Churchill once famously remarked that he would not join the navy because it was "all rum, sodomy and the lash". How far this was true of the navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is the subject of this important new book.
Summary punishments, courts martial, flogging and hanging were regularly made use of in this period to establish order in the navy. Based on extensive original research, including a detailed study of ships' captain's logs and muster tables, this book explores the concepts of order and disorder aboard ships and examines how order was preserved. It discusses the different sorts of disorder and why they occurred; argues that officers too sometimes pushed against the official order; and demonstrates that order was much more than the simple enforcement of the Articles of War.
The book argues that the behaviours that were punished, how and to what degree reveal what the navy saw as most resistive or dangerous to its authority and the order it wanted established. In addition, it considers the role of patronage in shaping order, outlining how this was affected by Admiralty moves to centralise appointments, and shows that acts of disorder were plentiful, and increasing, in this period, and that the imbalance in court martial outcomes for sailors, marines and warrant officers, in comparison to commissioned officers, points to a flawed system of justice. Overall, the book provides an extremely nuanced picture of order and how it was preserved.
Thomas Malcomson is a Professor in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at George Brown College, Toronto, Ontario. He completed his doctorate in history at York University, Toronto.