A Dawlish Chronicles update – and some rediscovered photographs
Firstly, an update on the sixth Dawlish Chronicles novel. The manuscript is ready for publication and all that now remains before submission of the total package is finalisation of the cover. For this I am working closely with a splendid designer, Sara Leigh Paterson, who previously produced the covers for Britannia’s Spartan and Britannia’s Amazon. The design process is a fascinating and rewarding one, with various concepts initially suggested by myself and with Sara coming up with pencil sketches and mock-up alternatives.
Choosing between some ten attractive designs has been difficult but I’ll be revealing the winner – and the book’s title, in the near future. I’m aiming to have it published in both hard-copy and eBook formats by October. For the time being this latest book is still Britannia’s X, with “X” yet to be revealed. I’ll be sending a free hard-copy to whoever guesses what “X” might be. The only clue that might help is that the story sees Captain Nicholas Dawlish serving Queen and Empire in 1884-85. If you guess what X may be, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Some recent sorting of stored documentation has thrown up two photographs which provided useful references when I was writing Britannia’s Wolf. They had “gone missing” for several years and I found them again quite fortuitously. You may find them of interest.
If you have read Britannia’s Wolf you will remember that a very significant role was played by Nordenvelt guns, weapons which were in general use on many warships in the late-Victorian period. Though capable of a high rate of fire, the Nordenvelt, like its contemporaries the Gatling and the Gardner, was not an automatic machine-gun. In the Nordenvelt’s case it was activated by pulling a lever back and forth, feeding rounds into the breeches of the gun’s barrels from a vertical hopper-magazine, firing them, and ejecting the spent cases. The slow rate of fire from each individual barrel was compensated for by placing multiple barrels in parallel. Up to a dozen barrels might be employed, though three or four were more common, the calibre usually being .45 inch. In one demonstration for the Royal Navy a 10-barrelled version fired 3,000 rounds of ammunition in just over three minutes without stoppage or failure.
Japanese seamen operating a ship-mounted Nordenvelt.
It appears to be a 3-man team: possibly the aimer at front left, crank operator at front right, and the loader ahead and to the left.
The Nordenvelt, due to its multiple barrels, was heavy by comparison with later, genuinely automatic, machine guns such as the Maxim. The weight penalty was not a major drawback on shipboard, but if deployed on land it needed a field-gun type carriage. Entering service in several navies in the 1870s, including the Royal Navy, it provided the ideal defence against attack by small torpedo-armed vessels. A heavy version, firing one-inch solid steel rounds from up to four barrels, was developed to provide a fearsome counter to lightly-constructed, unarmoured torpedo craft and their poorly-protected crews. The Nordenvelt was made obsolete in the late 1880s by the arrival of fully-automatic machine guns but many served on in smaller navies long beyond this time.
My fascination with the Nordenvelt design was triggered some thirty years ago when I found a sample mounted in the yard of a police station in Warri, Southern Nigeria. My recently rediscovered photographs are of this weapon. It has three barrels and the vertical ammunition magazine and the operating lever can be seen clearly. It is mounted on a conical steel mounting, such as would suit it for placement on a ship, or even a small steam craft, such as a pinnace.
So how did this fascinating weapon end up in a Nigerian police station? Nobody could remember, and indeed nobody knew what it was even called. My own guess is that it was mounted on a small Royal Navy craft used for patrolling the vast mangrove swamp of the Niger Delta. Another possibility is that it may have been a weapon taken off the protected cruiser HMS Philomel, which provided the naval brigade for the Benin Expedition of 1897, the city of Benin being approximately 55 miles north of Warri. If so, then this weapon may have seen extensive service. (This is a reminder to me to write a blog in the future about this remarkable expedition, which was instrumental in bringing African Art to the notice, for the first time, of European critics).
Finding these photographs again has brought back happy memories – and are a good example of the fact that when one sits down to write, one’s entire experience is a preparation for that moment.
Best Wishes: Antoine Vanner
And it you haven’t readBritannia’s Wolf yet – in which we encounter Commander Nicholas Dawlish on unofficial secondment to the Ottoman Navy in 1877-78 -Click here to find out more.
DEFENDERS of President Donald Trump offer two arguments in his favour—that he is a businessman who will curb the excesses of the state; and that he will help America stand tall again by demolishing the politically correct taboos of left-leaning, establishment elites. From the start, these arguments looked like wishful thinking. After Mr Trump’s press conference in New York on August 15th they lie in ruins.
The unscripted remarks were his third attempt to deal with violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend (see article). In them the president stepped back from Monday’s—scripted—condemnation of the white supremacists who had marched to protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, and fought with counter-demonstrators, including some from the left. In New York, as his new chief of staff looked on dejected, Mr Trump let rip, stressing once again that there was blame “on both sides”. He left no doubt which of those sides lies closer to his heart.
Mr Trump is not a white supremacist. He repeated his criticism of neo-Nazis and spoke out against the murder of Heather Heyer (see our Obituary). Even so, his unsteady response contains a terrible message for Americans. Far from being the saviour of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.
Start with the ineptness. In last year’s presidential election Mr Trump campaigned against the political class to devastating effect. Yet this week he has bungled the simplest of political tests: finding a way to condemn Nazis. Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday—briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first. As business leaders started to resign en masse from his advisory panels (see article), the White House disbanded them. Mr Trump did, however, earn the endorsement of David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The extreme right will stage more protests across America. Mr Trump has complicated the task of containing their marches and keeping the peace. The harm will spill over into the rest of his agenda, too. His latest press conference was supposed to be about his plans to improve America’s infrastructure, which will require the support of Democrats. He needlessly set back those efforts, as he has so often in the past. “Infrastructure week” in June was drowned out by an investigation into Russian meddling in the election—an investigation Mr Trump helped bring about by firing the director of the FBI in a fit of pique. Likewise, repealing Obamacare collapsed partly because he lacked the knowledge and charisma to win over rebel Republicans. He reacted to that setback by belittling the leader of the Senate Republicans, whose help he needs to pass legislation. So much for getting things done.
Mr Trump’s inept politics stem from a moral failure. Some counter-demonstrators were indeed violent, and Mr Trump could have included harsh words against them somewhere in his remarks. But to equate the protest and the counter-protest reveals his shallowness. Video footage shows marchers carrying fascist banners, waving torches, brandishing sticks and shields, chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Footage of the counter-demonstration mostly shows average citizens shouting down their opponents. And they were right to do so: white supremacists and neo-Nazis yearn for a society based on race, which America fought a world war to prevent. Mr Trump’s seemingly heartfelt defence of those marching to defend Confederate statues spoke to the degree to which white grievance and angry, sour nostalgia is part of his world view.
At the root of it all is Mr Trump’s temperament. In difficult times a president has a duty to unite the nation. Mr Trump tried in Monday’s press conference, but could not sustain the effort for even 24 hours because he cannot get beyond himself. A president needs to rise above the point-scoring and to act in the national interest. Mr Trump cannot see beyond the latest slight. Instead of grasping that his job is to honour the office he inherited, Mr Trump is bothered only about honouring himself and taking credit for his supposed achievements.
Presidents have come in many forms and still commanded the office. Ronald Reagan had a moral compass and the self-knowledge to delegate political tactics. LBJ was a difficult man but had the skill to accomplish much that was good. Mr Trump has neither skill nor self-knowledge, and this week showed that he does not have the character to change.
This is a dangerous moment. America is cleft in two. After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela and equivocating over Charlottesville, Mr Trump still has the support of four-fifths of Republican voters. Such popularity makes it all the harder for the country to unite.
This leads to the question of how Republicans in public life should treat Mr Trump. Those in the administration face a hard choice. Some will feel tempted to resign. But his advisers, particularly the three generals sitting at the top of the Pentagon, the National Security Council and as Mr Trump’s chief of staff, are better placed than anyone to curb the worst instincts of their commander-in-chief.
An Oval Office-shaped hole
For Republicans in Congress the choice should be clearer. Many held their noses and backed Mr Trump because they thought he would advance their agenda. That deal has not paid off. Mr Trump is not a Republican, but the solo star of his own drama. By tying their fate to his, they are harming their country and their party. His boorish attempts at plain speaking serve only to poison national life. Any gains from economic reform—and the booming stockmarket and low unemployment owe more to the global economy, tech firms and dollar weakness than to him—will come at an unacceptable price.
Republicans can curb Mr Trump if they choose to. Rather than indulging his outrages in the hope that something good will come of it, they must condemn them. The best of them did so this week. Others should follow.
Conservationists working to preserve artifacts in the first buildings ever constructed in Antarctica have found something extraordinary: a perfectly preserved, 106-year-old fruitcake. No, the cake is not a sign that Santa Claus hails from the South Pole, rather it is likely a leftover from Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910 to 1913 Terra Nova expedition, where the explorer sought to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole, reports Christine Dell’Amore at National Geographic.
According to a press release from the Antarctic Heritage Trust, the cake was one of approximately 1,500 artifacts taken from buildings that were first constructed at Cape Adare, Antarctica, in 1899. The cake was found a tin from the bakers Huntley & Palmers. While the tin was corroded, the cake itself was intact and still wrapped in wax paper. “There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible! There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation,” says Lizzie Meeks, the Trust's program manager for artifacts.
Yonette Joseph at The New York Times reports that researchers believe the cake belonged to the Terra Nova team because Huntley & Palmers was the bakery Scott commissioned to supply biscuits and cakes for his expeditions.
Dell’Amore reports that it’s likely the cake was left at the cabin by Scott’s Northern Party. Scott, with a team five men, eventually made it to the South Pole, only to find they were 34 days behind an expedition led by Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. Scott and his team all perished on their return journey
The expedition’s Northern Party did scientific investigations in the area around Cape Adare before moving to another location for a six-week mission. But heavy ice kept their ship from picking them up, and the six men had to spend an entire winter with few provisions and little shelter. They dug ice caves for shelter, hunted penguins and seals and rationed their meager tinned food. After months of illness and near starvation, the men were able to complete a six-week journey to the expedition's main camp.
So why would Scott load up on fruitcake—generally reviled these days—in the first place? “Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today,” Meek tells Dell’Amore. “Living and working in Antarctica tends to lead to a craving for high-fat, high-sugar food, and fruitcake fits the bill nicely, not to mention going very well with a cup of tea."
But this particular fruitcake will not be served at tea time. According to the press release, conservators at the Canterbury Museum lab in Christchurch, New Zealand, have removed rust from the cake tin, deacidified the label, repaired the torn wrapper and added chemicals to stabilize its preservation. The cake, along with all the artifacts from the Cape Adare huts, will be returned to Antarctica and put back exactly where they were found when the man-made structures' own conservation efforts finish up.
The fruit cake is not the only surprise conservators have found in the huts. Earlier this year, the Trust announced it had found a very detailed watercolor painting of a Tree Creeper, which was created by Scott's chief scientist Edward Wilson, who later froze to death along with Scott and the rest of the team just 11 miles away from a depot with food and water.
The Terra Nova cake is not the world’s oldest preserved fruit cake. While there is no official organization keeping track of such things, for more than a century, a family in Tecumseh, Michigan, has preserved a cake made by family matriarch Fidelia Ford who prepared the cake in 1878 and died before she had a chance to slice into the fruity loaf.
In Evening Gray Morning Red, a young American sailor must escape his past and the clutches of the Royal Navy, in the turbulent years just before the American Revolutionary War. In the spring of 1768, Thom Larkin, a 17-year-old sailor newly arrived in Boston, is caught by Royal Navy press gang and dragged off to HMS Romney, where he runs afoul of the cruel and corrupt First Lieutenant. Years later, after escaping the Romney, Thom again crosses paths with his old foe, now in command HMS Gaspee, cruising in Narragansett Bay. Thom must finally face his nemesis and the guns of the Gaspee, armed only with his wits, an unarmed packet boat, and a sand bar.
***Fans of Alaric Bond's hugely popular Fighting Sail series will be delighted to see this
Satisfied that he has forged HMS Kestrel into a formidable weapon, Commander King is keen to take her to sea once more. But the war is not progressing well for Britain, and his hopes of remaining in Malta are shattered as Kestrel is moved closer to the action.
And so begins a story that covers two seas and one ocean, as well as a cross-country trek through enemy territory, a closer look at the French prison system and a reunion with several familiar faces.
Containing breathtaking sea battles, tense personal drama and an insight into the social etiquette of both Britain and France,Honour Bound is a story brim-filled with action and historical detail.
ISBN 978-1-943404-14-8 e.book 978-1-943404-15-5 paperback
***And the current rage for SuperWoman will guarantee an enthusiastic audience for the third in Linda Collison's Patricia MacPherson series.
Rhode Island Rendezvous
Newport Rhode Island: 1765
The Seven Years War is over but
unrest in the American colonies is just heating up…
Maintaining her disguise as a young man,
Patricia is finding success as Patrick MacPherson. Formerly a surgeon’s mate in
His Majesty’s Navy, Patrick has lately been employed aboard the colonial
merchant schooner Andromeda,smuggling foreign molasses into Rhode
Island. Late October, amidst riots
against the newly imposed Stamp Act, she leaves Newport bound for the West
Indies on her first run as Andromeda’s
master. In Havana a chance meeting with a former enemy presents unexpected
opportunities while an encounter with a British frigate and an old lover
threatens her liberty – and her life.
An "incredibly rare" blue whale has entertained and amazed tourists in the Hauraki Gulf.
Andy Light, a skipper with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari, was taking the Dolphin Explorer catamaran towards Kawau Island when first mate Darren spotted a "massive" blow in the distance. The safari often encounters Bryde's whales, which blow 2-3m high; this was twice as big. Then all at once, a huge whale popped out of the sea, just twenty meters away from the boat. Light said he knew at once what it was -- "I've been doing this a long time and I know a blue whale when I see one - their dorsal fin is very, very distinctive, different from any other whale on the planet."
To make absolutely sure, he is sending photos of the dorsal fin to universities around the world.
No doubt, they will be amazed. And extremely envious of the lucky tourists who happened to be on board the boat.
From The Smithsonian Last week, the Irish Ministry of Culture and Heritage confirmed that divers have recovered the main ship's telegraph from the RMS Lusitania, the Cunard ocean liner sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. The sinking of the ship in Irish waters on a journey from New York to Liverpool caused the death of 1,198 people, including 114 Americans. The sinking became a rallying cry for the United Kingdom and helped push the U.S. toward military involvement in World War I.
Ronan McGreevy at The Irish Times reports that the telegraph is in excellent condition. Another telegraph from the ship was recovered in October 2016. These are not the tappity-tap-tap type of telegraphs depicted in old movies. Instead they were engine-order telegraphs used to send commands to the engine room. Officers on the bridge would move the telegraph lever to an order on a dial such as “full ahead” or “half astern.” That would also move the dial in the engine room and ring a bell alerting the engine crew to adjust the ship’s course.
This wasn’t the first time that divers have tried to recover this telegraph. According to the Press Association, in the summer of 2016 an attempt to use a lift bag to raise the artifact to the surface failed, and the telegraph fell back to the 270-foot seabed. That attempt was criticized since it was not supervised by an archaeologist, which is the usual protocol when working on the site which is considered a protected war grave. During the latest mission, divers were able to relocate the telegraph and successfully use air bags to float it to the surface.
While there was some speculation that the telegraph would shine some light on the sinking of the Lusitania, McGreevy reports that there is not much information to be gleaned. The ship was hit by German torpedoes, but there were reports that after the initial hit, a second explosion occurred, causing the massive liner to sink in just 18 minutes.
turn out of our hammocks at 6.30am and lash up and stow in the usual way,” a
Royal Navy sailor named Frank Baker wrote in his diary on December 6, 1917. “We
fall in on the upper deck at 7am and disperse to cleaning stations, busying
ourselves scrubbing decks etc. until 8am when we ‘cease fire’ for breakfast.”
Baker was pulling wartime duty as a ship inspector in the harbor of Halifax,
Nova Scotia, on the lookout for spies, contraband and saboteurs.
But there were no ships to be inspected that day, so after
breakfast he and his crewmates aboard HMCS Acadia went
back to their cleaning stations. “We...had just drawn soap and powder and the
necessary utensils for cleaning paint work,” he wrote, “when the most awful
explosion I ever heard or want to hear again occurred.”
What Frank Baker heard was the biggest explosion of the
pre-atomic age, a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions. The 918 words he
wrote for December 6 make up the only eyewitness account known to be written on
the day of what is now called the Halifax Explosion. After World War I, his
diary sat unread for decades. Now, it has been included in an exhibit on the
explosion’s centennial at the Dartmouth
Heritage Museum, across the harbor from Halifax. It is published
here for the first time.
“The first thud shook the ship from stem to stern and the
second one seemed to spin us all around, landing some [crew members] under the
gun carriage and others flying in all directions all over the deck,” Baker
wrote. Sailors 150 miles out to sea heard the blast. On land, people felt the
jolt 300 miles away. The shock wave demolished almost everything within a
half-mile. “Our first impression was that we were being attacked by submarines,
and we all rushed for the upper deck, where we saw a veritable mountain of
smoke of a yellowish hue and huge pieces of iron were flying all around us.”
Unseen by Baker, two ships had collided in the Narrows, a strait
linking a wide basin with the harbor proper, which opens into the Atlantic to
the southeast. An outbound Belgian relief ship, the Imo,
had strayed off course. An inbound French freighter, the Mont-Blanc, couldn’t get out of its way.
The Imo speared the Mont-Blanc at
an angle near its bow. The freighter carried 2,925 tons of high explosives,
including 246 tons of benzol, a highly flammable motor fuel, in drums lashed to
its deck. Some of the drums toppled and ruptured. Spilled benzol caught fire.
The Mont-Blanc’s crew,
unable to contain the flames, abandoned ship.
The ghost vessel burned and drifted for about 15 minutes,
coming to rest against a pier along the Halifax shore. Thousands of people on
their way to work, already working at harborside jobs, or at home in Halifax
and Dartmouth, stopped in their tracks to watch.
Then the Mont-Blanc blew.
“A shower of shrapnel passed over the Forecastle, shattering
the glass in the engine room and chart room to smithereens, which came crashing
down into the alleyways,” Baker wrote. “...The fires all burst out on to the
floor of the stokehold [the engine room’s coal storage] and it was a marvel
that the stokers were not burned to death, but all of them escaped injury as
did all the other of the ship’s company.
“A tug was alongside us at the time and part of her side was
torn completely out and three of the crew were injured, one of them getting a
piece of flesh weighing nearly 2 pounds torn off his leg. A hail of shrapnel
descended about 20 yards from the ship, this came with such force that had it
struck us we should certainly have all been lost.”
The Mont-Blanc had
disintegrated, showering iron fragments and black tar across Halifax; the shaft
of its anchor, weighing 1,140 pounds, spiked into the earth more than two miles
away. The explosion tore a hole in the harbor bottom, unleashing a tidal wave
that tossed ships as if they were bathtub toys and washed away a Mi’kmaq
fishing settlement that had been at the northwestern end of the basin for
centuries. A volcanic plume of gray smoke, sparkling fragments and flame rose
miles into the sky before billowing outward.
“This was the last of the explosion, the whole of which had
taken place inside of five minutes,...” Baker wrote. “Then came a lull of a few
minutes and when the smoke had cleared sufficiently, we saw clearly what had
happened....One ship had been hurled wholesale for a distance of about 400
yards, dashing it close to the shore, a total wreck with dead bodies battered
and smashed lying all around in disorder.
“Fires broke out on ships all around and hundreds of small
crafts had been blown to hell and the sea presented an awful scene of debris
and wreckage. Our doctor attended to the wounded men on the tug as quickly as
possible and we laid them on stretchers in a motor boat and took them to
hospital. The scene ashore was even worse.
“The N.W. part of Halifax was in total ruins and fires were
springing up all over the city. Part of the railway was completely demolished
and everywhere were dead and dying among the ruins. When we arrived at the
hospital, the windows were all blown out and the wards were two feet deep in
water owing to all the pipes having burst. We had to return to our ship as
quickly as possible, as we are Guard Ship and responsible for the safety of the
other vessels in harbour.”
Back on the Acadia,
Baker beheld a desolate scene: “What a few hours before had been beautiful
vessels, were now terrible wrecks, their crews all dead and bodies, arms, etc.
were floating around in the water.” That afternoon the Acadia’s crew was called upon to quell a mutiny aboard
the Eole, a French ship
running relief for the Belgians. After doing so, they returned to their ship.
“We quickly got hurried tea and proceeded ashore,” Baker wrote. “Here the scene
was absolutely indescribable…