Gregory Fremont-Barnes,
Nelson's Sailors
(Osprey, 2005)

In my review of Gregory Fremont-Barnes' book Nelson's Officers & Midshipmen, I wished for a copy of its predecessor in the series of educational texts, Nelson's Sailors. A few days later, it arrived in the mail. I devoured it pretty quick.

Like Officers & Midshipmen, Sailors takes a brief but highly detailed look at the men who sailed with Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson -- but, in this case, it focuses on the poor sailing men who worked the sails and scoured the decks and lived in huddled spaces belowdecks. It's a brutal life that Fremont-Barnes describes, and yet these sailors -- often pressed into service unwillingly, wrenched from their wives and children and land-bound vocations -- made the British navy into a global force to be reckoned with.

Heavily illustrated by Steve Noon and making use of a number of contemporary illustrations as well, this slim volume is a reliable educational tool that teaches readers about the realities of those limey tars -- their duties and rewards, the food and drink that sustained them, the punishments that awaited their every misdeed and the amusements that filled their rare hours of leisure.

It's compact but well written and extremely thorough, a valuable resource to the novice historian and a pleasure to the navy enthusiast. If you've read the novels of Forester and O'Brian and wondered about the men who served on those tall ships of battle, this will sate a great deal of your curiosity.

Oh, and since someone at Osprey appears to be paying attention, I'd love to add Nile 1798, Trafalgar 1805 and Victory vs Redoutable to the collection!

book review by
Tom Knapp

15 June 2013

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