Royal Naval Museum



Advance Notification:

'Aix Roads (1809) Reconsidered',

A One-Day Conference on Saturday 18th April 2009

organised by the Society for Nautical Research (South)

In the ten years that Britain and France remained at war after the Battle of Trafalgar the French Navy understandably tried to avoid another major sea battle.  But it posed a constant threat to Britain's overseas possessions and seaborne trade, and from 1808 to the supply-lines of Britain's army in Portugal and Spain.  To counter that threat the Royal Navy blockaded French naval bases, but in the Spring of 1809 there was an opportunity to attack a sizeable French squadron anchored in Aix Roads, off Rochefort.

 The resultant action - though unquestionably a defeat for the French - was controversial both at the time and subsequently.  Michael Lewis ('The Navy of Britain', published 1948) stated the widely-held view that Captain Lord Cochrane would have annihilated the French squadron had he received the bare minimum of support from Admiral Gambier - but a Court-Martial held at Gambier's insistence cleared the admiral of any neglect of his duty. 

During this conference, organised to commemorate the bicentenary of the action (for which the battle-honour is 'Basque Roads 1809'), knowledgeable speakers will re-examine both the battle itself and the wider contexts - political, naval/military and social - in which it should be considered.  Was Gambier's Court-Martial a 'fair trial' - or rigged to ensure he was exonerated and Cochrane discredited?  Could Cochrane or Gambier have done more to ensure that the night-attack with fireships was more effective, and the following day exploited sooner and more decisively?  Did the Admiralty sow the seeds of what was at best a partial disappointment, and might have been a disaster had Gambier not been justifiably cautious?  Was Cochrane himself, upon whom Patrick O'Brian modelled his hero Jack Aubrey, 'perhaps Britain's greatest sea-captain' - or were his undoubted skill and courage seriously marred by poor judgement?

 This conference, in the Museum's Princess Royal Gallery, is being organised primarily by volunteers associated with the Royal Naval Museum.  In consequence the Ticket Price for an interesting conference, re-examining an historic naval battle which has themes still relevant to 21st Century Naval/Joint Operations, will be kept to a necessary minimum. 

(Tickets will not be on sale until January 2009, but prices are expected to be about £20-00 for the conference itself and an extra £7-00 for a Buffet Lunch with wine.)

 For further details contact Mark Brady - 023-9237-9278 or

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