Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809

Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809

by Stephen Taylor

In bringing home Bengali saltpeter for the Peninsular campaign with military and civilian passengers, Britain lost fourteen of her great Indiamen, either sunk or taken by enemy frigates.

The focus of these disasters, military and meteorological, was a tiny French outpost in mid-oceanthe island known as Mauritius.This is the story of that season.

It brings together the terrifying ordeal of men, women, and children caught at sea in hurricanes, and those who survived to take up the battle to drive the French from the Eastern seas.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.92
  • Pages: 400
  • Publish Date: January 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company
  • Isbn10: 0393060470
  • Isbn13: 9780393060478

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In keeping with its title, the book is segmented into two parts: the first section covers the storms at sea that played havoc with the First and Second Fleets as they sailed out of India via the Cape of Good Hope for England, and the second part covers the various battles for control of Mauritius (Isle de France as named by the French) which was a haven for French frigates and privateers who preyed upon British traffic between the Cape and the Indies. Interesting characters dot the book: Eliza Barlow, wife of the unpopular Governor of Madras, mother of 15 children and notorious for the sexual peccadilloes that finally brought down her husband; Mathew Flinders, navigator of Terra Australis, prisoner on Mauritius who later died in poverty before his best seller was published; the wicked but brave Captains Corbett and Willoughby who whipped their men mercilessly and were feared by the French for their daring; the battered East Indiamen ships that carried these souls back and forth on the ocean and switched sides in battle as they were captured by the French or the English. Constant losses to French frigates based in Mauritius finally led the British to take control of the situation they needed to conquer Ile de France and its sister island Bourbon. I recommend this well documented history book, which draws on the logs of many of the vessels that plied the England India route for veracity, and yet reads like an action novel in places.

At the beginning of the 19th Century a significant factor in Britain's prosperity was trade with India, a country effectively ruled by a commercial enterprise, the East India Company. Two small islands in the Indian Ocean - Bourbon and Ile de France - were staging posts for French vessels that were always vigilant for the possibility of taking a passing Indiaman as a bountiful prize. Anyone in modern times who has holidayed in the beguiling climes and customs of Mauritius - as we now know the Ile de France - cannot fail to be enthralled by the events of two hundred years ago.

This lovely volume sheds light on not only on life aboard Georgian naval ships, the conquest of Mauritius, and the Barlow government in Madras, but mainly on dozens of fascinating facets of the East Indiamen of the time. This book sets up its narrative not quite unlike a novel, introducing ships and historical figures we would encounter before getting to the action and into the fascinating details about life aboard Indiamen.

It reads like a piece of military fiction, as Taylor brings together many first hand sources that bring to life the economic, social and cultural implications on the Navy's actions.

Particularly intriguing is Captain Mathew Flinders, the British sea captain who circumnavigated Australia only to be captured by the French and held at Ile de France for six long years.

One of the best readable history books I have read ever.