Building an Age of Fighting Sail Reference Library, Part 1

It’s a question I’m quite often asked – what books do I suggest would be useful to acquire in order to learn more about the period I write about. It was hard to make a selection from the vast range of wonderful titles that have been published over the years, so I’ve decided it warrants several blog posts – here’s the first clutch I plucked from my shelves that I think readers wanting to delve deeper into the fascinating Age of Fighting Sail might find useful. I regret that as some are now out of print they can be pricey.

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Nelson’s Navy; The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793-1815 by Brian Lavery

AFS N NavyThis work, written over ten years ago (and reprinted many times), deservedly remains a classic. Beginning with a background on the wars with France and naval administration, Lavery covers the design and construction of ships, training and organisation of officers and men and life at sea. It is in the latter that Lavery excels in his description of a world far removed from the hardships and cruelty that is often attributed to life on the lower deck.

Seamanship in the Age of Sail by John Harland

AFS HarlandThis book partners well with Lavery’s Nelson’s Navy for any serious student of the period. Seamanship in the Age of Sail came out in 1984, and is a classic of its type. Every aspect of handling a man-of-war is detailed and illustrated with superb line drawings by Mark Myers and the book is designed by Geoff Hunt. A definitive guide as to how the ships of Kydd’s day were actually sailed.

Falconer’s Marine Dictionary by William Falconer

AFS FalconerOne of the enduring classics that have come down to us from Nelson’s time, wonderfully recreated from the original in its full detail. It contains marine technology, data on technical aspects of shipbuilding, fitting and armaments, and the Navy’s administrative and operational practices.

Empire of the Seas by Brian Lavery

AFS Empire of seasThis book, produced to accompany a BBC television series, tells the story of how the Royal Navy expanded from a tiny force to become the most complex industrial enterprise on earth. It explores themes such as the Navy’s relationship with the State and the British people and the tactics and initiatives that created such decisive sea victories.

Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy by Roy and Lesley Adkins

AFS Jack TarA fascinating age of sail compilation from husband-and-wife writing team Roy and Lesley Adkins. With their backgrounds in archaeology they dug deep into the historical archives to find personal letters, diaries and other manuscripts of the times that shed light on their chosen subject matter: the ordinary sailors who manned the ships of the Georgian navy. We see Jack Tar at work and play – through his own words.

The Seafaring Dictionary by David Blackmore

AFS BlackmoreThis book is an alphabetical compendium of more than 9000 nautical terms, some quite short, some more lengthy, covering the earliest days of seafaring right up to the twenty-first century. A useful appendix includes tables that cover such items as wind and wave measurement, date and time notation, phonetic alphabets, maritime signals, navigation rules and the process of boxing the compass. There are a number of nautical dictionaries available; this one gets my thumbs-up for its overall treatment.

4 Comments on “Building an Age of Fighting Sail Reference Library, Part 1”

  1. Pingback: Building an Age of Fighting Sail Reference Library, Part 2 | Julian Stockwin

  2. My additions (off the top of my head…): (1) Richard Henry Dana, “Two Years Before the Mast” for Dana’s account of a sailor’s life in 1835. The technology is overwhelmingly complex. Herman Melville said that Dana’s account of rounding Cape Horn was “written with an icecicle”. (2) Melville’s own “White Jacket” is a barely fictionalized account of his voyage from Hawaii to the US aboard the frigate “United States” about 1843. Melville points to several reforms made by the Royal Navy, such as the banning of flogging. (3) Christopher McKee, “A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815”: brilliantly researched, discussing who was appointed midshipman, why promotions were made, why some were promoted captain and others shelved, even the role of the sailing master. McKee has an advantage over historians who would work with the Royal Navy in that McKee can follow the growth of the US Navy from zero, and that his sample data is small enough that he can follow correspondence by the Secretary of the Navy about nearly every officer. (4) Howard Chapelle, “History of the American Sailing Navy”: detailed discussions of ship-design; again, basing a study on the smaller US Navy gives the author a small enough sample that the reader is not swamped.

  3. I’m going to email you an extensive reference list I’ve compiled over the years. It covers the Age of Sail, not just Fighting Sail.

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