Tuesday, March 3

Wreck of the Medusa, a Review

A mini book review by Tony Gerard

Wreck of the Medusa- 
Mutiny, Murder, and Survival on the High Seas 
by Alexander McKee.

While technically outside the time period we portray (occurring in 1817), the wreck of the Medusa is an interesting and tragic story.  The Medusa was carrying a load of passengers, soldiers and dignitaries to Senegal at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Through a combination of inept leadership and poor judgment the ship ran aground on an extended sandbank off the coast of the Sahara desert. Through more poor judgment the ship is abandoned and about 150 people end up on a hastily constructed raft and are then abandoned. Fifteen of this group survive to be rescued two weeks later. The incident becomes an embarrassment for the new French government, which attempts an unsuccessful cover-up.

While I found the chapters about the voyage, wreck and the survival stories very interesting I have to confess I got bored with the politics of the coverup and only skim read most of this section. McKee also devotes a chapter to an English ship, the Alceste, which wrecked shortly after the Medusa and had many similarities. In this case the Captain made all the right decisions and didn't loose a man. I found this chapter really interesting. Another chapter is devoted to Savigny Gericault's painting of the Medusa raft survivors. Strangely the final chapter compares the Medusa case to a WWII shipwreck survivors, Airplane hijack victims in Jordan in the 1970s and even the famous soccer team airplane crash in the Andes. It was like the book tried to change from a story about history to a psychological analysis in mid stream. I kept waiting for some really relevant connection to be made here which, at least for me, never happened.

The Raft of the Méduse was painted by Théodore Géricault in 1819,
and is now displayed at the Louvre.'


Monday, March 2

Meet Francis Decimus Hastings


HASTINGS.
Acasta Midshipman under Capt. Kerr, c.1811.

Francis Decimus Hastings entered the Navy, 19 Aug. 1807, as Third-cl. Vol., on board the Temeraire 98, Capts. Sir Chas. Hamilton and Edw. Sneyd Clay, successively stationed in the Channel and Baltic. In June, 1809, having attained the rating of Midshipman a few months previously, he removed to the Amethyst 36, Capt. Jacob Walton, with whom he appears to have been employed on Home service until wrecked in Plymouth Sound 16 Feb. 1811. He then joined, for a short period, the Acasta 40, Capt. Alex. Robt. Kerr ; after which we find him, until Aug. 1815, employed, on the Spanish, North American, Jamaica, and Home stations, latterly as Master's Mate, in the Iris 38, Capt. Hood Hanway Christian, St. Domingo 74, flag-ship of Sir John Borlase Warren, Emulous brig, Capt. Wm. M'Kenzie Godfrey, and Argo 44, and Ville de Paris 110, bearing the flags of Rear-Admiral Wm. Brown and Lord Keith.

Source: A NAVAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY: COMPRISING THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF EVERY LIVING OFFICER IN HER MAJESTY'S NAVY, FROM THE RANK OF ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET TO THAT OF LIEUTENANT, INCLUSIVE. Compiled from Authentic and Family Documents. BY WILLIAM E. O'BYRNE, ESQ.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, PUBLISHER TO THE ADMIRALTY. 1849.


Above image is a cropped version of "Portrait of Augustus Leopold Kuper as a midshipman, in the year he entered the Royal Navy at the age of fourteen."
by FISCHER, T. Paul. London: June, 1823.

Friday, February 27

The Sailing Master - a Brief Review

“The Sailing Master” 
By Lee Henschel Jr.

a mini review by Tony Gerard

This is my first time reviewing a novel and maybe I’m not the best guy for the job. Among historic re-enactors I tend to be what is referred to as a “button counter”. In other words I get caught up in small details of historical accuracy in both material and social culture.  Several of my nonhistorian friends now refuse to go to historic movies with me. They say I ruin the movie with my constant complaints about historic authenticity. During “New World” my girlfriend at the time actually got up and moved several seats away from me.

That being said, the author of “The Sailing Master” asked me to review his historic novel, so here goes….

The novel is set in 1798, the main character being a ship’s boy on a Royal Navy frigate. Right away (page 3 ) I found a couple of historic faux pas – the captain is described as having a beard, definitely not the style for a late 18th   century gentleman, and putting his thumbs in his belt loops. Belt loops didn’t appear until the early 20th century. But Mr. Henschel was kind enough to send me a free copy, so I kept reading and then… I was caught up in the story.  It’s definitely a fun read. I’m the kind of guy who goes to bed early (9pm) on a weeknight. I stayed up late reading two nights in a row.

The story is told in first person, but it’s written in a faster paced 20th century style. Henschel does throw in enough 18th century words and phrases to give the casual (read non- button counter) reader the feel of an 18th century narrative. The characters definitely have a modern mindset within a historic setting. This is especially obvious in the disrespect with which the Captain treats captured enemy officers – just not done in the 18th century by gentlemen.

Having said that it is obvious that Henschel knows sailing and 18th century navigation. That comes across and is a plus in my opinion.  

The novel is an adventure/mystery story. Several aspects are not that real life believable, but who cares? Think Michael Crighton rather than Patrick O’Brian. The story is fast paced and it kept my interest. That’s what kept me up. I was always reading just a bit more to see how this turned out, but by the time “this” was resolved there was something else- and I had to see how that turned out. As much as I love the Aubry/Maturin series I never had trouble putting it down to pick up again later. Not so for “The Sailing Master”. Be forewarned, just like real life, Henschel can take away a character you might have begun to like with no apologies. Also be warned, the book is meant to be the first of a series, and it ends as cliff hanger. I, for one, look forward to seeing what happens to ship’s boy Owen Harriet.

Thursday, February 26

A Letter from the Captain


February 20, 1814

Col. David Van Meter, Esq.
Poole, Dorset County, England

My Dear Col. Van Meter,

I am in receipt of your Letter of January 17, and Sir, I am most overjoyed with the News which It contained regarding the Expansion of My Estate at Hulldon Cottage.   My dear Colonel, you have most definitely exceeded my Expectations, and Hopes, in the acquisition of 175 acres from the Earl of Brantford, and at a most advantageous Price to My Pocket!  I have had the Opportunity to actually traverse and examine the Property on several Occasions whilst attending Social Outings hosted by his Lordship.  I am most pleased with the access afforded by the Property to the small inlet thereby permitting Access to the Harbour and Bay beyond.  It is my Hope that a suitable Location for Construction of a small Wharf may be found along the southern Reaches of the Waterfront, capable of permitting the berthing of a small Cutter of American build which I acquired through Auction at Halifax.  I am most desirous that you conduct a Survey of the Waterfront Property with an Eye pursuant to the Construction of such a Structure.  

Should the Opportunity present Itself, I would be most interested in acquiring the Parcel of Land positioned between Brantford Road and immediately to the West of the current Boundaries of my Estate, thereby giving unfettered Access to that avenue.  

I have instructed my Agents at the firm of Coutts, located in the Strand, to place the agreed upon Sum for the Purchase at your Disposal.  This will enable you to conclude the Transaction.

I am most impressed with the Quality of the Map which accompanied your Letter, so much so that I have requested the Ship’s Carpenter, a Mr. Apple, who is a wonderfully skilled Craftsman and conversant in one of the Languages spoken by Native Populations of northern America, which he employs in a most robust Fashion when irritably disposed, to make a Frame so that I might hang it in my Cabin.  This will hopefully spare me from further of Dr. Roberts’s constant Complaints that even King Leonidas’s Lodgings were not as ”Spartan” as mine!

Your humble and Obt. Servant,

Capt. Robert Freymann 
HMS Acasta 
North American Station 
Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Wednesday, February 25

A Window in Time

Have you discovered the Acasta on Instagram yet? Each image is like a little window in time that will take you back to the golden age of sail.

A photo posted by @hms_acasta on


Tuesday, February 24

Our Final Song @ New Orleans


The crew of HMS Acasta ran the British Field Hospital at the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in Jan. 2015 located in the town of Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, LA. The Hospital was open after every battle that took place that weekend and was intended to serve as a tribute to the men on both sides of the line that fought and died in that final battle of the War of 1812. 

On Sunday, for the final battle of the weekend, the crew dressed down to fetch wounded officers off the field. Afterword we relaxed and sang one last emotional song of the period before packing up to go home.

Monday, February 23

John Nepean, Volunteer First Class

NEPEAN.
Acasta Volunteer First Class under Capt. Dunn, c. 1806.

John Nepean was born 6 Jan. 1785. He is brother of Capt. Evan Nepean, R.N.

This officer entered the Navy, 3 March, 1798, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Caton, Lieut.-Commander Robt. Browne, lying in Hamoaze ; and between 1799 and Aug. 1803 was employed on various parts of the Home station in the Saturn 74, Capt. Thos. Foley, Nereide frigate, Capt. Fred. Watkins, Victorieuse, Capt. Richards, Ambuscade 36, Capt. Hon. John Colville, Galgo sloop, Capt. Rich. Hawkins, and Galatea and Aigle frigates, both commanded by Capt. Geo. Wolfe. After a further servitude in the Foudrovant 80, bearing the flag in the Channel of Rear-Admiral Dacres, also in the Quebec and Euryalus frigates, each under the orders of Capt. Hon. Geo. Heneage Lawrence Dundas (with whom he visited Cadiz and Teneriffe), and in the Acasta 40, Capt. Rich. Dalling Dunn, he was promoted, on his return home from Gibraltar, to the rank of Lieutenant by commission dated 25 Sept. 1806 ; and next in succession appointed 29 of the same month, to the Raven sloop, Capt. Jas. Grant, stationed off Lisbon and Oporto—21 Dec. 1807, to the Bellerophon 74, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Albemarle Bertie in the Channel —8 April, 1808, to the Humber, Capts. John Hill and Robt. England, employed between Falmouth and the Downs—about July, 1809, to the Imperieuse 38, Capts. Lord Cochrane, Thos. Gould, and Hon. Henry Duncan, attached to the force in the North Sea and Mediterranean—

Source: A NAVAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY: COMPRISING THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF EVERY LIVING OFFICER IN HER MAJESTY'S NAVY, FROM THE RANK OF ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET TO THAT OF LIEUTENANT, INCLUSIVE. Compiled from Authentic and Family Documents. BY WILLIAM E. O'BYRNE, ESQ.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, PUBLISHER TO THE ADMIRALTY. 1849.