Nearly two years ago a book was published at Hong Kong entitled " From Portsmouth to Peking, vid Ladysmith, with a Naval Brigade," in which publication the operations for the reliefs of the besieged garrisons of Ladysmith, and the Foreign Legations in Peking were briefly narrated. In an explanatory note the reasons for its appearance were stated, also an assertion made that it was my intention, upon the expiration of the commission, to produce a more comprehensive work, which would be a commentary of the principal events in connection with H.M.S. Terrible. This book is therefore the outcome of that tentative promise, and also of the fact that my first literary attempt met with favour and unexpected success.

To avoid creating undesirable misconception of purpose, it is specially pointed out to the reader that the book throughout deals principally with the Terrible's particular history. An effort, however, has been made to logically and impartially narrate those events relating to the great Anglo-Boer and the North China wars, insomuch as concerns the naval participation in those two campaigns.

Certain subjects and matter, which may appear extraneous to the title selected for the work, have been briefly introduced, as being of possible interest to those with a limited acquaintance of actual naval life, and to those debarred from the opportunities of foreign travel. Where special experience or technical knowledge was essential to delineate the story, extracts from authorities have been quoted ; but otherwise the writer is solely responsible for what has been adduced.

Obviously, much of the work is the result of intermittent labour, mostly penned during the silent hours of the night— after "pipe down." Concerning its literary merit, or de-merit, the writer has a very tranquil mind, for instead of aspiring to perform the impossible with the pen, every effort has been put forth to render the diverse narratives of events, etc., of interesting perusal to service and civilian readers alike, devoid of literary garnish or vague technicalities. If this much has been accomplished, an object will have been fully achieved.

I am under great obligation to Messrs. Newnes, the publishers, certain photographers, and others who have considerately allowed certain subjects to be reproduced in the book, which are specified; also to Chief-Armourer Burke, R.N., who has supplied most of the illustrations. Lieut. Hutchinson, R.N.R., produced the Tientsin map, Midshipman Wood that of the Ladysmith operations, and Midshipman Down the scientific sketches of the dredger-raising process.

It might be opportunely stated here that the naval service, with its anomalies, is often much at variance with the imaginative views and ideas regarding it which generally prevails outside the great naval ports. Almost every conceived notion or impression is widely astray from the real facts—especially those regarding the personnel. As science has enforced a transitory system of improvements in shipbuilding and manufacture of armaments, it consistently follows that an analogous effect is produced among the personnel. Nelson's ships and mode of warfare, and his warrior-seamen, have been relegated to a glorious past, though the ardent spirit he created has remained. The British naval men of the present period are totally dissimilar to the Nelsonian type of seamen, professionally and otherwise. Then they were generally recognized as volatile and illiterate seamen, whose only ambition was to excel in daring exploits at sea and in adventurous carousals on shore. Now they are mostly men with certain social refinement, with developed faculties and scientific attainments, as the result of the national compulsory education system, the comprehensive service training imparted, and of foreign travel; and, as has been recently attested, are as capable as ever of performing their duty to King and country. As of old the British seaman still glories in being led and commanded (by capable officers, but, as ever, resents being driven or domineered. Admonitory or inspiriting sentiments, judiciously expressed by a respected superior, will invariably produce any desired effect.

It is most difficult to impress the perhaps well-intentioned —but too often much-meddlesome—philanthropist, that the British man-of-warsmen of this age are not the socially-forlorn type of humanity so vividly depicted in nautical novels, and that they view with deserved contempt and derision the " naval slumming" and the contents of the many tons of childish literature with which ships are futilely flooded. Any form of charitable intent is wholly repugnant to his real or acquired nature.

Certainly in the Navy, as also exists among each and every class of the community, there are a small minority of social pests and "ne'er-do-weels," but on the principle that " a few swallows do not make a summer," neither do a few " King's hard bargains " debase the whole Navy. Indeed it is very questionable, since the abolition of the short service or single commission engagements and the substitution of the continuous-service system, if the naval men do not develop into a superior type of manhood than their compeers on shore, after a few years of disciplinary service, otherwise the training to which he is subjected, and which is the nation's boast, counts for little or naught. It is true that certain laudable naval institutions exist in each of our naval ports, which tend to promote and sustain the social and moral status of those who are styled foreigners, that is, men who do not reside locally, but there is a much vaster field for philanthropic work and mission labour among the degraded humanity of our large towns and cities than in his Majesty's Navy. Bluejackets do not profess to be saints, neither can they be classed as special sinners. On board they are disciplined machines of war; on shore they are law-abiding citizens in the fullest sense of the term.

No British youth, desirous of a sea-life, need have any qualms or compunction against entering his Majesty's Navy, for nowhere can a roving and adventurous life be more fully enjoyed than on a model British man-of-war, as is exemplified in these pages while relating the eventful Commission of H.M.S. Terrible.

December, 1902.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Crowe: The Commission of HMS Terrible
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