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Religion in the British Navy, 1815-1879

Religion in the British Navy, 1815-1879: Piety and Professionalism

Richard Blake
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Religion in the British Navy, 1815-1879
    Book Description:

    This book examines how, as the nineteenth century progressed, religious piety, especially evangelical piety, was seen in the British navy less as eccentric and marginal and more as an essential ingredient of the character looked for in professional seamen. The book traces the complex interplay between formal religious observance, such as Sunday worship, and pockets of zealous piety, showing how evangelicalism gradually earned less grudging regard, until inthe 1860s and 1870s it became a dominant source of values and a force for moral reform. Religion in the British Navy explains this shift, outlining how Arctic expeditions showed the need for dependability and character, how Health Returns revealed the full extent of sexual licence and demonstrated the urgency of moral reform, and how manning difficulties in the Russian War of 1854-1856 showed that a modern fleet required a new type of sailor, technologically trained and steeped in a higher set of values. The book also discusses how the navy with its newly awakened religious sensibilities played a major role in the expansion of Protestant missions globally, in exploration, convicttransportation, the expansion of imperial frontiers, and worldwide maritime policing operations. Fervent piety had an effect in all these areas - religion had helped develop a new kind of manliness where piety as well as daring had a place. RICHARD BLAKE is the author of Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815 (Boydell 2008).

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-208-2
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: The Barham Bequest
    (pp. 1-14)

    ‘Portsmouth Point – wickedness and blasphemy abounds – shocking scene.’¹ Ardent piety in the person of William Wilberforce had just met naval profanity of a fairly normal kind, admittedly excited by return to port after a victory at sea in 1794. To people ashore sailors off their ships seemed wild and licentious, best left to their officers to control with stern discipline when back aboard, but once out at sea the same tempestuous energy made them formidable to the country’s enemies. Wilberforce represented evangelicalism of the most confident sort, yet even he was appalled by what he saw of unconverted...


    • 1 The First Decades of Peace
      (pp. 17-39)

      With the coming of peace the navy rapidly shrank in size. As large numbers of ships were paid off many thousands of officers and men effectively left the navy. Half-pay officers were assured of an income: some returned to the sea, perhaps in the merchant service, but many never did. For the most part seamen from the lower deck continued to earn their living by seafaring, often in trade but sometimes choosing to enlist once again in a man-of-war. Those wartime prayer groups scattered and disappeared: in a voluntary navy on a peacetime footing there was less fear of desertion...

    • 2 The Persistence of Piety, 1815–c.1845
      (pp. 40-64)

      It will be helpful at the outset to distinguish the kind of piety we are looking for – evangelical of course, but in the context of naval life where possible. Evangelicals were not alone in the importance they attached to scripture and yet it makes sense to emphasise this feature (‘biblicism’). They treated the Bible as foundational for belief and conduct, and as a dependable source of divine revelation: they were always keen to distribute it widely, and in reading it they nourished their private devotional life. Hard as it might be to maintain the practice at sea, the lower-deck...


    • 3 Discipline, Rank and Command
      (pp. 67-87)

      In post-war professional discourse answers were sought to the troubling question of how the fleet might be manned in any future emergency, with attendant debate about its popularity and discipline, sharpened by uneasy awareness of shortcomings in the American War of 1812.The Naval ChronicleorThe Naval and Military Magazineprovided a forum for professional opinion, while printers newly released from political censorship did a brisk trade in pamphlets, and half-pay officers in the House of Commons contributed to parliamentary debates. The field of dispute was not theological, and religious comments generated the resentment appropriate to gratuitous advice –...

    • 4 Health and Morals
      (pp. 88-107)

      The evangelical consensus always intended to tackle the thorny problem of sailors’ conduct – not just indiscipline which could be checked by punishments but their morals too. There was no doubt of this need in the public mind, for sailors as a breed were notorious for wild and dissolute behaviour ashore. This was part of the stereotypical image of Jack Tar with his wanton women and his alcohol. Polite society on land was never able to see the seafarer in his element, when other characteristics predominated – virtues of hardy endurance, comradeship, intense loyalty and often enough self-sacrifice. Nonetheless it...

    • 5 The Ordained Ministry and Established Church
      (pp. 108-126)

      The Instructions for the Chaplain in 1806 showed what was expected of him, and the measures of 1812 showed him what he could expect by way of reward, namely increased pay and pension rights. Nonetheless the endemic shortage of chaplains was not ended by these reforms. Only twelve new ones joined in the first five years of peace, and by 1820 there were just twenty-one chaplains for the thirty-five ships entitled to them. In that year, however, a significant change appeared in theNavy List, with all clergy nominated as Active or Retired. Those who had served long enough to...

    • 6 A Rising Tide of Fervent Piety
      (pp. 127-150)

      When Tucker introduced daily morning prayers in theRevengefor the watch on duty it was disliked at first, accepted after a week and welcomed within a month or two: ‘there was a general feeling that the service carried comfort with it, not to say a spirit of subordination and submission’ – aided perhaps by the captain’s habit of attending these early morning devotions in his dressing gown. It was an isolated experiment at the time but it pointed the way to the future. The custom became more general in the 1850s when existing currents of lay piety were strengthened...


    • 7 Missionary Expansion
      (pp. 153-186)

      The Protestant churches were centuries behind Catholicism in engaging with adherents of different religions: when Moravians with roots in German pietism began preaching in the Caribbean in the 1750s, Protestant missions to foreign lands were pretty well a new phenomenon. Before that time the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had begun a modest ministry to North American Indians in 1710.¹ The English East India Company was always wary of evangelising Hindus and Muslims for fear of offending the indigenous culture. During this period of neglect, Middleton developed a concern for cross-cultural evangelisation: he approved of the Moravian mission...

    • 8 Exploration and Survey
      (pp. 187-211)

      The science of navigation rested on astronomical assumptions of predictable order: the cosmos worked (it was generally supposed) because it had a Designer both wise and beneficent, and mankind had been given reason so that the laws through which God governed the universe might be discerned and marvelled at. Investigation in this spirit was in essence worship. It attracted committed believers, like Matthew Maury (1806–73), the American ‘pathfinder of the seas’ whose doctrine of ocean currents grew from his belief in the coherence of the Creator’s ways and works. Science, the pursuit of truth, a cause higher than national...

    • 9 Responsible Power
      (pp. 212-232)

      The suppression of the Atlantic slave trade was a measure demanded by Wilberforce and his Clapham allies, adopted as government policy and endorsed by educated opinion, and yet effective implementation depended upon naval personnel prepared to run the risks and pay the price in blood. Only the navy possessed the reach and power to stamp out the trans-oceanic traffic. While surely only a few set out as high-minded idealists, enough of their zeal trickled down to others, keeping enterprise alive when tedium, fever and significant mortality offset the lure of action and reward. These protracted operations must be the navy’s...

  9. 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 233-242)

    The contrast between, say, 1779, when Middleton was thinking about his trend-setting memorandum on the Duty of Captains, and 1879, when this study closes, is stark, but even the shorter period since 1815 displays dramatic shifts in naval attitudes. This study has focused upon the most dynamic religious contribution to this change. Its inspiration was indubitably Evangelical, but like all dynamic forces it swept up adherents who did not necessarily accept all its beliefs (like FitzRoy perhaps) or would not stay perpetually within its fold (like Montagu Burrows). Evangelicalism in this context was a loose coalition of people and organisations...

  10. Glossary
    (pp. 243-246)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-282)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)