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Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in…

Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809 (2008)

by Stephen Taylor

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It is regrettable that so many naval histories of the Napoleonic Wars end with Trafalgar. While its true Trafalgar was the last major sea battle of the era, the French remained a force at sea through command of strategic outposts like Mauritius, which threatened Britain's routes to India. There were also numerous powerful French vessels still at seaoperating on their own initiative that posed a threat to British shipping. This book is a commendable addition to the history of the great war at sea by detailing the contnuing struggle between Britain and France post-Trafalgar. Highly readable, its a gripping account of a campaign that remains little known today, and will enthrall all those interested in the history of war at sea. ( )
  drmaf | Sep 26, 2013 |
East India Company vs. Napoleon
  richardhobbs | Dec 24, 2010 |
Storm and Conquest is a popular history book as gripping as many novels. It details the triumphs and tragedies of the East India Company over a couple of years in the early 19th century. The main players in India, South Africa, and sailing the Indian Ocean are brought to life through a fantastic summary based primarily on the letters, notes, analysis, and reports of those who were there.

The British Empire was in the ascendency post-Trafalgar and it was naval prowess that had brought glory to Britain. The navy was far from unrivalled though and the French fleet and the elements still brought many ships down. Taylor's book explores the people who were on board, how they related to each other, and what became of them when disaster struck.

What surprised me the most about this book is that it is first and foremost a description of the people involved. From the politicking over the governorship in India, the bitter recriminations between rivals for honour, and the love, romance, and illicit affairs that sparked, this is a tale of real human beings.

Taylor's analysis of those people is rarely of a fence-sitting variety. The exploits of Captain Corbet for instance are a remarkable read with Taylor firmly backing the sources that show Corbet to have been a monster despite the occasional success he wrought. Corbet's tale on the Nereide is probably the most heartbreaking of all and the cruelty of the life among the Indiamen and HM Navy is brought home vividly.

While the title of this book suggest an equal weight between Storm and Conquest, the former is much more of a presence. This is not really a book of battles and military action, more a tale of survival and intrigue. In the honour-bound society of early 19th century Britain, the aspirtions againt character weigh far more heavily than any physical injury so captains such as Willoughby plough on into extreme danger motivated solely by the chase of glory.

As an exposition of the now easily forgotten people of the East India Company, Storm and Conquest is superb. These people effectively ran an Empire larger than any other in history and to read them revealed so insightfully was a real pleasure. ( )
3 vote Malarchy | Jul 18, 2009 |
'Storm & Conquest' is essentially two books in one: Part 1 is an astonishing tale of trial and tribulation as two successive homebound convoys of Indiamen meet their doom in ferocious tropical storms across the Indian Ocean; Part 2 is the story of Britain's annexing of the Mauritius island chain from the French to clear a way for total dominance in the area.

The setting for these events is the world of tall ships and 'Nelson's Navy', but it is written with seafaring novices in mind. Indeed, author Stephen Taylor freely admits to being one himself and thus consciously steers clear of most nautical terminology except where absolutely necessary. While those who are familiar with such things may regret this omission, and might enjoy a knowing smile at some of his over-simplified explanations, others will find nothing intimidating.

In any case, Taylor's concern is the human story of the many people caught in these events. Ships are merely vehicles that provide a dramatic setting in which lives are lived and lost, and many reputations made or broken. His descriptions are sometimes lurid and perhaps a little over-sensationalised, but he tells a good tale that never loses its fascination to the end.

Several names bestride both parts to provide continuity, including an infamous frigate captain Robert Corbet, feared equally by his enemies and his own crew, a name familiar to readers of Patrick O'Brian's novel 'Mauritius Command' which was based on the naval exploits described in Part 2. If anything, in real-life the enigmatic and complex Corbet is more interesting than even O'Brian allows.

Overall, a terrific read. ( )
2 vote JoolzMac | Mar 1, 2009 |
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Chronicles a fateful season in the early nineteenth century during which the effort to bring home Bengali saltpeter for the Peninsular campaign focused on the capture of the island of Mauritius and culminated in significant military and civilian losses.… (more)

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