A Frigate of King George: Life and Duty on a British Man-of-War 1807-1829.

There is nothing polar about this book (the ship Doris did make its way around Cape Horn) but it is a good general picture of life aboard an early 19th-century British ship, and some of the conditions in the Navy.

p. x: But at this time, officers and men of the Royal Navy were faced with challenges of a more personal nature. The years that followed the Napoleonic Wars saw the size of the Royal Navy decline sharply. Between 1814 and 1820, the number of British ships in commission fell from 713 to 134, and the numbers of men from 140,000 to a mere 23,000. By 1820, 90 percent of the 5264 officers on the Navy List were unemployed and living on half pay. And there were many more midshipmen, master’s mates and warrant officers without even this compensation.

p. 59: On Sundays there was a change in the daily routine…. Inspection complete, the frigate was rigged for divine service—officers in blue and gold on the quarterdeck, red-coated marines lining the bulwarks, the men in their best clothes in the waist. Chaplain Penny recited the rites of the Church of England as laid down by a devout Admiralty, after which Captain Graham read the stirring cadences of the Articles of War. At noon came dinner, followed by a period of leisure for the men until the change of watch at 4 pm, during which they could sit chatting with friends, read, or walk about the ship. Captains traditionally ensured that this sacred time was free from duty as far as the running of the ship allowed.

p. 60: For the midshipmen on board, the presence of the captain’s wife was a mixed blessing…. Not only did they [the midshipman] have to master the basics of their profession—maths, geometry, and astronomy—from Schoolmaster Hyslop and Master Biddle, but Mrs Graham was determined to turn them into educated gentleman as well by amplifying the curriculum and teaching poetry, literature (both French and English), the history of Greece, Rome, France and Britain, Bacon’s essays, and extracts from Blackstone’s constitutional history. (See Maria Graham. Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, London, 1824.)

p. 132: Early in December the younger officers of the four British warships in the [Rio] harbour decided…to present a performance of Goldsmith’s play She Stoops to Conquer (twinned with a short comedy about servants called High Life Below Stairs) in the Rio Opera House…. The performance was complemented by fiddlers and music and by a brief appearance by the corps de ballet…. Charles Drinkwater came into his own as Mrs Hardcastle, dressed in a dazzling semi-transparent dress over a yellow slip and with a red scarf, white gloves, yellow shoes and a grotesque wig two feet tall and trimmed with blue ribbons….