Is your research appreciated?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2014 | 0 comments

Around 1690 Edmund Dummer (1651-1713) designed  the first successful stepped stone dry dock at His Majesty’s Naval Base, Devonport in Portsmouth, UK.  Previously all docks had been built out of wood.   Drummer was an inventor with creative, but practical talent.  He standardized the designs of new ships built for the Navy, creating economies for provisions and training.  As well he architected  the facilities to house, build and repair the ships.  He surveyed the sites for the dry dock and designed the offices for Navy personnel as well as creating lists of the appropriate supplies, tools,  and replacement parts to be carried by each of the war ships. Devonport became the pride-filled home of Naval ship management. The man was a genius, often maligned because of his certainty of direction and prideful conviction.  But as scientist and surveyor he contributed mightily to the efficiency of the Navy in multiple ways. His inventions and positions had the support of the entire Navy Board. A marvelous description of his work for the Navy can be found at

So what has this to do with historical fiction?  There’s a little gem hidden inside my summary above that I’ve used in one of my novels.  Actually there are two little gems.  The first is that starting with Dummer’s work, most Naval docks built thereafter were built of stone, not wood.  They lasted longer, didn’t shift with the tides, and were more secure for loading and unloading. The second is that the docks were ‘stepped’ in part allowing access to lower parts of the moored giant ships if necessary.  Old wooden docks had straight sides.

I used these little facts to describe how a workman slipped on the docks because he was drunk, bumped down the hard steps, opening a major gash on his forehead, falling unconscious into the contaminated water.  He was pulled out with a broken back  and died before any doctor could reach him.   If you think about it, with a wooden pier and its straight vertical side, he would have fallen directly into the water, and even though drunk, would have had a better chance of survival.

Sorry, but these things actually happened back in the old days.  I needed to get rid of my character who beat his wife regularly when drunk, and this was a logical and totally credible incident that allowed me to achieve my end.

I try hard in all my writings to be authentic with the use of historical facts.  I sometimes wonder if any of my readers check on my assertions and assumptions.  I know at least one who did, because she chided me for having a woman pick a dress “off the rack” when women’s clothes were still being tailor-made for the individual.

I hope there’s not too many other glaring errors sitting out there. All I know is that her finding made me work harder on future stories and assumptions, so something good came out of it after all .

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