From the Lower Deck: The Old Navy 1780-1840

Henry Baynham

Arrow Books 1972
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
In From the Lower Deck Baynham tries to show us what life was like for ordinary seamen in the British navy during the heyday of "fighting sail". He has collected extracts from some ten first-hand accounts and linked them together with his own commentary. Most of the material is from the years from 1800 to 1815, but some extends backwards to the American War of Independence and forwards to the foundation of the gunnery school HMS Excellent.

Many of the passages have been chosen for dramatic and historical interest: accounts of Cape St Vincent, the Nile, Trafalgar, the United States versus the Macedonian, and Navarino as well as more obscure but nevertheless exciting actions. Other passages illustrate the less exciting aspects of lower deck life: desertion and the press gang, discipline and floggings, the tedium of convoy duty, living conditions, feelings about officers, and so forth. The resulting picture, while lively and engaging, still seems rather distant — but then the only way for us to obtain a really intimate feel for the life Baynham describes is probably to do a stint in one of the world's less pleasant penal systems. From the Lower Deck is a valuable counterpoint to the more common "quarterdeck" views of naval service during the period, be they biographies of Nelson or works of fiction.

October 1998

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%T From the Lower Deck
%S The Old Navy 1780-1840
%A Baynham, Henry
%I Arrow Books
%D 1972 [1969]
%O paperback, photographs, index
%G ISBN 0099065401
%P 256pp,12pp b&w photos