Nelson, Navy, Nation Exhibition

GUAS to be featured on National Maritime Exhibition Map 

 

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Andrew Service's LogbookToday, otherwise known as Trafalgar Day, a new permanent gallery about Nelson and beyond opens at the National Maritime Museum. As well as showcasing important items from Nelson’s life the gallery will show how Nelson and the Navy was an important part of everyday life and national identity. The website, which accompanies the gallery, includes a map of all the institutions that hold items relating to Nelson’s life and legacy. Glasgow University Archive Services is lucky enough to hold a rare and important item, Andrew Service’s logbook, which will put it on this map.

Andrew Service was unusual for someone of his rank in that he kept a logbook. Starting on board the HMS Medusa aged twenty he was ranked as a landsman, suggesting little seafaring experience. This perspective, from below the decks, gives us a different idea of what it was like aboard an early nineteenth-century vessel. The logbook also gives us information about the whereabouts of the Medusa, a ship once sailed on by Nelson himself.

Skirmish with Spanish ships

The Medusa played an important role in several naval clashes of the period. One of the most significant of these was the British attempt to capture Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1806. Although an attack on the city of Mondevido was successful, the British failed to take Buenos Aires. The ship also went on to take the privateer L’Hirondelle and had earlier fought with four Spanish ships who had been carrying money to the French.

Service documents these battles, as well as encounters with pirates and foreign lands. Some of his entries read like postcards, “things are very cheap… the place is hot”, whereas others remind you of the violence of the Napoleonic Wars, “one ship blew up in action”. Perhaps even more striking than the drama of naval warfare is the toll that disease took on the men aboard the Medusa. Service takes care to write each name in full, their position and their cause of death, many dying of “fever”.

 

Arguably the most striking entry in the logbook is also the shortest, “20th December: got my finger cut off”. It is characteristic of Service’s writing to have such a major life event documented in such a sparse fashion, his writings about the battles and skirmishes Medusa was involved in are equally concise. Today this kind of writing may be seen as detached but Service’s care to write such a logbook shows his awareness of the remarkable life that he was living. This logbook is an important part of our history, making the everyday life of a sailor accessible to all.

 



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