I’m hugely honoured to have recently become acting chairman of the Society for Nautical Research. I feel very humble about taking this position and following in the footsteps of some very distinguished former incumbents, including my immediate predecessor, Admiral Sir Kenneth Eaton, who will be a very hard to act to follow. It’s obviously a difficult time to be taking up the post; quite apart from anything else, the ‘acting’ nature of the title pro tem reflects the fact that under ordinary circumstances, I would have assumed the role following election at the AGM in June, but the current situation has led to the cancellation of that event. With no certainty over when or how that meeting might be rescheduled, it was felt better to make the handover sooner rather than later. I hope, though, that in due course the membership will have the opportunity to endorse (or not!) my continuation in office.
Founded in 1910, the SNR is the world’s oldest society devoted to the study and preservation of maritime heritage. Its most notable achievements occurred in the first thirty years of its existence: it led the campaign to save HMS Victory for the nation (and still administers the Save the Victory Fund, which provides financial support for the upkeep of the ship), and was the principal driving force behind the establishment of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. The society still has very close ties with both that institution and with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which is now responsible for the Victory. Indeed, perhaps the highlight of the society’s calendar is the annual dinner aboard Victory following the annual general meeting, an event so special that members often fly in from all over the world to experience it. Obviously, that isn’t happening this year, but I’ll look forward to returning to the lower gun deck for a sumptuous feast next year – although the headroom on that particular deck always presents me with logistical issues!
These days, the society is probably best known for the publishing The Mariner’s Mirror, the world’s premier research journal in the field. In recent years, the Mirror has become much more international in its scope, drawing scholars from all round the world to publish in it. As a result, and also thanks to its high standard of peer review, the Mirror has become a must-have for those interested in maritime history, covering a very wide range of themes and containing the work of established academics as well as early career scholars and independent researchers; and if you don’t believe me, take a look at the contents of a recent issue, here.
All in all, then, I’m fully aware of the great responsibility I’m taking on, especially in present circumstances. But having been a member of the society for thirty-five years, I know that I can fall back on a tremendous asset – my fellow members, a remarkably broad and varied body of people united by their love of the sea, of ships, and of the people who sailed on them, built them, or supported them.