AOS Book Reviews

This section contains reviews of AOS books by David Hayes and members of the forum

Naval Fiction Reviews : Non-Fiction Reviews : Pirate Fiction Reviews : Nautical Fiction Reviews : Modern Era Reviews

The Notorious Captain HayesIt is always a pleasure to read a book that explores history you are not aware of. Whilst it seems the legend of the pirate William 'Bully' Hayes is well known in the Pacific region due to the interest in his exploits amongst the popular press, he is not known in Europe.

Though he is popularly known as a pirate, his activities seem to fall a long way short of those amongst his Atlantic counterparts such as Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. What becomes clear from Druett's well researched narrative is that he may have been a confidence trickster, swindler and 'blackbirder' who left a string of debts behind him but he did not lead a muderous gang of cutthroats.

He seems to have been a charismatic individual who was actually liked by many who met him casually though he was harsh with his crew and obviously unpopular with those who supplied his ship only to see him sail away with their bills unpaid.

He must be considerd lucky as he survived a number of shipwrecks and largely managed to avoid the authorities, even with a number of Royal Navy vessels looking for him at times.

On this side of the Atlantic it was an interesting read to learn his history and if you are already aware of him this book will sort out the facts from the myths and rumours that circulated in the press of the period and still form part of his legend today. Recommended

French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786 - 1862For those who have read Rif Winfield's series British Warships in the Age of Sail, this new work on French warships will have a familiar feel, and as the later period covered by the book covers the introduction of steam he is aided by Stephen S Roberts. It starts with an historical overview of the French Navy during the main periods of control, the Royal period, the revolutionary government. Napoleonic era and post war. There is also a section on the naval dockyards with maps and a brief history of Naval operations.

The main body of the book has a chapter for each class of vessel, starting with the three deckers, subdivided into periods starting with those vessels already in service in 1786. These sections have a brief introduction and then a detailed history of each ship and it's design, including changes such as conversion to steam in it's later career, and there are some illustrations and ships plans.

Whilst the names of many of the larger ships will be well known the bulk of a navy is of course made up of the smaller ships. To do these vessels justice it is of course necessary to keep the details for all ships fairly brief but this is to some extent helped by grouping ships into their design class.

This comprehensive work is well structured and is an excellent reference work for all those who wish to know more about the French Navy which receives far less attention than it's main rival the Royal Navy. As the cover description says it is possible to form a clear picture of the overall development of French warships in the latter half of the sailing era and into the age of steam when it started to recover from it's wartime losses and through technical innovation and invention produced some of the most advanced ships of the age. Recommended.

Medieval Maritime WarfareIn the medieval period ship development was in two distinct groupings based on geography and climatic conditions, namely the Mediterranean where the lack of tides and large waves during the summer months led to a concentration on the development of galleys, and Western European/Scandinavian waters where harsher conditions led to heaver built sailing ships becoming the norm. This division is reflected in Medieval Maritime Warfare by Charles D. Stanton , with the book being split into two distinct sections covering each area.

At this time navigation was coastal and naval warfare therefore tended to take place outside harbours, or even well inland as rivers were more navigable by the shallower draught vessels of the period. Also it was often in close support of land engagements. The book is therefore to some extent not just a nautical book but a concise history of the political based conflicts of this time.

The chapters cover the major periods of development including the conflicts between the city states such as Venice, Genoa and Pisa and the crusades in the Mediterranean section and the Viking period , the ongoing Anglo-French conflicts in the Atlantic and the Hanseatic League in the second part. Each chapter is concluded with a more detailed description of one major naval action of the period.

This is a scholarly work, including maps and illustrations, and gave a very clear explanation of how the various rivalries and trade of the smaller states typical of the period led to naval developments and engagements.

A recommended read for anyone who wishes to know more about this period before the cannon dominated naval warfare.

Eleanor’s OdysseyAt the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor's Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.

Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it's own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludes with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

The Elephant VoyageI like to learn new things from history and Joan Druett's The Elephant Voyage revealed the fascinating story of one sealing ship and the fates of it's crew in a narrative that was educational from start to finish. There are two sections to the book, firstly an account of the voyage where some of the crew find themselves abandoned on a desolate, wind-swept island in the Southern Ocean, while hunting for elephant seals in the 1880's, and secondly the public outcry and political ramifications in New Zealand of their rescue.

Captain Sanford Miner outfitted the schooner Sarah W. Hunt and recruited an inexperienced crew. After getting to Macquarie Island, a tiny island between Tasmania and Antarctica, they find the beaches devoid of seals and go on to Campbell Island, another rocky outcrop in the Southern Ocean, where the captain sends the mates and crew off in two whale boats to search for seals. Blown out to sea in a storm one boat barely manages to get back to shore after several days only to find the ship gone.

The captain, deciding the crew was lost, had sailed to New Zealand assisted only by the cook. For the reader the Captain is now the villain of the piece but you have to admire the feat of seamanship in getting safely to port. His arrival leads to calls for a rescue mission to search for survivors which starts the political wrangling. The crew are rescued but the consequences are surprising as the courts, politicians, the press and the US consul are all drawn into the story.

This book was interesting, not just for the story outlined above, but for it's insights into both life in New Zealand at this time and also the establishment by them of huts and stores on the various remote islands for the use of castaways and what can be regarded as an early move towards modern search and rescue.

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's EnglandAuthors of numerous history books, the Adkins have a knack for finding fascinating first-hand accounts to illustrate history in a vivid way. As they showed us life belowdecks on a British warship in Jack Tar; Life in Nelson's Navy, so do they recreate daily life for the middlin' to poor sort living ashore in the same era.

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England gives us a look at the everyday lives of the people in Jane Austen's world. Using bits of letters, diaries, travel journals, ballads, recipes, court proceedings, newspaper notices and other records, Roy and Lesley Adkins enlighten us with tidbits of English social history -- many of them quite surprising.

Using snippets from Jane's contemporaries the authors shed light on such institutions and customs as marriage, divorce, contraception and extramarital affairs, childbirth and childrearing, food, fashion and hygiene, transportation, education, leisure activities, religion, superstitions -- and death.

Impeccably researched and eminently readable, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen is a book to read from cover to cover -- or to be browsed at random. Highly recommended, along with the book, Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy 

© 2008-2023 David Hayes (Astrodene)