In 1803, at the age of 14, Robert Hay ran away from home to join the Royal Navy, and for the next eight years experienced the trials and tribulations of a sailor’s life.
Intelligent, agile and willing, he became a boy servant to a series of officers, all of whom helped advance his education as was the practice of the day. But the taxing conditions of life onboard he found detestable and he was, after an action off the French coast, sorely tempted to desert but the well known and ruthless treatment of deserters, if caught, deterred him this time.
He was then posted to the East Indies where he was badly wounded and nearly lost a leg before returning home after five years with £14 and fourteen days leave to look forward to. His next ship ran aground off Plymouth and, this time, he took the opportunity to desert but was then quickly taken by a press gang. Terrified of being identified, he managed to escape and reach the Scotland and home.
As well as a wonderful yarn, the book is also an impressive description of early nineteenth-century naval life, and his ability as a writer was considerable. His descriptions of his remarkable experiences in the East Indies are full of the flavour of the region, while the sailor’s natural inclination to drink and debauchery is told with verve. But also running through the narrative are many fine observations on nature and on the human condition. A true and vivid account of the sailor’s life of this era.
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