This collection covers the period February 1862-March 1864, which constituted the final two years and one month that Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Milne commanded the Royal Navy’s North America and West India Station. Its chief focus is upon Anglo-American relations in the midst of the American Civil War. Whilst the most high-profile cause of tension between the two countries — the Trent Affair — had been resolved in Britain’s favour by January 1862, numerous sources of discord remained. Most turned on American efforts to blockade the so-called Confederacy, efforts that often ran afoul of international law, not to mention British amour-propre. As commander of British naval forces in the theatre, Milne’s decisions and actions could and did have a major impact on the state of affairs between his government and that of the US.
While noting in one private exchange with the British ambassador to Washington, Richard, Lord Lyons, that he had been “enjoined to abstain from any act likely to involve Great Britain in hostilities with the United States,” Milne added ominously, “yet I am also instructed to guard our Commerce from all illegal interference” and it is plain from his correspondence that both he and the British government were prepared to use force in that undertaking. Thus, between apparently high-handed behaviour by the US Navy and Milne’s and the Palmerston government’s resolve not to be pushed beyond a certain point, the ingredients for a major confrontation between the two countries existed. Yet most of Milne’s efforts were directed toward preventing such a confrontation from occurring. In this endeavour he was joined by Lyons and by the British government. No vital British interest was at stake in the conflict raging between North and South, and thus the nation was unlikely to become directly involved in it unless provoked by rash US actions.
Yet there was no shortage of such provocations: the seizure of British merchant vessels bound from one neutral port to another, detaining such ships without first conducting a search of their cargo for evidence of contraband of war, the de facto blockade of British colonial ports, apparent violations of British territorial waters, the seizure of British merchantmen off the neutral port of Matamoros, Mexico, and the use of neutral ports as bases of operations by US warships among them. In responding to these and other sources of dispute between the US and Britain, Milne proved adept at pouring oil on troubled waters, so much so that in a late 1863 letter to Foreign Secretary Lord Russell, Lyons lamented his impending departure from the station: “I am very much grieved at his leaving….No change of admirals could be for the better.”
This collection centres upon Milne’s private correspondence, especially that between him and Lyons, First Lord of the Admiralty the Duke of Somerset and First Naval Lord Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Grey. It also includes private letters to and from many of Milne’s other professional correspondents and important official correspondence with the Admiralty.
This diary was written by Petty Officer Samuel George Hobbs between September 1912 and November 1916. It is held in the archives of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
The Final Part: Part III: The Sinking of the Dresden, March 1915
This article tell the story of the German cruiser Königsberg, and the enormous efforts made by the British to sink her, a task that took an entire year. And Robley Browne, Fleet Surgeon on board HMS Hyacinth, flagship of the squadron of the Cape of Good Hope Station, was on hand to record the events.
This post presents an account by Captain Edmund Hooper of the loss of HMS Jarak off Singapore in 1942. A subsequent post will publish Hooper’s excellent sketchbook detailing the sinking and his imprisonment at the infamous Chungkai prison camp.
This transcribed passage is but one interview from the courts martial proceedings during the 1776 trial of Mr Ford Forster, who had been serving as Master aboard the Carcass. The trial was held in New York on 15 December, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, and resulted in Forster being ‘Dismissed from His Majesty’s Service, and rendered incapable of serving as an officer in it’. The peculiarities of Forster’s ‘very mutinous and disorderly behaviour’ – and the manner in which Forster’s case was handled by the assembled court – gives us insight into how naval authority and discipline was exercised, in times of war and an ocean away from home.
 ‘Ford Forster Master of the Carcass Bomb Vessel for Mutinous behaviour’. TNA, ADM 1/5307/589-592, Courts Martial records.
A 3- part post exploring the fascinating history of Gilbert Blane. Sir Gilbert Blane (1749-1834), has a considerable reputation as a reformer of naval health, especially in terms of preventative health measures and he has been hailed as “the father of naval medical science”. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and, after qualifying, he was recommended to George Rodney, who appointed Blane as his personal physician to look after his health needs and those of his crew. In 1779 Blane sailed with Rodney to the West Indies on board HMS Sandwich. He was swiftly promoted, by Rodney, to the position of Physician to the Fleet in 1780 and served in that role for 3 years during the American Revolutionary Wars.
This is the second and last excerpt from a notebook of 24-year-old Lieutenant Alexander Colvill, written during the unsuccessful attempt to capture Cartagena in 1741. It is presented as an exclusive preview of papers now being catalogued by archivists at the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum. Members of the Navy Records Society who visited the library in February 2019 were shown some of the many documents donated by the Colville family. In this part, Colvill’s ship, the bomb ketch Alderney, is again in the forefront of the action as the large British amphibious force attempts to bombard and storm the fort of San Lazaro (now known as the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas). Capture of the fort would have opened the way to take the nearby centre of Cartagena. The failure of the attack in 1741 hastened the fall of the government of Robert Walpole the following year and has been debated among historians ever since.[i]
[i] Accounts of the Cartagena expedition can be found in B. McL. Ranft, The Vernon Papers, (London, Navy Records Society, Vol. 99, 1958), including Ranft’s introduction and a selection of Vernon’s correspondence; Richard Harding, Amphibious Warfare in the Eighteenth Century: The British Expedition to the West Indies 1740-1742, (Woodbridge, A Royal Historical Society Publication published by the Boydell Press, 1991), pp. 83-121; Julián de Zulueta, ‘Health and Military Factors in Vernon’s Failure at Cartagena’, Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. 78, Issue 2, 1992, pp. 127-141
This was Thomas’s second sea service; before Devonport, he had spent 3 years on the Mediterranean Station with HMS HUSSAR, a Dryad-class torpedo gunboat only an eighth of the tonnage of his new posting. HMS KENT was a Monmouth-class armoured cruiser of 9,800 tons, completed in 1903 but put in reserve, and now recommissioned for the China station.
“Said goodbye to my dear young wife. I never thought I should have felt so “cut up.” Never felt so bad before in my life!! However I had to bite my lips & grin & bear it!!! That’s the worst of a seafaring life.” (pp.6-7) For all that, Thomas seems to have taken the opportunity of the voyage to absorb as many new experiences as possible, from “ginrickshaws”* to the occasional “flutter” at the gambling tables of Macao, then a Portuguese territory where pastimes forbidden in Hong Kong attracted visitors both Chinese and European.
*Rickshaws; a variant of the original spelling jinrikisha, according to the Oxford English Dictionary from the Japanese jin man + riki strength, power + sha ve
The 22-year-old Victor ‘Dick’ Hutley records his voyage as part of the Royal Tour of West Africa, South Africa and South America from the sick berth of the battlecruiser, HMS Repulse.
Part IV: Simonstown Hospital
Part V: Treating the Prince.
F. (Thomas Frederick) Richards, born in Scilly, joined the Royal Navy on the 8th January 1897, not long after his 21st birthday, as an Acting ERA (Engine Room Artificer) 4th class on the books of HMS Vivid II, the Stokers and Engine Room Artificers School in Devonport. Eight years later, in 1905, he was promoted to the warrant rank of Artificer Engineer. The First World War Medal Roll records him as Chief Engineer Artificer Thomas F. Richards, sent the “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” trio (1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal) in 1920/21, when he was again on the books of HMS Vivid, at that time the RN barracks. At a later date he was promoted to officer rank. The notebook featured here, with its various enclosures, is among the private papers of Thomas Richards’s descendants. It opens with details and general characteristics and dimensions of HMS Revenge. Directly afterwards that the diary begins with February 1 1916, the date on which Revenge was commissioned, and continues until June 5 of the same year, a few days after the Battle of Jutland.
Mervyn Stawell Norris Bryan was born in 1851, youngest son of Reverend J W Bryan, of Cliddesden, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. He wrote three journals describing his experiences in the Royal Navy. He also left a photograph album of his travels between 1869 and 1879. His visited many Mediterranean ports, the Azores, St Helena and Ascension Island, the West Coast of Africa, South Africa, the West Indies and Australia.
Lieutenant Bryan’s diaries cover his life at sea, commencing as a midshipman on HMS Royal Albert and HMS Caledonia, as a sub-Lieutenant, on HMS Hector and HMS Encounter, as a Lieutenant on HMS Barracouta and HMS Boxer.
This brief article focusses on his time in the Navy during the 3rd Ashanti War (1873-4), on the Gold Coast of Africa, aboard the Encounter and Barracouta.
The downturn in naval orders starting 1922 with the Washington Treaty sent shockwaves through the armaments industry, starting with the collapse of the Coventry Ordnance Works in 1925, but eventually toppling industrial giants like Beardmore and Palmer’s. How the industry reacted and adapted to this change is still understudied. The extracts presented represent one of the most novel, but also shocking, attempts to do so in the 1920s and 1930s: by fixing prices for Admiralty contracts through the formation of a cartel. By examining two cases from the years preceding rearmament, it shows both the costs and benefits of such a scheme to the British state.
This post presents Part IV of a series of excerpts from the fascinating diary of Samuel Hobbs. Part I described his experience of the ....
This post presents a transcription of part of the Court Martial of Mr Ford Foster, held in New York, in 1776. This transcribed passage ....
This is the second of two posts from the fascinating diaries and photograph albums of Lieutenant Mervyn Bryan. The first post was a ....