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First World War Centenary: Lieutenant Norman Martin Gibbins and chess in the trenches, 1917

This 'thing of beauty born in suffering' was devised by my great-great uncle Lieutenant Norman Gibbins of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1917. He had been severely wounded by a shell near Loos in June 1916, and after a year spent recuperating was back in France in July 1917. He would appear to have created this chess problem while recovering from a fall from a horse. Fortunately, he was evacuated sick to England shortly before the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, in which his battalion was virtually annihilated ...

 

Wrecks and wrecking at Gunwalloe: fact and fiction

Click on the image below to read a piece I've written for the National Trust's Natural Lizard blog, devoted to the natural history and history of the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, England. My blog is about the influence of my shipwreck discoveries in these waters on my novels, and the fine line between reality and imagination in creating archaeological fiction.

 

The wreck of HMS Primrose, Cornwall, England, 22 January 1809

Last July I dived with a team from Atlantic Scuba on the wreck of HMS Primrose, a Royal Navy sloop that struck the Manacles rocks east of Falmouth during a winter gale in 1809. Of some 126 crew and passengers aboard, only one person survived. The wreck has been extensively salvaged by divers, and today only a few artefacts are visible among rocky fissures and gullies at about 12 to 15 metres depth, under dense growths of kelp. Our dives were carried out in conjunction with an evaluation ...

 

Fricourt New Cemetery, Somme 1916

In late May this year I visited the Great War battlefields of northern France on the trail of my grandfather Tom Verrinder, who served with his brother Edgar in the 9th Lancers on the Western Front from 1916 to 1918. I began my visit where my grandfather had his 'initiation into warfare', as he termed it, on the Somme battlefields of 1916. On the first day of the battle, on 1 July, his regiment had been poised with the rest of the cavalry to follow the infantry through the German lines, but when the breakthrough never happened the cavalry were dismounted and used for battlefield clearance - to find wounded men and to bring together and bury the bodies of the fallen ...

 

Diving Lock 21: a submerged Victorian canal lock on the St Lawrence River, Canada

My brother Alan and I had the exciting experience last autumn of diving in the St Lawrence River on a submerged canal lock dating from the 19th century. What had once been an extensive canal system, built to allow ships to pass between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, now lies deep beneath the floodwaters of a hydroelectric dam. As Alan’s film shows, the lock that we explored – Lock 21 of the Cornwall Canal – was a gloomy, forbidding place, swept by strong currents that made it a challenge to dive ...

 

Diving the wreck of HMS Prince Regent (1814), Kingston, Ontario, Canada

One of my most memorable recent dives was last October in only a few metres of water at the head of Deadman Bay, near Kingston at the eastern extremity of Lake Ontario in Canada. My brother Alan and I had gone in search of HMS Prince Regent, a British frigate of the War of 1812 that had been abandoned in a backwater and lain undisturbed for over a century and a half. What we saw when we found the wreck far exceeded our expectations. We had known that a large part of the lower hull remained intact ...

 

The Portuguese Jewish ancestry of Rebecca de Daniel Brandon (1783-1820)

This blog contains a summary of the ancestry of Rebecca Brandon, also known as Rebecca de Daniel Brandon and Rebecca Rodrigues Brandão, who was born in London in 1783 and died at Purnea near the Himalayan foothills in India in 1820. Rebecca was a Sephardic Jew from a family of merchants who had fled the Inquisition in Portugal in the mid-18th century. She was my four-times great grandmother, the wife of Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John Littledale Gale of the East India Company’s Bengal Army ...

 

Black and white Snowdonia

I took these photos during several climbing trips up the Glyders in north Wales in early January 2016. Except for the last two, taken from Y Foel Goch westwards, all of these were taken on the route past Llyn Idwal up Devil's Kitchen on the way to Glyder Fawr. Click to enlarge.

 

My kinda scene: David Gibbins on Master and Commander

Click on the link below to read a blog I wrote for one of my publisher's  sites on my favourite scene in the film Master and Commander.

 

Brothers in Arms: General John Lawrenson, 17th Lancers (1802-83), and Colonel George Lawrenson, C.B., Bengal Horse Artillery (1803-56)

My account a few postings back of the military career of Captain Thomas Edward Gordon, 14th Light Dragoons (my great-great-great grandfather), has led me to look at the careers of two of his wife’s uncles, one an officer in the East India Company Army and the other in the British cavalry. Together the careers of these three men cover most of the big wars of the earlier part of Victoria's reign– the first Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-6 and the second of 1848-9, the Crimean War of 1854-6 and the Indian Mutiny of 1857-9. They encompass some of the most glorified moments of war in the Victorian age, epitomised in Crimea by the 'Thin Red Line' of the 93rd Highlanders and the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava ...

 

Photographing prehistoric stones at Avebury, England

I had to take my daughter to Wiltshire yesterday and had a few hours at Avebury, probably the most impressive prehistoric site in Britain - indeed anywhere in the world. It was a windswept, overcast afternoon, good for black and white photography. Several of the stones you see here had fallen and have been re-erected, but some have stood since they were first raised almost five thousand years ago.

 

Diving the wreck of the James C. King (1867), Tobermory, Canada, September 2015

Another highlight of our recent expedition to film the wrecks of Fathom Five National Marine Park was the James C. King, a schooner built in East Saginaw, Michigan, in 1867, and wrecked in 1901 in the same storm that wrecked the Wetmore - in fact, she was one of two ships under tow by the Wetmore, all three of the vessels carrying cargoes of timber. Unlike the Wetmore, which sank in shallow water, the King slid down a steep rocky slope with her bow coming to rest in 27 metres of water ...

 

Diving the wreck of the Wetmore (1871), Tobermory, Canada, September 2015

I took these photos in September 2015 on the wreck of the W.L. Wetmore during a trip with my brother Alan (seen here and below with video camera)  to film the wrecks of Fathom Five National Marine Park off Tobermory, in Lake Huron, Canada. Wetmore was a wooden-hulled steamer built in Ohio in 1871 and wrecked during a November snowstorm in 1901 while carrying timber through the treacherous channels to the north of Tobermory ...

 

Free-diving on wrecks at Tobermory, Lake Huron, Canada, August 2015

For the third year running my daughter and I have had a couple of days free-diving on the shipwrecks of Tobermory, in Fathom Five Provincial Park, Lake Huron, Canada. The picture above shows her examining a wooden element from a wreck in 5 metres depth at 'The Tugs' site, also shown in the gallery below. The first three pictures show the Alice G, one of the best-preserved of the 22 known wrecks in the Park ...

 

A 5th century BC Greek shipwreck excavation off Turkey

I wrote this article for  the 2000 edition of the journal Antiquity, following the first season of excavation by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) of a classical Greek shipwreck off the west coast of Turkey at Tektas Burnu. I was very fortunate to participate in both the 1999 and the 2000 season at this site, carrying out more than a hundred dives to 45 metres and excavating some wonderful artefacts - including intact painted Greek vases of the 5th century BC ...

9th Lancers Vulture Party on the Somme, 1916

Ninety-nine years ago this morning my grandfather Tom Verrinder and his brother Ed were saddled up with their squadron of the 9th Lancers behind the front line south-west of Albert, waiting for the breakthrough that was expected to follow the first hours of the British Somme offensive. They had trained for five months previously in the New Forest learning to use lance, sword and rifle from horseback, and the Battle of the Somme was the be their first experience of war ...

 

Campaigning in India and New Zealand, 1848-66: Captain Thomas Edward Gordon, 14th Light Dragoons

My great-great-great grandfather, Captain Thomas Edward Gordon, 14th Light Dragoons, had the unusual distinction of fighting in the Punjab War of 1848-9, the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 and – as a colonial volunteer - the New Zealand War in 1866, and of thus being one of a small number of men to receive the medals for all three campaigns. Skelton and Bullock’s Gordons under Arms (Aberdeen University Press, 1912) summarises his British army career as follows, based on the biographical details in Hart’s Army List of 1849-63 ...

 

Private John F. Lofts, Military Medal, 9th Queen's Royal Lancers 1915-1919

I have a considerable family connection with the 9th Lancers, one of the oldest British cavalry regiments of the line – my maternal grandfather Tom Verrinder and his brother Edgar served with the regiment during the First World War, and on my father’s side my great-great uncle Major Edward Robertson Gordon was with the regiment during the Boer War, commanding it briefly in 1901 (and co-authoring the Diary of the 9th (Q.R.) Lancers during the South African Campaign, 1899-1902) ...

 

The Rumpa Rebellion, India, 1879-80: jungle fever and the cause of malaria

The greatest challenge facing the regimental surgeons with the Rumpa Field Force in India in 1879 was jungle fever, ‘that severe sickness that paralyses every effort, disheartens the men, and fosters the preconceived belief of the superiority and valour of the insurgents.’ The Madras Military Proceedings for 1879 and 1880, the source of this quote and others below, reveals a stark picture ...

 

The Rumpa Rebellion, India, 1879-80: counter-insurgency in the jungle

The Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers, published in 1881, contains only a brief account of the involvement of the Madras Sappers and Miners in the Rumpa Rebellion, written by an officer who was not present and at a time when most of the junior officers who had been deployed in the Rumpa Field Force had left the Corps for other appointments ...

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