Duty, discipline and leadership in the British Royal Navy: Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson.  Martin Rütten.  2017

Duty, discipline and leadership in the British Royal Navy: Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson. Martin Rütten. 2017

Rütten, Martin.  
Duty, discipline and leadership in the British Royal Navy: Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson.  
Peter Lang Edition.  
ISBN 978-3-631-72399-9. 
343 pages. 


Edward Riou was one of small number of men who sailed with James Cook, and then went on to have successful naval careers, and also to be associated with Horatio Nelson.  Riou is now the subject of work that derives from a dissertation by Martin Rütten, undertaken at the Universität der Bundeswehr, Munich, Germany.


Rütten, who states he had “spent some years in the same profession as Riou”, learned about Riou when reading about William Bligh.  Rütten has carried out extensive research to build up a comprehensive picture of Edward Riou.  In this book Riou’s life and career is divided into four broad sections:

  • early life and background before joining the Navy,
  • in Discovery for Cook’s Third Voyage,
  • in command of HMS Guardian for a voyage to Australia,
  • in command of HMS Amazon at the battle of Copenhagen.


However, Rütten does not follow a simple chronological order in the book.  Instead, he considers things under headings such as “the Man”, “the Warrior”, “the Mariner” and “the King’s officer”.  While this works in some ways, it does lead to a disjointed effect should you be trying to follow a particular aspect of Riou’s career.


The Guardian voyage, which came to an abrupt halt when the ship hit an iceberg in the Southern Ocean, and Riou’s later time in the Royal Navy, leading to his death at Copenhagen, are well covered.  This should be no surprise as both events are well documented, both in primary and secondary sources.  Rütten has also exploited the Riou family papers in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, to provide background about the Huguenot ancestry, and to describe the career of Riou’s father, Stephen Riou, as an army officer, engineer and architect.  He offers no explanations as to why Edward joined the navy, and fails to mention the large number of men from Huguenot families that served as officers in the navy at that time.


The poorest part of the book deals with Riou in Discovery.  Rütten appears to have read the journals from the voyage and Beaglehole,1 but not much else.  Little heed is given to information we now have about Riou’s colleagues, and they are largely ignored.  Cook, who commanded Resolution, is discussed, yet Charles Clerke is only touched upon, despite being in command of Cook’s companion ship Discovery in which Riou served.  Clerke had a reputation as a “people person”, and must have had a marked influence on Riou.  Similarly, William Bligh is considered, even though he was in Resolution, while Thomas Edgar, the most capable master in Discovery, is dismissed as a “complete failure as a commissioned officer”.  Edgar must surely have had a huge impact on the training of the young midshipman, and while Edgar did develop a drink problem, he did accomplish several things in his naval career.


That this work is based on an academic disserta­tion is obvious as little effort has been made to edit or reformat it.  Footnotes abound.  As to illustrations, four small head portraits of Riou are reproduced, plus one harbour chart drawn during the Discovery voyage.  Otherwise, only a few tables of limited value or interest disturb the text.  An interesting book that would have been more readable with more editing of the text and of the footnotes, many of which have little direct bearing on Riou but have the feel of “I found this information so I will include it”.

John Robson


  1. Beaglehole, J.C. (ed). The Journals of Captain James Cook. Vol. III. The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776-1780. Hakluyt Society. 1967.

    Originally published in Cook's Log, page 19, volume 42, number 4 (2019).

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