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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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Edward Riou (1762–1801) was an officer in the British Royal Navy. He participated in James Cook’s last voyage of discovery and commanded frigates during the French Revolutionary Wars. Riou became prominent for bringing his first command, the store ship Guardian, back to port after it had been wrecked in a collision with an iceberg in the southern Indian Ocean. After his death at the Battle of Copenhagen, a small number of authors have called him the perfect naval officer or irreplaceable, while others took virtually no note of him at all. This thesis attempts to resolve this seeming inconsistency. Based upon his biography and specific traits of Riou’s life and character, it discusses how far these appellations have been justified and analyses the role Riou played in and for the Royal Navy and how – and how much – he may have influenced its development. As far as the available secondary literature has provided adequate data and information, specific characteristics of Riou have been compared with other representatives of his peer group in order to establish the extent to which he was in fact an exceptional officer. In a nutshell, this thesis analyses Edward Riou’s role in, and his impact on, Nelson’s Navy.

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