Chamier was a Royal Navy officer, who like his exact contemporary Captain Marryat is best remembered for a series of naval novels.
The Life of a Sailor was his first publication and is usually catalogued as fiction, which may be a tribute to Chamier’s story-telling skills but it is wrong – the book is an exact account of his naval career, with every personality, ship and event he describes corroborated by his service records.
By the time he went to sea in 1809, the heroic age of Nelson was over, but the war was far from won, and he was to see a lot of action, from anti-slavery patrols off Africa to punitive raids on the American coast during the War of 1812.
His descriptions of the latter were to prove highly controversial. Like many liberal officers, he deplored the strategy of bringing the war to the civilian population, and the book was much criticised by more senior naval officers fr saying so.
Chamier represents a new generation of post-Nelsonic naval officer, more gentlemanly, better educated and perhaps more open-minded – he certainly got on well with Lord Byron, whom he met in Constantinople – and his sympathies generally look forward to the Victorian age.
He was too young to rise to high rank, and after the Napoleonic War, like many others, he was condemned to a life on half-pay and perhaps forced into a literary career, but out of it came one of the era’s most authentic accounts of a junior officer’s naval service.
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Seafarers’ Voices 5: Life of a Sailor