BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient

Author: Jon Bursey

No. of Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½

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In the Author’s Note at the front of this volume, the author, when alluding to the establishment of Hong Kong, notes that ‘…I have been struck…both by the critical nature of [Charles] Elliot’s role and by the comparative lack of recognition accorded him subsequently as a person and for his work. I have sought in this book to describe his life…the challenges that faced him, and to set them in historical context’. He also states that ‘It has been my intention to cover the whole of Elliot’s career as thoroughly as sources permit’. It is an effective summary.

An Acknowledgements section placed after the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. It is followed by the previously mentioned Author’s Note. Within that section (and in addition to the statements already noted), the author also details the efforts he made to ensure accuracy of the narrative and to provide modern-day equivalent-values for mid-Nineteenth Century currency. A Maps section follows. This contains four full-page maps relevant to the narrative. A List of Illustrations appears next. This replicates the captions for the 36 images appearing within a 16 page section placed at the centre of the volume. A Prologue section then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the work then follows. Consisting of nineteen Chapters, these are in turn sub-divided to three Parts. These trace Charles Elliot’s life, with Chapter One (Forbears, Father and Family) providing ancestral background. The remaining Chapters detail Elliot’s career, while simultaneously providing background to the various events in which he played a part. Such is their detail, these ‘backgrounds’ are in themselves worthy of scrutiny. An Epilogue placed after Chapter 19 summarises and reviews Elliot’s life and his accomplishments. Three Appendices follow that Chapter. Where appropriate, the book uses End-notes to provide addition information. These are numeric, sequential and Chapter-specific, with the relevant citations being placed in a dedicated Notes and References section after the Appendices. A Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by an eight-page Index; the volume’s final section. As already noted, the book contains both Illustrations and Maps.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent and well-researched volume. For this reviewer however it was let down by inconsistencies in its Index. Random Index searching during the reviewing process for items such as Pax Britannica (page xvii) and Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew (both on page 213), found entries for neither. What else may also have been omitted is not known. In addition, the English East India Company (page xviii)  appears within the Index as East India Company. Which title is correct?  There is no way of knowing. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. Some are referenced, some are not (the quotes on page 165 being but two examples of such practices). In the absence of relevant citations to prove their authenticity, unreferenced quotes have little research value, a detail which may reduce the volume’s value as a research tool. Curiously, many quotes do not commence with a capital letter. In apparent defence of this practice the author states that ‘For the sake of authenticity I have reproduced spelling punctuation and syntax…as they appear in the original odd though they may sometimes seem including the apparently random use of capital letters’.  Whether this statement applies to the aforementioned quotes is unclear, but the presence of capitalised and non-capitalised quotes within the volume, does the narrative no favours.

This volume is well written and researched. Being biographical in nature it may appeal to readers seeking a straight ‘adventure’ story. It may also be useful to historians interested in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy.  Historians researching British Imperial Policies and actions during the same century may well find it worthy of their attentions, while those seeking in-depth historical data on locations such as China, the ‘British’ Caribbean and the Republic of Texas may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 352

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In his Introduction, the author notes that ‘The Ffestiniog Railway [sic]… set the scene for the use of narrow gauge railways around the world’. However, competition (primarily in the form of the internal combustion engine and the motor vehicle), resulted in a decline and ‘…The effects of the First World War seriously weakened the company’. He also states that  ‘The events of the 1920s and 1930s started the railway on the road that led to the position in which it finds itself today, making the transition from being a common carrier [railway], to become a leading Welsh tourist attraction of international renown’. This is the story of that ‘Transition’. It complements the author’s previous volume (Festiniog Railway The Spooner Era and After 1830 – 1920), which narrates the railway’s creation and early years

An Acknowledgements ad Sources section is placed immediately behind the Contents page. In it the author details the individuals and publications which contributed to the creation of the volume. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the 14 Chapters which form the main part of this work. Although ostensibly the volume covers the period 1921-2014, a Postscript placed after Chapter 14 brings the reader up to date with events that occurred in the 2015-2016 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. Of these Appendices 1-7 are in Table format and cover the commercial activities of the Festiniog Railway Company for the period 1921-2014. Appendix 8 consists of Deposited plans for 1923, 1968 and 1975 Light Railway Orders. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a 10–page Index completing the volume. In format the Index is confusing, and ‘muddled; in its arrangement. Within it, this reviewer looked in vain for references to South Africa and Beyer-Garratt’s, finding only an entry for Garratt K1, and that under the entry Locomotives, Steam. That he found even that was surprising as those subheadings themselves appear under the even broader heading Festiniog Railway. Regrettably, there is no similar entry for the Welsh Festiniog’s associated Highland Railway, despite the fact that the Garratt type of locomotive is mentioned several times in connection with that railway and is also the subject of several photographs within the volume. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour images.  Although with one exception (that of the locomotive on page 290), these are well and informatively captioned, with the majority being from the author’s own collection, a fact noted within the Acknowledgements ad Sources section. Where they are from other sources, these are acknowledged. Where relevant, a Table format is used throughout the volume to present details relating to ticket sales etc. Although numerous local maps and plans appear within this volume, no general reference maps of either Great Britain or Wales are provided. While not problematic for those who are ’Festiniog familiar’, for ‘non-railway enthusiast’ readers living either ‘off shore’ (or even within the British Isles), this lack is regrettable, since if one does not know where the Festiniog  is located within Great Britain, how can one visit it?  For international visitors unfamiliar with even the country itself, this could be especially difficult.  The reasons for the omissions are not known.   There is no reference to images, plans or maps on either the Contents page or within the Index. No reference notes or citations are provided for the quotes appearing within the volume. There are no diagrams of Company locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure.

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Festiniog.  When combined with its previously-mentioned sister volume, it forms a valuable resource on its subject.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Festiniog enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Festiniog specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War

Author: Steve R. Dunn

Total Number of Printed Pages: 304

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book, the author states that ‘First and foremost it is the intention …to tell a story; a true story of sacrifice and quotidian bravery. The method is to use individual incidents which build to a whole hopefully greater than the sum of the parts…It is not a day-to-day history but a story compounded of many parts. Neither is it a biography, although [Admiral, Sir] Lewis Bayly…provides a linking theme and his character and role are important to the telling of the narrative’. It is an accurate summation.

Within the volume, a List of Plates placed after the two-page Contents section contains the captions and sources of the images placed within a dedicated Images section placed at the book’s centre. An untitled page containing three Quotes relative to the narrative then appears. It is followed by the previously-mentioned A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book section. The volume’s Preface then summarises the volume. A Prologue follows. Within it a fictional (although probably fact-based) narrative is used to set the scene for what is to come. The main part of the volume follows. It consists of 25 Chapters, divided into three sections (defined as Parts). These cover three specific time periods and periods of action (1914-April 1917; 1917-1918; 1919-2017). Within each Part individual Chapters cover specific time periods, and, where relevant, subheadings are used to provide additional information relevant to the larger narrative. Six Appendices have been placed behind Chapter 25 (Envoi), and these are in turn followed by a section titled Author’s Note; effectively the book’s Acknowledgments section. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through the use of Endnotes. Numbered numerically and chapter-specific; their citations being placed in a designated Notes section placed after the Author’s Note. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the sources used in the book’s preparation. It is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted, end-note-type Citations provide additional information within each Chapter, However, where ‘additional’ additional information is required, the author uses Asterisks (sometimes one, frequently two, occasionally three) to provide this, these additional entries being placed at the bottom of the page as quasi-footnotes. As previously-noted the volume contains a multi-page Images section placed between pages 128 and 129. The images are monochrome and contain a mix of, ships (both Naval and Merchant Marine), personnel, structures, documents and events relevant to the narrative.  The volume contains a single map (titled Queenstown and the Western Approaches) although its existence is not noted on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Although it is undoubtedly well-written and researched, for this reviewer, the volume was badly let down by its Index. Random searching during the review process found numerous instances where items noted in the text did not appear in the Index. These omissions seemed especially prevalent with geographical locations; Fort Westmoreland (Page 22) and Bantry Bay (Page 238), being but two examples where this occurs. Curiously, Whiddy Island, while appearing in the same sentence as Bantry Bay, merits an Index entry; the former does not. The reasons for this are not known. In light of the above, the authority of the Index must inevitably suffer. Unsourced quotes appear through-out the volume (that of Sir Halford John Mackinder on page 15 being one such example). Regrettably, the absence of supporting citations severely reduces their research value. Despite the use of numerous military acronyms and terms within the volume, there is no explanatory Glossary; What (for example) is ‘Tinned dope’ (page 156)? A layman-reader cannot be expected to know. Although discussed in a Chapter of their own (No. 20 War from the Air), the volume contains no images of the relevant aircraft.

As previously-noted this book is well-written and researched, and may well become a standard reference work on its subject. The ‘difficulties’ noted-above notwithstanding, it is likely to be of considerable use to military historians. American and British naval historians with a specific interest in activities off the Irish coast during World War I will probably find it especially informative. Layman readers interested in submarines (specifically U-boats), warships or British, American and German naval operations during World War I may also find this volume worthy of their attention. Irish Historians, and readers seeking a different perspective on ‘The Troubles’, may also find it enlightening. The photographs of ships within the Images section may also be of use to warship modellers.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’