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    Re: The shipwreck of Admiral Shovell
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2007 Sep 17, 21:11 +0100

    In my view, more than enough keystrokes have been devoted to this
    essentially trivial question of whether Dava Sobel, in "Longitude" was wrong
    to recount the various legends surrounding the Shovell shipwreck, including
    the supposed summary hanging of a seaman, as if they were established fact.
    
    Nevertheless, in view of Frank Reed's further contribution, I can't resist
    adding some further keystrokes to the pile.
    
    In an earlier posting (Navlist 3173) he wrote- "The next step, of course,
    after we have enumerated the legendary details, is to consider how one would
    actually verify or falsify the components of the legend of the shipwreck of
    Admiral Shovell. There is, in fact, a process for dealing with legends and
    the underlying facts. This process has been applied to the Shovell story...
    a suprisingly long time ago [anyone?? it is (some of it) on google books...]
    "
    
    And I responded, in Navlist 3175- "Well, go on, Frank. Apply that process,
    then, whatever it may be. Don't keep us in suspense."
    
    Has he done so? No, he has just added other versions of the tale.
    
    Including one from Don Fernie, a prolific and entertaining and knowledgeable
    writer on astronomy, whose writings I have respected and enjoyed. In Frank's
    words, "a respected, professional astronomer and a competent historian of
    astronomy". Indeed, I thoroughly recommend his "Setting Sail for the
    Universe", though it's about astronomy rather than about sailing.
    
    Frank points out that Fernie, also, had recounted the hanging tale as if it
    had been true. So what? One can hardly claim Fernie's views, as an
    astronomer, to be evidence on a matter of maritime history and naval
    discipline. He was writing a monthly magizine article on astronomy, not
    setting out to write maritime history, as Sobel claimed to be doing.
    
    I ask Frank to tell us whether or not he now accepts that hanging story to
    be a matter of fact, as Sobel put it.
    
    He undermines his case by adding- "Shovell did officiate over a court
    martial a few months earlier at Toulon which led to the hanging of a
    would-be deserter --sailors WERE HANGED. This is documented."
    
    Nobody denies that sailors were hanged for many disciplinary offences,
    including desertion and even (before the reforms of 1749) being found asleep
    on watch.
    However, the point that Frank misses is that all such capital offences, and
    many others, required a court-martial first, as his Toulon story shows.
    Summary punishments were limited to 12 lashes (though indeed, that
    official-limit of 12 was often exceeded). No Captain or Admiral had the
    power of summary hanging, and being due in the fleet's home port within a
    couple of days, Shovell would be risking his career to inflict it. On such
    topics, I recommend N A M Roger, "The Wooden World", though it concentrates
    on a period 40 years later than Shovell's shipwreck.
    
    By the way, Wolfgang Koberer, in Navlist 3192, gave me undue authority in
    writing "I guess that's what George tried to convey in his postings. (And he
    is the
    one list member most intimately acquainted with these waters, I assume.)"
    
    I'm familiar with Western UK waters as far as the Lizard, and very familiar
    with the Chenal du Four, round the corner of France, inside Ushant, and have
    visited Ushant by local ferry. But the waters of the Western Approaches,
    Scilly, and Land's End, relevant to the Shovell tale, are outside my
    experience.
    
    George.
    
    contact George Huxtable at george---.u-net.com
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    
    
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