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Boteler’s Dialogues

Vol 65 (1929), W.G. Perrin

Born in 1577 and with early experience as a privateer, Nathaniel Boteler (Butler) served as a sea captain and a colonial administrator in the early Stuart period. Connected by patronage to the Earl of Warwick, he was appointed to the Somers Isles (Bermuda) Company in 1622 and was responsible for building up the colony and its early institutions.

After a visit to Virginia, which included fighting against the Indians, he took part in the expeditions against Cadiz in 1625 and the Île de Rhé in 1627. Unable to gain command of a ‘Ship Money’ warship during Charles I personal rule, he became Governor and Admiral of the Providence Island Company in 1638. After a 1639 raid on the Spanish Main, his subsequent life after 1640 is unknown.

His ‘dialogues‘ take the (then) conventional form of a discourse between an Admiral and a Captain and seem to have been compiled as a means of briefing the head of the Board of Admiralty in 1634 about life and operations at sea in the early Stuart Navy. The six separate dialogues discuss every aspect of how to administer, maintain and fight a ship and group of ships, including the specific duties of officers and other crew members, the arrangements for victuals, pay and pillage and the appropriate use of weapons and equipment.

One dialogue deals with the conventional wisdom about how to handle ships and fleets in action and is an interesting insight into the evolution of tactics between the Armada and the First Dutch War. However, despite its comprehensive, revealing and largely authentic account of life and operations at sea, advice in some places about fighting and handling ships is highly suspect, probably as a result of a privateer/merchant captain’s misreading and paraphrasing of Mainwaring’s Seaman’s Dictionary and the limited scientific understanding prevailing at the time.

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About William Perrin

William Perrin was born on 10 February 1874, and lost his father at a very early age. His education was thus limited, and he progressed through hard work and industry. He entered the Civil Service by examination and was posted to the Admiralty on 2 August 1893, serving first in the Record Office, where he acquired an aptitude for original research, and later in the legal branch, where he developed an interest in flag questions, upon which he became a recognised authority, and wrote the standard work. In December 1900 he became private secretary to Sir Evan MacGregor, Secretary to the Admiralty, and then to his successor, Sir Inigo Thomas. His services here were recognised by the First Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, with a glowing tribute.

He was appointed Librarian at the Admiralty on 10 April 1908. The completion of the Admiralty arch over the Mall afforded accommodation for the reorganisation of the Library, and Perrin was the ideal man to undertake this. He gathered from attics and disused rooms throughout the Admiralty many volumes lying idle and uncared for, giving them a proper home, and took in hand the task of compiling an catalogue. Within two years he had succeeded to such an extent that his work was recognised in a special article in The Times on 16 September 1910, which referred to the transfer of some 5,000 volumes to their new, spacious and well-lit apartments. A year later a new reading room attached to the Library was opened by the First Lord, Reginald McKenna.

From 1922 until his death on 12 February 1931 Perrin was Honorary editor of The Mariner’s Mirror and honorary secretary of the Navy Records Society, and, by appointment of the Admiralty, secretary to the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum and the Macpherson Collection. His death was brought on by overwork, causing a breakdown in January, swiftly leading to his death.

His publications include
• Nelson’s Signals: the evolution of the signals flags (H.M.S.O., 1908).
• The Autobiography of Phineas Pitt (Navy Records Society,1917
• The Life and Works of Sir Henry Mainwaring Volume II (Navy Records Society, 1921).
• British Flags, their early history, and their development at sea, with an account of the origin of the flag as a national device (C.U.P., 1922).
• The Naval Miscellany volume III (Navy Records Society, 1922
• The Letters and Papers of Admiral Viscount Keith, volume I (Navy Records Society, 1926).
• Boteler’s Dialogues (Navy Records Society, 1928).

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