The Navy Records Society was saddened to hear of the death of Patricia K. Crimmin (1933 – 2020), an outstanding naval historian and longstanding member of the NRS, including vice-president from 2000 to 2004 and member of the NRS Council from 1982 to 2007.
I first came across Pat when researching medical care in the eighteenth-century Royal Navy, repeatedly coming across excellent articles by a P.K. Crimmin who had always done the thorough research and analysis I was hoping to conduct. When I then became interested in prisoners of war, the same historian again appeared throughout my searches, providing not only an excellent guide to the variety of resources in the archives, but also an example of thoughtful and insightful analysis of eighteenth-century naval administration.
Pat wrote her thesis in 1967 on the relationship between the Admiralty and the Treasury from the 1780s to 1806. Her publications ranged across the history of finance, administration, and logistics of the eighteenth-century British navy, including during the Napoleonic Wars. As Roger Knight notes, ‘She did not write a “great book,” but produced a steady stream of articles and conference papers on difficult subjects where no-one else had gone before.’ Her expertise, generously shared, was crucial to shaping many a naval historians’ career. When he first met her at a conference in 1987, Richard Harding explained that ‘Pat was one of the “names” of the generation that had produced an exciting new naval history that linked administration, politics, and operational effectiveness. She was then, and always thereafter, quietly spoken, extremely well informed, encouraging and insightful in discussion.’
At Royal Holloway University of London, Pat was appointed to the History Department from 1962 until her retirement in 1998. In this role she awakened great interest in naval history, training a growing cadre of young students and scholars. N.A.M. Rodger observes: ‘she taught the only London special subject on naval history, and introduced generations of undergraduates to the subject, inspiring them with enthusiasm for history and gratitude for her dedication as a teacher.’ Many have remarked on Pat’s unfailing generosity with her expertise among junior colleagues. Andrew Lambert recalls, ‘Not only was Pat an exemplary scholar, always developing the subject, and looking beyond the conventional boundaries of naval history, but she always encouraged the rising generation, setting an admirable standard of collegiality. It was an honour to work with her, and pleasure.’ A good part of the pleasure of her company was the exposure to her dry wit and trenchant sense of humour, which enlivened academic and social meetings alike.
I had the good fortune to discuss the details of the Sick and Hurt Board papers with Pat when Roger Knight introduced us at a lunch when I was an early career scholar – it was a genuine delight to meet the eminent scholar who, up until then, had been only an abstract ‘P.K. Crimmin’ in my research. Pat was generous with her time and correspondence with me, something which surprised and delighted me, and for which I will always be grateful. As many naval historians have noted, she provided a model of a rigorous scholar, with research and writing of the highest standard, yet also a kind and lively colleague. As Sari Hornstein explains, ‘What I will also always remember about Pat was her unflagging encouragement — professional and personal — at many points in my life: as a graduate student, a new mother, a researcher, a confused citizen of the world. There was never a shortage of topics to discuss. She was a singular personality, a fine historian, and a good friend.’
Vice President, NRS