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DOWNEY, Thomas.

Naval Poems.

Pleasures of the Naval Life, and the Battle of Trafalgar.

London: by T. C. Hansard for C. Cradock and W.Joy, and J. Hatchard, 1813 Stock Code: 42970
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Fascinating paean to life in Nelson's Navy

First edition, highly uncommon; this a most attractive copy in the original boards. Downey notes his "Pleasures of the Naval Life" is a corrective to the "tone of querulous despondence" that underlies so much naval literature: "The Naval Life is NOT a series of privations, distresses, and affliction". Remarkable, as Downey suffered many privations while serving as a ship's surgeon.

Thomas Downey, born in Crediton, Devon, and "a man of property, well educated, of cultivated tastes and high professional standards" (Watson, p. 220), studied medicine at extramural classes given by the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, before joining the Royal Navy. Towards the end of 1795 he sailed for the West Indies as surgeon's mate on the 56-gun fourth-rate HMS Abergavenny. The tough Atlantic crossing took six months and left the crew in "an extremely unhealthy state" (ibid). An epidemic of ship-fever, quite possibly thyphus, had struck. At Barbados the ship's surgeon succumbed and Downey took his place. Yellow fever was the next affliction, and although Downey managed to avoid infection, when the ship put in at Haiti he was "exhausted by overwork". Despite this, he transferred to the Daedalus, whose surgeon had died, and despite being very weak, acted as surgeon on that vessel. The Daedalus returned to Portsmouth in November 1796 and Downey joined the frigate Ethalion. On the night of Christmas Eve 1799 she struck a rock and was lost, the crew being picked up by a passing ship. During the next few years he saw survive in Indian waters, in the eastern Mediterranean and was present at Trafalgar, although "details of his appointments cannot be traced". "He was surgeon to the naval hospital at Gibraltar in the spring of 1810 In 1811 Downey was transferred to the receiving ship Enterprise and five years later he died An obituary notice published in the naval Chronicle in the autumn of 1816 describes Downey as an officer of acknowledged merit in his profession and a gentleman of respectable literary merit Naval Poems contains some three thousand lines of verse and twenty-seven pages of notes which include an excellent glossary of naval terms" (ibid.).

"Pleasures of the Naval Life" takes the form of an account of a voyage from Falmouth to India, returning to London via St. Helena. In the second part Downey essays a blow-by-blow account of Nelson's climactic victory in rhyming couplets. The impressive four-page subscribers list includes Dr. William Beatty, who attended the dying Nelson on board Victory, Admirals Northesk and Durham, Vice Admiral Harvey and Captains Bayntun and Pellew, all of whom served in the battle, together with Cochrane, Admiral Duckworth, Admiral Keith, and John Wilson Croker, secretary to the Board of Admiralty, to whom the book is dedicated.

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Quarto (350 x 260 mm). Original drab boards, paper label to the spine.


Modern bookplate to the front free endpaper, which has stained through to the verso slightly, joints a little cracked, spine chipping, boards a touch rubbed, but an excellently preserved, uncut copy.


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