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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > “The Trafalgar Chronicle” The Battle of St. George's Cay – by Michael Harris (54-59)

“The Trafalgar Chronicle” The Battle of St. George's Cay – by Michael Harris (54-59)

The Trafalgar Chronicle is an annual publication sponsored by The 1805 Club in association with Seaforth Publishing that is now in its 29th year and is dedicated to “Naval History in the Nelson Era.”
11 May 2020
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews

For those who are not familiar with The Trafalgar Chronicle, this is an annual publication sponsored by The 1805 Club in association with Seaforth Publishing that is now in its 29th year and is dedicated to “Naval History in the Nelson Era.” The 2019 edition, just published, consists of contributions by 21 writers including one by Rear Admiral Mike Harris (54-59) on “an obscure battle on the edges of the Caribbean” as introduced by Captain Peter Hore RN, the editor of this volume. 

A note at the back of the book reveals the following: “Michael Harris is a retired rear-admiral who came to The 1805 Club via his lifelong interest in monumental brasses. When he encountered on dated 1799 that had been sold at auction at Newmarket, but which apparently was from Jamaica, commemorating a forgotten naval officer, he decided to find out enough to provide a brief description to complement the brass plate. The result became an article, leading later to an MA in biography by research at the University of Buckingham, and more writing.”

In his latest essay, Harris lays out over nine pages an account of the Battle of St. George’s Cay which took place on 10 September 1798. St George’s Cay is described as “a small, low-lying island off the coast of Belize, then nominally part of the Spanish province of Yucatan. A British settlement of seafarers had existed at the mouth of Belize river for more than a century and become a haven for smugglers and traders in precious woods such as mahogany and cedar. Mostly, the Spanish turned a blind eye but when the American War of Independence began, they saw an opportunity to take over the settlement which they did in 1779, transporting all the inhabitants to prison in Havana, Cuba, for three years. 

This “outrage,” as Harris puts it, rankled with the loggers who had been allowed back to the settlement at Belize River Mouth. When war broke out again with Spain in 1796, they requested protection from the Royal Navy station in Jamaica. A sloop, HMS Merlin captained by John Moss, was despatched as a guard ship. Meantime, the Spanish had been organising an expedition to expel the settlers. To cut a long story short, a naval skirmish with few casualties ensued off St. George’s Cay, the poorly-led Spanish retreated despite possessing overwhelming force, Belize became a British colony for the next 183 years and, to this day, 10 September remains a national holiday in Belize. 

Mike Harris tells this all-but forgotten story well with enough shrewd naval insights to befit an admiral. Other interesting articles in this edition of The Trafalgar Chronicle concern Nelson’s extensive Irish connections, two essays that compare and contrast life ashore during the Napoleonic wars, a piece on the padres – or sin bosuns as they were known in the Navy – of the Nelsonian era, two about technology in Nelson’s time and a fascinating account of the life of John Perkins, the son of an enslaved woman in Jamaica who rose to become a captain in the Royal Navy in the late-18th century. All in all, well worth buying and reading.                                                                                                                                    

by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)

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