Book Review:
Nelson's Sailors

By Gregory Fremont-Barnes
Artwork by Steve Noon

The men who crewed Britain's Wooden Walls during the Napoleonic Wars were - and had to be - a hardy lot. They put up with long voyages, little time ashore, poor food, cramped conditions, the fear and terror of battle and highly hazardous occupations.

I can think of quite a few things I would like to do ahead of climbing into the heights of a mast's rigging and even more when imagining the difficulty of operating sails - particularly in rough weather.

Mind you I'm a lubber but I can get a great look at life on a Royal Navy warship through Gregory Fremont-Barnes' Nelson's Sailors through Osprey.

It is a tightly written work filled with terrific information - and all added to with some superb first-hand accounts of life under Admiral Lord Nelson.

The main chapters are:

Recruitment, Pay and Rating - Volunteers, Impressment, Rating
Shipboard Organisation, Routine and Duties - Watches, Messes, Duties and Dangers
Food and Drink - Food, Drink
Discipline and Punishments - Flogging, Ganging, Gauntlet
Desertion and Mutiny
Sickness, Disease and Death
Leave, Leisure and Amusements - Leave, Aboard Ship
Experience of Battle and Aftermath
Museums and Places of Interest

Nelson's Sailors covers all aspects of a sailor's existence from volunteering to being pressed, it explains the impressment system, the watch and bell systems on a vessel, the shipboard menu and a host of other subjects.

For mine I found the words of the eyewitnesses were what made the book so impressive and Fremont-Barnes has picked out some excellent quotes to illustrate life at sea. Some are quite detailed about how people died, but there are amusing incidents as well including the cobbler who was taken for dead and was thrown out a hatch during battle only to have to be then fished back out of the water.

Steve Noon's artwork is marvellous with his talent bringing real animation to the images. Scenes depicted include relaxation below decks, sword practice, boarding, the doctor's surgery and there is a chart of the equipment the men used on the warship.

Once again an excellent production from Osprey.

- Richard Moore


Osprey Website

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