Our first meeting of 1998 saw yet another piece of history in the making. For possibly the second time since the inception of the Durban Branch we had a lady speaker. The lady was none other than fellow-member, Marge Zucchini who gave our first DDH talk for the year. She chose as her subject "Gettysburg Today" and by means of photographs of the various monuments erected by the surviving participants of that great conflict and photographs of the actual battlefields as they are today, she somehow managed to capture the poignancy and desolation of the aftermath of that battle in which so many lives were lost. We are much obliged to Marge for sharing her impressions of part of her recent trip to the States with us.
Our main speaker for the evening was Mervyn Mitton who opted to speak on "Britain's Georgian Navy", instead of the "Antecedents of the British Army" as advertised previously. It turned out to be a welcome breath of fresh salt-air with our speaker tracing the history of and describing in detail. life in the Royal Navy in Georgian times which covered the period from roughly the early 1700's to the middle of the 1800's.
However, the history of the Navy began a long time before that, possibly at the Battle of Sluys in 1340 when a fleet of English ships destroyed the French Fleet of over 200 ships at anchor in Sluys Harbour. But these were ordinary merchant ships that were used with raised "castles" fore and aft and the battle was fought as though on land using bows and arrows and other hand weapons. It was not until after 1436 that cannons were first used in sea-battles and it was this aspect that England developed and which eventually brought it to the forefront of naval warfare.
Our speaker then described how various British monarchs helped in the development of the man-of- war by building their own ships. For example, King Henry VIII constructed the "Henry Grace a Dieu" (Great Harry) displacing over 1,000 tons and carrying no less than 186 guns most of which were anti-personnel. But it was in naval arllery that England really excelled. They were able to build bigger and better guns which ultimately gave them mastery of the seas for over two hundred years and helped Britain to become the great Colonial power she was.
The Georgian Navy which started in 1714 had several different classes of fighting vessels which were classified on a rating system. For instance the smallest vessels such as sloops which were armed with only 10 to 12 guns, were described as "Sixth Rates", whereas the biggest man-of-war with over 100 guns would be a First Rate. Ouly First to Thrd Rates were considered "ships-of- the-lme", i.e only they could engage the enemy in line of battle because the lighter vessels could not withstand a full broadside and were likely to be blown out of the water.
Finally our speaker went on to describe the horrific conditions of service in the Georgian Navy. Because of the large number of vessels to be manned (862 in 1813), the iniquitous "Press Gang" system was instituted by an Act of Parliament. Young men from any city, town, village or hamlet up to 100 miles (160 knis) away from the coast were "pressed" into service and could be away from home for up to 10 years at a time. With certain minor exceptions, there was no redress. Discipline was harsh with desertion punishable by death. Floggings with the "cat'o-nine-tails" were commonplace and the ultimate punishment for mutiny was to be "keel-hauled".
Medical treatinent was barbaric with amputation the standard treatment for any injuries to the arms or the legs. Scurvy was a major problem and it was not until the eating of lemons and limes was recognized as a preventative measure in the late 1700's, that it abated.
Ths system lasted until the middle 1800's when steam took over from sail as the motive power and the number of men needed to crew the ship was reduced.
As usual our question time elicited a lot more information and fellow-member, Prof Mike Laing thanked our speakers on behalf of the Branch for a most enjoyable and informative evening.
CONGRATULATIONS: Our Branch's congratulations go out to our youngest active member, Deanne Everitt, who achieved eight distinctions (including History) in her recent Matric Exams.
BERGTHEIL MUSEUM: Cataloguing of the Military History books recently donated to the Museum is virtually complete and it is hoped that there will be an official opening ceremony shortly. Watch this space for further information.
S.A.M.H.S. POSTERS: All members are requested to assist with the distribution of our recruiting posters. Please collect your quota from our Chairman, Ken Gillings and arrange to have them displayed in appropriate public places, e.g. Libraries, clubs, supermarkets, etc.
ANGLO-ZULU WAR LECTURES: The Unit for Continuing Education of the University of Natal in Durban is putting on a series of six lectures on the Anglo~Zulu War of 1879 in May 1998. They will be given by well-known author, Ian Knight. Telephone 260 2399 for further details.
ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTIONS: Please note our annual subscriptions have been increased as follows: Single - R60; Family - R70 and Life Membership - R720.