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Fiddlers and Whores

I have always had a lively interest in the 18th and early 19th century Royal Navy, however there is nothing tactical to learn in this small book of 181 pages. There is nothing about the routine at sea, whether in or out of action. The only tactics explained was how to get among the women both at home and in the Mediterranean islands, and in Italy, Spain, Algeria and Turkey. The author is an Irishman and the ‘Ships Surgeon’ He was Irish born in Dundalk, and speaks of himself as being British and very loyal to the ‘Crown,’ he certainly appears to be so.

The Fleet up-anchored and left what they called ‘The Downs’ off the south coast of England in April 1799 and sailed with another 170 ‘Man O’ War’ their task was in order to rid the Med of the French and Spanish fleets, which they certainly did. What great excitement they had, and how in great esteem they were held by those they met ashore, or on the sea during their six year voyage.

An example ‘we sailed down the Spanish coast, when some Spanish Shore Batteries opened up on us, the Captain went in close and give them two broadsides with our 17 pounders, this quietened them’ and another ‘ We chased a French Frigate for six hours or more, they fired the occasional shot from their stern, a few struck us , they were sailing only a little faster than us in a light wind, the wind rose and our large sails took us upon them, we moved alongside and gave them two volleys of broadside with our 18 pounders, they struck their colours; more prize money for us!

The ships company went ashore in Alexandra and fought hand to hand battles with the French while supporting the Royal Marines. He mentions; ‘Here I saw the 23rd Regiment do a finer thing as ever I have seen, they dashed forward to take a position of much more strength, and using only the bayonet, they routed them’ (Good Old RWF)

Prize money for ships captured and its method of it being shared among the officers is well explained, sometimes at five hundred pounds each officer. French or Spanish merchant ships fetched far more and often up to one thousand pounds per officer depending on rank. some ship’s officers got very rich during the Napoleonic wars, it says nothing of what the crew received.

The methods of ships dispatches coming out from England was very efficient and was carried about the fleet by smaller faster ships. Gibraltar was the hub of activity for the Med fleet, it was surprising how often they were called back there for resupply and for ‘Refitting’ and fresh orders.

Duels were fought as a way of life, I started to get the feel that ‘misses at close quarters’ were intentional, but at least ones honour saved. Another part is a visit ashore in Turkey where he explains ‘ Our little midshipman, a boy of 13 years both fair and handsome, was dragged off by some Turks and raped and murdered’ and ‘We saw what we thought were ‘devils’, but is was explained that they were women in black with only two small holes in their headdress to peer through, we were warned not to even look at them, nor to speak to one, to touch one meant instant death. ‘ The men there had up to five or six wives, yet their favourite pastime seemed to be sodomy of very young boys.’ ‘The higher classes of Turk paid sums money to possess young Greek virgins brought from the Ilse of Cyprus’

Our hero gets captured and is taken by ship to France as a prisoner; however he is taken in hand by a very gallant French naval officer who had been held captive by the British and served his sentence ‘most cordially’ in England. Our hero is wined and dined in fine form and introduced to all the society ladies round about Toulouse which ‘pleased him much’

The book is interesting and a ‘ nice little read’ I read it over a 24 hour period, it is enjoyable, and good light entertainment, I certainly recommend it.

I award the book four and a half stars. The author is now long gone and for some 200 years, otherwise I would have asked him to mention more of the ships company, and not just those that he mentions with venereal disease.
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