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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.

As a result of the ascendency of British naval sea power, and the corresponding expansion of printed media throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, the image of naval officers evolved from coarse, unrefined tars, to iconic national heroes.  Naval officers increasingly became seen as high principled and socially desirable public figures, as well as being sought after husbands, as famously illustrated by Jane Austen’s novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion.  The navy’s postwar activities, including diplomacy, exploration and the suppression of the slave trade, only strengthened the public perception of the naval officer as moral exemplar and responsible social actor.   Many retired naval officers carried the skills, spirit and zeal honed in the Royal Navy into their civilian lives and Sir Henry Hart was no exception.

Henry Hart entered the Royal Navy in 1796 at the age of sixteen when he joined Pellew’s Indefatigable as a Boy, First Class from the East India Company.  He had a long and successful naval career during which he saw service in the Channel, the Mediterranean and the East and West Indies.  Hart enjoyed the patronage of both Pellew and Sir John Gore; he served as Pellew’s Flag Lieutenant in India and accompanied Gore on a number of important diplomatic missions. In 1815, the starting point of this conference’s time frame, Hart was stationed in the Mediterranean serving as Gore’s Flag Captain.  At the age of thirty-four, with the end of the war and the inevitable downsizing of the Royal Navy in sight, Hart like many of his contemporaries, must have wondered what lay ahead for him next.

Hart appears to have come from a relatively well to do family that was distantly related to the Hart-Dyke baronets. His naval biographical entries record that he

“Belongs to an ancient and very respectable family, being a descendent of Sir Percival Hart of Lullingstone Castle, Kent.”

Details like this are scattered through the numerous naval biographies of the period and reflect the importance of gentility, social standing and family pedigree within both the service and civilian society.

Henry Hart’s marriage provides further insight into his social status at the beginning of the 19th century.  He was married in India in 1808 to Miss Maria Williams, usually described as “a daughter of Andrew Williams Esq. of Southampton.”  In fact Andrew Williams was a retired colonel and former Surgeon General in the East India Company’s service. He had at least two other daughters, one married to James Taylor, a member of council in Madras, and the other Sophia, who, rather oddly, is mentioned in Hart’s naval biographical entry, which describes Maria as “the sister of the present Lady Page-Turner.” The only reason for highlighting this detail can be to emphasise the prestige of Hart’s marriage connections.  The fact that Hart, who was still a relatively junior naval officer at this time, was considered a sufficiently good match for the well connected Miss Williams, suggests that he was already in a position to support a respectable marriage and all that entailed.  Indeed Hart had already been fortunate enough to amass a considerable sum of prize money and his reputation as a successful protégé of both Gore and Pellew, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the East India Station, would have bolstered his reputation and standing significantly.

With the advent of peace in Europe and the expansion of trade routes across the Empire, the Royal Navy played an increasingly important role in diplomatic missions and protecting Britain’s global maritime trade interests.  Like many naval officers, Hart found himself without a command at the end of the war, but he soon had an opportunity to put his experience of diplomacy and intelligence to good use.  In 1818 Hart was despatched to Latin American to watch over British interests in Panama, which were threatened by the independence movements sweeping the continent.

During his time in the Americas Hart also undertook a diplomatic mission to Cartagena and acted as a judge in a landmark case in Jamaica, which successfully prosecuted two slave traders under the Slave Felony Act for attempted violation of the Abolition Law. This was the first in a number of social causes that Hart supported in later life. After spending two years in Latin America ill health took its toll and Hart returned to England as an invalid in 1820.

In the ten years following Hart’s return from the Americas he slips from the historical record, presumably as a result of continued ill health. There is a notable lack of mentions of his name in the local and national press, with the obvious exceptions being a few donations to charitable causes.  However Hart’s name does appear in the personal correspondence of Sir Edward Pellew who had maintained an active friendship with his former lieutenant. In 1828 Pellew wrote to his son George, then living in York, to tell him that the Harts were currently in Knaresborough, a town in the vicinity of Harrogate, well known for its spa waters and frequented by retired naval officers.

Hart is unlikely to have experienced any real financial difficulty during this period, his family were well connected and he had earned several sums of prize money during his naval career, however he may well have chafed at this period of inaction and reflected on the paths his career had taken.

Hart’s appears to have recovered sufficiently from ill health to resume his diplomatic service in 1831 when he returned to India, where his old mentor Admiral Sir John Gore had been appointed Commander in Chief.  In 1834 he was despatched on a diplomatic mission to Zanzibar to discuss commercial trade treaties with the Imam of Muscat.  Hart’s mission was a success and when he departed, the Imam gave him a fine teak ship carrying Arabian horses, buffaloes and timber, to be presented to King William IV.  In keeping with the spirit of exploration Hart published detailed navigation notes on the southern passage to the islands of Zanzibar on this return.

Hart clearly had something of a talent for diplomacy and made good use of the diplomatic skills he developed during his time in the Royal Navy.  One is reminded of Nelson’s comment about another naval diplomat, Alexander Ball, Governor of Malta:

“He is a great man, and on many occasions appears to forget he was a seaman. He is a bit with the dignity of the Corps Diplomatique.”

Following his successful mission to Zanzibar, Hart retired from active service in 1835 and was awarded a knighthood in recognition of his naval and diplomatic services.

Hart was 56 in 1837 when the young Queen Victoria acceded to the throne and the early years of her reign found him living comfortably in London in an elegant town house overlooking Regent’s Park where he and his wife Maria kept a staff of eight servants.

Hart continued to travel during this period, and in the early years of the 1840s he accompanied Lord Prudhoe on diplomatic and trade missions to North America and Canada.  The American press enthusiastically reported the arrival of this distinguished party in New York in 1841.

Like many retired naval officers, Hart supported a wide range of naval and maritime charities and benevolent funds, including the Seaman’s Hospital and the Marine Society and in 1845 he was appointed as a Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, a post which afforded him the privilege of residing at the Queen’s House.  Throughout the 1840s and 50s Hart’s name frequently appears in the press as he joined the boards and committees of high profile maritime benevolent funds and attended charitable events, often in the company of his former Indefatigable shipmates.

However Hart also devoted a considerable portion of his time and energy to rather less fashionable and more controversial charitable causes which to some degree resulted from his religious faith.

As might be expected of a member of the English county set and high ranking naval officer, Hart was a member of the Church of England. However he came from that part of the Anglican spectrum that embraced many of the reforms and ideas of men such as John and Charles Wesley who placed a very deliberate emphasis on divine grace being for everyone and who advocated public ministry of preaching to and caring for the rural and urban poor and destitute.

As the 19th century unfolded, Methodists, together with older forms of what are more properly called dissenting congregations, were frequently seen to challenge the state church over its attitudes to poverty, education, welfare and other social issues.  By the mid-part of the century, a number of societies and organisations emerged that supported a range of common causes that many evangelical Anglican clergy and lay people shared with their free church counterparts.

One such cause was “street” missions such as the London Female Mission which aimed to help homeless and destitute women. The Mission was partially funded by Quakers and Congregationalists and had its headquarters in Red Lion Square where many Evangelical Societies met. The cause was neither popular nor fashionable and yet despite the charity’s radical connections, both Hart and his wife Maria were supportive members of several of the Mission’s committees.

The work of the mission involved helping needy women of all ages – those seeking employment, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, and those working as prostitutes.  A report by one of the society’s secretaries, read at a meeting at Institution House, in Red Lion Square clearly communicates the aims of the London Female Mission

“after briefly referring to the various means by which the Mission is aiming to elevate the standards of morals of good character stated that, while the managers attached great importance to every measure calculated to prevent virtuous females from being ensnared and corrupted,   they could not overlook the necessity  of strenuous exertions to rescue from present misery  and everlasting ruin those who were living in open sin.”

Typically for charities of this period, the London Female Mission was governed and run entirely by men though the wives and sisters of its governors were often involved in subordinate committees dealing with the day to day running of the society.  This gendered aspect of participation in charitable causes is often characterised as women following their husbands and supporting their patriarchal causes.  However it is equally possible that some women encouraged their spouses to support causes to which they themselves were committed so that they could play an active role in these charities without fear of scandal.

Another charity Hart supported was the Fund for Promoting Female Emigration; a controversial scheme established in 1849 by Sir Sidney Herbert, which attempted to link philanthropy with political economy. The Fund, which was patronised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, raised money to encourage deserving women in reduced circumstances to emigrate and paid their passage to the colonies.  This was intended to have the dual benefit of aiding the women themselves, and redressing the gender imbalance of the colonies.  However the society, to which Hart was a subscriber, attracted criticism from several quarters and quickly ran into financial difficulties

Without any surviving correspondence between Hart and his wife Maria it is impossible to know who the driving force was behind their involvement with these charities.  However relieving the plight of fallen women appears to have been a cause to which they were deeply committed and which they supported for the remainder of their lives.  u In his will Hart left everything in trust to his wife with an additional clause that after her death, when his estate was realised, two charitable bequests were to be made to the London Female Mission and a church missionary society.

It is perhaps notable that the Hart’s marriage remained childless and it is hard not to speculate, in an age than placed so much emphasis on family and patriarchy, whether Henry Hart transferred this familial responsibility to the fallen women who these charities sought to help.

The reinventions of Henry Hart’s masculine identity in the later years of his life in some ways reflect the changing nature of the Victorian age and, in keeping with the period’s spirit of industrial innovation, Hart saw himself as something of a technological inventor.  In 1849, while residing at the Queen’s House, he patented a device to prevent chimneys smoking.  The design of the device which employs a wind powered wheel directed by a weather vane, clearly shows the influence of the inventor’s former profession. Knowledge of the wind and how to work with it would have been second nature to any naval officer worth his salt, so is is no surprise that Hart should have the requisite skills to create such a device.  However it is the particular mixture of design, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that make this endeavor so characteristic of the modern Victorian gentleman.

Hart’s design went on to win the prestigious Isis medal of the Society of Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce presided over by HRH Prince Albert in 1853. The Society had previously been involved in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and on the event of the prize giving His Royal Highness lauded the inventive genius and skills of the entrants. Prince Albert’s patronage of the Society is evidence of the importance of British technical, scientific and artistic innovation at this time and highlights the important link between entrepreneurial innovation, manufacturing and commerce.

The Times took a rather more wry perspective on Hart’s invention

“Our admirals in these peaceable times really do valuable civil service. From the list of patents granted in the last week we find the following, Sir Henry Hart, Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, Rear Admiral in our navy, for improvements in apparatus for preventing what are called smoky chimneys.”

Nevertheless, shortly after Hart’s design won the Society of Arts Medal the newspaper carried an advert for the patented chimney ‘as used at Greenwich hospital’.

Four years later, in 1857, Sir Henry Hart died at the age of 76 at his home in the Queen’s House.  Although in his later years he had become very much the epitome of the Victorian gentleman, his obituaries and death notices all remembered him as a Georgian naval hero and successful diplomatic envoy, a man of action and protégé of Admirals Pellew and Gore. Little mention is made of his entrepreneurial skills and his support for less fashionable charitable causes, perhaps it is always the case that it easier to eulogise the achievements of ages past. However it is clear that the experience Hart gained during his early days in the sea service and his later naval and diplomatic career resonated throughout his life and provided the impetus for Hart’s reinvention and self improvement that was very much in tune with the masculine spirit of the Victorian age.