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I publish them regularly on topics based around my enduring love for all matters maritime. I keep them short and light, so they should be no longer to read than the time it takes to drink a coffee. If you want to receive them, please subscribe below

Captain Elphinstone and the Siege of Havana

The city of Havana in Cuba was Imperial Spain’s most important base. In the 18th century it was the third largest city in the New World and was a heavily fortified port that could shelter a fleet of over a hundred vessels, together with dockyards capable of building and maintaining the very largest warships. It was also economically important as a major trading centre for slaves, sugar, silver, tobacco and luxury goods from Europe. Its loss would undoubtedly have been a calamity for the Spanish, but they were certain that their city was impossible to capture. This belief was not just wishful thinking. Havana was surrounded by formidable modern defences, had a large garrison and a fifth of Sp

Nelson and the Essence of War

British Admiral Jackie Fisher, the great Edwardian naval reformer who was behind the introduction of dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers, once said that “the essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.” He was not a personally aggressive man, nor was he a warmonger. What he believed was that once war happened, it was the duty of those in uniform to fight to the utmost, until victory was achieved. No one would have agreed more with his sentiments than Fisher’s hero, Horatio Nelson. For much of the 18th century, warfare between Europeans was defined by notions of chivalry from an earlier age. The admirals and generals on both sides were mostly aristocratic. In 1745, at

Warspite – the Last of the Line

There have been Royal Navy vessels called Warspite since the time of the Tudors. Sir Walter Raleigh commanded the first ship of that name, while later Warspites served with distinction throughout the age of sail. With such a proud heritage, it was small wonder that the name was chosen in 1807 for the latest ship of the line for the Royal Navy. Designed by Sir John Henslow, she was much larger than the standard 74 in service, which permitted her to carry 24pdr cannon on her upper deck in place of the more usual 18pdrs. From the outside Warspite appeared to be a traditional oak warship, but a number of innovations had been tried in her construction, including the use of iron to supplement and

Mail at Sea

By the end of the 18th century, the British Isles enjoyed one of the most efficient postal services in the world. Purpose-built mail coaches, accompanied by armed guards, sped along the newly constructed turnpike roads at speeds of nine or ten miles an hour, carrying both passengers and letters between all the main cities. Correspondence going overseas was carried on a fleet of purpose built mail-packet ships that ran regular services to major destinations, while letters to other places were handed over in sealed packages for merchant ships to deliver. So vital was the service considered, that the Post Office was an important department of government, headed by a Post Master General, who was

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