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Original hand-written and illustrated book of naval signalling.
England: c. 1800-1820. Octavo, quarter morocco, 117 pp manuscript with hand colouring to 14 pages, original boards with modern rebacking, preserved in book form box. A fine example of a rare type of naval manuscript: an officer's personally-prepared guide to the naval flag signals in use at the turn of the 18th century. The success of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) lay in the vastly increased number of ships-of-the-line (with a capacity from 74 to 120 guns) and frigates that had not only significant gun power but also the speed to evade enemy ships. The British fleet had increased from 500 ships in 1793 to 950 by 1805. For commanders to employ the larger squadrons effectively they needed individual captains to acknowledge and obey instructions promptly.In 1799 Royal Navy captain (later rear admiral) Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762-1820) had developed a system of telegraphic signals using numbered and eventually lettered flags which could create up to 30,000 words as well as set phrases. The Telegraphic Signals or Marine Vocabulary was published in several editions between 1801 and 1812 and although the Admiralty did not formally adopt the system until 1816 it was used extensively by commanders during the Napoleonic War. The "vocabulary" used a system of three or four flag hoists which referenced words or phrases in the Signal Book. A starting flag preceded the message hoist with a finishing flag indicating the message was complete. The standardised signal messages were passed from ship to ship ensuring swift actionAlthough every officer needed a familiarity with the signalling system and its vocabulary, very few copies of the printed guides were issued for reasons of security. Some officers compiled their own vocabularies, clandestine guides usually in pocket-sized books that could be quickly hidden from either friend or foe. This example, written in the extremely neat hand of an officer, indicates the skills required of an officer during the era of British Naval triumphs. The thumb-indexed book contains 390 signal messages, hand coloured pendant signals, a general index to signals, an Index to signals from Private ships and a list of some 1100 ships-of-the-line including their gun power. Some entries appear in a later heavier (or perhaps older?) hand. The first pages show pennant positions on the masts and the nine flags of Popham's system. On following pages are the identifying pennants and vanes of ships, all coloured by hand. Although there is no specific indication of which naval officer may have compiled this volume, there may be an indication of its likely date since one of the tables, "Distinguishing Vanes", identifies each of the British ships at the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen (the vanes were important for not only the identification of the ship, but also the wind direction). It was of course at this battle that Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye in order to disregard Admiral Hyde Parker's signal to disengage. Unfortunately, Edward Riou did obey and met his end. Another captain, William Bligh of HMS Glatton survived. It is intriguing to speculate further: there were close personnel links between the sea battles of the Napoleonic Wars and the first decades of settlement in Australia. Provenance: Private collection (Sydney). In appropriate original condition, with spine renewed in modern times.
      [Bookseller: Hordern House]
Last Found On: 2017-06-23           Check availability:      Direct From Seller    

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