This page is dedicated to the memory of late fellows and trustees of the BCMH
John Armstrong (1944-2017)
Although perhaps best remembered as a maritime historian, John Armstrong (1944-2017) also made significant contributions in other areas of transport history and in business history. John’s first degree was from the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster) under Philip Bagwell, who hired John as a new graduate to work as a research assistant on his seminal 1974 work The Transport Revolution from 1770. John also collaborated with Philip Bagwell on chapters in Transport in the Industrial Revolution (1983) and Transport in Victorian Britain (1988), amongst the first of 84 papers that John was eventually to write or co-author.
The once-neglected field of coastal shipping was one which John made very much his own, with contributions including work on shipping’s relations with railways, the conference system, development of trade routes, freight rates and coastal shipping’s role in pioneering technological change. Many of his papers were collected in The Vital Spark: The British Coastal Trade 1700-1930 (2008). Collaboration with David Williams resulted in some 20 papers on the development of steam navigation, a selection of which appeared in The Impact of Technological Change: the Early Steamship in Britain (2012). John’s wider interests in transport also saw him become a long-running editor of the Journal of Transport History, and heading the team that edited the Companion to British Road Haulage History (2003).
John’s impact in business history was also significant, including editorship of the Journal of the Business Archive Council from 1984 to 1988, and co-authorship with Stephanie Jones of Business Documents: Their Origins, Sources and Uses in Historical Research (1987). Following post-graduate studies at LSE, John was appointed as a lecturer at Ealing College of Higher Education which subsequently became Thames Valley University, where he held the Chair of Business History until he retired. He is particularly remembered for his contributions to the pioneering seminars run by Derek Oddy, which are considered to have helped business history to become a mainstream topic at British universities.
In his roles as journal editor and convener of the BCMH’s series of seminars at King’s College, John was very keen to encourage others in their research. The present writer is undoubtedly not alone in knowing John as first a highly-supportive doctoral supervisor who then went on to became a genuine friend. It is hoped that the John Armstrong Prize will be a fitting commemoration for both a notable and influential scholar, and a man who is held in very considerable affection by those privileged to have known him.
David Proctor (1934-2000)
David Proctor, who died in July 2000, was a man of wide culture; his interests embraced maritime history, the arts, music, and much more. His book Music of the Sea demonstrated the breadth of his scholarship, ranging over the centuries and drawing on his research in many European archives.
Until his retirement, David was Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, where he was a source of advice to countless scholars, often from overseas, who sought his guidance. Such qualities led to him serving as Secretary-General of the International Commission for Maritime History in its early years. He did much to establish its structures and pattern of activity as well as contributing to its conferences held under the aegis of the International Commission for Historical Sciences. He also played a significant role in the founding of the International Congress of Maritime Museums.
David was a founder member of the British Commission and its first Secretary. He inaugurated the King’s Maritime History Seminar which he organized for many years. The annual Proctor Memorial Lecture is dedicated to David.
Pat Crimmin (1933-2020)
An obituary to Patricia Kathleen Crimmin BA, MA, MPhil, FRHistS., ex Treasurer of the BCMH, was also published in the February 2021 edition of the Mariners' Mirror.
Patricia (Pat), who passed peacefully after a short illness on 4 October 2020 was universally admired for her scholarship as a historian specialising in eighteenth century naval history, and as an inspirational lecturer.
Cardiff-born, the only child of a railwayman, Pat attended Aberdare County Grammar School for Girls, and completed her undergraduate degree in history at the University of Wales-Aberystwyth. She gained a teaching qualification there and then taught history at Taskers School for Girls in Haverfordwest and later at Newland High School for Girls in Kingston upon Hull.
During the Second World War, Pat and friends were strafed by a Messerschmitt 109 and emerged unscathed; she was one of the few female naval historians taught how to arm and throw grenades in case of enemy incursion.
Her university teaching career began in 1962 on her appointment by Professor Joan Hussey as a lecturer in history at Royal Holloway, University of London. In 1965, as a postgraduate student of Gerald S. Graham, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King’s College London, Pat completed her University of London MA on ‘Admiralty administration, 1783–1806’, and in 1967 an MPhil degree on ‘The early life and services of Sir John Jervis, Lord St Vincent, and their influence on his later career and character’. Professor Graham was particularly proud of having a student who had reached the finals of BBC Radio’s Brain of Britain contest. Hardly surprising as Pat continued to be extraordinarily knowledgeable on an impressive range of subjects
Pat’s scholarship of the finance, personnel and administration of the British navy at the time of the Napoleonic Wars has stood the test of time and revisionism. She published regularly in academic journals and contributed articles on dead admirals to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. On her retirement as a senior lecturer, she continued to work on the health of seamen, including the care and treatment of British-held prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars and on the fifteen volumes of Nelson manuscripts held in the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine.
In 1997, Pat was Awarded the Julian Corbett Prize for ‘Letters and Documents relating to the Service of Nelson’s ships 1780-1805: a critical report’, Historical Research, vol. 70 (1997), pp. 52-69. She served as a councillor of the Society for Nautical Research, and as a vice president of the Navy Records Society from 2000 to 2004 and as a member of the NRS Council from 1982-2007. For over twenty years, Pat also served as treasurer for the then largely impecunious British Commission for Maritime History.
Pat was also a member of the Editorial Board of The Mariner’s Mirror through the tenures of four Hon Editors of that august journal. During her retirement she was awarded a Senior Caird Fellowship (1998-99) at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, where she engaged in a survey of the papers of the Commissioners for the Care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and of Prisoners of War, more commonly called the Sick and Hurt Board, between c. 1700-1806, which resulted in a number of articles in learned journals. She was later an Honorary Research Associate at Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich. There, Pat devised, and at first taught, the MA naval history course.
Pat was also an assiduous attender of academic conferences around the world and her approach to naval history was rigorous. She had, according to Professor Roger Knight, ‘a gimlet eye for pomposity and pretentiousness’ and was a withering observer of human character but had a gentle way of expressing it. Pat also gave tremendous encouragement to new scholars. It was something that defined her. She despaired of public ignorance or indifference to maritime and naval history but delighted in anyone who showed willingness to engage with it. She saw her role as a university lecturer as a tremendous privilege and responsibility and sought through the subject of history to understand the world and society, and to reveal this to students; not to train them to be ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’ or ruthless self-publicists, but to live a fuller, better life.
Latterly, Pat’s later years were burdened by ill health, particularly arthritis and later chronic leukaemia, which she bore stoically. Despite this, she retained her quizzical and mischievous sense of humour and her sense of social justice remained undiminished, as did her unfailing loyalty to friends. Pat is greatly missed by her many friends and contemporaries around the world who all share a sense of great loss, tempered by the absolute privilege of knowing her as a friend.
Professor Hugh Murphy
University of Glasgow
David Williams (1940-2021)
The below obituary was written by and kindly reproduced with permission from Dr Bernard Attard, School of History, Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester.
David Malcolm Williams was an outstanding scholar, colleague, teacher and mentor who contributed enormously to the development of maritime history in the United Kingdom and internationally. He was a Fellow of the British Commission for Maritime History and will be dearly missed.
David spent his early years in Caernarvon, leaving as an eighteen-year old in 1958 to start a BA in Economics at the University of Liverpool. He joined an intake of 12 students, which included Peter Davies, later also an accomplished maritime historian, who became a lifetime friend and collaborator in national and international professional associations. The latter recalled David as coming from a ‘quite conventional and close-knit family’, yet also taking ‘full advantage’ of the extra-curricular opportunities offered to a new undergraduate in Liverpool.
David went up at a particularly auspicious time. The Department of Commerce and Economics included a group of gifted economic historians, led notably by the Chaddock Professor, Francis Hyde. Hyde amongst others formed what was known as the ‘Liverpool School of Maritime History’. Under their influence, David chose economic history options in his final year, graduating as the best student and winning the Gladstone Memorial Scholarship which allowed him to proceed to an MA in 1961. The topic he finally settled on for his dissertation was ‘The Function of the Merchant in Specific Liverpool Import Trades, 1820-1850’. Like all postgraduate economic historians, he was supervised by Hyde himself.
In 1963, after an unexpected vacancy, David was appointed Tutor in Economic History at Liverpool, a role in which he first displayed his talent for teaching. It also set him on his future path. The following year, he applied successfully for an assistant lecturership in Economic History at Leicester, joining Professor Ralph Davis in October 1964 as the nucleus of what would become one of the leading departments of Economic and Social History in the country. For the rest of his career, David was an immensely versatile teacher, a memorable and entertaining lecturer, the saviour of lost undergraduate causes, and an unfailingly helpful colleague and mentor. He was unflappable. Whether in Department meetings or as an external examiner, his judgement were trusted and reliable. He always got on with what he was asked to do.
Beyond the University, David’s growing international reputation as an original and innovative maritime historian led to his deepening involvement in scholarly networks and professional bodies at home and abroad, beginning notably with the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project and the associated Newfoundland seminar during the 1970s. He served as Secretary to the British Commission for Maritime History (1989–1998); as President of the International Maritime Economic History Association (2001-2004); and successively as chair of the editorial board (1990–95), editor (1995–98) and editorial board member (1999–2001) of the International Journal of Maritime History. Additionally, he was a review editor and editorial board member of the Journal of Transport History and an adviser to the Centres for Maritime Historical Studies at Exeter and Port and Maritime History at Liverpool. David excelled in all these capacities because of his human qualities, his scholarly standing and his considerable administrative skills. He actively promoted his discipline, created opportunities for new researchers, and acquired the most formidable network of contacts and friends.
As a scholar, David exemplified a new approach to maritime history which placed the subject in its broader economic and social settings, thus widening its scope and increasing its relevance. In the introduction to his PhD, awarded by the University in 2003, he described himself as ‘an economic historian specialising in the field of maritime history’. His key influences were Hyde, Davis and the subject’s other ‘founders and promoters’, and his training as an economic historian was evident in the analytical rigour of his work and his systematic use of statistical sources. His interests were wide-ranging. He made important and innovative contributions to the histories of merchants and shipping in the Atlantic commodity trades, the social history of seamen, the beginnings of state regulation of conditions at sea, the origins and development of pleasure cruising, and the early history of steam navigation, much of his work in the last two areas with his long-time collaborator, John Armstrong. Another distinguished colleague, Skip Fischer of Memorial University in Canada, who generously acknowledged his own intellectual debt to David, described his work on bulk passenger trades in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (‘bulk passengers’ including slaves, emigrants, convicts, indentured servants and contract labour) as ‘undeniably seminal’. Fischer also wrote on the occasion of David’s sixtieth birthday: "David’s place in maritime history far transcends his individual publications, for his vision of what this discipline ought to be has had a particularly significant impact on the way in which most of us think about what we do."
David’s preferred medium was the essay. He published some 50, either as book chapters or in scholarly journals, alongside five edited books and sundry other pieces. Two collections of essays were published as books. The first, Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams (2000), in which Fischer’s appraisal appeared, included a personal tribute by Peter Davies. The second, The Impact of Technological Change: The Early Steamship in Britain, co-written with John Armstrong, was published in 2011. One further collection, under the title British Merchant Shipping and its Labour Force in an Era of Economic Expansion and Social Change, 1790–1914, with a valuable introduction by David, was successfully submitted for the award of his Leicester doctorate in 2003.
The first of the collected volumes was presented to David as a token of appreciation and esteem at the Third International Maritime History Congress in Esbjerg, Denmark, in August 2000. David’s retirement as a senior lecturer in the School of History at Leicester in 2005 was marked by a similar gathering of friends and colleagues for a symposium and evening celebration, with both Davies and Fischer in attendance. The affection and regard for David on this occasion was palpable. To all who encountered him, whatever their background, age or circumstances, he was unfailingly humane, tolerant, kind and good humoured. He had a vast repertoire of stories and anecdotes, which enlivened his teaching and entertained his colleagues. His lectures to students and scholars were performances which might conclude with spontaneous applause. He was an indefatigable collector of postcards, travelling regularly to fairs in the Netherlands. His was a keen eye for a bargain, including the comforts of the members room at the Royal Academy which, for a modest subscription, he used as a base for working visits to London.
For all his many qualities, David was a deeply self-effacing person who avoided pretension, disliked the limelight and saw things for what they were. He died on 19 March leaving his wife Maureen, two children, Tristan and Penny, and three grandchildren, Benedict, Josephine and Carenza. He will be remembered with a smile and great affection.
Dr Bernard Attard
University of Leicester