More Naval Chronicles

3D front cover of The Nautical Magazine for 1832One of my earliest blogs was in anticipation of our reissue of the 40 volumes of the Naval Chronicle, and I followed it up a few weeks later with some comments on the extraordinarily varied content of the volumes. Now, we are about to publish some volumes of the Chronicle’s successor in title, the Nautical Magazine, which was first published in 1832, and re-named itself as the Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle from 1837.

The Nautical Magazine continued to be published until 2012, most recently by Brown, Son & Ferguson of Glasgow, to whom we are extremely grateful for lending us copies from their archive of the volumes from 1832 to 1870. The founding editor was Alexander Bridport Becher (1796–1876), who reached the rank of rear-admiral in the Royal Navy, and wrote widely on naval history, and especially on navigation and meteorology. Becher was helped by Sir Francis Beaufort (1815–79), he of the wind scale, who was also deeply involved in naval surveying and the making of accurate charts (he became Hydrographer of the Navy in 1829).  The Magazine declared that ‘the safety of seamen will naturally become its first care’, and the earliest issues had the title-page motto, ‘There are no charts of any part of the world so accurate and no directions so perfect as not to furnish frequent occasion for revision and amendment.’

The ‘Prospectus’ at the front of the first issue states that the content ‘will be arranged under the following heads: I. Hydrography; II. Voyages; III. Navigation; IV. Nautical miscellany’; and that the ‘great object’ of the magazine is the ‘advancement of HYDROGRAPHY by diffusion of useful information’. Readers are asked to send in any information on this subject, ‘however trifling’, and as well as being published in the magazine, such material would be used to adjust the Admiralty Charts.

So, the volumes are a great resource for all sorts of aspects of the history of the Royal Navy and of merchant shipping in the nineteenth century, but the casual browser can light upon fascinating snippets at almost every turn of the page, and this would be a very long blog indeed if I mentioned everything I’ve spotted in just the last hour.

Under ‘Deaths’, 1832: ‘We regret to announce the death of Captain William St Clair Wemyss, under very melancholy circumstances.’ The captain had been attempting to ride on Solway Firth when the tide was out, ‘but getting into deep water, he turned back, and after several times galloping through the water, he dismounted, when his horse made for the land, and the unfortunate gentleman sunk, to rise no more’.

On Russian trade with China: ‘Furs, and some other article of minor importance, are offered in exchange for tea, porcelain, silk, musk, rhubarb[!], and manufactured silk and cotton goods.’

In 1844, at an inquest on a dead Lascar seaman, ‘the chief mate’ reported that there were ‘as many as 20 Lascars now ill on the ship without medical attendance, and it was not unusual for a great many Lascars to die during the voyage’, mostly of scurvy.  An editorial comment states that the case ‘gives us the opportunity of again calling attention to Messrs. Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato, the cheap preventative for such cases’. In 1848, mariners took the master of a merchant vessel to court when he failed to supply the daily allowance of lime-juice and sugar which was part of their agreed terms of service.

Service in the First Opium War brings out a strain of poetry: only ‘Canto the Third’ is quoted, for which we should be grateful:  ‘… not a face/To be seen, not a soul to be found;/But the wells and canals filled with bodies all drowned./In one of the gardens, some young “demoiselles”/Were found dead with their feet sticking out of the wells…’

On 26 July 1845, the steam ship Great Britain ‘left her moorings in the Mersey amid the enthusiastic cheers of thousands of spectators …The general opinion on board seemed to be that she would make the voyage to New York in about sixteen days.’

There is an article about the distinguished sea-faring family, the Haddocks of Leigh in Essex, and a scientific discussion of the effects of smoking tobacco on the labouring classes: ‘it is, beyond doubt, the cause, much more than the beer and cider which they drink, of the brutality and excess so common among those classes’. There is a bewildered account of the impropriety of the goings-on in Japanese tea-houses, and the ‘degraded’ women to be found there – the word ‘geisha’ appears not yet to have entered English vocabulary.

There are also reviews of books, many of which we have reissued in CLC, and there are reports of the departure of ships such as H.M.S. Samarang, or sightings of H.M.S. Beagle in Australia. The editors campaigned for lightning conductors to be fitted to all ships, and for adequate (in quality and quantity!) lifeboats to be compulsory. There are courts martial (one involving an officer accused of displaying the undergarments in a lady passenger’s luggage to public view – he was acquitted on the ground that circumstances compelled him to do so), inquests, and public inquiries into disasters at sea, as well as all kinds of proposals, some more plausible than others, for improving safety at sea or for helping with scientific endeavours.

Who now remembers Bernhard Luschnath? His method of conveying live plants across the seas in safety was recommended by the Magazine (before the invention of the Wardian case and similar devices). Cut all the foliage off your plants, leaving just roots and main stem; place them on a layer of clay in a box, cover them with more clay, and then bang the clay very hard with a hammer to expel all the air which would otherwise cause the plants to rot; continue with more layers until the box is full. It seems to have worked, up to a point…


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