Letters of Seamen in the Wars with France, 1793-1815

Letters of Seamen in the Wars with France, 1793-1815

Edited by Helen Watt with Anne Hawkins


Boydell Press



Letters of seamen below the rank of commissioned officer which tell us a great deal about shipboard life and about seamen's attitudes.
Letters of seamen below the rank of commissioned officer are rare, both in original form and in print. This edited collection of 255 letters, written by seamen in the British Navy and their correspondents between 1793 and 1815, gives voice to a group of men whose lives and thoughts are otherwise mostly unknown. The letters are extremely valuable for the insights which they give into aspects of life below decks and the subjects close to the writers' hearts: money matters, ties with home and homesickness. They also provide eye-witness accounts of events during a tumultuous and important period of British and European history. One group of letters, included as a separate section, comprises the letters of seamen and their family and friends which were intercepted by the authorities during the mutinies of 1797. These letters shed a great deal of light on the extraordinary events of that year and of seamen's attitudes to the mutinies. The editors' introductory material, besides highlighting what the letters tell us about seamen's lives and attitudes, also discusses the extent of literacy amongst seamen, setting this into its wider contemporary popular context. The letters are supported by a substantial editorial apparatus and two detailed appendices containing biographies of seamen and information on select ships which took part in the mutinies of 1797.

Helen Watt, a professional archivist and researcher, is currently Project Archivist with the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York, and has also worked on other research projects at The National Archives, Kew, the National Library of Wales and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth.

Anne Hawkins, a retired civil servant, was Secretary of the Ships' Names and Badges Committee in the early 1990s and has family links with the Navy and Admiralty.

An e-book version of this title is available (9781782042365), to libraries through a number of trusted suppliers. See here for a full list of our partners.


June 2016
6 black and white illustrations
688 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843838968
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS027150, HIS015000, HIS037050
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Table of Contents

'Thus Dear Father passes the life of a Tar', Letters of Seamen, 1793-1815, Letters A1-194
'A great disturbance in the fleet', Letters, mostly intercepted, to and from Seamen during the Mutinies in the Royal Navy, 1797, Letters B1-61
Appendix I: Biographies
Appendix II: Select ships involved in the mutinies in the Royal Navy in 1797


An incredibly valuable addition to the existing primary literature on the subject. ARCHIVES

Simultaneously and military and social history. Its principal value lies in its contribution to our knowledge of the lives of seamen below the rank of commissioned officer, their interests and concerns. MARINER'S MIRROR

A veritable goldmine to be excavated....It is one of the most valuable publications to illuminate the lower deck life in Nelson's navy that has appeared in recent years....It cannot be highly recommended enough. THE NELSON DESPATCH

[A] serious addition to the current literature on the lower deck. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

The triumph of this work is in the care taken to treat each seaman as a figure worthy of further study and research. This volume not only transcribes the letters of seamen but also provides rich biographical information cultivated through careful and detailed research in multiple archives and online databases. This brings added depth to the letters, complementing the useful historical and historiographical context of the introduction to each section. H-NET REVIEWS

This collection of primary source documents is a welcome contribution to our historical understanding of the lives of British seamen during the Napoleonic Wars. THE NORTHERN MARINER

An invaluable addition to the resources available for all those interested in the human elements of maritime history. It is undoubtedly a monumental pillar of scholarship but behind the words laid out, emerges picture after picture of the warmth, yearnings and hopes of the often unlettered men who laboured by mess-deck glims to reach out to their loved ones in the midst of the titanic struggle of the war at sea. JULIAN STOCKWIN