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Duty, Discipline and Leadership in the British Royal Navy

Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson


Martin Rütten

Edward Riou (1762–1801) was a sea officer in the British Royal Navy. As a midshipman, he participated in the third voyage of Captain James Cook. He gained popular acclaim for saving HMS Guardian after she had struck an iceberg. Riou was killed in the Battle of Copenhagen (1801). Lord Nelson lamented Riou’s death as an irreparable loss. Later authors alluded to him as a «perfect naval officer».

This biography sheds new light on Riou’s notions of his duty as a King’s officer and on his methods to enforce cleanliness and discipline aboard the ships he commanded. It introduces dissenting appraisals by men who served under him. As a microhistorical study, this biography analyses Riou’s leadership style and puts him into his social context by comparing him with his fellow officers.

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3 The Man


Abstract: This chapter looks at Riou as a person. It describes his outward appearance, his family and his education. After a discussion of his friends, it outlines his pastimes. His political convictions are pointed out followed by some remarks about his religious feelings and his temper. The chapter closes with Riou’s idea of man and his self-perception.

3.1 Outward Appearance

Jacob Nagle described his first lieutenant of 1784 as a “strong, powerful man”1 who wore his hair long2 – probably open and not in a pigtail.3 In 1791, after Riou had become a person of public interest for his adventure in the Guardian, his cousin Richard Berens4 described him as “one of the most elegant men, well made, with a face of much dignity”.5 Three years later, William Henry Dillon was impressed with the post captain who “had rather a careless gait, but a manly appearance, his cocked hat more on one side than was generally worn.”6 In his memoirs, Thomas Byam Martin included a long and detailed passage about his friend:

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