The Naval Chronicle
was a maritime journal
published in London twice a year between 1799 and 1818. It detailed the actions of the British Royal Navy
during the Napoleonic Wars
and the War of 1812
. First-person accounts were contributed by officers including Lord Horatio Nelson
and Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood
. The Naval Chronicle
also contained maps and illustrations and made for fascinating reading.
Author Patrick O'Brian makes liberal use of these documents in his 20 historical novels known collectively as the Aubrey-Maturin Series. They are a major reason his tales have such a ring of truth about them.
As O'Brian states in his note to the first volume, Master and Commander:
"When one is writing about the Royal Navy of the eighteenth and early nineteen centuries it is difficult to avoid understatement; it is difficult to do full justice to one's subject; for so very often the improbable reality outruns fiction.
"Even an uncommonly warm and industrious imagination could scarcely produce the frail shape of Commodore Nelson leaping from his battered seventy-four gun Captain through the quarter-gallery window of the eighty-gun San Nicolas, taking her, and hurrying on across her deck to board the towering San Josef of a hundred and twelve guns, so that 'on the deck of a Spanish first-rate, extravagant as the story may seem, did I receive the swords of the vanquished Spaniards; which, as I received, I gave to William Fearney, one of my bargemen, who put them, with the greatest sang-froid, under his arm'.
"...That is why I have gone straight to the source for the fighting in this book...so when I describe a fight I have log-books, official letters, contemporary accounts or the participants' own memoirs to vouch for every exchange.
"Yet, on the other hand, I have not felt slavishly bound to precise chronological sequence...Indeed, I have taken great liberties; I have seized upon documents, poems, letters; in short, j'ai pris mon bien là où je l'ai trouvé, and within a context of general historical accuracy I have changed names, places and minor events to suit my tale.
"My point is that the admirable men of those times, the Cochranes, Byrons, Falconers, Seymours, Boscawens and the many less famous sailors from whom I have in some degree compounded my characters, are best celebrated in their own splendid actions rather than in imaginary contests; that authenticity is a jewel; and that the echo of their words has an abiding value."