A Plan of Mathematical Learning taught in the Royal Academy, Portsmouth.

Performed by Hew Steuart, a Student there.

Portsmouth: 1796 Stock Code: 134319

Fine illustrated manuscript of the Royal Navy's Nelsonian Era officer training regime.

Reserve Ask us a question


A nicely finished example of the illustrated manuscript course book required of graduates of the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth. These meticulously produced, massive volumes offer excellent insights into the skill-set required of a prospective officer in the Nelsonian Era Royal Navy; this copy compiled by an officer who saw significant service during the period.

The Academy was established within Portsmouth Dockyard in 1733, in a purpose-built house "for the boarding and teaching of 40 scholars, who were to be the sons of noblemen and gentlemen and to be aged between 13 and 16 years on admission... The syllabus... encompassed a broad spectrum of the academic and the practical, and stood in marked contrast, not only to the narrow classical curriculum of the eighteenth-century public school, but also to the meagre diet provided by the naval schoolmaster afloat" (Dickinson, "The Portsmouth Naval Academy, 1733-1806" in The Mariner's Mirror, 89; 1, 2003, p. 19). The Admiralty's intention for the establishment was to institute proper control of education and training, and over time to make the Academy the sole avenue of entry into the officer corps. As demonstrated by the present example, the course required a thorough grounding in arithmetic, geometry, spherical geometry, trigonometry, geography, astronomy, navigation, fortification and gunnery. The outline of The Plan... was originally set down by the first Master of the Academy, Thomas Haselden, who had passed through Christ's Hospital Mathematical School - which required a similar manuscript course-book of its students - and had had 20 years afloat as a naval schoolmaster before setting up his own school in Wapping. He wrote a number of navigational textbooks, his Seaman's Daily Assistant was particularly well received and stayed in use for many years, "even though it was more than 40 years old a copy of Haselden's work was provided by the Board of Longitude for Cook's voyages in 1768, 1772 and 1776" (p. 21).

However, despite the Admiralty's intentions, the scope and quality of the syllabus and the high calibre of the staff - three of five headmasters over 70 years like Haselden were Fellows of the Royal Society - the Academy failed in its mission to professionalise the Royal Navy. The project foundered on the twin reefs of "interest", the patronage that allowed senior officers to chose their own entourage, and ultimately their succession; and the profound bias in favour of experience-based learning, encapsulated by Admiral Byam Martin in the statement that the best place for an officer's education was a "well regulated warship", or his former captain, "Sailor Billy", William IV's overarching belief that "there was no place superior to the quarterdeck... for the education of a gentleman".

The present manuscript was the work of Hew Steuart (1780-1837), whose career balanced the scholastic input of the Academy with the heft of patronage. The second son of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh he enrolled at the Academy in 1793. In the same year he embarked as a middie on Pegasus, 38, Captain Ross Donnelly. By 1797 he was in Bedford, 74, Capt. Sir Thomas Byard, where he saw action at Camperdown. Promoted lieutenant June 1799 he was appointed to the sloop Jalouse, whose boats he commanded in 1803 the capture of two French gun-vessels off Cape Blanc-Nez, Pas de Calais. Transferred to Lord Keith's flag-ship, Monarch, 74 - Keith was a kinsman, married to Steuart's cousin - he was involved in a number of attempts against the French coast, in 1804 succeeding in the partial destruction of Fort Rouge in Calais harbour, Keith reporting to the Admiralty that "the conduct of Lieutenant Hew Steuart, of the Monarch, on this recent occasion, will not fail, I am sure, to excite their lordships' admiration and praise". Promoted captain in January 1806 he took command of the brig Mutine, 18, "employed in escorting the King's German Legion to and from the island of Rügen. He was also attached to the inshore squadron off Copenhagen, and frequently engaged with the Danish batteries and gun-boats during the bombardment of that city" (Marshall's Royal Naval Biography). Appointed to the brig Reynard, 10, in 1809 he accompanied the Walcheren Expedition, afterwards being sent to the Baltic Station, operating a flotilla at Riga under the orders of Byam Martin. Here he worked to prevent the French and Prussian armies under Marshals Macdonald and Yorck from crossing the river; "Captain Steuart continued at Riga until the enemies' troops were altogether withdrawn from that neighbourhood, when he returned to England in the Reynard, and was promoted to post rank by commission dated Nov. 20, 1812. Previous thereto he had been presented by the Emperor Alexander with the order of St. Wladimir, of the 4th class, as a reward for his zealous co-operation with the Russian commanders".

All students of the Academy were obliged to complete a copy of The Plan... succeeding variously according to ability and application, Steuart's copy shows him to have been attentive to his penmanship, and not untalented in the execution of both the technical diagrams and maps and the more artistic water colours included as chapter headers. One of the latter is a rather wonderful capriccio seascape with a monument to the "Three Captains" - Bayne, Blair and Manners who died at the Battle of the Saintes in 1792 - perched on a rugged rock. Institutionally, the Royal Museums Greenwich retain a good number of Plans... from across the date range, but otherwise there is just a scatter of locations, Yale holding Conway Spencer's from 1776 and Edmund Rice Nagle's 1788-9, Harvard have Francis La Hunte's from 1805, Manchester Public Library William Osborn's of 1769, Hull University Archives have Henry Hotham's, 1791, in the Hotham Papers, and Case Western Thomas Palmer Acland's from 1783. Commercially copies have made just half a dozen appearances at auction since World War II, three of these being recurrences of the same example over half a century. Steuart's effort is an excellent example of these rare, visually appealing and historically revelatory artefacts.

Confused? Read our glossary


Folio (360 x 350 mm). Contemporary streaked calf, neatly rebacked to style, red morocco label, raised bands, compartments gilt with urn and floral motifs, floral rolled panel to the boards, edges milled gilt. 514 pages manuscript text, brown ink, in a neat and clearly legible hand.


Pen and ink frontispiece of the facade of the Academy building, engraved title page completed in manuscript; 25 chapter headpieces of land- and seascapes in water-colour en grisaille or with pale colour washes; navigation section with full-page illustrati


Rebacked as noted, and with skilful restoration to the corners and board edges, ink occasionally a little pallid, but internally clean and sound, overall very good.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.


Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book