October 19, 2010


Trafalgar account is rare voice from below decks
: Eyewitness account of the battle of Trafalgar has resurfaced, and demolishes the cliched view of life for ordinary sailors (Maev Kennedy, 10/19/10, guardian.co.uk)

England expected and Robert Hope did his duty: days before the 205th anniversary of one of the most famous of all naval battles, an eyewitness account of the battle of Trafalgar has resurfaced – written by an ordinary sailor who viewed history in the making from the heat, smoke and stink below decks. He writes:

What do you think of us Lads of the Sea now, I think they won't send their fleets out again in a hurry

Hope, a 28-year-old sailmaker, bragged from HMS Temeraire, which was in the thick of the battle. The letter "hoping will find you in good health as I bless god I am at present", was written to his brother John, safely ashore at Ashford in Kent. Although the National Maritime Museum has voluminous accounts of Nelson's victory and death at Trafalgar in its archives at Greenwich, it is a rare voice from below decks – reports of any battle are invariably dominated by the officers. Hope described how his ship engaged the Spanish four-decker Santa Trinadada, alongside Nelson's flagship Victory, but was soon caught in a firestorm, and surrounded by French ships.

When five more of the enemy's ships came upon us and engage us upon every quarter, for one hour and sixteen minutes, when one struck but being so closely engaged that we could not take possession of her at that time, two more seemed to be quite satisfied with what they had got so sheered off, but the other two was determined to board us. So with that intent, one dropt on our starboard side called the la Fue and the other dropt on our larboard side called the Doubtable, they kept a very hot fire for some time. But we soon cooled them for in the height of the smoke our men from the upper decks boarded them both at the same time, and soon carried the day.

Despite a few crossed out mistakes, the letter is beautifully written. Quintin Colville, curator of naval history at the museum, said: "It instantly demolishes the cliched view of life below decks as villainous and ignorant – this man was obviously highly educated, and he gives a most vivid and lively description."

...if you judge just by the surviving letters, every human has been literate.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2010 6:03 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus