Every Man Will Do His Duty: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts from the Age of Nelson 1793-1815 by Dean King. Published by Henry Holt and Company, 115 West 18th Street, New York NY 10011. 1997. Illustrations, index, maps. xxxvii, 425 pp. Paperback. $15.95.

Every Man Will Do His Duty presents some of the voices of the seamen who fought and lived at sea during the French Revolutionary War (1793-1802), The Napoleonic War (1803-1815) and the War of 1812 (1812-1815). The Peace of Amiens beginning on 25 March, 1802 provides a brief period of peace in the midst of 23 years of war.

The 22 chapters provide first-hand, detailed accounts of life below and above decks in the ships that sailed the world’s oceans in the glory days of sail warfare between 1793 and 1815. Following the events of this time period Britannia really did rule the waves.

The title of this book is a paraphrase of Nelson’s famous signal going into the Battle of Trafalgar. This is explained in a short paragraph in the introduction. However, the full context for the signal and the story of Nelson’s death is described in a chapter titled The Death of Lord Nelson by Surgeon William Beatty. A different perspective of the same battle is provided in Battle of Trafalgar by William Robinson.

The introduction provides two maps that are well drawn and layout where the accounts within the book occur. This is particularly helpful if you are interested in material dealing with a particular ocean or battle. When a specific battle is described maps of the battle formations between ships are provided, often at different times of the day showing the changes that occurred.

The accounts in this book make for exciting reading. They are often very vivid especially if the original writer had kept a diary. If you have a sailor during this time period, or want more background information, then these first-hand accounts are well worth reading.

Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v.5 no.3, 1998