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Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815

Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815: Blue Lights and Psalm-Singers

Richard Blake
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815
    Book Description:

    The Evangelical Admiral Gambier, notorious for distributing tracts to his fleet in a theatre of war, is commonly seen as a misfit in a fighting service that had scant time for fervent piety. In fact, the navy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars showed a level of religious observance not seen since the days of Queen Anne. Evangelical laymen provided one dynamic for this change: concentrating first on public worship, they moved to active proselytism in search of converts amongst sailors, and in a third phase developed a loose network of prayer groups in scores of ships, uniting officers and seamen in voluntary gatherings that transcended rank. This book explores the effect this new piety had on discipline and human governance, on literacy, on the development of chaplains' ministry and on the mindset of the officer corps. It also looks at the larger question of how its values were absorbed into the ethos of the navy as a whole. It draws on sources both familiar and unusual - logs, letters, minutes, memoirs, tracts and sermons, Regulations - to explain how evangelical influence affected officer corps, lower deck and Admiralty, showing how a movement that began by promoting public worship at sea became an agency for mass evangelism through literature, preaching and off-duty gatherings, where officers and men met for shared Bible reading and prayer a mere decade after the great Mutinies.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-635-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Historians have always known that Evangelicalism got into the navy because it is linked with one of the most dramatic – and notorious – episodes of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1809 a British fleet had the French at their mercy in Aix Roads and might have destroyed the entire battle squadron as it lay stranded and keeling over in shoal water – had the Evangelical commander-in-chief, Lord Gambier, shown as much concern for winning the war as for spreading his religion. That was the opinion expressed fiercely and publicly by Lord Cochrane, the young captain of genius who had personally...

  7. I A Century of Neglect and a Call to Revival
    (pp. 5-34)

    The American War was not going well in late 1779. The quarrel with the Colonies had brought both France and Spain into hostilities with Britain, and there was danger of invasion as well as a threat to her worldwide possessions. The Channel Fleet’s chief of staff in theVictoryhad pressing concerns over the conduct of the war, which he often expressed in private letters to his friend the Comptroller of the Navy, Sir Charles Middleton, who carried heavy burdens of his own for the proper equipping of Britain’s fleets. In December, taking advantage of the winter period when a...

  8. II The Genesis of a Movement: Middleton, Kempenfelt and Ramsay
    (pp. 35-68)

    Once the new evangelical piety spread on shore it was only a matter of time before it seeped into the navy through several entry points. Chaplains were one; commissioned sea officers were another, as quite a high proportion of entrants were sons of clergy, some of whom were touched by the religious revival. Lower-deck seamen were drawn in high numbers from the seaport areas where Wesley had preached – Plymouth, Portsmouth, Dover and Cornwall generally. The philanthropic Marine Society of Hanway and Fielding gave a steady stream of destitute youngsters the opportunity to sign on at sea, and they had...

  9. III Gathering Momentum: Divine Service at Sea in the Later Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 69-104)

    If Kempenfelt and Middleton were correct in diagnosing religious neglect, this should become evident from a perusal of ships’ log books. Similarly the same source should give some indication, however imprecise, of religious revival. Each ship was obliged to keep a record of navigational details and weather conditions, with further information about the employment of the crew, major punishments, deaths and burials at sea, and frequently a wealth of additional matter concerning ships in company, signals observed, stores embarked and of course any operations of war. Separate logs were written up each day by the captain and by the sailing...

  10. IV The Blue Lights during the French Revolutionary War, 1793–1802: A Change of Emphasis
    (pp. 105-139)

    The Blue Lights were individuals, not an organisation. They had no machinery to coin a collective policy, and yet common features do emerge. Initially they focused on religious observance, where they could at least claim the neglected sanction of tradition and regulations. As the French Revolutionary War developed it became increasingly clear to the Blue Lights that this alone would not serve to promote what they called ‘vital religion’. So long as the navy could be regarded as a scattered group of worshippers detached from their parish churches, the original aims would suffice, but once the scale of religious ignorance...

  11. V Developing the Ethos of the Officer Corps
    (pp. 140-173)

    Although religion had long formed part of the navy’s constitution, there was no certainty that it would hold its place in a new era of rationalism and revolution. It had featured strongly in the 1731Regulations– surprisingly perhaps, but we have already seen that there were reasons for this. In spite of the theory, the practice of seafaring religion went into decline as the century progressed, only showing signs of revived vitality in the 1790s. Even then it was far from certain what form it might take. There were variations within Protestant Christianity: Anglicanism at its most conservative was...

  12. VI The Impact of Evangelical Enthusiasm on Fighting Determination: Quarter-Deck or Organ Loft
    (pp. 174-224)

    In his authoritative historyThe Sea Chaplains, Gordon Taylor states that ‘Evangelical enthusiasm sometimes caused an officer’s fighting determination to be questioned’, and to support this view he quotes from an article published inThe Gentleman’s Magazine, applauding the dismissal of certain officers who were ‘more fitted for the organ-loft than the quarter-deck’.¹ Since Blue Lights held senior positions on active service in wartime, the issue needs careful examination, as failure in this regard would have cost them the respect of their profession.

    Duncan’s hour of glory had come in the French Revolutionary War, but he was too elderly for...

  13. VII Evangelical Activity on the Lower Deck: The Psalm-Singers
    (pp. 225-267)

    While the Blue Lights were developing a strategy for bringing Christianity to the navy, they were joined by allies of whose existence they initially knew very little. At one level the officers were concentrating on how to make the whole community more Christian. On another level were lower-deck hands struggling to keep their own faith alive in a sternly testing environment. Theirs was the harder task. An officer’s religious eccentricity might become the stuff of lower-deck ribaldry behind his back, but naval discipline was always there to protect his person and authority; by contrast, a known Christian on the messdecks...

  14. VIII Evangelicalism at the End of the Napoleonic War: A Flare in the Darkness?
    (pp. 268-293)

    Wartime evangelicalism never claimed to be more than a minority movement. Blue Light officers, pious Christians on the lower deck and Evangelical chaplains made up a small proportion of each category. Much of their influence initially came from Middleton’s power at the centre of naval administration; it spread widely through the navy as increasing numbers of officers were prepared to see what religion could contribute to the management of men. But that was during hostilities. So much changed with the coming of peace that naval evangelicalism faced extinction.

    As the great wartime fleets were paid off, their crews took with...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 294-308)
  16. Index
    (pp. 309-328)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-329)