Deal in Literature

Ben Brace, The Last of Nelson's Agamemnons

by Captain Frederick Chamier R.N. 1836

Ben Brace is a biography of Horatio Nelson said to be based on the life of his coxswain. The scene is late in 1781 and Nelson is captain of HMS Albemarle, a 28-gun frigate.
Captain Chamier was part of the navy from 1809-1833, when he left with the rank of Commander. He was made Captain in 1856.

"At last we got safe enough back to the Down, and there we anchored. I had taken the captain on shore at Deal in the barge, and he [Nelson] gave me leave to stay. The boat was sent off, and I began to cruise about that town of smugglers; when all of a sudden a squall of wind came on, and immediately afterwards a slight sprinkling of rain by way of feeding it. In two hours' time it was blowing as hard as it blew the other day at Barbadoes, when it threw the church down. I found myself standing on the beach, looking at the pock-marked boatmen, who all get those holes in their faces by their mothers amusing themselves in rolling their children over the shingle. There I found my captain holding both his hands to shelter his eyes as he kept them steadily fixed upon the ship. A store-ship was anchored just a-head of us, and the captain saw that she was dragging her anchors, and that she would drift athwart hawse of the Albemarle. Nelson, fearing that both ships would drift on the Goodwin Sands, roared out to the Deal-men to launch a boat and take him on board; but being mostly married men with large families, they were by no means inclined to risk their own lives when they did not consider that anyone else's was in danger: they are the men, however, when real danger stares at them, who launch through a surf that would almost blind a man to look at.

On this occasion the Deal-men thought it impossible to get on board, the gale was so uncommonly high. In vain did Nelson point out his fears in regard to his ship; they would not budge an inch; until at last, after they had held a consultation , they agreed to try for fifteen guineas. Into the boat we jumped; and, to the astonishment and fear of all present, we embarked during the height of the tempest. Bravely did the men cling to their oars, and in spite of all difficulties we reached the ship. The store-ship had drifted clear of the Albemarle, but had left her without either foremast or bowsprit. I never saw Nelson greater than he was at this moment; for, although suffering from sickness, he cheered on the boatmen to their greatest exertions, disregarding his personal safety, and only anxious to assist by his best endeavours to save the ship which had been committed to his charge." (Chapter 3, pp23-24. Fifth Edition, Ward and Lock, London, 1856.)

The Fair Quaker of Deal: or, The Humours of the Navy. A Comedy

Charles Shadwell (Bell's Edition, 1777)

Worthy, a captain of the navy
Rovewell, a man of fortune

Scene - Deal seafront. Captain Worthy has just disembarked from the Downs.

"Worthy. how does all our Deal angels?
Rovewell. Why, the few virtuous women are as proud and as insolent as they used to be, and the whores you left here about ten months since, are dead with rottenness, and young strums supply their rooms. This is a monstrous place for wickedness! Fornication flourishes more here than in any sea-port of Europe. You gentlemen of the navy are great encouragers of sin, and traffick mightily in that sort of merchandise; and for your money, receive as lasting French diseases here, as you can meet with in Covent-Gaden, or the Mediterranean.
Worthy. Ay, as thou observest, Rovewell, the marine race are a debauched generation. The poets will tell us, that Venus herself was born of the sea; troth, her fabulous divinity has too many real worshippers bred up upon her own salt element.
Rovewell. 'Tis a strange thing, that people that face death so near, and so often, should have no thoughts of saving their souls.
Worthy. Being constantly in danger of them, so that they look Death in the face with as much impudence as a Deal whore does a poor tar, after a long voyage." (Act I, Scene I, p10)

Shadwell paints the typical picture of a sea port, a place of debauchery, prostitution and wickedness. According to Rovewell, however, Deal is the worst in Europe and made so by the presence of the Navy. The character of Rovewell even compares the presence of whores and the inevitable diseases which went with them to Covent Garden, the centre of London's sex trade. The fact that there were enough young women to replace those who have died during Captain Worthy's ten month voyage shows the trade flourished.

The collected plays of Shadwell were published in 1720 but many references to Queen Anne suggest the play is set before 1714.

Research by Sarah Buckman