Reading for the Weekend – Admiral of the Blue

admiral of the blueAdmiral of the Blue, The life and times of Admiral John Child Purvis (1747-1825) by Iain Gordon (ISBN# 1-84415-294-4, ePub ISBN 9781844682317). Remarkable thing about John Child Purvis is the fact that his career was not at all that remarkable. He was, contrary to the contemporary heroes, such as Pellew, Cochrane or Nelson, uneventful – in fact, to the extend that he did miss all the big events of the Napoleonic wars. He was, in short, a captain, administrator and admiral that always obeyed orders to the letter and carried out tasks pedantic manner. Just the kind of officer, whom the British naval power entirely relied upon – and striking example of the difference between British and Spanish allies later in the war.

Purvis family is now known from long attachment to the British navy, many members of the family have served in the ranks of the navy, including his father and sons. However, John Child Purvis was not a man that had connections. The book starts from his first prize and the time he advanced to the vital rank of Post Captain. A period of duty in royalist Toulon with Princess Royal followed by short lived peace left Captain Purvis with no command and he was on a half pay. Returning back to duty when war commenced again, he did perform solidly and meticulously and advanced steadily. So, the career of John Child Purvis is not exactly enticing in itself. Not something that Cochrane with his insubordination, fraudulent accuses and adventures abroad.

What makes the book worth reading then? He was pedantic and his logs gives interesting insights to the daily life of ship of the line, but book also tells more about people around him, than the man himself. There is a good account of the actions in Toulon, Corsica, amnd Lord St. Vincent and his mediterranean discipline. Book has very informative account of Cadiz and the long siege which followed. John Child Purvis spent significant part of his ship time – sometimes years in row – at blockading ports and not participating in the big battles perhaps that is the reason why he does have somewhat different view to the events and people than the usual heroic epic.

Admiral Purvis retired comfortably to his country house in England with fortune in his hands two years before siege of Cadiz ended, and well before Napoleon abdicated.

If one looks for action packed history, this one is certainly not it, but if you try to understand the naval operations during Napoleonic era, then you might wish to take a look.

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