Olla-Podrida: Julian Stockwin Newsletter, April 2012

Provo Wallis

Senior Admiral of the Fleet Sir Provo Wallis

Captain Edward Riou engraving

April, 2012

[Olla-podrida: an affectionate 18th-century term for a colourful medley of items]

We salute two special men of the sea this month – Provo Wallis, a hero of the War of 1812 and the person with the longest +ever+ period of naval service – and Edward Riou, a young officer who epitomised the finest traditions of the Royal Navy whose life was tragically cut short in his prime.



Broadly Boats News

Broadly Guns News

Nighthawk News

Firetrench Directory

+ CONQUEST paperback out soon!
The UK edition of the paperback of CONQUEST is published next month by Hodder & Stoughton. It will be available in Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and Canada in June. The U.S. paperback edition of the title comes out October, published by McBooks Press. For a chance to win a signed copy, see CONTESTS.

This is what the latest issue of ‘Warships’ magazine had to say about Julian’s twelfth book: “Without doubt Julian Stockwin has the talent to convey a world of ceaseless motion and salty air on your face, even for a landlubber. Allied to this is his ability to transport the reader back in time to a world when sailing ships and the Royal Navy were paramount. As in past adventures, Stockwin skilfully inserts fictional hero Thomas Kydd into real world events and makes him a key player. It’s clever stuff and works really well…”

+ Titanic Requiem
This month is the centenary of the loss of “Titanic” on her maiden voyage. Among the many special events marking the tragedy will be the world premiere on 10 April in London of “The Titanic Requiem”, a classical piece written by singer/songwriter Robin Gibb and his son R J Gibb. The event will include a hologram show depicting the sea, the ship, and the iceberg.

+ Cutty Sark re-opens shortly!
From April 26 you’ll again be able to visit this Greenwich landmark, the last of the great tea clippers…

[We’re planning a special feature on the ship in the May issue.]

+ Charles Dickens and Chatham Historic Dockyard
In celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, his great, great grandson Gerald Dickens will perform the premiere of a work written for the bicentenary, featuring extracts from all the major novels. This will take place on Wednesday 16th May 2012 at 2.30pm in the Royal Dockyard Church within The Historic Dockyard Chatham – a place that Charles knew well from his childhood days when his father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at the Dockyard.

+ Good Friday, a sailor, and a mother’s love…
At the Widow’s Son public house in Bromley by Bow, a special custom is re-enacted around this time each year – a sailor adds another Easter bun to a net of hot cross buns hanging above the bar. The Widow’s Son was built in 1848 upon the former site of an old widow’s cottage. The story goes that when her only son left to be a sailor she promised to bake him a Hot Cross Bun and keep it for his return. Tragically, he drowned at sea but she kept up the tradition and made a fresh bun each year in the forlorn hope that he might return.

+ Collector’s Set of BETRAYAL
As usual, there will be a special Collector’s Set of Julian’s next book, strictly limited in number. You may pre-pay now or reserve your copy via <admin@julianstockwin.com>

+ Hurrah: the future of HMS “Victory” is secured!
The UK Ministry of Defence has transferred custodianship of “Victory”, the world’s most iconic ship, to the HMS Victory Preservation Trust, a charitable trust established to ensure the preservation of Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar for generations to come. An endowment of GBP 50 million has been made available. “Victory” will also become flagship of the First Sea Lord, continuing as a commissioned ship of the Royal Navy.

+ “Challenge” to set forth once more…
And more good news on the UK’s maritime heritage front. The steam tug “Challenge”, one of the brave craft that took part in the Dunkirk evacuation, has been awarded a restoration grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The 1931-built vessel will become fully operational again, a living reminder of the thousands of similar vessels that once thronged Britain’s ports and harbours.

We’ve had several questions for Julian about the use of semaphore at sea so we asked him to expand on the topic:

“In Sir Robert Drake’s day, in the mid-seventeenth century, signalling at sea in the Royal Navy was done with five flags, which although a distinct advance over the capabilities of rival nations, did mean that the messages that could be conveyed by this method were pretty limited.

Various improvements were made over time using a larger number of flags.

Then, in the late eighteenth century, the Revd. Lord George Murray devised a system using six shutters working in a frame, which was first set up in 1796. By opening or closing the shutters sixty-three different positions were possible. One disadvantage of Murray’s telegraph system was that it was one-directional as the shutter frame had to be fixed permanently on a roof.

In 1816 Admiral Sir Home Popham devised a new signalling system which was adopted by the Navy to replace Murray’s and became known as the semaphore.

By the mid-19th century a system of semaphore messaging had developed where a sailor used two hand-held flags to send messages like its full-size brethren, holding them in a variety of ways. Each pose spelled out a letter. This, in turn, evolved into the adoption of signalling lamps, using Morse code.

Today, modern electronics enables messages to be sent in split second bursts, to be decoded by on-board computers – but the old methods of semaphore have not gone completely.”
(The word semaphore comes to us from the Greek “sema” meaning a sign and “pherein”, to bear)

By the time of his death in 1892 Provo William Parry Wallis had officially served 96 years in the Royal Navy!

This record, which has +never+ been equalled, came about because his father was a clerk at the Halifax naval yard and managed to get Provo registered in 1795 as an able seaman on the frigate HMS “Oiseau”, aged four. He was later entered (again, on paper) as a volunteer in “Prevoyante” and “Asia”. Provo Wallis actually physically reported on board a ship as a 13-year-old midshipman.

He served in a number of warships in the West Indies and was promoted to lieutenant.

It was while second lieutenant on the frigate “Shannon” that Wallis faced his greatest challenge to date, in the engagement with “Chesapeake”, near Boston. After eleven minutes of one of the shortest and bloodiest ship to ship battles in naval history, Provo’s captain, Philip Broke, was badly wounded and the ship’s first lieutenant was dead.

Wallis was now in command of two ships, close to the enemy coast and crowded with dead and wounded, as well as uncooperative prisoners. In deference to Captain Broke, lying near death in his cabin, Wallis ordered a silent ship. He then sorted out the most pressing concerns, including organising essential repairs, and set course for Halifax. Such was the burden of this command that he did not change his clothes during the six-day voyage and scarcely slept.

In recognition of his actions, he was shortly promoted commander. He served in various theatres and was eventually promoted to admiral of the fleet in 1877.

This was all very well but as long as he was alive he held up promotion of everyone below him on the admirals list. By having commanded a warship between 1793 and 1815 he had the right to remain on the active list as long as he wished. The Admiralty suggested he might wish to voluntarily resign so as not to have to worry about having to be sent to sea again but Provo would have nothing of the idea and said he would be delighted to assume command and even though he knew nothing about modern steam warships he was quite willing to learn. The subject was dropped.

Provo became a much-revered figure in Portsmouth, often being visited by young officers keen to pay their respects to a man who had once set eyes on the great Nelson himself. Provo liked to row his wife in a little boat around the pond at the back of his house. at the age of 98 he was a special guest on board HMS “Monarch” during the great naval review to honour the recently crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II.

An officer who had fought at sea under sail and continued to serve into the era of steel battleships, electricity and torpedoes he died just before his 101st birthday and at his request was laid to rest as a sailor in a plain wooden casket with a ship’s blanket for a shroud.

“There are three sorts of people: those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.” – attributed to Anacharsis, 6th Century BC

“The Yompers”
by Ian Gardiner
Pen and Sword Books

When Julian was serving in the Royal Navy Reserve in Hong Kong the Falklands War broke out and his unit was regularly given confidential briefings on the situation in the Atlantic – so he was particularly interested to read this title, the first account to be written by a company commander involved in the hostilities.

Called to action on 2 April 1982, 45 Commando Royal Marines sailed 8,000 miles to play a key role in the recovery of the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupation.

This book is a fitting modern tribute to the Royal Marines Commandos. Gritty and moving, and at moments wryly amusing, it provides penetrating insights into wider aspects of the Falklands War as well as conflict in general.

The general public first heard the word “yomping” from the journalist Charles Laurence in 1982 as the word which the Royal Marines used to describe carrying heavy loads long distances on foot. It caught on and is now in common usage everywhere.

+ The mother of all maritime memorabilia auctions

In 1985, after a number of attempts to find the wreckage of “Titanic”, a combined American and French team located the ship two and a half miles down off the coast of Nova Scotia. Over the next 27 years eight expeditions worked on the site.

On April 11, 5000 items from “Titanic” will go under the hammer.

This won’t be the first auction of Titanic memorabilia, but it will be the first of items taken directly from the wreckage site. Previous sales featured items such as a recovered deck chair, letters written by survivors, and the advertising brochures that White Star Line produced in advance of Titanic’s first, doomed voyage.

The auction to end all auctions of Titanic memorabilia will be 100 years and one day after she sailed. The artefacts are owned by RMS Titanic Inc. the American company that has salvaging rights to the site and who took the articles from the wreck site, about two and a half miles deep, using deep sea submersibles.

Items include personal belongings such as a set of binoculars, a bracelet and eyeglasses but also ship’s fittings and a 17-ton piece of hull known as “The Big Piece.” There are also archaeological assets such as videos of the dives and 3D images of the ship.

There is a catch, however. The items must be bought as one lot and kept together, available for public display.

Who knows what the auction will bring? In 2007 the artefacts were valued at US$189 million.

Titanic is slowly being consumed by iron-eating microbes and at some point will be only a memory.


+ CONQUEST to go!
Two winners will each get a signed paperback of CONQUEST plus a smart little Union Jack Tote to carry it in! Here’s the question: Name Julian’s UK publisher. Emails to <admin@julianstockwin.com> Please include your full postal address. Deadline: April 25. First two correct entries drawn win.

Congratulations to last month’s winner: Christopher Hukins. A Stockwin Goodie Bag goes off to him.

The naval officer Edward Riou was killed in action on April 2, 1801. He was 38, not that much older than Kydd at that time.

Kydd would have heard of Riou spoken of as someone who epitomised courage, resourcefulness and devotion to duty.

Riou joined the navy aged twelve and served as a midshipman on Captain Cook’s second voyage. In 1789 he was given command of the converted frigate “Guardian” bound for Port Jackson, Australia, with convicts and stores. Readers of Julian’s books will recall that Kydd undertook a similar journey in “Totnes Castle” in COMMAND.

En route to Australia, on Christmas Eve, “Guardian” struck the submerged spur of a massive iceberg which tore away the ship’s rudder and much of her keel.

Riou tried desperate measures but eventually ordered the boats hoisted out and about half of the ship’s company left in them.

Riou stayed aboard. With only 60 men – the boatswain, the carpenter, three midshipmen and an unruly band of seamen, supernumeraries and 21 convicts – he set about to try to get the waterlogged and rudderless ship to safety.
After nine weeks and the exercise of superb seamanship he brought the ship within sight of the Cape of Good hope on February 21, 1790. She was towed into Table Bay where she was beached but, damaged beyond repair, she was broken up.

Those who remained with “Guardian” were among the few survivors of the accident. Of the boats, only the launch with 15 people survived, having been rescued by a French merchant ship. Riou arranged for the surviving convicts who had helped to save the ship to be pardoned for their good service.

Riou returned to England to face the customary court of enquiry for loss of a king’s ship and was honourably acquitted.

He was made post captain and served in the Caribbean and the Baltic before finding himself attached as commodore of a light squadron to Nelson’s division at the Battle of Copenhagen. There, already wounded, he refused to leave the quarterdeck and was cut in two by a cannonball.

Nelson, who had not known him before this expedition, had conceived a great affection for Riou, and wrote: “In poor dear Riou the country has sustained an irreparable loss.” The naval historian Admiral Jahleel Brenton declared that he had: “all the qualities of a perfect officer.” Parliament commemorated his memory with a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The poet Thomas Campbell wrote:
“Brave hearts! To Britain’s pride,
Once so faithful and so true,
On the deck of fame that died
With the gallant, good Riou”

Browse Julian’s extensive website at <http://www.julianstockwin.com/>

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