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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 9: The Sea •

The Sea

Book cover of 'Representing the Royal Navy. British Sea Power, 1750–1815'

Author's response


Representing the Royal Navy. British Sea Power, 1750–1815

Margarette Lincoln
ISBN: 0754608301, pp. xiii + 226, 2003

Cindy McCreery

I would like to thank Dr McCreery for her generous and constructive review of my book. I am grateful to her for summarising the book’s contents so clearly and for neatly placing it within a context of a growing interest in maritime history.

Dr McCreery has done significant work in the area of eighteenth-century prints and I defer to her observation that in fact mid-century images of ‘Jack Tar’ were frequently comical and rarely sentimental. The development of the representation of Jack Tar is, as she suggests, complex and work is on-going in this area.

She is also right to point out that I should have explained the identities of Jack Nastyface and Alfred Burton more clearly in the chapter on the Navy’s self-image. The bibliography makes it clear that Burton is a pseudonym for John Mitford, but the point is not brought out in the text. The fact that The Adventures of Johnny Newcome in the Navy was written by a seaman who became a journalist does add a twist to the interpretation of the poem, which should have been explored more fully.

The point that she makes about the need to consult diaries and correspondence to find out what individuals thought about the Navy privately is an interesting one. These unpublished accounts are an underused resource but private correspondence, as opposed to business letters dealing with the running of the Navy, inevitably tends to reflect more on immediate, personal matters than on the Navy as an institution. This is not to say that useful insights might not be gleaned from journals and letters but in this book I am more concerned with the public image of the Navy rather than, for example, individuals’ experience of being in the Navy.

McCreery usefully outlines areas of future research and though, as she admits, questions about the use of navy-themed material might be difficult to answer, museums are making great strides in producing illustrated online catalogues of their collections in order to facilitate research of this nature (see <https://www.nmm.ac.uk>). Inevitably, while ranging across varied types of material, it is all too easy to trip up. Plate 15, 'Things as they have been. Things as they now are', shows an officer bisected, the left half of the body a self-confident, victorious naval officer of the recent war and the right half reflecting the post-war service in straitened circumstances. It may (as I argue in the book) depict the fate of naval officers at the end of the Napoleonic war, but it chiefly satirizes Cochrane, expelled from the Navy after being involved in a fraud on the Stock Exchange, and I am grateful to Nicholas Rodger for pointing this out.

Interest in the cultural significance of the Navy is but one aspect of a broadening appreciation of maritime sources and their potential to inform a range of research interests. I welcome Cindy McCreery’s forward-looking appreciation of the function of material culture in historical analysis.

Cindy McCreery's Review.

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