Newsletter 14

Welcome to the Spring (March) 2009 issue of our occasional newsletter.

Jack Tar – the continuing story

In our last newsletter, sent out a little before Christmas, we were bewailing the fact that our latest book, Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy, had sold out and was not widely available to buy. It ended up being reprinted twice before Christmas and again in the new year, but the chaos of Christmas meant that no online retailer had it on sale until January. So apologies to all of you who were trying to buy it – we think there are plenty of copies now, so it still makes a great present for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays – any anniversary really! If you want a paperback, though, then you’ll need to wait until September.

Other Books

We’ve previously reported that a revised edition of our very first book was published in September – this is The Handbook of British Archaeology (Constable & Robinson). Sales are going well, and there have been some excellent reviews, including one in the magazine Minerva. We’ve had emails from people saying that the original version was often the very first archaeology book they owned and that it saw them through their degree courses, so we hope that this new, greatly enlarged edition will prove even more valuable.

The Keys of Egypt (the story of how the secret of hieroglyphs was unlocked) was published in Japanese some while ago by Shinchosha in Tokyo, under the title Rozetta-Stone-Kaidoku. We recently reported that last summer, in June 2008, the same publisher brought out a very neat paperback, a really small version that fits brilliantly in a pocket or handbag – we wish paperbacks were like this in the western world. We have just learned that in the first six months of publication, twenty-five thousand copies of this paperback were sold in Japan. As most commentators keep saying, books hold up very well in a recession, or even thrive as they are so much cheaper than other forms of entertainment.

Another of our books to be published in translation is the updated edition of Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, as a paperback by The Commercial Press in China. The War for All the Oceans has also been translated into Polish, published in a beautifully produced hardcover by Rebis Publishing House, which must rank as one of the best designed books we have ever had. The title there is Wojna o wszystkie oceany: od Nelsona nad Nilem do Napoleona pod Waterloo.

Another book that we wrote a long time ago is Archaeological Illustration. This was published in hardcover by Cambridge University Press, but was always fiendlishly expensive, quite a setback for archaeological illustrators, who tend to be poorly paid. We had hoped it would be published in paperback, and at last that wish has been realised, twenty years after its initial publication. Is this a record? The paperback’s ISBN is 9780521103176, and although it has not been revised, the computer sections are nevertheless interesting to read, just to see what has changed and whether or not our various predictions were correct!

Latest Expedition – Bath in the snow

We had a short break in Bath in early February, having been invited to give a lunchtime talk on Jack Tar at the Theatre Royal. Bath is quite a small city, one of the most beautiful in England, situated on hills within a loop of the River Avon (the river then carries on to Bristol, 11 miles away, and out into the Severn Estuary at Avonmouth). The Romans were attracted to Bath because of the hot natural springs, and a pre-Roman shrine was converted into a massive religious complex in the first century AD. The sacred springs were enclosed to form baths, and a fine Classical temple was built, dedicated to Sulis-Minerva, a way of keeping the locals happy by retaining the local Celtic goddess of healing, but also bringing in the Roman goddess Minerva. The city was known by its Latin name of Aquae Sulis – the waters of Sulis. The impressive Roman baths and temple remains are now well below street level and are open to the public.

Bath became a very fashionable spa town in the eighteenth century, in the Georgian era, and has many fine buildings associated with innumerable famous people, such as Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, Fanny Burney, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Bath’s first theatre opened in 1705, and a ‘new theatre’ was opened in 1723, replaced by yet another ‘new theatre’ in 1750 (which opened with a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV). Plans were then made for an improved theatre, and this opened on its current site in Sawclose in October 1805 with a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This building was destroyed by fire in 1862, but the theatre was rebuilt straightaway and opened the following year with a performance of A Midsummer Nights Dream, starring Ellen Terry. Right next door is a building with a plaque proclaiming that ‘In this house resided the celebrated Beau Nash and here he died Feby. 1761’. He had been appointed Master of Ceremonies in 1704 to bring some order to the social life of the city.

The Theatre Royal in Bath
The Theatre Royal in Bath. The building glimpsed on the right is the residence of Beau Nash.

We were talking in this very same theatre, and 120 people had bought tickets, but unfortunately the event coincided with the worst snowfall in this part of England for eighteen years. Bath is not that far from where we live, but with all the uncertainty over the weather, it was agreed that we would travel there the day before. The night before the talk yet more heavy snow fell, which reduced our audience to 55 valiant people! Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable event, and we could have stayed there even longer answering questions and listening to naval tales. The award-winning Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, an independent bookseller in Bath, was selling books, and we had hoped to call in at their shop afterwards, having heard such good reports about them. Unfortunately we couldn’t do so, as we were worried about returning to Exeter – nine inches of snow had fallen overnight where we live and people were stranded in their cars on a nearby road, so we were lucky to get home.

Monument of the Month

If you stroll around Bath, you will see plaques on buildings commemorating the presence of various famous people, but the biggest collection of names is in Bath Abbey, an imposing Perpendicular structure that was begun in 1499. The abbey is full of monuments, many of which commemorate people who went to Bath hoping that the spa waters would cure their illness but who died there instead.

One of the more interesting memorials is that of John Moutray, who was a captain in the Royal Navy. He was from Roscobie in Fife, Scotland, and is mainly known today for his association with Nelson. In February 1783 Captain Moutray was appointed Commissioner of Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, and Captain Horatio Nelson arrived there in HMS Boreas in June 1784. In December, Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, who was the commanding officer of the station, ordered Moutray to act as the senior officer when he himself was not present. Since Moutray held the civil post of Commissioner, this was technically against regulations. When Nelson returned to Antigua in February 1785, he objected to the situation. Because Moutray did not have a higher naval rank (they were both post-captains), Nelson refused to take orders from him. A legal dispute with Hughes and the Admiralty followed, although Nelson was good friends with both Moutray and his wife, Mary, who was also in Antigua.

Moutray’s health was already failing, and he and his wife returned to England. He died at Bath on 22nd November 1785, at the age of sixty-two, and he was buried at Bath Abbey four days later. Although he left his estate to his wife and their children, his will also refers to two illegitimate children he had by a woman called Elspeth London.

The memorial to John Moutray
The memorial to John Moutray

There is no doubt that Nelson was attracted to Mary Moutray, and he wrote in September 1784 that ‘was it not for Mrs Moutray, who is very very good to me, I should almost hang myself at this infernal hole’. When he knew that she was returning to England he wrote to his brother about her, saying, ‘My dear, sweet friend is going home … Her equal I never saw in any country or in any situation … What an acquisition to any female to be acquainted with: what an example to take pattern from … What a treasure of a woman. God bless her.’

It has been plausibly suggested that if John Moutray had died in Antigua, and not in Bath, Nelson might have married Mary Moutray, but instead he married another widow, Frances Nisbet. Whether Mary would actually have married Nelson in such circumstances is open to question, because Nelson’s friend Cuthbert Collingwood was also close to Mary, and she may have preferred him. Despite having a pension of £150 per annum from Roscobie and four other Scottish properties, it was not enough to provide adequately for Mary Moutray and her two young children. She applied to the Admiralty for an allowance, but was refused. Somehow the family survived, and Nelson helped the career of Mary’s son John, who became a naval lieutenant. When he died of fever at the siege of Calvi, Corsica, in 1794, Nelson erected a monument to him. Mary’s daughter Catherine married in 1806, but died some ten years later. Mary outlived them all. She retired to Ireland and died there in 1841 at the age of ninety.

Word Origins: Pell Mell

The Mall in London has been in the news recently, because a bronze statue of The Queen Mother has just been unveiled there, one and a half times lifesize, close to a statue of her husband, King George VI. These days the related expression ‘going pell-mell’ is rarely heard, perhaps because it is more appropriate to people hurrying on foot. Since everyone seems to drive even short distances, it sounds odd to say that a vehicle was ‘going pell-mell’. The expression is of interest, though, because of its associations with London and other cities around the world.

The game pall mall originated in Italy and was imported into Scotland in the sixteenth century and became popular in England. The game combined elements of golf, croquet and basketball and is sometimes claimed as the ancestor of croquet. It was played in a street or alley approximately half a mile long. The object of the game was to strike a wooden ball (the ‘pall’) with a mallet (the ‘mall’), driving it down the length of the course and finally though an iron hoop hanging high up on a pole. Whoever achieved this by striking the ball the smallest number of times was the winner.

This was a favourite pastime of King Charles II, who played the game in London in a royal pall mall alley in St James’s Park. Because horse-drawn carriages travelling between St James’s Palace and Charing Cross raised such clouds of dust, the players could hardly see or breathe. This thoroughfare was therefore blocked and a new street built parallel to it in 1661, on top of another pall mall alley. Originally named Catherine Street, in honour of the Queen, Catherine of Braganza, the road continued to be referred to as Pall Mall, by which name it is still known, while the King’s alley was known as The Mall.

The link between the game pall mall and the expression pell-mell is probably also a linguistic confusion. Various editions of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable define ‘pell mell’ as ‘Headlong: in reckless confusion. From players of pall-mall who rushed heedlessly to strike the ball’ – and yet the game appears to have been hardly more frenetic than croquet. The expression actually has closer links with the French word ‘mêlée’ and originally had more of the sense of a confused gathering of people, as in a battle or a marketplace. The energetic associations of the phrase ‘pell mell’ are therefore more likely to derive from the crowds that came to use the street of Pall Mall as a fashionable promenade.

Arbitrary spelling and changing pronunciation will have added to this link. The diarist Samuel Pepys, for example, referred to the game as pell mell rather than pall mall when he described walking in St James’s Park in May 1663 and ‘discoursing with the keeper of the Pell Mell, who was sweeping of it, who told me of what the earth is mixed that do floor the Mall, and that over all there is cockle shells powdered and spread to keep it fast, which however in dry weather, turns to dust and deads the ball’.

Playing pall mall, from an old print
Playing pall mall, from an old print

By 1740 the game of pall mall had gone out of fashion in England, but in London both Pall Mall and The Mall remained fashionable places frequented by the rich, famous and influential. Until the late eighteenth century, The Mall was a tree-lined promenade that was popular and crowded throughout the day. In 1903-4 The Mall was radically altered, because a wide processional way was constructed alongside, linking the Admiralty Arch with the Queen Victoria memorial. In contrast to The Mall, Pall Mall was a street of fashionable and popular houses, shops and clubs. The names Pall Mall and The Mall were – and still are! – constantly confused. When in 1807 part of Pall Mall was lit by gaslighting as an experiment, one resident of the street, F.A. Winsor, commented, ‘The Mall continued crowded with spectators until near twelve o’clock, and they seemed much amused and delighted by this novel exhibition.’

Although there were pitches for the games of Pall Mall on the Continent, such as the Palmaille at Hamburg and the Maliebaan at Utrecht, in the English-speaking world the term ‘mall’ came to mean a sheltered walk or promenade area. It was therefore readily adapted into the phrase ‘shopping mall’, meaning a shopping centre that was free of vehicles. Even the word ‘shopping’ is often dispensed with, so that ‘mall’ nowadays means a shopping centre and where even a King knocking a wooden ball about with a mallet is unlikely to be tolerated for long. Over a period of several centuries, the physical changes in the townscape element commonly called a ‘mall’ have echoed the linguistic development of ‘pell mell’ to ‘pall mall’, and then to ‘mall’. Now ‘pell mell’, in the sense of jostling crowds, could again be appropriately linked to the modern mall.

Jack Tar Talk

We are giving a talk on Wednesday 15th July 2009, 11.30am, at the Dartington Ways with Words literary festival (near Totnes in Devon). This is the festival’s history day, and the festival itself is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best.

Competition Results

In our last newsletter, we asked you to pick the name of the German publisher who was shot by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 without a proper trial. The answer is Johann Philipp Palm, who was a Nuremberg bookseller and publisher (the two roles were frequently combined). In June 1806 he printed an anonymous pamphlet ‘Germany in its Deep Humiliation’. The author of the pamphlet is unknown, but it was an attack on Napoleon, who had recently defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon’s troops were occupying southern Germany, including Nuremberg, and Napoleon had given orders for anyone writing and distributing such publications to be arrested for treason. Palm was tried at a court martial at the Austrian border town of Braunau-am-Inn (the birthplace of Adolf Hitler), without any legal representation. He was executed on 26th August by firing squad, without ever revealing the author of the pamphlet, and remains a symbol for press freedom and resistance. Every two years the Palm Foundation awards the Johann-Philip-Palm Award for Freedom of Speech and the Press.