We previously reviewed Rif Winfield's volume covering the period 1603 to 1714, published in the excellent series from Seaforth Publishing which details every single known British ship in service with the Royal Navy from 1603 to 1817, built, purchased or taken. As we said of the first volume, nothing quite like them exists.
The volume we are looking at this time is, chronologically, the second in the series as well as the second of them written by the author, covering the period from the accession in 1714 of King George I, shortly before the setting up of the first formal Establishment of 1719, through to 1792 under George III, the year before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War. This time scale covers all the major naval wars of the eighteenth century except for the last one, taking us through an era when Britain consolidated her dominant position at sea and also became a major imperial power, in spite of the loss of her American colonies founded in the previous century.
As in the 1603 to 1714 volume, the list of vessels here is categorized by ship's rate, classification, class, and date, including prizes taken into service and purchased vessels, with technical information on size, dimensions, tonnage and armament, together with comprehensive service histories and eventual fates of the vessels.
Proper Admiralty drafts of naval vessels are available from the early 18th century onwards, in contrast to the period covered by the book covering the 17th Century, which included vessels whose building dated back into the mid-16th (through which period the art of the shipwright was still based on closely-guarded trade secrets and from which era virtually no ship drafts survive). This 1714-1793 volume includes reproductions of many Admiralty drafts of the vessels described as well as illustrations culled from the works of the major marine artists of the period, including their paintings, drawings, engravings and sketches. Many of these pictures are from the important collections of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, and the Beverley R. Robinson Collection, Annapolis, and cover most types of vessel from First Rates and other ships of the line, down to bombs, cutters, exploration vessels and yachts. The striking front cover illustration is a detail from a Peter Monamy oil painting in Britain's National Maritime Museum (BHC1005): an English fleet coming to anchor (most probably from the late 1720s, the flagship prominently
featured is signalling the fleet to anchor by flying the British Union flag at the main truck and a striped ensign from the flagstaff at her stern). Photos of contemporary models, many of these also from Greenwich but also including some from the fine collection of the US Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, serve further to illustrate the
vessels. Not all illustrations are from contemporary sources, however; excellent and informative modern line drawings by one of Seaforth's editors, maritime author Robert Gardiner, are included as also are others by Norman Swales. In addition, there are photographs of superb modern models by professional master modeler Philip Reed. The range of illustrations featured here is far wider than those contained in that other great work on which Rif Winfield closely collaborated, the late David Lyon's 'The Sailing Navy List', and includes images of naval battles and charts as well as of the ships themselves.
Useful lists and appendices include a chronology with a list of First Lords of the Admiralty, a list of fleet actions naming ships of all sides which participated, expenditure and manpower levels, a list of vessels of the American Continental Navy of 1775-1785, ship construction costs for 1789 (by type), British dockyard launching 1714-1793 (by vessel name, size and type, dockyard and date) and a comprehensive index.
Beautifully-produced to a very high quality level and copiously illustrated, this large and impressive volume is a veritable mine of information. It constitutes not only an essential work of reference for any researcher, maritime historian or serious student of the naval ships of the major seapower into which the Great Britain of the 18th Century had evolved, but is also a source of great pleasure to read and handle.
We shall also soon review here the third and last book in Rif Winfield's sequence (though the first of them written by him), covering the subsequent years, from 1793 until 1817, through to the aftermath of the 22-year-long Great French Wars which ended in 1815 and of the far more minor War of 1812-14 against the USA.
Roger Marsh - March 2012
Author: Rif Winfield