Book Review: Fiddlers and Whores: The Candid Memoirs of a Surgeon in Nelson's Fleet


by James Lowry, edited by John Millyard

Seaforth: Barnsley, Eng. / Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. 192. Illus., notes, index. $17.95 paper. ISBN: 1526701472

Medicine and Debauchery in the Age of Fighting Sail

Canadian Millyard, better known for works on financial management, brings us a livery edition of the Napoleonic war memoirs of Royal Navy surgeon John Lowry (c. 1780-1855). Having some medical training – stress some, Irishman Lowry joined the Royal Navy as an apprentice surgeon in 1798 and served until 1804, during which time he kept a very candid diary.

Ship wrecked and captured by the French in 1804, Lowry’s diary was taken from him while a prisoner-of-war. In 1807, after his release, Lowry rewrote this memoir from memory. The result, as edited by Millyard, is a highly readable, generally amusing tale of a gentleman’s life in the Royal Navy at the height of the age of fighting sail, during which Lowry served mostly in the Mediterranean, seeing Naples, Egypt, France (where spent time as a prisoner of war), Sicily and North Africa. His account is peppered with worries about money, drinking bouts, loose women, battles both at sea and ashore, exotic places, and many anecdotes.

There are numerous comments and annotations by editor Millyard, which help the reader better understand some of the more obscure history or aspects of common life around the turn of the nineteenth century. This is an amusing, yet informative introduction to life in the Royal Navy at the height of the age of Fighting Sail.


Note: Fiddlers and Whores is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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