Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gather Round Lads, For An Excellent Tale Of The Sea


I suppose not too many people these days are well informed about the evil slave trade. I had an advantage in that respect because one of my mother's heroes was William Wilberforce, the English politician who toiled so long and hard to have it, or England's massive involvement in it, outlawed.

So, once I had heard about Ice King, Geoff Woodland's book in which the trade is ever-present, even if sometimes only in the background, it was natural that I should select it to read. Added influences in that decision were that Mr Woodland, who I do not know, hails from Liverpool (a city built on the slave trade and now sporting a museum to inform you of that), not too far from my own origins in Blackpool, he is of the same generation as myself, and we share a common background as seafarers.

So what did I find? A story of a young seaman, a lieutentant in the Royal Navy, who is put on half-pay - ie put out to grass - as part of the "peace dividend" after the French navy is largely destroyed at the Battle of Trafalgar - a peace dividend which applied only to the Navy because Napoleon's army was still in its prime (a fact which enabled one of his drum majors to build the house in which I now reside).

So he becomes a captain in what we would now call the Merchant Navy at about the same time that he returns home to Liverpool to find that his father has immersed the family shipping company in the disgusting slave trade.

He is advised that it is impossible to run a shipping company these days without "The Trade" but, having met and been enlightened by some of Wilberforce's followers, he sets about, with his own ship, proving that an honest living and a bright future can be enjoyed without destroying the lives of innocent Africans.

The title of the book puzzled me but the reasons for it become very clear along the way.

Mr Woodland writes well and has succeeded in writing a book which is informative about this important part of history, in addition to showing how life was at sea in those days and how the world, and trade around the world, was opening up.

He weaves in a story or two about romance, throws in some very believable characters, and generally gives us a very entertaining read.

I found an added bonus in the information given about the development of Boston and its hinterland - an area where one of my daughters has now been living for almost 3 years.

The book comes to a satisfying and logical end but I have a feeling it is the beginning of a series about William King. 

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