Willis (Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, 2008, etc.) follows the adventures of the Temeraire, which played an integral role in British military successes and was the subject of J.M.W. Turner’s masterpiece The Fighting Temeraire (1839).
A little-known fact about the Temeraire is that two famous ships carried the name; the first was a French warship that the British captured in the Battle of Lagos in 1759. She was so symbolic in stature and design that the British, 15 years later, named their most important new ship after her. Immediately the new Temeraire was in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars, battling not only the enemy, but the more common disturbances found at sea—constant battles with scurvy, lack of fresh supplies and mutiny. So hazardous was the mutiny of 1801 that the ship was forced to return to England, and 12 mutineers were hanged in a highly publicized trial. Not long afterward, Horatio Nelson was named leader of the fleet designated to (once again) wage war with France. Under his command, the Victory and Temeraire fought side-by-side at the famed Battle of Trafalgar. It was in this battle that the mighty Temeraire lived up to its fame as one of the best British warships of all time. Just as the lead ship, the Victory, was compromised and Nelson injured, “the Temeraire appeared out of the smoke...and rammed the [French ship] Redoutable with such force” that the French were ultimately forced to surrender. Upon the great ship's heroic return to Britain, masses thronged the port to catch a glimpse. It’s possible that Turner, already a successful artist at the time, was one of the revelers, and drew on this experience later when he created his famous painting. In this compelling narrative, Willis captures the atmosphere of great change that marked the era, writing with infectious enthusiasm about the warship and the art it inspired.
Exciting and informative—every detail contributes to a greater understanding of British maritime history.