The rare book collection at the Caird Library holds numerous delights. One of our readers requested this book and it particularly caught my eye as it is written by an officer who began service in the Royal Navy as a young lad in the 1800s.
The full title is quite descriptive: Fragments of Voyages and Travels, including anecdotes of a naval life: chiefly for the use of young persons. Published 1831, Author: Captain Basil Hall. (RMG ID: PBE0232)
The time period is early 19th century, which is often a difficult time period to find ‘true’ accounts of boys entering the Royal Navy service. Captain Basil Hall (1788-1844) entered the Royal Navy in 1803, after much soul searching and unhappiness as a scholar. This first volume describes Basil Hall’s experiences at school and the lure of the sea.
'How shall I be able to get on at all, if a sea life be not more enjoyable than that of the High School of Edinburgh?'
It was not unusual for midshipmen to write about their time in the Royal Navy, but this quote certainly gives an insight into the family dynamics between father and son:
'On the 16th of May 1802, I left home; and next day my father said to me, “Now you are fairly afloat in the world, you must begin to write a journal”; […] he put a blank book into one hand, and a pen into the other […].'
This account also describes the minimal amount of preparation that boys or young men undertook when considering a professional career in the Royal Navy in the early 1800s:
'[…] In most other professions, the transition from the old to the new mode of life is more or less gradual; but in that of the sea, it is totally abrupt, and without intervening preparation […].'
In ensuing years, the level of naval training became much more structured.
From the preface of the Second Series, Hall describes his intended audience for the First Series:
'In the First Series of these Fragments, I addressed myself chiefly to the young person; and, in like manner, my principal object in this continuation is to engage the attention of those who, from having entered the service in less stirring times than I pass through, may, perhaps, have found it more difficult to gain experience for themselves.
I have likewise ventured to introduce some odds and ends of technical information which seemed calculated to interest or amuse other people not directly connected to the sea. London, March 1832.'
This series of books about Captain Hall’s voyages and naval experiences to eastern points were written in three series: they are all named Fragments & Voyages.
The Second Series is on the whole a new edition of the First Series with few changes other than a focus towards the adult reader. The Third Series is very interesting as it describes Captain Hall’s travels to India and in this volume he has dedicated the entire series to His Royal Highness Prince George of Cumberland.
The first volume in the Third Series gives a brief account of the East India Company, as well as an opinion of the diplomatic negotiations with foreign governments. The second volume continues to give a flavour of the places he visited while in the Navy which include India, Spain, Galicia, Madeira and Bermuda. The third volume reviews various nautical topics including his impressions on:
'Improvements in the naval system calculated to lead to the gradual disuse of impressment; Leave to go on shore – the liberty book – Jack’s strong box; The Moon and the Longitude; Sir Walter Scott’s Embarkation at Portsmouth.'
As an afternote there are approximately three volumes in each series, and they make for quite light reading as they were meant to attract an audience whose knowledge of naval matters was minimal.
Captain Hall also wrote about his excursions to North America and there is also a book in our collection called: The Midshipman: being autobiographical sketches of his own early career. (RMG ID: PBD5726)
For ease of access, most of these books I have mentioned are available in digital format on the Hathi Trust website; however they are also available to order from the Caird Library & Archive.
Penny Allen, Librarian (Systems and Serials)