This is the story of Admiral Sir John Balchen, his life and career, and HMS Victory, the largest, finest ship-of-the-line in the Royal Navy at the time, which he commanded when both were lost, along with more than 1,000 crew, in an October storm in the English Channel in 1744. This is not the Victory of Trafalgar fame, however, but the First Rate built some thirty years earlier, the last Royal Navy three-decker to carry bronze cannons, and a ship whose poor design may well have contributed to her loss.
It is also the story of Admiral John Balchen, a courageous, if not heroic, naval officer who saw major engagements and whose legacy in naval development deserves greater recognition. Indeed, the story of both the ship and her commander, their individual and remarkably parallel lives, can now be revealed as fundamental catalysts to the revolutionary reforms in naval shipbuilding, design and dockyard administration that transformed the Royal Navy after 1745. They were indeed major foundation stones for a navy that delivered the glorious achievements of Nelson, Anson, Howe, Hood, Rodney, Boscawen and many more in the great pantheon of British naval history that followed their loss.
The exciting discovery of the wreck of HMS Victory in 2008, the subsequent and continuing public and political wrangling over possible salvage, and the 2019 display at Portsmouth of a mighty 42-pounder bronze gun retrieved from the wreck, have been the catalyst for this history of the admiral and his ship, and anyone with an interest in naval or maritime history, whether academic or popular, will be fascinated by the facts about the hitherto virtually unknown predecessor of Nelson’s great flagship.
This glorious man-and-ship odyssey, whose intrinsic importance to naval history can now be recognised, is richly and compelling told in this important new book.
ALAN SMITH spent some years with the Geest Line which operated cargo ships between the UK and the Caribbean, before becoming an international shipping journalist, mainly covering the Far East, West Africa and the Middle East, then later North America, finally becoming a director of corporate communications. Since 2016 he has been a Volunteer at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, as a guide on Nelson’s HMS 'Victory' and a historical researcher for the Diving Deep: HMS 'Invincible' 1744 Project. Married with three children, he lives in Godalming, Surrey, the birthplace of Admiral Sir John Balchen.
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