'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Hard-A-Larboard, Mr Christian

I've spent the day performing a task I'd been putting off for a decade or two - transcribing a cache of family letters from the 1800s. They were written by, to and about my great-great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Wedgwood, an ordinary Maryport seaman who was press-ganged into Nelson's navy in his teens, captured by the French in his twenties, and rotted in Vrancon gaol before being reunited with his family.
The letters stretch over a period of twelve years and provide a glimpse of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars that may surprise. Joseph was an ordinary seaman and he has, for the most part, an absolutely lousy time. Letters from home never arrive, he's always short of money, his family and friends never write to him. Mary Huddert, his sweetheart, forgets about him completely. When his father's boat comes to the Mediterranean they miss each other by hours, not once but twice. He spends what seems like years hanging around in Gibraltar and cruising off Cadiz, waiting for Spanish ships to arrive from the New World, 'laden with monney'. When he finally boards an apparently abandoned enemy ship, the prize turns out to be a trap, full of French sailors who promptly take him and his shipmates prisoner & cart them off to gaol. The rawest and most moving part of the cache are his mother's letters to him when he's in prison. But it's difficult to get away from the thought that Jaroslav Hacek must have had Joseph in mind when he created Schweik: his staggeringly inept progress through the clash of great powers confirms that war is 99% sheer boredom, 1% cockup.
So now it's off to the internet to search the Greenwich archives & find out more about the ships he served in and the officers who censored his mail. I've a feeling it may be a long but rewarding task . . .


Anonymous nanettechapman said...

I hope this gets to someone. I have been searching for Seaman Joseph Wedgewood, who served in the Queen's Navy, I guess during the period of 1915. Did your J Wedgewood serve on a battleship then? Nanette Chapman

15/1/09 5:08 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Nanette - 'my' Joseph served in the Napoleonic Wars, on an altogether less grand vessel. Do you know the name of the Battleship in question? If so (or indeed if not), the Public Records Office is your friend -
They're generally extremely helpful, particularly if you can get to Kew.
Do let us know what you find out. Any other quesitons, just ask . . .

15/1/09 8:09 pm  

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