Collingwood Society Lecture 2020: The conservation of wooden ships

This year’s Collingwood Society lecture – back in the days, earlier this month, when you could still have such a thing – was on the conservation of wooden ships, given by Clare Hunt, the curator at HMS Trincomalee in Hartlepool. She started off by saying that wooden ships are all a conservator’s nightmares come at once – the materials and the surrounding and the visitors – but they seem to bring compensations as well.

Like several other sites, Trincomalee was once an independent trust but is now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, a much larger organisation, and therefore able to centralise resources – but national rather than local.

The museum has a variety of people in different roles working on conserving the ship – or ships. A team of shipwrights and carpenters are based in Portsmouth and move about to the various ships under the museum’s care. There are also riggers and painters – both traditional trades. A more modern role – museum rather than shipyard – is that of the conservators – often found, apparently, in protective clothing, or at least shown to us that way on screen. On site, each ship also has its own ‘shipkeepers’ – the equivalent of housekeepers – who work with the conservators to look after them more generally.

Because the ship is a historic object – some kind of equivalent of the listed building – very detailed records have been made, including precise laser measurements, and exactly which parts of the ship are historic wood and which parts are modern – historic being a better definition than ‘original’, due to changes during a ship’s working life. For the ships in the NMRN’s care some beautiful cutaway drawings have also been made, less scientific, but giving a vivid picture of what might happen in every part of the ship, and including every member of the crew complement.

The ship is, oddly enough, officially a ‘large archaeological object’, and so an archaeological survey of it was made, looking in particular for marks made on the ship. These are varied, because of the ship’s history – marks made by the Indian shipyard, marks made by English shipyards at a later date, marks made by the merchant marine when she was in use as a training ship at a later date – and can be very useful in figuring out her story.

Trincomalee is the only surviving ship of the period built in an Indian dockyard, and the marks left by the original builders give an insight into the methods used and how these differed from the methods of the English yards. Other marks are English, dating from her commission in the 1840s, but only one of the standard ‘raze marks’ of the naval dockyards has been found, while there are many on Victory. Broad arrows, showing naval ownership, are more common, and sometimes found on things which would otherwise have been assumed to belong to the period when she was a merchant marine training ship. Some of these are obvious – such as ‘Trincomalee’ written on the rudder post – and some are very subtle, or in places where visitors wouldn’t usually go.

Great care is taken of the ship, and she’s looked after more gently than she would have been by the sailors – mild detergent, and no brasso, which tends to take off the detail of the metal as well as the dirt. There are some modern additions, of course – heaters and humidity meters and insect traps, to control and monitor conditions.

One great problem on the ships can insect infestation, particularly death watch beetle, which eats through the wood – this is difficult to track, as the larva live for some time inside the wood before making their way out. There seem to be none in Trincomalee, however – one was discovered in a trap once, but it seems to have just been having a look around – so presumably they don’t like teak. Victory, which has far more oak, has a serious problem with the beetles, which were apparently brought in during restoration in the 1920s. There can also be woodworm, although this is usually restricted to furniture, rather than the structure of the ship.

An interesting discovery recently has been the discovery of Trincomalee’s almost-original figurehead, dating back to c. 1845 when she was first in commission. This is now being restored, using paint colours recorded in an image on an old postcard, and is also giving information on how the sailors mended and cared for the figurehead while it was on the ship.

Before coming to work with Trincomalee Clare had been involved with other ships – the first, while worked for Southend museum, was HMS London, built in 1656 and wrecked in the Thames in 1665. Some of the artefacts here have been amazingly well preserved in the river’s mud, and are an important source of information about the ships of the time – but because maybe 300 people were killed when the ship blew up, there is a real issue with body parts being recovered from the river, with the coroner having to be notified each time in case they are more recent.

A second was HMS Invincible, sunk in the Solent in 1758. Parts of the ship and artefacts from her are to go to the navy museum at Portsmouth, where the display will focus partly on the preservation of the ship, as this is something which greatly interests people – like Mary Rose, the timbers are being preserved by using polyethylene glycol to replace the water which currently saturates them.

A third, but more recent than Trincomalee in both senses, is RML 497, a WW2 rescue boat now in Hartlepool where she’s undergoing restoration – initially by having a large quantity of barnacles removed! The boat was later used as a ferry, but they have been given photographs of an identical sister boat with its original sick bay for those rescued.

One of the questions was about Victory‘s masts, which will be returned eventually, once new supports for the body of the ship have been made – although it might seem like keeping a ship in water would destroy it more quickly, ships were built to be supported by water, and dry dock causes far more problems. But we also found out that Trincomalee‘s masts are not only made of steel, not only hollow, but that they draw down air as part of a ventilation system for the ship! The NMRN wouldn’t have restored them that way now, but I don’t think they’re exactly sorry that it was done.

Collingwood Society: Cook’s Second Voyage

This month’s talk was on Captain Cook’s second voyage – given by Tony Barrow again, who noted that we hadn’t managed to mark 250 years from the start of the first voyage, so were catching up now. Part of the reason for choosing the second voyage to talk about was that Trinity House had a copy of the book of engravings printed from the paintings of William Hodges, who accompanied the expedition and made images of the Pacific islands available in Britain for the first time, as well as original editions of the accounts of the voyages.

The voyages were a project of the enlightenment age – a reaction against the various religious controversies of the previous century, and towards science and discovery of the world, and a time when European nations were both collaborating and competing for these discoveries – precursors to Cook’s voyages included a 1735 joint French and Spanish voyage to the equator to measure the roundness of the world, and Wallis’s 1765 voyage in the Dolphin which was the first to visit Tahiti.

We had a brief biography of Cook just to bring us up to speed – born at Marton (then in North Yorkshire, now in Middlesbrough), educated at Great Ayton, and first working as a grocer’s apprentice in Staithes, before going to sea from Whitby on the ships of the Quaker shipowner John Walker. In 1755, although he was close to becoming master of a merchant ship, he joined the navy as an able seaman, but soon rose through the ranks again. As master of the Pembroke he charted the Gulf of St Lawrence, and buoyed the channel in the river at Quebec which allowed Wolfe’s attack, and he then worked on mapping the coast of Newfoundland.

The first of his three great voyages lasted from 1768-71, and reached New Zealand and Botany Bay in Australia. The second, from 1772-5, set out to either find or disprove the existence of Terra Australis, the supposed great southern continent, and the third, from 1776-9, explored Pacific North America in search of a North West Passage.

The first voyage was famously a scientific undertaking, observing the transit of Venus from Tahiti as part of an international effort to measure the distance between the earth and the sun, and taking along the naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander to record finds along the way.

From Tahiti they headed south to search for new land, discovering that New Zealand, visited many years earlier by Abel Tasman, was two islands, and then becoming the first Europeans to visit eastern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.

Cook continued to make very accurate charts of these new lands, some of which were used for nearly 200 years before finally being bettered by improved technology – Tony was particularly impressed by the fact that having laid down the location of Dusky Bay on the first voyage, using the lunar distance technique, he was able to sail directly to it on the second voyage after spending 120 days out of sight of land.

The account of this voyage was published – and embellished –  by John Hawkesworth, and so Cook made sure to publish his own more accurate account of the second voyage.

This had scientific aims – to test one of Harrison’s chronometers and a possible cure for scurvy, among others – but it was mainly a voyage not just of geographical discovery but of possible annexation. Britain was arguing with France and Spain over colonies in Canada and the West Indies, and both of these countries had already made Pacific voyages, so that any new discoveries might be very important to Britain. There was also the fabled great Southern continent to be found, although Cook was a sceptic, and after his previous voyage the area where it might be found was much smaller.

Two Whitby ships were once again used for the voyage, named Resolution and Adventure. Some of the officers from the first voyage sailed in the second, and the captain of Adventure, Tobias Furneaux, had been a lieutenant on Wallis’s Dolphin. The midshipmen included George Vancouver and James Burney, who went on to fame in their own right.

The ships carried two astronomers, an artist, and a botanist, but although Banks was intended to travel with them again, adaptations which he had made to the Resolution affected her sailing qualities and were removed by the Admiralty, at which point he went off in the huff and organised a private expedition to Iceland.

From Plymouth they sailed to Madeira and Cape Town, then to a point where the French navigator Bouvet claimed to have sighted land in 1739, finding nothing, and crossed the Antarctic circle for the first time in January 1773. The two ships were parted, but met again at a rendezvous point in New Zealand, where Cook discovered that there was scurvy on Adventure, Furneaux not having kept as strictly to his regime.

The two ships spent the southern winter charting Pacific Islands, visiting Tahiti and Tonga, but missed a second rendezvous in the Cook Strait, and Adventure headed home after an encounter with Maori where some of the crew were killed and apparently eaten.

The paintings which Hodges made during this time were very influential, recording island life, but also strengthening the idea of the ‘noble savage’.

From New Zealand Resolution returned to the Antarctic, reaching a latitude of 71S, a record which stood for nearly 50 years, and proving that there was no large southern continent in the habitable regions, whatever might lie beyond the ice. They then set out through the Pacific again, visiting Easter Island, Tahiti, Tonga, New Caledonia and the New Hebrides before returning to New Zealand. From there the ship headed home by way of Cape Horn, South Georgia, Cape Town and Saint Helena, reaching Portsmouth in July 1775.

On his return, Cook was finally made a Post Captain, and also a member of the Royal Society – not for his geographical or cartographical achievements, but presenting a paper ‘On the Health of Seamen’, dealing with his efforts to prevent scurvy with sauerkraut and ‘marmalade of carrots’.

He was made Governor of Greenwich Hospital, but that was a tame kind of job for someone who’d been round the world twice, and he soon signed up for a voyage to the Pacific Northwest, in search of the western end of the Northwest Passage. Once again he travelled by way of the Cape 9of Good Hope and New Zealand into the Pacific, visiting Tahiti and Hawaii on the way, before sailing up the coast of Oregon and Alaska into the Bering Strait, where he was turned back by ice. He returned to Hawaii by way of the Aleutian Islands, and was killed in a fight there.

The talk finished by summing up the positive and negative aspects of Cook’s legacy – on the one hand, his hydrographic legacy, both in his own work producing charts, which led to the development of the navy’s hydrographic department, and training other talented chart makers such as Bligh and Vancouver, his work on the prevention of scurvy, his observations of the transit of Venus, and the images brought back by Hodges which allowed others to see the far side of the world for the first time. But the villages also had a great and fairly rapid impact on the Pacific and the Pacific islands, bringing whalers into the waters, and bringing western diseases and great cultural changes.

At the end of the talk we were allowed time to look at Trinity House’s copies of original editions of the accounts of the voyages, and particularly at the published engravings of Hodges’ paintings – all very impressive.

A local connection with the Antarctic was also noted – William Smith, who was born in Seaton Sluice and sailed from Blyth as part owner of the ship Williams, sighted land south of 60S in 1819, and on going back with the navy’s Edward Bransfield to chart what became the South Georgia islands early in the next year, became one of the first Europeans to sight the Antarctic mainland.



Collingwood Society – Old Sunderland


The Collingwood society is beginning to believe that its ‘summer’ outing is cursed – the only time we’ve ever had good weather for it was when we spent the day indoors at the Northumberland Archives. Still, a reasonable number gathered in a very wet Sunderland, where the only question was whether you had come in your waterproof trousers or come with your umbrella.

Waiting in the rain

We met first at Trafalgar Square – much smaller than its namesake elsewhere, but still an attractive place. This is a square of early Victorian almshouses, built originally for retired seamen and their families, and still occupied by people who have worked at sea. (Some of them on ferries, apparently.)

The monument in the square records all the Sunderland men who were present at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was erected as part of the Collingwood festival in 2010, and we heard about the research which went into it, making a more accurate list than had existed before by comparing muster lists with other records which showed where they were out of date, still including men who had left the ship or even the navy.

Trafalgar monument

The imposing plaque and crests over the central doorway produced two questions:
– what does INo mean? (John, we think)
– and what on earth are those coats of arms? (approximately Nelson’s)

Trafalgar Square plaque

Very close by is Holy Trinity, the original parish church of Sunderland when it split from Bishopwearmouth (whose parish church is now back in the centre of Sunderland, the town having moved towards the sea and back again!)

It’s an impressive building which looks quite unusual to me, because although I’m used to Georgian architecture, I’m not very used to brick.

Holy Trinity church

We stopped in the churchyard to hear a bit about the early history of Sunderland (and the rivalry with Newcastle which goes back to the Civil Wars, if not before).

Most of the churchyard has been cleared, but one of the remaining monuments is to a local naval hero, Jack Crawford, famous for nailing the colours of HMS Venerable to the mast during the Battle of Camperdown. He eventually died in poverty, one of the victims of a cholera epidemic in 1831, and was buried in an unmarked grave, but a minument was put up nearby in 1888.

Jack Crawford monument

We then went to visit Sunderland Maritime Heritage, who have built a model of the Venerable, so large that it is almost a small boat in its own right.

Model Venerable

They’re not exactly sure that Bede was the original figurehead, but it would be a very appropriate local link!


Venerable was the flagship of Admiral Duncan at the time of the battle, and so the centre has made a link with the modern HMS Duncan, which they are very proud of.

HMS Duncan

They have a variety of things on display from different periods of Sunderland’s history – my favourite was a large copy of a Georgian map of the town, but there is also quite a lot from the 20th century, and another of their prized possessions is one of the ‘small ships’ which went to Dunkirk, kept in the harbour. At the moment she is inside the security gates, and we had to be taken down by people with passes, but they’re working on finding a better place for her.


Like Admiral Duncan, Willdora was originally Scottish, which pleased me!

Jack Crawford is obviously the local hero – there’s another monument to him up in the newer part of town, which I meant to visit but ended up going for lunch instead, and while walking back from lunch we passed this mural.

Jack Crawford mural


Collingwood Society: Thomas Hardy

This month’s Collingwood Society talk was about another underrated character of the age, possibly even more in Nelson’s shadow – famously Nelson’s flag captain at the time of Trafalgar, and as the talk put it, one of the few men famous for a conversation.

He was born in 1769, the same year as two even more famous characters of the age – Wellington and Napoleon – but making him 10 years younger than Nelson and 20 years younger than Collingwood, and came from a family which had already produced four admirals.

He was briefly at school in Crewkerne before starting his naval career as a captain’s servant – one of the usual designations for young boys there to learn about the life – on Helena, under the command of Francis Roberts, known as a survivor of the explosion of the Quebec, and for a scrap with the Spanish while taking dispatches through the blockade to Gibraltar. A letter written from Helena mentions a dog called Bounce, a nice coincidence, and also talks about him being sent back to school, which happened a year or two later – his name appears on the books on the Carnatic for part of this time, but he probably wasn’t there.

From 1785 to 1789 his name vanishes from the naval records, and he may have been in the merchant service, possibly because of financial troubles in the family. In 1790 he reappears as a midshipman on Hebe, becoming a master’s mate by the end of the year, and after another couple of transfers he became a lieutenant in 1793 on Meleager, in Nelson’s squadron – a squadron lucky with prize money – and then on Minerve, which Nelson joined as commodore.

While serving on board a prize, Santa Sabina, in December 1798, Hardy was captured and briefly held as a prisoner at Cartagena, but he was soon exchanged. Another adventure saw him setting out in a small boat to rescue a sailor who had fallen overboard while the ship was under pursuit – when Nelson shortened sail to retrieve the boat this confused the pursuing Spanish enough that they did the same, allowing Minerve and all concerned to get away safely.

In May 1797 Hardy was appointed Master and Commander of the brig Mutine, which he had captured in a cutting out expedition, and went on to command her at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, becoming captain of Nelson’s flagship, Vanguard, after the battle when Edward Berry was sent home with dispatches. He transferred with Nelson to Foudroyant, but returned to England after Berry’s return, arriving home on Christmas Eve 1799. A year later he was back with Nelson on St George with the Baltic fleet, although the ship took no active part in the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson having transferred to Elephant for the battle.

He was lucky enough, or well connected enough, to be employed through the Peace of Amiens as the captain of Isis, carrying out diplomatic missions including taking the Duke of Kent to Gibraltar and Lord Robert Fitzgerald to Lisbon. By late 1802 he was back with Nelson, on board Victory, and in spring 1805 Victory led a chase of a French and Spanish fleet to the West Indies and back. The combined fleet slipped back into Cadiz, under blockade by Collingwood’s fleet, and Hardy and Nelson returned briefly to England, where Hardy was summoned to tell the royal family about Nelson’s actions, and in September sailed to join the fleet off Cadiz, setting the scene for Trafalgar.

Hardy and Nelson were together for the first part of the battle, walking together on deck, where Nelson observed that it was ‘too warm work to last long’, and Hardy visited Nelson after he had been shot, where the famous request was made – also Nelson’s observation that he had hoped for 20 captured enemy ships, and a request that his body not be thrown overboard.

Here we had a digression on ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ and the Victorian suggestion that what was actually said was ‘Kismet, Hardy’ – unlikely both because the word ‘kismet’ isn’t recorded in English until 1849, and because Hardy did kiss Nelson, to Nelson’s apparent satisfaction, but which hung around for long enough to provoke furious debate in the Mariner’s Mirror in 1925.

Victory was badly damaged in the battle and was towed to Gibraltar by Neptune, returning to Portsmouth 5 weeks later with Nelson’s body aboard, and Hardy took part in Nelson’s funeral procession in January 1806. In February he was made a baronet for his part in the battle, and awarded the naval gold medal – he was also left £100 and all Nelson’s telescopes.

Hardy’s next appointment was as captain of Triumph, first with Strachan in the Atlantic and then with Berkeley in North America, and while in America he married Berkeley’s daughter Louisa. He then went to Portugal as his father-in-law’s flag captain in Barfleur, supporting Wellington’s operations there. In 1812 Berkeley retired and returned to England, and Hardy went back to North America, where the United States were once again at war with Britain, on Ramillies, and was attacked by a submarine which fortunately failed to attach an explosive to the ship.

By now Hardy had three daughters, and he spent some time in London as captain of the Royal Yacht at Deptford, becoming involved in an odd affair where he first won a libel case against the Morning Herald, who had alleged that his wife had run off with the Marquess of Abercorn, and then fought a duel with Lord Buckingham, who he believed had been writing anonymous letters about his wife.

In 1818 he was made Commander in Chief for South America, a mainly diplomatic post – his letters home are greatly concerned with his daughters, another similarity with Collingwood. In 1825 he became a Rear Admiral, and ended up in command of an experimental squadron in the Channel, advising on ship construction and recommending the building of heavier ships. In 1830 he became First Naval Lord, encouraging the introduction of steam warships, resigning in 1834 to become Governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died in 1839, having become a Vice Admiral in 1837.

Collingwood Society: The Boats that Collingwood knew

December’s Collingwood Society talk looked at ships’ boats and the uses they were put to – a very interesting talk, and I’ll have to keep my notes to hand in the future to help figure out what Jack Aubrey is up to!

The introduction to the talk was a bit of context, showing that both Collingwood and Nelson owed their first promotions to skill with small boats – Collingwood at the battle of Bunker Hill, organising the boats which supplied the troops and brought out the wounded, and Nelson in using a boat to go aboard a prize which his first lieutenant had though could not be taken.

After that, there was an overview of the types and uses of boats – the main three boats, the launch, cutter and gig, survived into Victorian times, although the allocation of these boats to individual ships varied with time and the preferences of captains.

The boats were used in several way – for basic logistical manoeuvres such as laying out anchors, towing the ship, and transporting crew and stores; in attack and defense for cutting out ships, patrolling, and transporting troops for amphibious operations; and for a variety of specific uses – communications between ships, lifesaving, and for exploration and surveying, another useful route to promotion.

The launch was about the size of a single decker bus, and was a versatile boat – the largest and most practical of the boats usually used. It could be rigged, but was usually rowed, and like the cutter was rowed double banked – with two rowers sitting side by side.

The cutter was a later development of the barge, and its smaller relation the pinnace – higher status boats, longer and narrower than the launch.

Cutters were traditionally clinker built – with overlapping planks – although the naval dockyards began to turn out carvel built cutters with planks laid edge to edge. These were more seaworthy boats than the earlier barges, with higher sides and oarports instead of thole pins – cutters usually had six oars, but smaller four oar cutters were known as jollyboats.

The gig was a later development than the others – very narrow, fast, and with a round bottom to make it easier to row – unlike the other types, it was rowed single banked, with the oarsmen sitting in single file and the oars alternately to either side. This was the captain’s private boat, and some captains would have boats – or costumes for the oarsmen – to their own design.

Several standout examples of the uses of boats were mentioned during the talk – the use of boats to bring in troops at Quebec in 1759, the survival of the crew and passengers of the mail packet Lady Hobart in the ships’s boats for eight days after the ship was wrecked, and of course Bligh’s famous 3000 mile journey in Bounty‘s launch, as well as a sadder story, of the wreck of HMS Guardian on an iceberg in 1789, where those who stayed with the ship eventually came safely to land, while almost all of those who left in the boats were lost (a story which seems to be the seed of Desolation Island, although I don’t remember coming across it before).

Only one ship’s boat from the period survives, and it is French – found in Bantry Bay after the abortive French landing in Ireland in December 1796 in support of the United Irishmen, and kept in a boathouse there for nearly 200 years. Eventually it was given to the national museum, and then to the new Maritime Museum, and has recently undergone a lot of conservation work, although the original structure is basically intact.

The boat probably came from the fleet’s flagship and served as the admiral’s barge – it had been originally built as a rowing boat, but later adapted for rigging. More than 70 replicas have now been built by youth groups from an assortment of countries, and the boats are used for races and gatherings.

Collingwood Society AGM 2018

More Collingwood Society last week, with the AGM – nothing very much to report, except that the 2019 programme is more or less complete.

The battle of Cape St. Vincent in January, the March lecture on the Franklin expedition, as we knew – then the use of trees in shipbuilding, the history of HMS Calliope (the latest incarnation being the local RNR unit), a possible summer visit to Sunderland, justice in the Georgian navy, Nelson’s funeral, and Hardy to finish off the year. A bit of a mix!

I think the quiz following was slightly less… esoteric than last year – I managed a very respectable third place (the two ahead of me were seriously knowledgeable) by getting half the available marks, but there were still a few things in there that I’d known once, or might have remembered on a different day. Good fun, anyway.

Collingwood Society: Pickle Night

The Collingwood Society tried a new experiment this year, a Pickle Night, which as far as I can tell is mostly an excuse for getting drunk – nominally it’s a commemoration of the arrival of the Pickle in England with the news of the victory at Trafalgar.

It was held in the main room at Trinity House, which made a lovely setting, and the food was really good. And everyone had to dress up – most people had just gone in stripy tops as sailors, but a few had made a real effort (and apparently we rather baffled the Tesco across the street, as people kept popping over!). And there were various bits of silliness through the night, a thing where the table had to all gather round a small model cannon and shout BANG, and sea cadets come to teach the hornpipe, and ‘turns’ from each table, and other odds and ends of games and forfeits for going wrong.

It was a very enjoyable evening, but it did seem to be mostly aimed at people who knew each other already, which of course a lot of people did from other local groups – there were none of the team challenges or things that you tend to do if you’re trying to mix people from different backgrounds, and really no chance to interact with people from other tables at all – and the forfeits were more often fines than anything other people could laugh at, as well as sometimes being for things people had done in another context. So maybe not quite as social as it could have been, for a social event, but still good fun.

Collingwood Society: Supplying the fleet

This month’s Collingwood Society talk was looking at the logistics of supplying a fleet, particularly Collingwood’s Mediterranean fleet – although it turned out to be more about naval supplies and administration in general, which was still interesting but not quite what I had hoped for.

Two books were mentioned as particularly inspiring on the subject – Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory by Roger Knight and The Command of the Ocean by N.A.M. Rodger, which is a more general naval history, as well as the logs of Cass Halliday, who was master of the fleet and in charge of its supplies. Rodger had claimed that the main developments of the period were financial and administrative rather than purely military or technical, and this was one of the themes of the talk.

We did start with a brief look at the Mediterranean fleet – the biggest at the time, with 119 ships and around 33000 men, just keeping busy – blockading the main French fleets and disrupting smaller shipping, supporting army movements and local allies, and carrying on diplomatic negotiations with all sorts of people in the area – I’d have liked to hear more about this, because I know that some supplies were bought locally, and that local allies were important in various ways, and I always enjoy details.

Despite the contained area of the Mediterranean there were still some pretty big distances involved – 1300 miles and 6 weeks to Gibraltar from the stores at Plymouth, and another 1100 miles from Gibraltar to Malta, which was the main central base by this stage of the war – and planning was going on 12 months in advance, because the victualling yards in England had to have the supplies in stock to be able to send them out. But despite the difficulties, it seemed to be working well – the fleet surgeon of the time complained that he had nothing to do, whereas there had been an outbreak of scurvy in the Atlantic.

The victualling board, based at Deptford, had responsibility for feeding the army overseas as well as the navy at home and abroad – a total of about 230000 men. Locally the Deptford yard provided fresh food, but mainly it was sending out dried and preserved food to other depots and as ships’ stores – slaughtering huge numbers of animals and salting the meat, and baking on a large scale.

Scotland was the main source of beef at the time – cattle brought down from the Highlands to the tryst at Falkirk, and then walked on south – but pigs can’t be droved in the same way, because they get thin, and so the main area for farming pigs was in South London, where they were fed on brewery waste! There was also a nice detail about the cows – they were generally shod for the long walk south, once they were walking on roads, but a cow can’t lift up one foot at a time, and so has to be shod while lying down.

In the Mediterranean there were agent victuallers at Gibraltar and Malta, where ships would be resupplied, and some food was bought locally by ship’s pursers – an example was given of bullocks being bought at Constantinople for the local fleet and brought onto the flagship, which then sent them out in boats to each ship.

As well as food and other stores, the dockyards were also sending out guns and ammunition, and taking ships back for repairs and refitting – a ship would generally serve for about three years before being sent home for a complete overhaul.

There were six dockyards operating in this period, all along the south coast to be within reach of the Admiralty overseers – mainly working on repairs rather than building, and the ships that were being built were mainly smaller ones – there was much more work for frigates than for ships of the line. (Apparently by this stage a quarter of the navy’s ships of the line had been built by other countries and taken as prizes, which is a useful way of getting new ships, although it would be interesting to know how many British-built ships were in other navies!)

The navy was the biggest user of guns and used the heaviest guns – the army tended to want lighter guns which could be moved from place to place. A new development of the period was carronades, with a shorter barrel and larger mouth – these were named after the Carron works at Falkirk which produced them, and had originally been designed for the merchant navy, as they could be fired by a much smaller crew. A more accurate type of long gun was also introduced by the Blomefield works – these were bored from a single piece of iron rather than by cast in pieces in a mould, which made the bore smoother and the shape more uniform, and the method was a closely guarded secret.

Government spending of the time was almost all either military or on loan repayment – in 1793 loans brought in about 70% of the government’s income, although this had fallen to about 20% by 1811, largely due to the introduction of the income tax and increased tax income.

This led to an interesting cycle – if trade could be increased, there would be more income, which meant more taxes paid on it – and more money could then be spent on the navy, which was needed to protect the trade routes, and promote the increase of trade. The Baltic fleet in particular was created not for any specific military purpose, but to protect the important Baltic trade.

Overall an interesting talk, even if it didn’t tell me nearly as much about Collingwood’s fleet as I would have liked.

Collingwood Society: Northumberland Archives

This weekend was the Collingwood Society’s annual summer outing – less of an adventure this year than some years, as we were going to the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, although still a bit of an adventure for me, as the easiest way to get there was train to Alnmouth and a wandering kind of bus south.

Of course, last year when we tried to meet outdoors it rained for most of the day, so this year when it was an indoor event the sun shone gloriously.

There were three different sets of records looked out for us from three different Northumberland families – letters to Admiral Robert Roddam, when he was Port Admiral at Portsmouth around 1790, along with a book where he had kept copies of letters sent and received at an earlier period when he was captain of the Colchester, letters to Francis Blake Delaval as a ship’s captain in the early 18th century, and letters from Collingwood to his father in law John Erasmus Blackett.

We were divided up into little groups and just chose a place to start – I was at some of the Roddam letters, a neat little pile folded into slips.

These were quite a variety – some plain logistics, but quite a few writing to request things, often for personal reasons – I mean, not asking things of the admiral because he was the admiral, but asking things of Roddam because he was Roddam. My favourite, though, was one which looked as if it had got in by mistake – a letter from a petty officer to a brother in Berwick, appointed to a new ship where he had had 24 shillings and a new jacket stolen from him, and wasn’t in the position where he had previously served, although he was hoping that would be remedied – maybe Roddam was to help in the remedy.

The Delaval letters were a flat pile, and mostly absolutely filthy looking – they looked like they’d been in a cellar or something for a while – but the written sides were clean enough, and mostly in good handwriting.

The part of the pile that I looked through was a nice set of practical letters, mostly instructions about a convoy to the Baltic, with orders about stores and manning, and about where to go and how long to wait for ships to join. Some of the details were wonderful – in one letter the ship was being sent ‘surgeon’s necessaries and a copper kettle’!

The Roddam letter book, which was the last thing I got to look at, was the same kind of thing, but with the captain’s requests and replies as well as the letters sent to the ship. We only glanced through it, being a bit lettered out by then, but one we enjoyed was about how the ship had requested flags that they needed to reply to signals, but when they had arrived, the commissioner had refused to let Roddam have them. I think a new set had to be sent!

The Collingwood letters I really only got to hear about – some people had collected wonderful turns of phrase from them, including a description of Nelson as ‘one of the finest creatures who ever floated on the sea’. They were also the only set of personal letters we had, so a much more general depiction of the war and the personalities involved than the service letters. But I had enjoyed the rest too much to really miss them – my problem is always with being interested in everything!

Collingwood Society: Nautical Pub Names

The Collingwood Society had a bit of a change this month, with a talk on nautical pub names – partly a literal pub quiz, because you got to give yourself a point if you knew where the pub on the screen was, a point if you had drunk in it, and ten points if you had been thrown out of it (although no one was admitting to that) – not that there was any effort made to collect points, but it was good fun*.

We started with a brief history of pubs and pub signs, from grapes for the Romans to bushes for the English and a medieval requirement to have a sign by which your pub could be identified (and taxed), to the first pubs named for heroes (the Marquis of Granby being particularly popular).

The nautical pub names covered quite a variety, from the simple ‘Ship’, which was condemned as unimaginative, but does seem to be very common – and useful, because you don’t to change it if a new ship comes into fashion – and pubs named for types of ships.

Next came the pubs named for individual ships – from Royal Georges, Victories, Royal Sovereigns and a Fighting Temeraire (apparently now renamed plain ‘Temeraire’ because it was giving the drinkers ideas), to modern aircraft carriers and the Politician, wrecked on Eriskay with a cargo of whisky, and even Noah’s Ark!

Then there were the people, from the ubiquitous Nelsons to rare mentions like Earl St Vincent and more local heroes like John Borlase Warren in Nottingham – Wetherspoons were praised for often using local names – and a special mention for Upper and Lower Poppleton in Yorkshire, with a Lord Collingwood pub in one and a Lord Nelson in the other.

Captain Cook, however, seemed to have the widest spread, from places where he had definitely been to places like Alaska where he might have been to places like Mumbai where he had definitely not been!

A fun evening, and I will no doubt end up with a collection of signs myself – I’ve got quite a few Georgian ones already, although I’ve never tried to put them in one place…

(*I was handicapped by rarely drinking in Newcastle, and scored 7, although with quite a nice geographical spread – I had drunk in a Ship in Holy Island, the Plimsoll Line in Redcar and the Lord Nelson in Gibraltar!)