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"The fought like young Nelsons." The words of a schoolmaster, writing from aboard HMS Mars after the battle of Trafalgar, describing the valor of his pupils in the heat of battle. Made immortal by the novels of Patrick O'Brian, C. S. Forester and Alexander Kent, these boy sailors, alongside those of every other Royal Navy ship, had entered the British Navy to fight the French across every ocean of the world. There was a long-standing British tradition of children going to sea, of boys who volunteered to fight for Britain, and along the way found adventure, glory, wealth and fame. During the Napoleonic Wars, these children, some as young as eight or nine, were also fighting for the very survival of Britain. For twenty years, the image of young Nelsons on the frontline of war caught the imagination of the nation.
Drawing on many first-hand accounts, letters, poems and writings, this book tells the dramatic story of Britain's boy sailors during the Napoleonic Wars for the very first time.
"This is a really first-rate book exploring in significant detail a little researched area of Naval Life and the author is to be congratulated on his depth of research to produce such a well structured and fascinating account." -David Clement
"Young Nelsons reads like Tom Brown's Schooldays at Sea. This is a fascinating though heartbreaking account of the little boys who grew into men in the hermetically sealed world of the Royal Navy. Riveting." -Dr Amanda Foreman, Senior Visiting Scholar, AHRB Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, Queen Mary, University of London and author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
"Young Nelsons tells of boy sailors who volunteered to fight for Britain and found adventure, glory and fame in the process. These children - some as young as eight or nine - fought during the Napoleonic Wars: their letters, poems and diaries tell of their experience here and makes for an outstanding military history library addition." -The Bookwatch (December 2009)
"Youong boys might well be though a nuisance on board a sailing warship, but it was essential to train them from an early age in the skills and discipline required to maneuver a large sailing vessel during battle... It is therefore surprising that relatively little has been written about the role of boys in Nelson's era. This welcome book redresses that deficiency, using secondary sources and a range of firsthand accounts gleaned from the boys' letters, logbooks, and contemporary reports. Young Nelsons is well-written, well-referenced, and packed full of information - an easy and enjoyable read both for the specialist and the popular market." -Roy Adkins, Naval History (June 2010)
"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first book to examine this area, and its particular value lies in the mass of documentary evidence collected here from naval memoirs recounting the experiences of individual sailors, very often stories of endurance and suffering as these youngsters, some of them as young as 10 or 11, came to terms with the rites of passage (often involving bullying and the theft of their precious possessions) and the rough and tumble and hardship endured by novices at sea; all this graphically before us in vivid contemporary illustrations." - Brian Southam, JASNA News (Summer 2010)