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Lives of the British Admirals
Containing an Accurate Naval History from the Earliest Periods by Dr. John Campbell in eight volumes

Dr. Campbell’s Preface

THE general utility and great importance of naval history to the inhabitants of Britain, is obvious from our being seated in an island; whence it is evident, that to navigation we owe our very being as a people. Next to this is the consideration, that we are a commercial nation, from whence we equally derive internal arid external advantages, have enlarged our correspondence to the utmost limits of the globe, whither we have carried our own commodities and manufactures, and have brought from them whatever was esteemed either valuable or singular. The great figure we make in the world, and the wide extent of our power and influence, are duo to our nay^l strength, to which we stand indebted for our flourishing plantations, the spreading the British fame, and, which is of far greater consequence, British, freedom, through every quarter of the universe. These are the glorious trophies of maritime empire, and the fruits of that dominion over the sea, which was claimed by the earliest possessors of this island, and* has been derived by an uninterrupted succession of noble achievements on that element to our own times, in which the fleet of Britain may be truly said to have no rival.

The preserving a regular and well connected detail of that long series of events, by which that mighty empire has been gradually attained, was the original cause of detaching this from our general histories, in which, while it lay involved, there was, as indeed 1 of necessity there must be, no little obscurity. In order to remove which, and to place things in a full and conspicuous point of view, it became necessary to collate and compare not only our own but foreign historians, and, when this was done, to consult a number of other authors, who have incidentally treated of such matters as had any relation to the subject; that from thence, those circumstances might be drawn, which might illustrate and explain the several parts of the history of our marine.’ These would have been often esteemed trifling or tedious, improper or impertinent, in general histories, and would necessarily have swelled them beyond their jiist bounds. But, when collected with care, and ranged in their proper order, in conjunction with those parts of our political history, which were requisite to their being thoroughly understood, they became equally curious and useful, and furnished the reader with an agreeable variety of pleasing and interesting events, and contributed, not a little, to cherish and preserve that heroic spirit, which is the source of every gallant enterprize, and which excites private men to despise ease and pleasure, and to brave perils and dangers of every kind, in defence of public safety, or for promoting public good.

In order to do this effectually, it seemed requisite to intersperse the memoirs or personal histories of those illustrious men, who had distinguished themselves in this method of rendering service to their country. It appeared to be a tribute justly due to those services, and, at the same time, expedient to the satisfaction of the reader, who must naturally desire to be more intimately acquainted with those to whom the nation stood indebted for her discoveries or her conquests. Besides, it gave an opportunity to discuss minutely some points of consequence, that otherwise might have embarrassed the narrative, to vindicate some great characters from injurious aspersions, and to answer many other purposes, that serve to throw light upon the whole design. But to avoid, as far as possible, the confounding naval history with these memoirs, it was found expedient to place them at the end of every reign; and the greatest attention possible has been bestowed, to prevent any unnecessary repetition, or intermixing such circumstances of their lives, as had no connection with the character in which they are here considered. We have also been more succinct in some, and have omitted the lives of others, which have been written at large elsewhere, or are to be met with in our biographical collections, and this chiefly to keep within due bounds; which was one of the greatest difficulties in onr task, and which it was requisite to mention, to obviate any objection that has been sometimes made, without reflecting on the impossibility of producing every thing, relative to so copious a subject, within the narrow compass of a portable library, principally intended for the furniture of a cabin.

All the original writers, all the ancient historians, and all the foreign authors that have been consulted in this work, are distinctly and precisely cited, so that the reader may have recourse to them with the greatest facility, and discern from thence the several (authorities upon which the facts are founded that are here recorded. This is a point of very great importance, and is perhaps the most considerable improvement, in writing history, that has been made by the modems. Because certainty is of for greater consequence than elegance of composition; and a judicious peruser will be always better satisfied, with knowing whence the information came, than with reading the most florid account without any vouchers for what it contains. He also sees, and can from thence judge* of the propriety with which the materials have been gathered; and when he knows by whom things are asserted, he likewise knows the measure of credit that is due to them. Add to this, that if he has been fortunate enough to meet either with books, or with passages in books, that have escaped the author, for he would be weak indeed who pretended to infallibility in matters of this kind, he has an opportunity of pointing out these for the benefit of the public, which he never could have had if the authorities were concealed, or so loosely quoted as not to be found with ease.


In presenting to the public the first volume of a new Edition of Dr. Campbell’s Lives of the Admirals it will naturally be expected that some account should be given of the nature and extent of my undertaking; after having said a few words relative to the original work itself.

There have appeared no fewer than six editions of this work; three during the life-time of the Author* and three since his death. This fact, of itself demonstrates ‘its great and acknowledged merit. The extreme scarcity and advanced price of the volumes denoted that a new edition] extending our Naval History nearly to the present day, would be favourably received by the public. The most important part of our Naval History falls within that period which 1 have engaged to delineate. It is not intended by this to deteriorate from the labours of Dr. Campbell or of Dr. Berkenhout; but to shew that a considerable portion of the ensuing volumes will form an entirely new and original work. Dr. Campbell terminated his historical narrative at the epoch of the death of George I. From that time, the Naval History was continued by Dr. Berkenhout, as far down as the year 1779. My proportion of labour consists therefore in having carefully revised the histories both of Campbell and of Berkenhout; in having added such notes, facts, and observations, as will cast a fuller light upon the events which they have recorded; and lastly, in having composed an entirely new history of our Naval Affairs, from the period when Dr. Berkenhout laid down his pen, until the memorable battle of Trafalgar, which indisputably fixed the Naval Trident in our hands; though the victory which was the result of that battle, was clouded by the death of the hero, by whose genius, example, and prowess, it was achieved. The sera of the death of Lord Nelson I have selected for the termination of my labours, because that epoch was marked by great and most important events; affording abundant scope for political reflection, and- exhibiting, at one moment, the most mortifying and the most' exhilarating scenes to the observation of mankind.

It had long been my anxious wish to engage in some literary undertaking, that should be wholly unconnected with the vexations and contentions which polemical questions are calculated to excite. A long and dangerous -indisposition enabled me to carry this wish into effect, by abstracting me wholey from the study of politics; and, at the suggestion of my learned and excellent friend, the Rev. Dr. Valpy, of Reading, who first encouraged me to continue Campbell’s History, I was,, on my return to London, enabled immediately to embark in the project, by the spirit and zeal of the Publisher, and by the extraordinary encouragement which the proposals experienced from the public.

Having thus stated the motives which led me to revise, and continue this Naval History; I shall next proceed to enumerate the assistance I have received, and the facilities I have obtained, through the liberality and kindness of others.

In the first place, I must mention the Right Honourable George Rose, M. P. and Treasurer of the Navy; Who, from the very outset of the undertaking, favoured me with the best advice relative .to the conduct of the work, procured me access to public offices, and who has kindly permitted me to apply to him for any information which the nature Of this history may require. The splendid library of Mr. Rose, bequeathed to him in great part, by the earl of Marchraont, who had been very careful in forming a collection of books and ‘treatises concerning the Naval Affairs of the British empire, has been generously offered 'for my inspection. There is another circumstance from which 1 have been enabled to derive the most useful information. Mr. Rose lived ih strict habits of friendship with our Author, Dr. Campbell, all of whose manuscripts are in his possession; and he has furnished me with such few anecdotes respecting the character' of that -able Writer, as have not been already recorded in the memoir of Dr. Campbell’s Life, profiled to this volume. To this I must add, that Mr. Rose placed in my hands the first edition of the Author’s work, together with the numerous corrections in his own land-writing; from which I hope that I have been able to come at a correct idea of Dr. Campbell’s mode of reasoning, in the prosecution of this portion of his literary lucubrations. All these advantages are unquestionably great; and if this work should become an useful addition to the public stock of instruction and entertainment, it will be, in a great measure, owing to the valuable materials in the possession of Mr. Rose, materials not to be found even among the most valuable of the national collections ; as well as to the liberality, encouragement, and fund of knowledge, which distinguish that gentleman.

To the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty I must likewise express my obligations, for allowing me to inspect such papers as may be useful to me in the course of my researches. Some years ago, a fire broke out at the Admiralty in consequence of which, all the records relative to the Naval Affairs of Great Britain were consumed. Fortunately, the patriotism of Mr. Rose has, in a great degree, supplied the defect occasioned by that accident. Among the many curious and important documents collected by the earl of Marchmont, are ten manuscript volumes in folio, comprising minutes of all our naval proceedings, from the reign of Charles II. These invaluable manuscripts Mr. Rose presented to the Admiralty; and to them I have been allowed a ready access. I shall have occasion, in a subsequent part of this work, to write* more particularly respecting the contents of these volumes.

In the next place, I am indebted to Charles Debrick, Esq. who, in addition to his own excellent work, entitled, “ Memoirs of the Rise and Progress of the Royal Navy in which the highest accuracy and minuteness of research are apparent; has, from the commencement of my labours, afforded me the best advice, besides having put into my hands some valuable ancient manuscripts, which will appear in another part of the ensuing volumes.

I have also derived considerable information from the Rev. Mr. Bree’s Sketch of the State of the Naval Establishment of this Kingdom, during the Fourteenth Century; not forgetting his account of the Campaign of Edward the Third* in Normandy and France, in the years 1345 and 1346 to the taking of Calais: the whole of which are collected from ancient manuscripts in the British Museum, and elsewhere. It is much to be lamented, Ihat the author was prevented by untoward circumstances from pursuing further his inquiries.

From the polite communication of Mr. Pennington, I have been able to correct some errors in Dr. Campbell’s account of the birth-place, and rise of Sir John Pennington, who commanded the Channel fleet, in the time of Charles the First. I have availed myself of this manuscript Memoir in my own additions to the work.

The Right Honourable the Earl of Hardwicke has signified his wish to inspect the biographical account of Lord Anson before it is sent to press, on account of the connection of his lordship’s family with that of the illustrious admiral.

To my worthy and learned friend, Alexander Tilloch, Esq. I am also indebted for a most entertaining old manuscript, written by James Melville, of Anstruther, respecting the reception which the Spaniards experienced in that part of Scotland, at the time of the projected invasion of England, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

I have other acknowledgments to make for many useful hints and communications, which shall not be overlooked ini the course of these volumes. It is not possible to enumerate within foe limits of a preface, foe obligations 1 am under to naval and literary gentlemen, for the information with which they have furnished «me; but I shall not neglect to mention foe sources whence such information was derived.

Besides these contributions ’from Various quarters, I have access to the rich stores of antiquity contained in the British Museum and the Record Office in the Tower. In consequence of my admission into the former, I have been able to verify foe numerous authorities cited by Dr. Campbell; and, through the politeness of S. Lysons, Esq. the keeper of foe Records in foe Tower, I have come at a most valuable < document, by which I have been aide to correct a material error in the history of Campbell, wherein he asserts that there was, properly speaking, no Naval Establishment, until the reign of Henry the Eighth. This document is a letter from King Henry the Fifth to his Chancellor, preserved among the records of the Chancery, and dated at Tonquein France; and, it appears from this letter-missive, that there were in those days, not only great ships, but that commanders were appointed to them with fixed salaries, payable at Easter and Michaelmas. The names of the captains are also given. This letter will be inserted in another volume; at the same time, I am happy to mention, that Mr. Lysons is preparing for the press a quarto volume of Royal and other Letters, of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries, from the Originals in the Record Office. The publication of these valuable materials, will considerably abridge my researches in that quarter; as well as throw new light upon our Naval History.

In justice, however, to the memory and reputation of Dr. Campbell, it should be remarked, that this letter of King Henry the Fifth, and several other precious documents of the same kind, were not known to have existed in his day. They have been recently discovered by Mr. Lysons, among a huge mass of old papers in the course of his revision of the Public Records. The discovery is, however, of the first importance; as it serves to confirm the principle laid down, and strenuously maintained throughout all the ensuing volumes, that from the earliest ages the sovereigns and parliaments of England, were particularly attentive to the naval interests of the kingdom.

In addition to this curious feet, I have seen in the Record Office, a List of the King’s Ships, and of those furnished by the sea-ports, with the number of mariners to each ship, employed by Edward the Third, in 1347. Mr. Selden had availed himself of this manuscript in his Mare Clausum; and I doubt not that the account published in Hakluyt’s Collection of Voyages, is taken from the same source.

It is no depreciation of Dr. Campbell’s assiduity and researches, to affirm, that such materials must necessarily tend greatly to improve the value and merit of the original work; since he had not the means of ascertaining whether such monuments of past time had survived the wreck of ages, and the confusions which arose from the many contests for power, with which our national history abounds.

But it is due to truth, nevertheless, to observe, that the i( Lives of the Admirals,” constitutes the most diffusive work which fell from the pen of that indefatigable and excellent writer. It is, undoubtedly, enriched by elaborate researches; by a happy penetration into the causes of public measures; and by many deep political reflections. The numerous alterations made by the author himself in the first edition, and which, as I have before mentioned, are in his own hand-writing, in the copy with which I was obligingly furnished by Mr. Rose, demonstrate, that he had not bestowed so much attention upon some parts of his subject, as their importance demanded; while upon others, of less moment, he has laid great stress and often launched into unnecessary details. In fact, this work was composed in the earlier period of his literary life; when, perhaps, he might have thought, that the Lives of the Admirals could not be successfully written, without writing also an epitome of English history.

To alter or abridge the author’s composition, forms no part of my engagement with the public. I am bound to follow the path which he has trodden, and to confine myself solely to a careful revision of his steps.

At first, I had intended to have interspersed my own notes and observations into the body of the work; but, after mature deliberation, and after consulting with literary persons, much more experienced in such sort of arrangements than I can pretend to be, the present method has been preferred. Accordingly, the original work of Dr. Campbell, together with the supplementary volume of Dr. Berkenhout, are now re-edited from the last corrected edition This arrangement has been made with a view of supplying the great demand for a work which had become extremely scarce, and the price of which, had, on that account, been greatly enhanced.

Nevertheless, my task has been both irksome and laborious. For, I have felt it to be my duty to turn to all the authors, with some few exceptions, cited in this volume, in order to ascertain the exactitude of the references. All these collations have been made from the last edition of the work, compared with the books referred to, as they are to be found in the British Museum. Whoever will take the trouble of comparing the last with the present edition, will perceive instantaneously the many inaccuracies which I have been under the necessity of correcting. It is important that this fact should be well understood; because there are different editions of our monastic writers, the only historians of the early events of England, which vary materially in their pages. Where Dr. Campbell mentions, which he rarely docs, any particular edition of a work, I have referred to that edition; and where this has not been the case, 1 hare invariably corrected the references by the books in the British Museum, as that vast, though insufficient repository of our ancient literature, is now rendered accessible to the researches of the literary world.

There are some, but not many, Authors cited by Dr. Campbell, whose works I have not been able to find in the British Museum, although the most diligent search was made after them. He also refers occasionally to manuscripts in his own possession. In such instances, I have been under the necessity of giving credit to the accuracy of his references. Before the termination of my labours, however, this inconvenience may possibly be remedied from the magnificent collection of Mr. Rose; or, from the manuscripts of Dr. Campbell, in that gentleman’s possession. There are in Mr. Rose’s library many valuable tracts on our maritime and other affairs, not to be found in the British Museum, or elsewhere; of which I have already mentioned a striking instance in the ten folio volumes of manuscript minutes, now deposited at the Admiralty.

Neither have I confined my attention solely to the identity of the references. In an historical work, too much care cannot be bestowed on verifying the dates of events. This material omission in the preceding editions, has been supplied in the present, by placing the dates beside the text, so that the reader can be at no loss to discover in what particular year any Naval transaction occurred.

No pains have been spared in rendering the typography correct; and the only liberty I have taken with the original work, consists in the rectification of grammatical errors, in modernizing, without altering, the substance of some of Dr. Campbell’s sentences, which were too prolix for the taste of the present generation; and, in the insertion of the names of the persons who were living at the time his history was published, and to whom he refers in their official capacities only.

Such have been the labours and cares bestowed upon the present Edition: and, it is a favourable prognostic of our future exertions, that those who are concerned in the publication of this volume, have strictly discharged, in point of time, their engagements with the public.

It only remains, therefore, to say a few words relative to that part of the work for which I am exclusively responsible. My engagement extends to the correction of such errors as may be found in Campbell; to the introduction of such facts as may have escaped his observation, and which are calculated to shed a stronger light upon our Naval History; and to continue the work from the year 1779 to the battle of Trafalgar.

For this purpose, I have embodied into one volume all my own notes, observations, and researches; by which means, the compositions of Dr. Campbell, and of Dr. Berkenhout, will be kept distinct from mine; a circumstance which could not have been effected if the dissertations and notes had been blended with the writings and notes of these Authors. At the same time, X have minutely abided by the distinct areas selected by Dr. Campbell, in my own volume; so that after having read that division of his history which treats of the Navy of the Ancient Britons, the reader may, by turning to my volume under the same head, discover how far 1 agree with or differ from the Author in his statements and conclusions: and upon this particular head, it will be found that a very considerable difference exists between us. The same mode is to be observed in relation to every other chapter of Campbell.

The volume, therefore, which I have appropriated for this object is, of itself an epitome of our Naval History* possessing this advantage, that it does not contain the slightest repetition of what has already appeared in Campbell and Berkenhout. It is a new work; having indeed a reference to those two Authors, but composed entirely of original matter, and abounding in relations and facts, which either could not be known to, or were overlooked by, them. This volume will be followed by my continuation of our Naval History during thirty years of brilliant and unexampled exertion. Of the Execution of this portion of the whole work, it would fee unbecoming in me to speak. It must be left, as all original compositions are, and ought to be, to the judgment of the public. I have leisure, opportunities, and many facilities; and if my health will only keep pace with these advantages; I am not without the hope that my labours will experience a portion of the public approbation.

Gray’s-Inn~Square, March 7, 1812.

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