Admiral Albert Hastings Markham

Admiral Albert Hastings Markham

Frank Jastrzembski
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
The sub-title of this book drew me in, the cover hints at a story of ‘derring-do’ mixed with ‘boys own’ stories, as soon as you open the cover the sleeve notes have phrases that hint at what is to come – ‘He battled Chinese pirates during the second Opium War’, ‘canoed Manitoba’s remote Hayes River’ (I had to look that one up) and ‘best remembered for his role in the sinking of HMS Victoria’. The Foreword by Dr Rodney Atwood further expands on Markham’s place in history, and of an encapsulating view of the man himself. The long list of Acknowledgements and Bibliography indicate that this book has been written by an enthusiast that is also an author, this also shines through in the writing style. The introduction from the author, Frank Jastrzembski goes further to build the anticipation of what is to come – and so to chapter one.

After the build-up, chapter one came as a shock – the first couple of pages describe Markham’s lineage and are very detail heavy (names, dates, location), I hoped this wasn’t going to be the style of the book as it would to my mind, have been better in an annotated family tree graphic. The more I read of chapter one, I began to think that perhaps the author felt it was best to get the lineage out of the way in one go, the book soon moves on to Markham’s development and his mentoring by his older cousin – this was to shape Markham into a remarkable person with wide and varied interests and introduce him to Naval life.

The book is crammed with interesting facts – they don’t detract from the story but build a sense of understanding of Great Britain and its position in the world at a time when most of the globes in drawing rooms had significant amounts of the land coloured pink, for example from 1857 to 1860, 72 million pounds Sterling of tea was imported from China, the import duty on the tea in some years was enough to cover the expense of the Royal Navy.

I found it a very difficult book to read for any length of time, despite the authors (and my own) interest in the subject matter – this wasn’t because of any issue with the book or writing style, which I found easy-going and consistent, it was purely that Markham came into contact with so many parts of British and world history, I found it impossible to read any more without going off at tangents, reading up on, for example ‘blackbirding’ or the South American war in 1879 over a territorial dispute in the Atacama Desert. Possibly that says more about me that the book, there is sufficient background detail to give substance to Markham’s experiences and actions.

Chapter eight, the final chapter, deals with the sinking of HMS Victoria and Markham’s role (and that of others) in the sinking of not just the Flagship, but a ship bearing the name of the Monarch of the time, the whole episode shows how the ‘senior service’ held orders and discipline to be rigid and unwavering, even in the face of certain disaster.

I enjoyed the book and will use it as a springboard for further reading on history from Victorian times, I found it well written, structured and, like a good meal, left me wanting just a little bit more. If there was any criticism, it would be the occasional American spelling – not surprising given the author is American, they do however seem to have slipped through the proof reading as not all instances of the word or phrase are consistently American, a minor point I know but it did cause a ‘jarring’ of my mind when I read them – again, it probably says more about me. I appreciated the author using the ‘traditional’ place names alongside their more modern replacements, it’s appreciated by ‘people of a certain age’.

It’s difficult not to heartily recommend this book, it’s a great read for anyone even slightly interested in history of the period, it’s not overly focused on nautical history although it clearly does feature heavily, it’s more a remarkable story of a remarkable person.

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