2013 was certainly a busy and productive year on the research front!
In an effort to bring our research on the young gentlemen of HMS Indefatigable to a wider audience, and in order to get some much needed critical feedback, we submitted papers to a number of academic conferences and seminar series and were delighted to have three out of four submissions accepted.
In July we went down to Portsmouth for the Port Towns and Urban Cultures Conference run by the University of Portsmouth and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, where we presented a paper titled “A Life of Duty and Service: Post-war political and social activism of Napoleonic era Naval officers”, which focused on the contrasting post-war activism of George, 3rd Earl Cadogan, Sir Henry Hart and Thomas Groube. Although our paper was one of only four that covered naval topics, we found the Port Towns Conference to be an immensely rewarding event. It was probably one of the friendliest and most diverse conferences I’ve ever attended in any academic domain. Many conferences strive to be “interdisciplinary” but few truly manage it, the Port Towns and Urban Cultures conference was a commendable exception. A few highlights were the truly eclectic and international range of papers, dinner and drinks aboard HMS Victory, Professor Isaac Land’s thought provoking keynote, the conference dinner at the Royal Naval Club and Royal Albert Yacht Club and last but not least the irrepressible Port Towns crew from the University of Portsmouth.
It was through the Port Towns team that we hooked up with a wide circle of social and maritime historians on twitter who have proved to be an invaluable community for discussing all aspects of naval and maritime research.
We were back at the Historic Dockyard in September for the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Press Gangs, Conscripts and Professionals: Recruiting the Royal Navy Conference where we presented a paper on “Merchant Adventurers: Alex McVicar and John McKerlie of the Indefatigable”. This conference was focused exclusively on naval history and the quality of the research presented was the very highest. The Museum’s Duncan Redford is to be congratulated for organising such a high quality academic conference. Our paper provoked a lot of discussion and comments and we were delighted to receive helpful and supportive feedback from Brian Lavery and Professor Nicholas Rodger.
We also had a paper accepted for the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s annual Seminar Series and will be back at the Dockyard in May 2014 to present a seminar titled “Faithful and attached companions: Sir Edward Pellew and the Young Gentlemen of HMS Indefatigable”.
The one unsuccessful abstract we submitted was for the National Maritime Museum’s Maritime Culture and Britain in the Age of J. M. W. Turner Conference. While we were disappointed not to have our paper accepted, the research we did on the Dutton shipwreck proved to be invaluable for one of our book chapters, so the effort certainly did not go to waste!
Earlier in the year we also published a short paper “The Christian and the Hero: A study in the contrasting church and community service of Edward Pellew and Thomas Groube” in The Light: The Annual Journal of the St Hildeburgh’s Parish Church Hoylake.
In September I had the opportunity to visit the tiny Georgian port town of Garlieston, in Wigtonshire, where one of the Indefatigable’s midshipmen, John MacKerlie lived during the early 19th century and carved out a successful career as a merchant captain and ship owner.
Heather was an active member of the Friends of The National Archives throughout the year and, as a result, our research was chosen to feature as part of the Explore Your Archives event at Kew in November. It was through Heather’s work at the Archives that we also made the acquaintance of Peter Clarke and learned about his remarkable research on Napoleonic prisoners of war.
We always keep an eye out for artefacts and documents associated with the 1797 crew of HMS Indefatigable and over the course of the year Heather secured a letter written by William Kempthorne and a book on naval prize courts owned and signed by John McKerlie. I was also lucky enough to lay my hands on a 1797 Glorious Pellew copper “evasion” token. However we could only watch in envy as a pair of flintlock duelling pistols owned by Jeremiah Coghlan sold at auction for £6500, and a beautiful mourning brooch commemorating John McKerlie and containing a lock of his hair went for £550.
Perhaps the most unexpected highlight of the year was being contacted right out of the blue by descendants of two of the Indefatigable’s midshipmen, Thomas Groube and John Thompson, who emailed us quite independently, after coming across this blog. It was wonderful to hear from these people and to be able to share stories and information about their ancestors.
Throughout the year we received a great deal of support and encouragement from a wide community of naval, maritime and social historians, librarians and archivists. In particular we’d like to thank the staff of The National Archives, Michael Nash of Marine and Cannon Books, Martin Salmon of the Caird Library and Stephen Taylor, Sir Edward Pellew’s most recent biographer.
We also have to thank Stephen Taylor for putting us on to the largely uncatalogued Pellew family archive at Devon Records Office and we’re going off down to Exeter next week to see if there is any correspondence there from the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen that doesn’t appear in the NMMs collections. Should be a good way to start another year of Indefatigable research!