Barritt, M. K.


NMM, Greenwich, 1st.ed., 2008. 144 pp., profusely illustrated (cold.). D.j., 25 x 20cm. FINE. Captain Barritt concluded his naval career as Hydrographer of the Navy and knows from first-hand experience the cruising waters of the Channel Fleet around the turn of the 19th century. The close blockade imposed on the enemy during the Napoleonic Wars by British men-o’-war in all weathers is legendary. However, for the first time, this book brings forward a remarkable untapped source of contemporary images, commissioned by the Admiralty. The marine artist John Thomas Serres (1759-1825), son of the artist Dominic Serres, embarked in frigates working inshore during the blockade of Brest – the stranglehold being remorselessly tightened on the enemy port by St. Vincent, Commander-in-Chief. The Admiralty had been conscious of the value of drawings and engravings of coastal reaches ever since Anson’s circumnavigation of 1740-1744, and in 1800 they appointed Serres as Marine Draughtsman to the Admiralty. His task was to board naval ships and study the enemy’s western coasts – both France and Spain – and even further on into the Mediterranean. He was to make drawings in the form of elevations, a selection of which were published in 1801 in The Little Sea Torch. This excellent 2008 book reproduces some beautiful and fascinating images from the time that the command of the Channel Fleet passed from Lord Bridport to St. Vincent. The account draws on St. Vincent’s copious correspondence – especially with Evan Nepean – as well as other eye-witness accounts of service in the dangerous waters of the Breton and Biscay coasts. Serres himself, despite his huge success as a marine artist, married an extravagant and immoral woman who ruined his life. Serres lost all favour at court and died in a debtors’ prison in London in 1825.

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