‘Captain Hardy’ addresses Hungerford Historical Association

Georgian Royal Navy - Hungerford Historical Association

It was an unusual meeting of Hungerford Historical Association on 26 October. The Corn Exchange in Hungerford Town Hall doesn’t normally have a full-sized canon at it entrance, nor does it normally have 18th Century Grog and ships biscuits served to visitors. However, that is what greeted HHA members and visitors when Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy (a.k.a. Harry Wrightson) spoke about life in H.M. Navy 200 plus years ago.

Captain Hardy, in full dress uniform, was introduced to his audience by a beautifully attired Mrs Hardy and we were awed by the harsh life of navel seamen revealed by him. It was clear that there were no creature comforts, the food was at best just edible, that drinking water could be distinctly off and punishment for even minor offences brutal.

The hierarchy of a naval ship was rigid and reflected wider society. Captain Hardy admitted to a privileged entry through patronage and his officers were mostly from the more privileged sections of society. As for the more lowly seamen, these were either “pressed” men or volunteers who joined for the relatively good pay and job security, in spite of the hardships.

The good Captain outlined the daily routing of the ship which started at 4am and he illustrated the privations experienced by the crew. Boredom, awful food, hunger, punishment by Cat-O-Nine-Tails and constipation were constant companions. The latter led for an explanation of means of dealing with bodily function and of the origin of the term “The Heads”!

Larger ships had a surgeon on board but being 220 years ago, his treatments were very limited and mainly involved bleeding, purges and enemas. Amputations were commonplace but rum was the only aesthetic available.

In a talk that enthralled his audience for an hour, Captain Hardy revealed many surprising facts: that there were a few women in the crew, that many more seamen died through illness than in battle, that “Victory” took eight years to build and on launching, was already pretty rotten.

Captain Hardy finished his career as First Sea Lord and continued to miss his mentor Nelson. In closing, he freely admitted that Nelson did ask him to kiss him – and he did, twice.

HHA Chairman Caroline Ness thanked the good Captain for his expose of life in the navy to the enthusiastic applause of the audience.

HHA Programme 2022-2023

23 November 2022 ‘Resistance, Collaboration & Survival: Paris under German occupation 1940-44’, David Drake
25 January 2023 ‘Bramshill, Hampshire: the mystery of its historical gardens and botanical paintings’, Dr Ann Benson
22 February 2023 ‘Stonehenge’, Graham Loxton-Best
22 March 2023 ‘Increased National Debt in the Great War 1914-18 & mechanical transport costs’, Roy Larkin
26 April 2023 ‘Littlecote Roman Villa’, Dr Hugh Pihlens
24 May 2023 ‘Crofton Beam Engines’, Jon Willis
28 June 2023 AGM & ‘History of Thames valley Police’, Ken Wells

All talks in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford Town Hall, 7.30pm.
Membership £15 per annum, visitors £5 per talk.


David Whiteley, Treasurer 

Hungerford Historical Association



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