Wednesday, 15 March 2017




The Naval Examination Board of Horatio Hornblower.  From the Horatio Hornblower episode "The Fire Ships."  Photo Credit: Source

Rarely, unless they are required to orally defend their thesis, does a person face a challenge such as this.  During this last weekend I was watching an old episode the historical miniseries Horatio Hornblower when I was particularly struck by a scene in the 2nd episode.  Titled "The Fire Ships", the main challenge Hornblower faces is his Lieutenancy Examination.  Three officers fire question after question at him while he can only try and think of the answer on the spot.  The only thing saves him from failing the examination is the timely arrival of a fire ship among the Royal Navy's ships in Gibraltar's harbor  (source).

While watching it, I recalled how in mid-October last year I had the privilege of watching a re-enactment of a Royal Navy lieutenancy exam with all participants in full historical uniform and dress.  While they asked only a few technical questions like Hornblower was, some being more related to the candidates knowledge of the War of 1812, at the time I was able to experience something which I had only really read about in history books and Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester’s works.
Royal Naval Re-enactors holding a Naval Examination Board.  Photo Credit: Connor Kurtz, 2016.
What I was able to take away from the experience, and I would hope all take away from their own historical re-enactment experiences, is that even though everything within it may not be accurate  to the last detail, we are able to experience a slightly different way of understanding and knowing an event (source).  This is something which is difficult to achieve with a traditional exhibit and it is what makes tools such as historical re-enactment integral to a museum or heritage space.

For the visitor such a thing, as I know myself, can be a treasured experience when it comes alive before your eyes.  For, even though  it was only a re-enactment in a sense, it still is something which made me think about the test and its place within British naval history on a deeper level.

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