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British Naval Captains of the Seven Years' War

British Naval Captains of the Seven Years' War: The View from the Quarterdeck

A.B. McLeod
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    British Naval Captains of the Seven Years' War
    Book Description:

    We have always known who were the captains of the Seven Years' War, in the sense of having lists of their names. A few of them, who later became famous, we knew personally at least a little, but until now most of them have never been more than names. The genius of this book is to bring them to life as individuals; to show their hopes and fears, their faults and virtues, and to fill in the details of their working lives. Far from the grand narrative of battles and campaigns, this book illuminates the everyday world and everyday thoughts of a generation of 18th-century naval officers.' N.A.M. RODGER, All Souls College, Oxford. This book provides a detailed insight into the operations of the British Navy during the Seven Years' War by examining the experiences of the cohort of men promoted to the rank of captain in 1757. Byrne McLeod outlines their early careers, discusses how they were selected for promotion and examines the opportunities for making reputations and fortunes through action first against the French and then also the Spanish. She also demonstrates the iron control wielded by the Admiralty over its captains and shows that, although connections and interest assisted greatly with promotion, allegations of 'corruption' were misplaced. The navy in this period was highly effective: an extremely complex and efficient bureaucracy where merit was most definitely rewarded. Based on extensive original research, this book explores the everyday minutiae of the captains' duties and responsibilities. The captains were well aware that every detail of their commands contributed to their effectiveness as fighting machines. From never-ending convoy protection to large-scale, world-wide amphibious operations, these men served in what has rightly been called the first global war. Maritime and eighteenth-century historians will find this book particularly rewarding. A.B. McLeod obtained her doctorate in naval history from the University of Exeter following careers as a teacher and in the City.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-025-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The Seven Years’ War was fought on four continents. There were few set-piece naval battles, but the Navy’s ability to impose itself and deliver the waterborne transport of men and supplies abroad and far inland both in Germany and North America was decisive. The outcome of the war was determined by Britain’s superiority on water.

    British Naval Captains of the Seven Years’ War explores the operation of the Navy during the Seven Years’ War through the correspondence with the Admiralty of a sample of captains. Thirty-six men, referred to hereafter as ‘the cohort’, were made post captains in 1757 during...

  7. 1 ‘Interest’ and Ability: The Route to Post Captain
    (pp. 9-42)

    The professional lives of the captains of the Seven Years’ War began decades earlier, when they were taken to sea as ‘young gentlemen’ by serving captains of rated ships to begin their time at sea. Taking to sea the son of a gentleman was one link in the chain of patronage, and in some cases it is possible to discern the levers which made this first step possible. About a third of the cohort benefited from naval connections: Commodore Henry Harrison, later Admiral, took his son Thomas to sea aboard the Mary Galley in 1740; Henry John Phillips was taken...

  8. 2 The Tools of the Trade: A Captain’s Duties Regarding His Ship’s Fabric and Equipment, and Her Influence on His Career
    (pp. 43-80)

    This chapter further expands our understanding of the mid-eighteenth-century Navy, as the captains’ letters cover a broad sweep of matters of technical interest, and demonstrate to the Admiralty that every detail of the Regulations was being observed.

    A large proportion of the captains’ letters to the Admiralty were concerned with the importance of docking to be cleaned or ‘refitted’ after sustaining damage resulting from wear and tear, bad weather, accidents or enemy action. Very rarely did the captains resort to docks for repairs: they were resourceful men who could rely on their experienced warrant officers to carry out repairs at...

  9. 3 ‘The People’: Manning the Navy during the War
    (pp. 81-133)

    This chapter provides insights into ‘manning’, the most vital element of the mid-eighteenth-century Navy from the point of view of the men responsible for taking the ships to sea. Every captain was involved in the problems of recruitment, either directly through sending off lieutenants to establish a rendezvous for recruiting inland, or through compelling inbound merchantmen to bring to in order to board them and press seamen. Failure meant having to maintain an efficient fighting unit without its full complement of men. The social cost of putting a Navy to sea aroused seething defiance during the mid-eighteenth century, which did...

  10. 4 Expertise and Courage: Opportunities for Individuals
    (pp. 134-177)

    The training in single-ship actions which convoy protection provided was further honed by cruises against French privateers. Frigate captains were not expected to take part in the action against ships of the line: their role was to shadow the enemy, pass intelligence and repeat instructions to ships of the line out of sight of the flag ship. The natural progression for captains was from sloops in which they conducted intelligence gathering and convoy protection, to the swift frigates which were the eyes of a fleet at sea, and finally to the heavily gunned ships of the line which determined the...

  11. 5 Management: The Admiralty and Its Captains
    (pp. 178-208)

    This chapter concentrates on how the administration of the Navy impinged on the captains’ lives, showing the degree to which this was based on precedent established in the Restoration Navy of Pepys. Captains had to ask for their pay, expenses, allowances, leave, officers or followers. Every recently posted captain had to ask for the pay due to him for the preceding years during which he served as lieutenant, and every year subsequently had to ask for an order to have his accounts accepted by the Navy Board. The granting of this order was not automatic, as every book had to...

  12. 6 Success or Failure: The Parameters
    (pp. 209-227)

    Few of the captains made post at the start of the war were still in employment after the Peace of Paris was signed in 1763, and this chapter examines some of the reasons for this. By comparing the careers of the cohort from their first commissions to their deaths it has been possible to establish the importance of factors such as health, ‘interest’ and timing. After the war every surviving member of the cohort spent periods on half pay, as the needs of the Navy waned. Half the cohort never went back into employment, spending the rest of their lives...

  13. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 228-234)

    The average age of the captains in the cohort on being made post in 1757 was 30, assuming that the men were close to 20 years old when they received their first commissions. The physical and mental health of two captains, Shurmur and Knackston, respectively, effectively curtailed their career after promotion. Although Robert Man was the only captain to die in action, two others died before the end of the war. A further twelve captains did not serve at sea after the war, so that for half the cohort (18/36) the Seven Years’ War was effectively the beginning and the...

  14. APPENDIX 1 The cohort with essential dates and summary of correspondence
    (pp. 235-237)
  15. APPENDIX 2 Summary of careers of cohort
    (pp. 238-242)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-256)
  17. Index
    (pp. 257-272)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)