Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Devil Himself

The Mutiny of 1800
Dudley Pope

Nonfiction, History, Nautical

This history describes the mutiny that took the Danae, an English ship that had formerly been a French ship, but which had been captured and reconfigured, then crewed by men who were mostly "pressed" - that is to say, forcibly removed from shore or from merchant ships. Five of the primary movers in the mutiny had been grabbed from a French merchantman, but claimed to be American, though later evidence suggests that they may have been more in sympathy with the French than the English.

Certainly, the mutiny took place off the French coast and the mutineers delivered the ship into a French port, and greeted the boats in French. But then, as this book makes clear, "American" was almost a term of convenience at the time; as the country had only been around for a short while, and there were no birth certificates, it was virtually impossible to tell a Brit from an American.

The mutiny itself has none of the fire you would tend to think of in conjunction with the word "mutiny"; the mutineers, through a combination of planning and good luck, were able to take the ship without loss of life. Even the aftermath seems almost polite; the captain is swapped for French prisoners of war, there is a court martial (basically an inquest), some mutineers are caught and hanged, and the captain is assigned to the tropics where he catches a disease and dies. Nothing is lingered over and little seems to set this apart from other nautical books.

I'd say that if you are fond of the Master and Commander series, the Horatio Hornblower series, or Pope's own Ramage novels, you will probably be interested in this. However, as a reader who is not particularly interested in naval procedure, and as someone who wants to know why anyone would think that "larboard foretopmast studding sail boom" is immediately obvious as to its intent and purpose, I have to say that I found this book pretty dull.


No comments: