be encountered – this was still some thousand miles away and the provisions consisted of ten corncobs, three pumpkins, and two bottles of water. Progress for the next ten days was good and showers provided fresh water. The survivors were however badly weakened by exposure and hunger. By December 15th they had reached islands off the coast of Sumatra and were immediately attacked by two proas – fast Malays outrigger sailing craft. (The general area was to remain a hotbed of piracy for decades to come.) One of the Betsey’s seamen was run through with a spear and died instantly, while another was wounded. Luttrell, the mate, had a very narrow escape from a spear piercing his hat.  Now prisoners, Luttrell and one other survivor were taken in three days to “an island called Sube” (which I have been unable to identity – names having changed so much over the years). They were handed over to the local rajah, who kept them prisoners, fed only on sago, for the next four and a half months. In late April 180s the Rajah decided to release them and had a proa take them to the Riau Islands (just south of modern Singapore, which would not be founded for another thirteen years). Here they were handed over to a “Mr. Koek of Malacca”, who could have been a Dutch trader – no further details are given in the book. The rajah’s motivation for releasing the two men is not clear – he did perhaps fear retaliation by Royal Navy vessels if the continued detention got heard of.

Mr. Koek treated Luttrell and the other survivor “in the kindest manner” and they were then carried on to the trading centre of Malacca by a British ship, the Kandree. Thereafter they disappear from history. 

If any reader can fill in some of the blanks in this remarkable story – a small epic – I would be glad to hear from them. Brooks, Luttrel and their companions were indeed iron men and worth remembering.

Britannia's Reach 

Ironclads and gunboats clash on a South American river system while government forces, funded by strong commercial interests, wage a savage war with rebels onshore. Click here or on the image below to plunge yourself into a world of danger, betrayal and merciless conflict in which neither side has clean hands and one man battles to maintain his integrity. One click on the image gives you access to the opening chapters...

Download a free copy of Britannia’s Eventide 

To thank subscribers to the Dawlish Chronicles mailing list, a free, downloadable, copy of a new short story, Britannia's Eventide has been sent to them as an e-mail attachment.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

The horrific loss of the liner La Bourgogne, 1898

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 remains locked in the public imagination as the supreme tragedy of North Atlantic passenger travel, all the more so since elementary safety precautions could have saved many more lives, even if they could not save the ship. What is however quite horrifying is that this disaster was preceded by so many others, with lesser but still substantial death tolls. The mantra so common today in the aftermaths of disasters – “Lessons must be learned” – was equally common in those years, but the lessons were not learned and preventive measure were not implemented. Provision of an adequate number of lifeboats was one obvious requirement, but so too was training and discipline of ships’ crews in the event of emergencies. The loss of the French liner La Bourgogne in 1898 was one of the most disgraceful of such disasters, the final death-toll being in no small measure due to the behaviour of a crew whose motto appears to have been “Women and Children Last”.

La Bourgogne, as seen on a postcard circa 1895
Launched in 1885, and entering service the following year on the Le Havre- New York route, the 7395-ton, 490-ft La Bourgogne set a new standard of speed, crossing in just over seven days. Her maximum passenger capacity was just over 1000, of whom some 390 were accommodated in first-class.  Other than her enviable reputation for speed – 17 knots was considered high at this time – her career seems to have been uneventful until 1896 when she collided with a British steamer, the Ailsa, in New York Harbour. The 2000-ton Ailsa was at anchor in fog at the time and she sank in situ. On this occasion, it was the crew of the Ailsa that appears to have behaved deplorably, as evidenced by a question asked by an MP in the British Parliament in March 1896, in the aftermath of the accident. The following quote is verbatim:

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON MP: I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade, whether his attention has been directed to the reports of a collision between the British steamship Ailsa and the French Transatlantic liner Bourgogne whether he is aware that the major portion of the crew of the Ailsa were foreigners, who immediately after the collision made a rush for the lifeboats, one of them striking a lady passenger and another kicking a lady in the side, and that they drew their knives and threatened the passengers; and afterwards took away the only available lifeboat, in spite of the protests of the captain; whether he will cause an immediate and full Inquiry to be held into the whole of the circumstances attending this collision; whether he can state if the crew of the Ailsa were competent seamen, able to speak and understand the English language; and, whether they were shipped in the United Kingdom or before Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at New York?

Even allowing for the general distrust of “foreigners” – i.e. non-British citizens – was rampant at the time in Britain, the case seems egregious and indicates just how poor the safety standards and procedures on ocean-going shipping still were. It was the crew of La Bourgogne herself however that was to feature in an equally disgraceful manner two years later. The liner had been refitted in 1897-98, with a quadruple-expansion engine – then the gold standard – being installed.

Contemporary artist's impressions left little to the imagination
Shortly after re-entering service, on July 4th 1898, La Bourgogne ran into thick fog some hundred miles south of Nova Scotia at five in the morning. Also enveloped in the fog was the 1550-ton, 245-ft iron-hulled sailing vessel Cromartyshire. She was sounding her fog horn when a ship’s whistle announced the presence of another vessel close by – La Bourgogne. The Cromartyshire’s captain was unable to determine the location of the other ship until La Bourgogne’s starboard side loomed before him. There was no time for evasive action and the sailing vessel gouged into the liner’s side amidships, where many of the passengers were accommodated. 

La Bourgogne began to list immediately to starboard. Many of the lifeboats on that side had been wrecked in the collision and the boats on the port side proved impossible to launch due to the list. Even in this situation a disciplined response might have saved lives but La Bourgogne’s crew panicked and behaved as badly as that of the Ailsa had done two years before. Showing little concern for the passengers, they rushed for the undamaged boats and launched them. In the middle of this chaos, the Cromartyshire, damaged but not fatally, mistook alarm whistles and rockets from the again unseen La Bourgogne as an offer for assistance. Only as the fog thinned, and as the liner sank a half-hour later, was the actual nature of the disaster understood and the Cromartyshire began to pick up survivors from boats and improvised rafts.

The death toll told its own story. Of 506 passengers on board La Bourgogne only 70 were rescued, as compared with 103 members of the crew out of a total of 220. Only three of the La Bourgogne’s eighteen officers survived, indicating that they at least had remained faithful to their responsibilities. Most telling of all is that only one woman survived and none of the children on board. Later reports, which may or may not have been true, indicated that crew members had stabbed passengers in the water, or had beaten them away with oars, to avoid the lifeboats being swamped. Public indignation was so high that La Bourgogne’s surviving crew members needed police protection when they landed at New York to save them from being lynched.

Terrible as the Titanic’s loss may have been, her crew had nothing to reproach itself with in her final agony. The same cannot be said of La Bourgogne’s and their name will live in infamy. 

 Britannia’s Amazon

I’m rather flattered by a review today by author Meghan Holloway on her blog. In it she writes that  “Antoine Vanner's Britannia’s Amazon is a gripping read and features one of the most realistic heroines in historical fiction.”  Click here to read her blog. I’m all the more pleased in that I had set myself a challenge, for the first time, of telling a story wholly from a female viewpoint. It's a dark tale, strongly linked to actual historical events and a particular concern was to reflect the constraints that late-Victorian society placed on intelligent, resourceful women. Click on the image below to read the opening chapters.

Friday 14 April 2017

1759 – “The Wonderful Year”

A Little Bookworm - Eduard Swoboda (1814-1902)
When I was twelve I found in our local library a leather-bound “Children’s History of the World” in two volumes, each about two and a half inches thick. They dated from the 1890s (the summit of human progress might have been assumed to be Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887) and by being unashamedly British in outlook would probably arouse the indignation of any politically-correct educationalist today. But I loved them! I spent my school summer-holidays of 1958 reading them cover-to-cover and starting all over again when I got to the end. Several episodes still linger in the memory for the vividness of the writing, notably the Roman tactic of boarding in the naval battles of the First Punic War, the Diet of Worms and the Dutch Revolt (the “Sea Beggars” received especially sympathetic treatment). Knowing that the books dated from the 1890s I was however surprised by the chapter entitled “The First World War.”

A 22-year old Militia officer...
The description was indeed an accurate one, for the Seven Years War of 1756 – 1763, was the first to be fought on a global scale. It was longer indeed that seven years, for hostilities had opened between Britain and Britain in North America in 1754, triggered by an incident in Pennsylvania involving a 22-year old militia officer called George Washington. Two years later the conflict took on an even wider European dimension. The British-led alliance included Prussia, Portugal and the smaller German states, including Hanover, and was opposed by a French alliance with the Austrian Empire, Spain, Sweden and Saxony. Russia was initially allied with Austria but changed sides halfway through. Vast in geographical scope, it was a war in which, in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s phrase, European enmities ensured that “black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.” 

David Garrick - 18th Century superstar
The consequences of this war are still with us today – not least as regards the status of Canada – and it confirmed Britain as a world power. A constant reminder of this today is "Heart of Oak, the official march of Britain’s Royal Navy, of the Royal Canadian Navy and of the Royal New Zealand Navy. "Heart of Oak" started however as the most successful popular song of its time, not only because of its memorable tune but for the robust and confident humour of the lyrics. The title refers to the strongest wood at the centre of the oak, from which Britain’s sailing navy was constructed. The words were written by the greatest actor of his time, David Garrick, and the music was composed by a Doctor William Boyce. Its first public performance was on New Year’s Day 1760, in the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane. It was sung by Samuel Thomas Champnes, one of Handel's soloists, and was part of a pantomime written by Garrick entitled "Harlequin's Invasion".

Giving “Johnny Foreigner” a bloody nose has always been popular in Britain – especially if he happens to be French – and “Heart of Oak” commemorated a quick sequence of unprecedented triumphs which satisfied this liking to the limit. The opening stanza is an uncompromising statement of pride:

Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

And the chorus kicks in:

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again!

The song was a sensational popular success and it must have been splendid fun to join in with a whole audience belting it out in a packed theatre. But what did the “Wonderful Year” mentioned refer to? The clue is in the date of the song’s premiere, January 1st 1760, for it looks back on the events of the preceding months. 1759 had been the “Year of Victories”, or to the more classically inclined, the Annus Mirabilis, the Wonderful Year. The sequence of these victories by land and by sea ran as follows:

1st August 1759: At Minden, in Central Germany, an Anglo-German army smashes a French army, leading the French Chief Minister, the Duc de Choiseul, to say afterwards "I blush when I speak of our army. I simply cannot get it into my head, much less into my heart…
The Battle of Minden  - a French army destroyed
18th and 19th August 1759:  In the Battle of Lagos, off the Portuguese coast, the Royal Navy decisively defeats a French fleet attempting to pass from the Mediterranean to the French Atlantic coast to join naval units gathering there to support an invasion force intended for Britain.
Victory at Lagos, off the coast of Portugal - by Thomas Luny
13th September 1759: British attempts to capture Quebec, the centre of French power in North America, culminate in a 15-minute battle on “The Plains of Abraham” outside the city following a stealthy amphibious landing and a surprise approach via an “impossible” route up a cliff. The French evacuate the city and never regain the initiative. French Canada is effectively lost forever.
Victory at Quebec, but at the cost of the life of Britain's star general, James Wolfe

20th November 1759:  In the Battle of Quiberon Bay the French naval forces gathered to cover the intended invasion of Britain are smashed by a Royal Navy fleet commanded by Sir Edward Hawke. The locale is on the French Atlantic coast, near St. Nazaire, where rocks and shoals are as great a hazard as the enemy. Hawke nevertheless took his force close inshore in appalling weather and inflicted a crushing defeat that ended all French hopes of invasion.

Victory at Quiberon Bay - perhaps no sea battle was ever fought in worse weather conditions
 The last verse of “Heart of Oak” reflects not just pride in these victories but confidence in the future:

We still make them feel and we still make them flee,
And drub them ashore as we drub them at sea,
Then cheer up me lads with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers and sailors, our statesmen and king!

The confidence was not misplaced. Another triumph followed three weeks after the song’s premiere:

22nd January 1760: At Wandiwash (today known as Vandavasi, in Tamil Nadu) in the main French army in India was comprehensively beaten by a British force. French ambitions in India were dealt a blow from which they never recovered and the battle confirmed Britain as the new power on the sub-continent.

Nor was this the end of major British victories. On 14th August 1762 Havana in Cuba was captured from the Spanish, who also lost Manila in the Philippines on 10th October 1762.
The captured Spanish fleet at Havana - by Dominic Serres the Elder
The war was ended by the Treaties of Paris and of Hubertusburg in early 1763.  Both Britain and France returned much of the territory they had captured. (A great “What If?” of history is what the consequences would have been of Britain retaining Havana and Manila). There was a major exception however: France was so keen to regain the sugar islands of the Caribbean which it has lost to Britain during the war that it was willing to cede all of its territory in mainland North America in return for getting them back. These tiny sugar-producing islands were regarded of immeasurably greater economic value than Canada, described memorably by Voltaire as "Quelques arpents de neige - Some acres of snow". The decision was as short-sighted as the later Russian sale of Alaska.

Today, at any major national occasion at which the Royal Navy is represented, “Heart of Oak” still inspires pride. And one of the middle verses sums up a sentiment not dead even today:

We ne'er see our foes but we wish them to stay,
They never see us but they wish us away;
If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,
For if they won't fight us, what can we do more?

 Thank you, David Garrick and William Boyce!

Britannia’s Spartan

1882: Captain Nicholas Dawlish RN has just taken command of the Royal Navy’s newest cruiser, HMS Leonidas. but he has no Dawlish has no forewarning of the nightmare of riot, treachery, massacre and battle he and his crew will encounter. Naval battles in the Yellow Sea are just part of it he must take account of a weak Korean king and his shrewd queen, of murderous palace intrigue, of a powerbroker who seems more American than Chinese and a Japanese naval captain whom he will come to despise and admire in equal measure. And he will have no one to turn to for guidance…

 Click on the image below to read the opening chapters:

Download a free copy of Britannia’s Eventide 

To thank subscribers to the Dawlish Chronicles mailing list, a free, downloadable, copy of a new short story, Britannia's Eventide has been sent to them as an e-mail attachment.

If you have not already subscribed to the mailing list, you can do so by clicking here or on the banner image above

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Memorable Quotes about Sea Power

Ever since the Athenian victory over the Persians at Salamis in 480 BC the possession of sea power has been of supreme strategic importance.

Here are a few memorable quotes and examples that summarise this fact so well:

“Without a decisive Naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it everything honourable and glorious.”
                                                        - General George Washington, December 1780.

Events proved Washington correct. The French strategic victory at the Virginia Capes in 1781 made surrender of British forces at Yorktown an inevitability, thereby securing American Independence. Interestingly, this was the only significant victory in French naval history, but its consequences were momentous.
The battle that made the United States possible - the Virginia Capes 1781
(painting by V.Zweg 1962)
“I do not say the Frenchman will not come. I only say he will not come by sea.”
                                                               - Admiral Lord St.Vincent 1803
 Napoleon’s Grand Armeé was camped at Boulogne, in telescope view from the English coast, and was threatening invasion. St.Vincent had every confidence that The Royal Navy would deter any such step. Not only did it do so but it smashed French and Spanish naval power at Trafalgar two years later.
Napoleon's review of the Grand Armeé at Boulogne 15 August 1804
It never left France for the threatened invasion of Britain
“There is no way of dealing with the Frenchman but to knock him down – to be civil to them is to be laughed at!”
- Admiral Lord Nelson, 1798 at the surrender of the French garrison at Capua
A rather robust view of the enemy and one that served Britain very well in the long years of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon - a Frenchman needing to be knocked down
“Had we taken ten sail and allowed the eleventh to escape, being able to get at her, I could never have Called it well done.”

- Nelson again, this time summarising his views on the necessity of making every fleet action into a battle of annihilation.
Trafalgar - the definitive battle of the era
“Wherever wood can swim, there I am sure to find the flag of England.”
                                            - Napoleon, July 1815, on his surrender to the Royal Navy

And recognition of the Royal Navy’s worldwide role in 22 years of continuous warfare 1793-1815  it came from its greatest enemy, a fact that made it especially valuable.

“My arm was strong enough, it is true, to stop with a single shock all the horses of the continent. But I could not bridle the English fleet and there lay all the mischief. Had not people the sense enough to see this?”
                         -  Napoleon at St.Helena in 1816

It seems that it was only when he was in his final exile that Napoleon realised that the single most important factor in his downfall was his loss of seaward-control of his shores – whether French or French conquests -  no matter how he controlled the land he held.
Napoleon's Nemesis - a prisoner on HMS  Bellerophon 1815
“The world has never seen a more impressive demonstration of the influence of sea power upon history. Those far-distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and dominion of the world”

- Captain, later Rear-Admiral, Alfred Mahan summing up the role of the Royal Navy in defeating Napoleon. The phrasing is elegant, the quote unforgettable.


Britannia's Reach 

Ironclads and gunboats clash on a South American river system while government forces, funded by strong commercial interests, wage a savage war with rebels onshore. Click here or on the image below to plunge yourself into a world of danger, betrayal and merciless conflict in which neither side has clean hands and one man battles to maintain his integrity. One click on the image gives you access to the opening chapters...

Download a free copy of Britannia’s Eventide 

To thank subscribers to the Dawlish Chronicles mailing list, a free, downloadable, copy of a new short story, Britannia's Eventide has been sent to them as an e-mail attachment.