Maritime history

Saviours of souls: the heroism of lifeboat crews

Our summer holidays by the sea were the thrill of the year and the lifeboat was the thrill the holidays. Whissh-crack! went the maroon, sending the dauntless crew and their punchy little vessel off into the waves to save souls. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been doing this for 200 years. Mariners and all of us must hope it never stops, because its story is the best of us. In One Crew, Helen Doe, a maritime historian, writes the official history with verve and precision. She explains that there were 39 lifeboats operating independently around the coast, ‘enjoying varying degrees of effectiveness’, before Sir William Hillary, a ‘bankrupt baron’

From hearts of oak to hulls of steel: centuries of the British at sea

An ocean of clichés surrounds Britain’s maritime history, from Chaucer’s Shipman to the ‘little ships’ at Dunkirk. Tom Nancollas, whose 2019 Seashaken Houses treated lambently of lighthouses, now navigates debris-strewn territorial waters, sounding their depths. He examines 11 craft, from Bronze Age boats to ironclads, that epitomise Britain’s complex compact with the sea. Ships, so sturdily island nation-shaping, are themselves evanescent, exposed to danger and decay, and discarded once defunct. But their traces can be found almost anywhere. Even those that are now only names (the Conqueror’s flagship Mora, Cabot’s Matthew or Grenville’s Revenge) are ‘ensouled’ to this author – ‘lost characters of British history’, as worthy of salvage as

Another fallen idol: the myth of Ferdinand Magellan debunked

Who would you choose to judge you long after your death? How about a professional historian? How about Felipe Fernández-Armesto? Much lauded and read, this professor of history at Notre Dame, Indiana is the author of many books including short histories of humankind and the world and longer ones of exploration, Hispanic America and the year 1492. As you begin Straits, his account of the life and voyages of Fernando de Magallanes, known in English as Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer credited with the first European navigation from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the straits at the tip of South America in 1520, you may quail at the thought of