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PRESENTED BY NELSON’S PATRON ADMIRAL JERVIS - Signal-Book, for the Ships of War

Admiral John Jervis; George Purvis
Rare Signal-Book given to a newly promoted Royal Navy Captain by Nelson’s patron Admiral John Jervis having been systematically annotated and upd… Read more
Published in 1793 by Admiralty.
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PRESENTED BY NELSON’S PATRON ADMIRAL JERVIS - Signal-Book, for the Ships of War by Admiral John Jervis; George Purvis

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Rare Signal-Book given to a newly promoted Royal Navy Captain by Nelson’s patron Admiral John Jervis having been systematically annotated and updated by the Admiral’s secretary George Purvis, himself a correspondent of Nelson.

Small quarto (24cm high) bound in half calf over marbled boards with a printed paper label to upper cover: ‘Signal-Book for the Ships of War.’ Paper label reading ‘238’ to lower cover, probably an old auctioneer’s number. Binding sound. Bookplate of American naval book collector ‘Ira Dye U.S.N.’ to first pastedown, nineteenth century ownership inscription above this in pencil of ‘John Caldwell’ with childish Caldwell signatures in pencil opposite and on a final blank. Additional penmanship to first flyleaf. Handmade paper, horizontal chain-lines with ‘G.R.’ - King George watermark and device in gutter. The title page (undated) and contents leaf precede 83 numbered pages with 84 hand-drawn and coloured flags, pennants and night signals. A 40 part thumb index-with hand-written designations for quick reference has been cut into the foreedge with subsequent browning through use of these tabs. Otherwise the text is clean and in very good condition.

Jervis’s presentation inscription appears on page 83, written below the final section of printed text by the Admiral’s secretary, George Purvis: ‘Given on board the Boyne at Guadeloupe the 23rd April 1794 [’J Jervis’ signature] To Capt James Young Captain of His Majesty’s Sloop the Reprisal by Command of the Admiral - Geo. Purvis.’ Puzzlingly there are clear signs of erasure underneath the inscription relating to the place and Young’s name and vessel which suggests that the book may at first have been inscribed for presentation to a different Captain. In addition to the hand-colouring and handwritten thumb index, the book has been systematically annotated throughout, by Jervis’s secretary, George Purvis, preparatory to use. Many of the entries in the section on Single Flags as with number 15/16 on page 9 were left entirely blank for additional signals so the hand-drawn black and white halved flag and manuscript annotation to 16 reveals that this was: ‘Secret Instruction - to be opened when this Flag is hoisted by the Admiral or any other Flag Officer’. The explanation of Number 27, ‘Cornet’, runs to about 50 words as do several other explanations for numerical orders. The manuscript guidance relating to Engaging the enemy runs from numbered signals 22-42, most of which are in manuscript which were intended to give Jervis the ability to issue precise instructions to his Captains about the method of engaging the Enemy, from firing ‘upon the Enemy in passing them though not proposed to bring them to a general action’ (28), dealing with Captured Ships (31) to orders to attack either the ‘Van’, ‘Sternmost’ or ‘Centre of the Enemy’ with precise instructions for these engagements. Collates: [4] pp84. One institutional copy located, Navy Dept Library, USA, Lord Bridport’s Copy, date given as early 1790s which applies to this volume also, probably 1792 or 1793.

This Signal-Book was given by Admiral Jervis (1735-1823) on board his flagship, HMS Boyne, at Guadeloupe, to Captain James Young (1762-1833) on his promotion to Commander while on active service in the West Indies. The exact date of 23rd April, 1794, places the presentation a few days after Jervis’s squadron had supported Charles Grey’s invasion of Guadeloupe in a mission to disrupt French trade. No doubt Young’s involvement in this actions merited his promotion though within weeks the French retook Guadeloupe. Shortly afterwards Jervis himself transferred to take command of the Mediterranean Fleet where he would achieve his greatest victory alongside Nelson at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in which Nelson flagrantly ignored one of Jervis’s orders by breaking the line of battle. (When Nelson’s act of insubordination was challenged by his flag captain Jervis responded that it ‘certainly was so, and if you ever commit such a breach of your orders, I will forgive you also.’) Captain James Young survived both the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, achieving flag rank in 1814 and thereby probably ensured the survival of this remarkable volume. Signal-Books for warships survive in vanishingly small numbers because they were classified documents to be destroyed if their owner’s ship was taken. ESTC lists single extant copies only of around ten printed Signal Books for Ships of War, not including this one. This example uses the numerary method which was pioneered in the Royal Navy by Admiral Howe who created a printed signal book for his own fleet in the North American station during the War of Independence. Interestingly the writer of the additional annotations to this volume, George Purvis, younger brother of Admiral Purvis, himself served as secretary to Howe, making him peculiarly well suited to providing this information. (The National Maritime Museum holds correspondence from Nelson to Purvis from later in the 1790s during Jervis’s Mediterranean command.) According to Howe’s method used here he assigned one flag to each number from 1 to 9 and 0 so that by combining the flags any desired signal number could be produced. For these numerals Howe and his admirals chose the flags that were afterwards, in their transposed meanings, used at Trafalgar by Nelson in the most famous signal in British naval history: England expects that every man will do his duty.


Full details

Publisher Admiralty
Date published 1793
First edition Yes
Signed Yes
Product code 7602


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