BookPicks: Man and the Sea
I’ve selected three BookPicks, separated in time from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Although spanning half a millenium, together they deal with a number of important aspects of man’s relationship with the sea – courage facing danger in the exploration of the unknown; the struggle for supremacy of the oceans throughout much of our recent past; and the life and death decisions at sea that only a captain can take. One of the books, now reprinted, was first published in 1898, and is a classic in the history of exploration. The other two are more recent but each of the three is eminently readable and I commend them to all students of the sea and those like me with an inquiring mind about the past.
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John and Sebastian Cabot by Charles Raymond Beazley
John Cabot led an expedition to the New World in 1497 on behalf of Henry VII. He is considered the first European to explore North America since the Viking voyages five hundred years earlier. Although Cabot’s exact landfall on his first voyage is not known – it could have been Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, or even Maine – his claim for England to this territory countered the Spanish and Portuguese explorations to the south, and changed world history. Cabot made three round trips between Bristol, England, and North America, and later, his son, Sebastian, made two similar voyages. John and Sebastian Cabot was first published in the late nineteenth century. Its enduring value in addition to its lucid, well-balanced, and researched narrative is the author’s detailed perspectives of prior voyages to the North American continent, including those from China and the Pacific Islands as well as those from the realms of mythology.
In Pursuit of the Essex by Ben Hughes
The frigate USS Essex set sail on 26 October, 1812. After rounding Cape Horn, she proceeded to systematically destroy the British South Seas whaling fleet. When news reached the Royal Navy’s South American station at Rio de Janeiro, HMS Phoebe was sent off in pursuit. So began one of the most extraordinary chases in naval history. In Pursuit of the Essex follows the adventures of both hunter and hunted as well as a host of colourful characters that crossed their paths: traitorous Nantucket whalers, Chilean revolutionaries, British spies, a Peruvian viceroy and bellicose Polynesian islanders. A gripping tale!
The Watery Grave by Richard Osborne
In 2002 the wreck of the British cruiser HMS Manchester was located by divers off the coast of Tunisia. After taking part in the Norway campaign of 1940, the ship was sent to the Mediterranean, where she was involved in the Malta convoys. On her first convoy she was struck by a torpedo and badly damaged. In danger of sinking, her captain, Harold Drew, managed to save his ship. But her next operation was to prove her last. In Operation Pedestal, the vital Malta relief convoy, Manchester was again hit by a torpedo. This time, rather than risk the lives of his crew Drew took the decision to scuttle his ship. For this he was court-martialled in what would become the longest such case in the history of the Royal Navy. This book sheds new light on the controversial incident.