At the end of last year Heather and I presented a paper at Maritime Masculinities 1815 – 1940 at the University of Oxford, a conference I was privileged to co-chair along with Professor Joanne Begiato, Dr Steven Grey, and Dr Isaac Land. Our presentation was part of a panel on Maritime Masculinity Ashore which we shared with three inspiring papers by Karen Downing, Australian National University, Laika Nevalainen, European University Institute, Florence, and Anna Maria Barry, Oxford Brookes University.
The smoking chimneys and noxious miasmas of 19th century London, and the wan despairing faces of “fallen” women are two images of the Victorian age that have long since passed into trope and cliché. Nevertheless, these images persist in our imaginative conceptualization of the period, reinforced by their use on stage and screen and even in the occasional conference presentation.
In this case they serve as symbols to illustrate two of the ways in which one 19th century gentleman, Sir Henry Hart, reinvented himself from being a hero of the Georgian Royal Navy with its culture of masculine gallantry, daring and adventure, to become something more recognisably Victorian; an upstanding model of the patriarchal moral philanthropist.
This paper grew out of research for our recently published book, Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The young gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable. Through detailed examination of contemporary documents, including Admiralty records, public and private archives, genealogical sources, personal correspondence, contemporary journals and press reports, this research has uncovered the lives and careers of nineteen midshipmen who served aboard the Royal Naval frigate HMS Indefatigable during the French Revolutionary Wars and has also to revealed their ongoing professional and personal relationship with each other and with their captain, Sir Edward Pellew. Pellew made his name as a gifted sea officer and a daring frigate captain during the French Revolutionary War and rose to the highest naval office, Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom before retiring from active service as Admiral Lord Exmouth in 1822. To more recent generations however, Sir Edward Pellew is perhaps best known as the mentor of HMS Indefatigable’s most famous fictional midshipman, Horatio Hornblower.
Hornblower’s historical contemporaries, the generation of young officers who served in the Royal Navy from the late 1790’s onwards, represent a particularly interesting cohort of study to explore changing concepts of maritime masculinity in the long 18th century as this was the first generation of naval officers for almost a century to experience the transition from decades of war to a period of lasting civilian peace.