Tales from Nelson’s navy

As historical treasures go, a book containing sailors' first-hand reports from some of Britain's greatest naval victories takes some beating. Sam Willis introduces 10 dispatches that offer us a unique perspective on the golden age of the Royal Navy

An oil painting depicting the battle of Camperdown, a "crushing British victory" over the Batavian (Dutch) Republic in the North Sea. (Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

In a satin-lined wooden box in the bowels of the British Library is one of the jewels of British history. Inside is a massive book, so heavy that it requires two people to pick it up. It is bound in navy-blue velvet and decorated with exquisite nautical detail.

Inside are the naval dispatches sent back to London after the major fleet victories of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. They describe a period of military dominance that equals any in history, a period in which the Royal Navy shaped the modern world.

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