Date Posted: 22/03/2013
Yesterday I recorded a piece for Radio4’s ‘Making History’ program. Tom Holland and I went to the British Library to meet Dr Arnold Hunt, the curator of manuscripts to discuss the amazing collection of Naval Dispatches which my latest book is based on. It was tremendous being able to see other peoples’ reactions to the volume when they first see it; it really does take the breath away. Tom described it as a ‘naval bible’. Arnold had done his own research and had even found the diary entry of Sir Frederic Madden, keeper of records in 1859, who first received the volume.
‘Panizzi sent me, as a present from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, a large folio volume, sumptuously bound in velvet, with ormolu bands, clasps and ornaments, containing (as intimated in a printed title-page), “The Original Despatches communicating the Principal Victories obtained by the British Navy over the Fleets of France and her Allies, in the course of the Revolutionary War, 1794-1806. Collected by command of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, 1821”, and illustrated with portraits… It is a volume of great interest and value, and I suppose we are indebted to the Duke of Somerset for its being transferred to the Museum.’
Madden was Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, 1837 to 1866. ‘His enormous and boundlessly entertaining unpublished journal records his daily life from 1819 to his death in 1873’ (ODNB). He was born in Portsmouth (his father was in the Royal Marines) so would have had a special interest in naval history. ‘Panizzi’ = Sir Anthony Panizzi, Principal Librarian and Madden’s arch-enemy. ‘Duke of Somerset’ = First Lord of the Admiralty, and a Trustee of the Museum.
The Radio4 program will be broadcast on 18 April.