Maritime Monday for February 4th, 2013: “You, Sir, Have Debauched My Sloth”

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February 3, 2013


Ramage and the Freebooters by Dudley Pope
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969

“Lieutenant Ramage is an interesting character: intense, hard nosed, and with an amusing speech impediment…”

Nicholas, Lord Ramage is a fictional officer in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and the protagonist of a series of sea novels written by Dudley Pope.

Born in 1775 at Blazey Hall in Cornwall – Nicholas’ father, the Earl of Blazey, was a Vice-Admiral who was court martialed (some sympathetic colleagues felt unjustly so) and Nicholas is burdened by this legacy.

Ducking the notoriety surrounding his father’s court martial, young Ramage re-locates to Tuscany in 1783 where he remains until he joins the navy in 1788 at the age of 13.  Despite the his father’s disgrace, Ramage manages to retain significant patrons within the navy who enable him to be promoted to lieutenant at age 20.  His saga spans 18 novels.


The Ramage Series by Dudley Pope

Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope (29 December 1925 – 25 April 1997)  was a naval defense correspondent for the London Evening News who later moved on to writing carefully researched naval history.

imageC.S. Forester urged Pope to try his hand at fiction and saw the younger writer as his literary heir.  The Ramage series debuted in 1965. +

Pope was one of the most successful authors to explore the genre of nautical fiction. He lied about his age and joined the Home Guard aged 14. At 16, he joined the merchant navy as a cadet in the early days of World War II.  His ship was torpedoed in 1942 and he spent two weeks in a lifeboat with the few other survivors.

He and his wife spent the rest of their lives living and writing aboard a series of yachts until his death in 1997.

(including non-fiction titles)

Rediscovering Nicholas Ramage
on Age of Sail
– all Dudley Pope posts on Age of Sail –


left: Full text of Ramage’s Prize (#5 in Ramage series)
right: DUDLEY POPE Governor Ramage RN

image_thumb.pngENGLAND EXPECTS  (1959) The saga of 1805, the year of Britain’s danger, and the great victory at Trafalgar by Dudley Pope

AT TWO a.m. on a foggy November morning in 1805 a bedraggled young naval officer strode into the Admiralty and told the startled Secretary to the Board: ‘Sir, we have gained a great victory; but we have lost Lord Nelson!’

Thus Britain heard the news of the Battle of Trafalgar. Now Dudley Pope tells for the first time the complete story of the year 1805, ending with the victory at Trafalgar, and seen through the eyes of the seamen, soldiers and civilians of Britain, France and Spain.

He describes the events leading up to the engagement: the building of the vast French invasion fleet to carry the army of 150,000 with which Napoleon planned to crush England; the rude measures taken for our Island defence. He gives a complete picture of the appalling conditions aboard an English man-o’-war…

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Ramage and the Saracens painted by Paul Wright
(Cover Image for the Dudley Pope Book Series)
J. Russell Jinishian Gallery

Below left: Non-Fiction (published 1963) –The Black Ship by Dudley Pope — In a true story evocative of Mutiny on the Bounty, Pope recounts one of the most brutal episodes in British Naval history, the mutiny aboard HMS Hermione (1782), and the Royal Navy’s daring recapture of the same ship. Notorious for having the bloodiest mutiny in British naval history, which saw her captain and most of the officers killed.

Captain Hugh Pigot was a cruel officer who meted out severe and arbitrary punishment on his men. During a nine-month period, as captain of his previous command HMS Success, he ordered at least 85 floggings, the equivalent of half the crew; two men actually died from their injuries.

Pope, in his book The Black Ship, argues that it was not Pigot’s cruelty that drove the men to mutiny but the general injustice that he showed in his favouritism to some and overly harsh punishment of others. Had Pigot remained more even-handed in his leadership, the mutiny might have been avoided. +


Battle of the River Plate

above right: Non-Fiction (published 1956) – The Battle of the River Plate: The Hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee by Dudley Pope —  Graf Spee is on a mission to cripple British shipping. Through clever subterfuge and daring, Graf Spee takes ship after ship, ultimately forcing the British Navy to send twenty ships to hunt her down.

Battle of the River Plate movie poster
(aka Pursuit of the Graf Spee; 1956) on IMDb

 The Battle of the River Plate is a 1956 British war film by director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring John Gregson, Anthony Quayle and Peter Finch.

The film portrays the Battle of the River Plate, a naval battle of 1939, between a Royal Navy force of three cruisers and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Unlike many British war movies of its time, The Battle of the River Plate treats the German sailors as honourable opponents rather than as cardboard cut-out “Huns” and Nazis.

The use of real ships allows the film to pay particular attention to detail, including the bells ringing before each salvo, the scorching on the gun barrels after the battle, and the accurate depiction of naval procedures. It was remarkable that two of the original ships, HMS Achilles and Cumberland were available for filming fifteen years after the events depicted. The battle is seen entirely from the perspective of the British ships, plus that of prisoners (captured from nine merchantmen) held on Graf Spee. +


Sailing ship under Chilean colors and coat of arms of Valdivia, printed by lithogravure, and issued by Chile on February 4, 1970 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the capture of Valdivia by Thomas Cochrane during Chile’s war of independence from Spain

From a Maritime Monday reader:

postcaptIn a way, I met Patrick O’Brian in an airplane flying home from delivering an eighty-two foot Camper Nicholson sailing yacht from Hollywood, Florida to Hilton Head. I glanced at the book the fellow next to me was reading and noticed the paperback had a beautiful painting of a British Ship of the Line under full sail in a heavy sea with a bone in her teeth.

When the guy stopped reading for a second and looked outside, I asked him about the book. I got hooked.

Patrick O’ Brian wrote a series of twenty one books in historical order during the approximate time of Lord Nelson. The reader next to me pointed out that the books were numbered at the bottom of the spine and that I should take care to read them in numerical order as they followed the career of Captain Jack Aubrey and his Ship’s surgeon (and part time spy) Steve Mauterin.

Then he gave me a wry grin and suggested I buy three at a time because I will always want the next book by the time I finish the book at hand. He was right. After the first book I began buying the next books three at a time. I told my brother about Patrick O’Brian and he was soon hooked. Both of us read the twenty one books with great joy.

A few months after Patrick O’Brian, my brother touted me on to another series of British Naval fiction during the days of Lord Nelson by a writer named Dudley Pope and his Lord Ramage series written in historical order each numbered to keep us in the proper reading order. These books were as good as the Patrick O’Brian series I will recommend to you that you buy these books three at a time for the same reason as the Patrick O’Brian series. The Lord Ramage series goes for eighteen wonderful books.

There is a lip-smacking joy while leaning into each chapter of these books. The Jack Aubrey and Lord Ramage characters make me want to be a better man as I read them. And I am. I seem to step up, somehow to a little bit better than before.

Captain R. Scott
U. S. Merchant Marines

‘You speak of loss of weight. But I find that you yourself are thin. Nay, cadaverous, if I may speak as one physician to another. You have a very ill breath; your hair, already meagre two years ago, is now extremely sparse; you belch frequently; your eyes are hollow and dim. This is not merely your ill-considered use of tobacco – a noxious substance that should be prohibited by government – and of laudanum. I should very much like to see your excrement.’

–from Post Captain,  set in 1802


Books: Patrick O’Brian’s Post Captain — “The joy of reading O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series of novels is, for me, unsurpassed by any other collection of modern literature. The grasp of period detail is phenomenal, as is the reader’s total immersion within the wooden world of Nelsonic navy life…”

Aubrey-Maturin novels
fan page on Facebook (and group)

Patrick O’Brian

imagePatrick O’Brian’s acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels has been described as “a masterpiece” (David Mamet, New York Times), “addictively readable” (Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune), and “the best historical novels ever written” (Richard Snow, New York Times Book Review), which “should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century” (George Will).

The Aubrey–Maturin series is a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished—by Patrick O’Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centering on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey (loosely based on the real-lifeLord Cochrane) of the Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also a physician, natural philosopher, and secret agent. +

Aubrey is a genius of a combat ship’s captain, but an absolute shambles ashore, inept at politics and finance and all the other ways good people can get themselves in trouble; Maturin is a genius doctor but helpless at sea.  +

On the surface, the two main characters have little in common. As O’Brian wrote in The Ionian Mission, “Although (they) were almost as unlike as men could be, unlike in nationality, religion, education, size, shape, profession, habit of mind, they were united in a deep love for music, and many and many an evening had they played together, violin answering cello or both singing together far into the night.”

This musical connection began in the first paragraph of the first book in the series, when the two characters meet at a concert.


video: Best part of this movie is when Crowe is playing music with the Doc

more about the music featured in Master and Commander

“Also, I love how excited Jack gets about All Things Maritime in the books. Things like 6 page long letters to his wife, with four of them being detailed things about rigging or ship’s trim; the sort of thing that obviously sailors would care about, but no one on land would understand in the slightest.” +


At times, O’Brian will spend a considerable portion of a volume setting up comedic sequences, perhaps most notably Jack’s debauchery of Maturin’s pet sloth in HMS Surprise. Puns are common throughout the novels. Aubrey delights in small witticisms and Maturin too expresses humour while exploring nautical language.

O’Brian is adept at using naval jargon with little or no translation for the “lubberly” reader. The combination of the historical-voice narration and naval terms may seem daunting at first to some readers. O’Brian’s bone-dry and cutting wit is present throughout all his novels.

Patrick O’Brian on wikipedia

Bibliography and links to specific titles

The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius

An Author I’d Walk the Plank For
NYT Book Review

Hoist the mainsail! Let’s read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels!

Why I love Patrick O’Brian: Reason #… damn, I’ve lost count.

The Patrick O’Brian Compendium

Patrick O’Brian Home Page (publisher site)

Esteban the Debauched Sloth for Mason-Dixon Knitting’s Teeny Project Runway
(shown above)


Best movie – Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World

(Master and Commander) The Far Side of the World, the tenth book in the series (published 1984), was adapted into a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir and starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. The film was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture. +

To re-create storm winds as the ship rounds Cape Horn, sound designer Richard King devised a wooden frame rigged with one thousand feet of line and set it in the back of a pickup truck.

By driving the truck at 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) into a 30–40-knot (56–74 km/h; 35–46 mph) wind, and modulating the wind with barbecue and refrigerator grills, King was able to create a range of sounds, from “shrieking” to “whistling” to “sighing,” simulating the sounds of wind passing through a ship’s rigging. He won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing. +

The French privateer frigate Acheron in the film was reconstructed by the film’s special-effects team who took stem-to-stern digital scans of USS Constitution at her berth in Boston, from which the computer model of Acheron was rendered.

In 2007 the film was included on a list of “13 Failed Attempts To Start Film Franchises” by The A.V. Club, noting that “…this surely stands as one of the most exciting opening salvos in nonexistent-series history, and the Aubrey-Maturin novels remain untapped cinematic ground.” +

Patrick O’Brian interview with Walter Cronkite: The man behind Aubrey-Maturin

Recorded November 15, 1999, 48 days before
O’Brian’s death in Dublin in January of 2000.


Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald

imageHis life and exploits served as one source of inspiration for the naval fiction of nineteenth and twentieth-century novelists, particularly C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey.

He was a daring and successful captain of the Napoleonic Wars, leading the French to nickname him Le Loup des Mers (‘The Sea Wolf’).

He was dismissed from the Royal Navy in 1814, following a conviction for fraud on the Stock Exchange. He went on to serve in the rebel navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece during their respective wars of independence.


Zarpe de la Primera Escuadra Nacional
Painting of the First Chilean Navy Squadron commanded by Cochrane.

Cochrane was descended from lines of Scottish aristocracy and military service on both sides of his family. Through the influence of his uncle, Alexander Cochrane, he was listed as a member of the crew on the books of four Royal Navy ships starting when he was five years old.

This common, though unlawful practice (called false muster), was a means of acquiring the years of service required for promotion, if and when he joined the Navy.  Cochrane joined the navy as a midshipman in July of 1793, just at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars.

During his service on HMS Barfleur (1768), Cochrane was court-martialled for showing disrespect to the ship’s first lieutenant. The board did not find him guilty, but reprimanded him for flippancy. This was the first public manifestation of a pattern of Cochrane being unable to get along with many of his superiors, subordinates, employers and colleagues in both the Navy and later in Parliament.


The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate El Gamo:
(1801) Off the coast of Barcelona by the Royal Navy brig HMS Speedy
commanded by Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.
1845 Painting by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield

In 1800,  a Spanish warship disguised as a merchant ship almost captured him. He escaped by flying a Danish flag and fended off a boarding by claiming his ship was plague-ridden.

During Speedy’s 13-month cruise, Cochrane captured, burned, or drove ashore more than 50 ships before three French ships of the line captured him on July third, 1801.

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Adventure Comics # 429, October, 1973


Light Vessel Kish Bank
Irish LV No3 Shearwater

The Flickr Set: B/W Photos of ships & Crew


Light Vessel Cromer Knoll
Photo 1936

imageTrinity House  is the official General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, and other British territorial waters, with the exception of Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Northern Ireland.

rt: Trinity House Jack & House Flag

The Corporation came into being in 1514 by Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII under the name “The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent.”

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The St Albans a 60 gun man-of-war being launched at the Royal Dockyard, 1747
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Deptford Dockyard became the headquarters of naval victualling and supply in 1742 and remained so until after the Second World War. The building to the left is the master shipwright’s house, built 1708.

Founded by Henry VIII in 1513, the dockyard was the most significant royal dockyard of the Tudor period and remained one of the principal naval yards for three hundred years. The Deptford area had been used to build royal ships since the early fifteenth century. Henry VII founded the first royal dockyard at Portsmouth in 1496.

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THE NEW Trinity House, Tower Hill, London; c. 1796

In the 1790s, the headquarters of the Corporation of Trinity House moved from Deptford to Trinity Square on Tower Hill. During the Second World War, the building was damaged by bombing. After the war it was restored and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II on 21 October 1953. Today it remains the centre of the Corporation’s activities. +


Winston Churchill in Trinity House uniform
by Marc Stone
3,020 × 2,895 pixels

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