BOOK REVIEW | From Ushant to Gibraltar: The Channel Fleet 1778-1783

As always, retired English judge Quintin Barry has meticulously researched his subject. In this case, it is the rapid development of Britain’s Royal Navy in the tumultuous period between the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. It is a period that obviously fascinates him.

Under the much-maligned First Lord of the Admiralty, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, Britain’s navy actually flourished and many of its most prominent heroes who were remembered for the subsequent two centuries made their names, and their fortunes. Ships were improved dramatically thanks to the development of “coppering”, which made them faster and more durable. Almost simultaneously, a new system of visual signalling was developed and introduced to make control of fleets far more effective.

Names such as Anson, Barrington, Byron, Darby, Keppel, Palliser, Hardy, Hawke, the bothers Hood, Howe, Jervis, Kepenfelt, Longford, Middleton, Mulgrave, Parker, Rodney, Stormont and Walsingham became famous and more junior officers such as Cochrane and Nelson learnt their trade. Their names have been scattered around the world on geographic features marked on Admiralty charts as well as on British warships.

Britain’s political polarisation was poisonous and King George III struggled with a very badly divided parliament thanks to the American War. The traditional British foes of Spain and France took advantage of Britain’s tumult, forming an alliance aimed at using the power of their combined fleets to bring the Royal Navy to heel and, ultimately, to invade southern England.

How the British managed to eliminate that threat through a combination of good luck and excellent management is very well and colourfully described here by Judge Barry. The outcome was 160 years of Britannia ruling the waves.

Author: Quintin Barry

Available from Helion and Company, Warwick, UK.


Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.