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Reviewed by:
  • The Victorian Naval Brigades
  • Ian F. W. Beckett
The Victorian Naval Brigades. By Lieutenant Commander Arthur Bleby . Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland: Whittles Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-904445-25-X. Maps. Illustrations. Bibliography. Pp. viii, 184. £20.00.

In 1999 Richard Brooks produced his The Long Arm of Empire, covering the story of the Naval Brigades from the Crimea to the Boxer Rebellion. Brooks's book was based not only upon a wide selection of memoirs and other secondary sources, but also on a substantial number of primary sources from such repositories as the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Naval Museum, and the Royal Marines Museum. It might be wondered, therefore, what could be added to the story of this important component in the projection of British military and naval power during the mid and late nineteenth century? The answer appears to be very little since this new book [End Page 1252] covers exactly the same period in far less detail (184 pages compared to the 330 of Brooks) and relies entirely upon secondary material.

Each chapter has a very short list of further reading, betraying little familiarity with recent studies. The chapter on the Zulu War, for example, has no publication more recent than 1977, thus missing inter alia the coverage of the role of the Naval Brigade at Eshowe by Ian Castle and Ian Knight in Fearful Hard Times (1994). Significantly, there is no mention of Brooks's earlier work, the author writing that he "could find no single book recording the efforts and adventures" of the Naval Brigades when his interest in them was first aroused (p. vi).

The whole reads very much as an old fashioned and simplistic narrative and it is hardly the "authoritative and enlightening" read the publisher claims. Brooks, by contrast, had a detailed chapter on such matters as tactical doctrine, training, command, armament, and equipment as well as a concluding evaluation. The conclusion here is but a one-page epilogue and it might be added that there is no index. There are also errors. Wolseley, for example, was most certainly not Adjutant General when he commanded in Ashanti (Asante) in 1873–74: he did not become so until 1882. It is Edmund Fremantle not Freemantle. It can hardly be said that Wolseley developed a "paranoic dislike" of the Navy from the Admiralty's alleged opposition to his original campaign plan for Ashanti that was to lead to disaster in the Sudan in 1885 (p. 55). Rather, the original plan owed much to the success of the Red River campaign in Canada in 1870, hence the reappearance of the voyageurs in 1884–85. Curiously, an illustration of Wolseley landing at Port Durnford in 1879 creeps into the Ashanti chapter. At least the illustrations taken from such periodicals as The Graphic and The Illustrated London News are attractive though Brooks also had contemporary photographs. The maps are generally simplified but adequate, though, even here, there is one much more detailed map of Lower Egypt in the chapter on the occupation of Egypt in 1882 that is strikingly different from all the others.

Clearly the book is something of a labour of love by its author. Unfortunately, however, it is of little real value.

Ian F. W. Beckett
University of Northampton
Northampton, United Kingdom


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1252-1253
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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