The Candid Memoirs of a surgeon in Nelson’s Fleet
by James Lowry
a Brief book review by Acasta member Tony Gerard
James Lowry was a young man, classically trained in the medical arts, who joined the British Navy as an assistant surgeon in 1798 and served until the spring of 1804. His deployment was almost exclusively on the Mediterranean- he was in on the Egyptian campaign of 1801, was briefly a prisoner of war before being exchanged, then served in Italy and Sicily before being shipwrecked in 1804. He was apparently an avid journalist, as well as a sketch artist, but unfortunately his journals and sketches were almost all lost in the wreck.
At some point after he returned to Ireland he wrote a series of letters to his brother chronicling his adventures from memory. While he was certainly involved in some serious military actions, his main interest was in Italian society and its lax (by English standards of Lowry’s time) sexual morals. While the dust jacket notes that Lowry recounts his exploits in “perhaps rather more detail than is proper” I found this true only in 19th century terms. I personally found Lowry frustratingly lacking in the details of historic life that we living historians love so much. Not only are his romantic encounters lacking in detail, but so are the accounts of his military adventures. Personally disappointing for me, his medical endeavors barely get a mention.
This is not a bad book, but it is an easy book to put down and pick up again later. If an individual had service in the Mediterranean, Sicily or Italy as part of their back story it would be an excellent resource.