Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815

March 2008
14 black and white, 1 line illustrations
336 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843833598
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press

Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775-1815

Blue Lights and Psalm-Singers

Richard Blake

Religious activity flourished in the eighteenth-century navy; this book examines the reasons why and its manifestations.
The Evangelical Admiral Gambier, notorious for distributing tracts to his fleet in a theatre of war, is commonly seen as a misfit in a fighting service that had scant time for fervent piety. In fact, the navy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars showed a level of religious observance not seen since the days of Queen Anne. Evangelical laymen provided one dynamic for this change: concentrating first on public worship, they moved to active proselytism in search of converts amongst sailors, and in a third phase developed a loose network of prayer groups in scores of ships, uniting officers and seamen in voluntary gatherings that transcended rank.

This book explores the effect this new piety had on discipline and human governance, on literacy, on the development of chaplains' ministry and on the mindset of the officer corps. It also looks at the larger question of how its values were absorbed into the ethos of the navy as a whole. It draws on sources both familiar and unusual - logs, letters, minutes, memoirs, tracts and sermons, Regulations - to explain how evangelical influence affected officer corps, lower deck and Admiralty, showing how a movement that began by promoting public worship at sea became an agency for mass evangelism through literature, preaching and off-duty gatherings, where officers and men met for shared Bible reading and prayer a mere decade after the great Mutinies.

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Table of Contents

A Century of Neglect and a Call to Revival
The Genesis of a Movement: Middleton, Kempenfelt and Ramsay
Gathering Momentum: Divine Service at Sea in the Later Eighteenth Century
The Blue Lights during the French Revolutionary War, 1793-1802: A Change of Emphasis
Developing the Ethos of the Officer Corps
The Impact of Evangelical Enthusiasm on Fighting Determination: Quarter- Deck or Organ Loft
Evangelical activity on the lower deck: The Psalm-singers
Evangelicalism at the end of the Napoleonic War: A Flare in the Darkness


An important addition to those interested in the study of religion and the navy during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. ANGLICAN AND EPISCOPAL HISTORY

Well-researched and thoughtful. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL

A splendid book [and] a pleasure to read. [...] A rich and sound account. CHRISTIANITY & HISTORY BULLETIN

Those interested in early modern naval history, especially the social and cultural side of sea life, will be stimulated by a cruise through Blake's well-written sea of words. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

At last, an authoritative book, impeccably researched and beautifully written, which illuminates a feature of naval history ignored by naval historians. This is a book which no serious student of naval history can afford to ignore. SURGEON VICE-ADMIRAL SIR JAMES WATT KBE (Rtd)

[This] is the first book to tell an important story: we know a lot about the victories of Nelson's Navy, and we know something of Wilberforce and the early Evangelicals, especially as opponents of the slave trade, but few people realise how much the two overlapped. [...] Religious history and naval history are usually conceived as quite unconnected subjects; this lively and fascinating book shows that neither can be understood without the other. PROFESSOR NICHOLAS RODGER

At a time when cultural studies of Britain's maritime history are becoming more prominent, any book which takes seriously the role of religion should be warmly welcomed. Historians have perpetuated a myth that naval piety was unusual; Blake presents a wealth of evidence that it was widespread. [A] pioneering work. THE NORTHERN MARINER

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