Esther Lady Radstock’s Library and RUSI’s Rare Books

In its drive to re-catalogue its collection, the RUSI Library of Military History is discovering rare books and pamphlets that are of national importance to historians and bibliographers. Highlighted here is an example of a 200 year-old publication bequeathed to the RUSI Library in 1869.

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RLMH News, June 2012

By Carlo Dumontet, RUSI Library of Military History

Pamphlet RUSI Library of Military History June 2012In 1869 Esther Lady Radstock donated 205 volumes to the RUSI Library. The books were mainly on naval subjects and had belonged to her late husband Admiral George Waldegrave, 2nd Baron Radstock, 1786-1857.  Many of the items donated are pamphlets on reform and change in the Navy and they have been bound into composite volumes. Within these volumes are hundreds of pamphlets which contribute to an exceedingly interesting collection on Naval affairs and history, a collection of significant historical importance. Unfortunately the very existence of these tracts was unknown and they had lain uncatalogued for many years. During the last few months, and as part of our wider strategy to re-catalogue the library, all of these items have now been catalogued and we now know much more about this intriguing collection.

Among these booksis a very rare work by Admiral Edward Vernon, 1684-1757, written anonymously at the time: A Specimen of Naked Truth From a British Sailor, A Sincere Well-Wiser, To The Honour, and Prosperity of the Present Royal Family, and His County (London: Printed for W. Webb near St Paul's, MDCCXLVI). In this pamphlet the Admiral defends his conduct of 1745 when intelligence had suggested the French were assembling to support the Jacobite rising in Scotland. A number of members of the Admiralty Board had criticised Vernon and through this pamphlet he had sought to clear his name. A full report of the affair was printed in The Athenæum( No. 1760 20 July 1861, pp. 76-77), as a review article of W. F. Vernon's Memorial of Admiral Vernon.

The pamphlet proved to be very popular and three different editions were published in 1746. The edition in the RUSI Library of Military History is very rare, known to exist at only six other public institutions. All copies are listed on the English Short Title Catalogue, a database which records every surviving letterpress produced in Great Britain, or any of its dependencies, in any language from 1479 to 1800. The RUSI Library of Military History is now a contributor to ESTC which is freely available through the ESTC website.

Through our detailed cataloguing of this work, we have even managed to spot some minor errors and make an improvement in accuracy of the catalogue records on ESTC as there were some key differences across the title pages of the records. One edition of this pamphlet has been digitised through Google Books, so you can read this fascinating pamphlet from home, although the RUSI edition has only one bird in the ornament on the title page - marking out this rare item.

Whilst cataloguing rare books is time consuming it does allow us to delve into our collections in order to retrieve gems like this pamphlet. Without this sort of work we wouldn't know of the existence of this pamphlet, and we wouldn't have been able to contribute to the bibliography of this work.

All of our rare and valuable items have been recatalogued and you can view a selected list of our pre-1820 books by using the 'Special Lists' on the catalogue.  

If you are interested in our rare collections please do contact the Librarian for more information.

Many of our rare items are also in need of conservation work, if you would like to contribution to this vital work please visit:

Carlo Dumontet is a rare books cataloguer and volunteers at the RUSI Library of Military History, helping to unpick the history of the Library and its collections.

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