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Tag Archives: British

A Sailor of King George

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Captain Frederick Hoffman, HMS Apelles - 1808

As part of the research I’m conducting for a novel I’m working on, I’ve just finished reading a rip-roaring tale of high adventure – and it’s all true!  Straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, from an officer and gentleman who saw and survived 45 years in His Majesty’s navy (according to his own reckoning at the end of the tale).  Captain Hoffman, who began as a lowly mid (midshipman), survived yellow fever twice, was a prisoner of war twice, lost the hearing in one ear (and part of the ear), survived countless battles (including Trafalgar), and spent years at a time separated from his family, yet all with a keen eye for detail, and a sailor’s knack for conveying what he saw with humour and a vivid imagination.  He had a tongue-in-cheek writing style, and I found myself laughing many a time at his gentlemanly wording of euphemisms, such as when they attacked an enemy vessel and boarded her: “She (the ship) received us as warmly as if she had known us for years. I took the liberty of shooting a man in her main rigging who was inclined to do me the same kind office, had I not saved him the trouble.”

He also had an amazing repertoire of similes, and here are just a few:

  • “don’t be after splicing yourself (getting married) until you have a commission, and if you do then, you will have as much business with a wife as a cow has with a side pocket…”
  • “I walked the deck as surly as a bear with the Caledonian rash.”
  • “…(sitting) on the back of an animal as obstinate as a boat’s crew…”
  • …”we were as helpless as a cow in a jolly-boat…” (due to being short-handed)
  • “We were drifting like a pig upon a grating, and as helpless as a sucking shrimp…”
  • “My mind was like a coal-barge in a waterspout when I heard…”
  • “…his eyes glistening like a Cornish diamond…”
  • “Our prizes (ships captured, to be sold for prize money) made their eyes shine like a dollar in a bucket of water, and their mouths water like a sick monkey’s eyes with a violent influenza.”
  • “…we daylighted the anchor, mastheaded the sails, crested the briny wave like a Yankee sea-serpent…”
HMS Apelles

HMS Apelles; Illustration from the book.

Captain Hoffman was commander of several vessels, including the HMS Apelles; Wikipedia has an interesting article regarding the fate of that particular ship; Hoffman was taken prisoner as a consequence of his gallant actions, and spent over two years as a POW in France; Bonaparte refused the usual gentleman’s agreement of prisoner exchange, leaving men to languish in prisons until he was defeated and deposed (for the first time, in April 1814).

This gem of a book can be found free of charge at Gutenberg.org, and I would highly recommend reading it if you have any interest in military history, natural history, or social history, or just love a good tale – Hoffman covers it all!

 

The Historical Face of Genetics

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Averages 1Only once have I watched an American History Channel “documentary” (and I use that word very loosely) – on Vikings, and I spent half the time correcting their blatant misinformation.  BBC documentaries, on the other hand, are frequently watched in our household; they are well-researched, well-presented, and entertainingly educational.

One such documentary is “The Face of Britain” in which they trace the history of Britain through the genetic studies of Oxford University, led by cancer and population geneticist Professor Sir Walter Bodmer.  If you’re interested in British history, genetics, or science, I would highly recommend this DVD, as well as the website link above (where there are additional interesting articles on the topic).  Genetics tell us where we come from; but they also map where regional similarities come from; what makes Irish generally red-haired and Scandinavians blonde?  Not only complexion and hair or eye colour, but even bone structure:  Regional differences in what make a person look like they come from “X” and not “Y”.

There was also a study of facial averages, where thousands of portraits were combined into one image to give a common face for various regions around the world.  I have friends from many regions of the world, and I can confirm that these average faces are fairly accurate (I can recognize friends and/or their facial features in the images).

Both topics are well worth looking into!

The Bloody Battle of Towton

Towton Battle Skull

A Towton Battle victim, with multiple head wounds. Credit: Bradford University

Towton BattleImagine a battle so vicious that opposing sides agreed to a time-out to drag bodies out of the way to better facilitate killing each other.  Not just killing, but slaughtering, butchering; some of the skeletons found at the battlefield of Towton, England, have as many as 20 injuries to the skulls.  Some skulls have been sliced in half, or pierced with a square spearhead, or both; noses chopped off, eyes gouged out, ears removed.  The battle occurred on 29 March 1461, and within 12 hours, from dawn to dusk, 28,000 men would lose their lives in brutal deaths, hacked to death and beyond.  That’s an average of 2,333 an hour.  The figure of 28,000 is disputed, however; though it appeared in letters from Edward VI and the Bishop of Salisbury, other contemporary sources gave the figures ranging between 30,000 to 38,000, while the 16th century chronicler Edward Hall gave the exact figure of 36,776.  Why was it so vicious?  It was a decisive battle in the War of the Roses (1455–1487), between the opposing forces of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists; it was north against south; the Lancastrians were the strong arm of King Henry VI, and the Yorkists, that of 18-year-old Edward IV, who would go on to win the battle and claim the English throne.  At the time of the battle, the War of Roses had been going on for six years, and nerves were raw – they just wanted it to end.  Little did they know that it would continue for another 26 years… in other words, two generations (reckoning in shorter life spans) of young men would rise and fall in the War of Roses, and the Battle of Towton was one of the largest, if not the largest, battle fought on English soil.

Sources:  BBC; Wikipedia; University of York.

The Widow’s Man

18centuryship-16-wiki-19011Back before the days of pension funds, insurance and the like, a man who went to sea left behind a family relying on his income and his return to survive.  If he were killed or died, the widow was left with no source of income, vulnerable, and likely to end in poverty; I can imagine that their children may have often ended in workhouses, or on the streets begging or stealing for food if the father had been a common sailor with no pecuniary connection to ensure the survival of his bereft family.  To counter this problem, the royal navy kept a man on their payroll, called the “widow’s man”, whose income would be sent to the widow directly.  There could be several in any given ship’s complement, proportional to the ship’s size.  As you can imagine, this gave a greater incentive for men to join the Royal Navy as opposed to another maritime employer such as the Merchant Navy, but this accounting tactic led to several problems, not the least of which was to know how many hands on deck were actually alive when, for instance, a ship sank – or in other words, how many were alive before they died…

The history of pensions in the UK is an interesting topic; if you’d like to learn more, click here, with a section on the Royal Navy here.

Ten Great Winston Churchill Quotes

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Winston ChurchillWinston Churchill was a great statesman, orator, and had a caustic wit.  Here are ten great quotes:

 

“When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.”

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

“For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.”

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

“A lady came up to me one day and said ‘Sir! You are drunk’, to which I replied ‘I am drunk today madam, and tomorrow I shall be sober but you will still be ugly.”

 

 

The Uffington White Horse

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Uffington White HorseI like to go “flying” occasionally with Google Earth; it is how my husband and I discovered the Scilly Isles (I’ll tell you more about that sometime), and how I’ve found several hill figures across the UK; here’s one of my favourites:

Dating from the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC), the Uffington White Horse (in Oxfordshire, nearest the town of Uffington) is a stylized hill figure of 110 metres long, created by deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. It is protected and maintained by the National Trust as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (if it is not cleaned regularly it would disappear rapidly, the chalk being washed away by rain or the trenches filling in with local vegetation).

Iron Age Celtic CoinsThese coins pictured are Iron Age Celtic coins (the currency of the pre-Roman population), and the designs are comparable to the White Horse, supporting the early dating (it was thought for some time that the figure could have been constructed as late as the Iron Age, 800 BC–AD 100, but samples from silt of the figure supported the earlier date).  The White Horse is by far the oldest such figure in Britain, but certainly not the only one; ancient figures are scattered throughout the British Isles, though Wiltshire alone has at least eight.  When you have a few minutes to spare, take a Google Earth flight over the UK, and see if you can spot any other figures!

 

The (Tongue in Cheek) Truth about Stonehenge

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If you think that ancient druids built Stonehenge, you’d be wrong… off by a couple thousand years, actually.  Here’s a quirky, tongue-in-cheek historical low-down on the famous standing stones:  Just click on the image below!

Stonehenge - credit - destinationsalisbury-co-uk

The Lambton Worm

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Myths and legends are often based in some distant, past reality; sometimes they are blown out proportion by the telling over time; what started out as a guppy eventually becomes a whale.  In the case of the Lambton Worm legend however, the dragon became a worm:  “Worm” to our modern minds doesn’t sound threatening at all; but the Old English wurm, a variant of wyrm, actually meant “serpent, snake, dragon, or reptile“.  I find it fascinating to read between the lines of such a story, to recognize the actual historical elements buried over time within the fantastical renditions; there may be elements of local geography, superstitions, explanations that arise over time, moral lessons to train children in a particular behaviour, and many other tidbits of history along the dusty road to modern versions of ancient tales.  To read more about this interesting legend, click on the image below.

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

Snapshot in History: The Baby Cage

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This photo (taken ca. 1937) was the solution busy city dwellers had for their children:  A good dose of fresh air and sunshine, dangling out of a window a few stories high.  To see a British ad for this device, just click on the photo below.

Baby cage

New Book Release: Redemption, the Northing Trilogy, Book 2

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Redemption CoverAnnouncing the release of my second book, Redemption!  At the moment both books are available on Kindle, and coming soon in paperback.  If you enjoy 18th century fiction a la Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, I think you’ll love these two books!  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing them; before writing the third book in this series, however, I’ll be finishing two other manuscripts, in vastly different genres.  So keep your eye out for more news!

The reason for the brief interlude between the releases of The Price of Freedom and Redemption is that the second was nearly complete when I released the first one; POF had been done for a few months by the time I actually had time to sit down and go through the publication process for the first time properly; don’t think either book was rushed, as I’m meticulous with the nuts and bolts, and I would like to think quality, though that is up to the reader to assess, not me!

To read a snippet of the book and find out more, please check out my “The Northing Trilogy” page and let me know what you think – I’d love to hear from you!

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