This classic work on Naval tactics was published in 1804, the year before Trafalgar put its advice and maxims to the supreme test. The remarkable thing about this book is that its author, the antiquarian and amateur scientist John Clerk (1728-1812) – known as ‘Clerk of Eldin’ – was not a sailor, but a landlubber Scot from a wealthy family who developed a theoretical interest in Naval strategy and tactics during the American War of Independence. He even went so far as to work through ship movemenmts using cork models on a water tank. When a retired Naval Engineer named Edgar – who had served under Admirals Byng and Boscawen – settled in Clerk’s home village of Eldin, the two men became fast friends and Clerk milked Edgar’s practical experience of maritime matters for all he was worth. The result was this book: the first original treatise on Naval Tactics to be written and published in English ( although there had been previous books on signalling and translations of foreign works). Clerk’s ‘Essay’ covers such subjects as attacking from windward; the effects of shot on rigging; how to bring great fleets to action; and other practical advice. The theory is illustrated by accounts of famous battles and engagements, including Admiral Byng’s ill-starred 1756 attack on Minorca ( for failing in which he was famously shot on his own quarter-deck); and battles involving Admirals Byron, Rodney, Graves, Arbuthnot, Parker, Pocock and Hood. Packed with sound scientific learning, naval lore and actual historic events, this is a fantastic find – and one that no budding Hornblower or Maturin should be without.
ESSAY ON NAVAL TACTICS, SYSTEMATICAL AND HISTORICAL, 1804
A fantastic find : the first ever essay on Naval Tactics to be written in English and published on the eve of Trafalgar. It’s author, John Clerk, was a landlubbing Scot whose theories were gleaned from sailor friends, and whose accounts of 18th century naval battles and the tactics used is essential reading for all naval enthusiasts.