Above and under hatches: the recollections of James Anthony Gardner
Chatham, Mar 1, 2000 - Biography & Autobiography - 287 pages
These memoirs, suffused with humour and rude vigour, represent probably the most realistic, down-to-earth, and entertaining contemporary account of sea life in the age of sail.
Unlike most of the sailors' memoirs of the Nelsonic navy, Gardner's were not written for publication but purely for the entertainment of his family and friends, and did not see publication until long after his death, so potential problems of libel did not constrain him when it came to opinions of individuals, high or low, in the naval service. He himself saw plenty of action and served in a number of famous ships, not least the Victory, but what interests him most are his mess-mates and their eccentricities.
The pranks, scams and amusements that broke up the claustrophobic life of a warship's crew form a large part of his narrative, and some of his stories are almost surreal in their detail, but Gardner's vision of the bawdy, drunken and often comic-opera life of the navy rings more true than the usual Victorian image of the heroic Wooden Walls of Old England.
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