The BNRA Alan Villiers Lecture 


The Alan Villiers Lecture was originally created  as a  joint venture with the Society for Nautical Research (SNR) and The Naval Review, as the Alan Villiers Memorial Lecture at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. The BNRA was instrumental in defining the name of the award and in the design of the AVML logo. This lecture was given annually on a maritime theme by a distinguished naval historian. Previous speakers have included Professor Jeremy Black and Admiral James Goldrick RAN, Professor John Hattendorf and Robin Knox Johnson.In 2017 the secretary of the AVML has suspended the next presentation for 2017 pending discussions of the future of the event. In the intervening period the BNRA  held an AVML lecture as part of the Oxford Naval Symposium, ONS17, to support the family in their award of the Alan Villiers Plaque in May 2017. Now in 2018 we are pleased to announce another Alan Villiers Lecture entittled ‘Circumnavigations in Trade’: The Voyages of the ‘Cape Horners’ at ONS18 at St Anne's College Oxford University on 12th May 2018.


The BNRA contributed to and supported a successful bid to install a blue plaque for Alan Villiers, subject of the annual Alan Villiers memorial lectures


Alan Villiers Lecture Series.


With the departure of the SNR and Naval Review from the AVML series it has fallen to the BNRA to continue the marque within its annual Oxford Naval Symposium

at St Anne's College, Oxford University. Now firmly established as a feature of the conference the 'Alan Villiers Lecture' continues to uphold interest in the sea theme

under this highly recognisable mantle. Alan Villiers, a multi-facetted individual has become an icon of the sailor's world for many reasons. He was a merchant sailor and master of square rig and a decorated naval officer, so serving two camps. He was an adventurer, photo journalist and documentary moviemaker. Above all a practical seaman who even accomplished the dark art of navigation at sea, as a deep water sailor-man. He wrote about his experiences and research into maritime history in 47 published works that have been in print across the world. He was keen to impart his knowledge and experiences to the youth of his and subsequent generations and this was exemplified by the famous cruise of his square rig training ship, the 'Joseph Conrad'. Active in the realm of the 'movies' he served as consultant and sailing expert on a number of Hollywood and British films; 'Moby Dick' and 'The Defiant' were notable examples. Latterly his importance was finally recognised by the city which he came to adopt as home when Oxford worthies installed a 'Blue Plaque' at his former residence in the North of the city.


To date there have been three Alan Villiers Lectures,2017,2018 and 2019 based within the ONS and we look forward to the fourth in the series this coming May with our chosen AVL speaker Mensun Bound, who incidentally knew Alan Villiers. The subject chosen will be marine archaeology relating to the 'Lost Ships and the hunt for the Kaiser's Superfleet'


For the record:


AVL 2017 Speaker: Peter Villiers Lecture Title, 'Sailors in Square Rig: Joseph Conrad and Alan J. Villiers, a Comparison'

In this inaugural lecture Peter Villiers strove to compare the European sailor of the 19th century, who from that harsh environment came to be( i), a naturalised Englishman

and (ii) an iconic novelist of British literature. Peter identified a number of resonances with his late father's career and personality. Alan J. of course hailed from distant shores being an Australian who sailed square rig sailing ships to his country to be, becoming an honorary Englishman living in the heart of his adopted country. Clearly taking inspiration from Conrad's written experience, for that was the power of his writing, Alan J. was born to write not novels but about the sea for real. A salt rimed perspective that he like Conrad both experienced but was able to simply relate in it's 20thc guise. What Alan J's. writing lacked in Conrad's innate skill as a novelist,  Alan balanced by his triumph as a photo-journalist and his ability to weave around this, cogent descriptions of the characters, ships and sea that for long periods were his ken. The admiration that Alan J. felt for Conrad, the novelist and of course ,the sailor resulted in the naming of Alan J's sail training project ship being named the 'Joseph Conrad', this vessel becoming a lasting tribute to both men at Mystic Seaport Museum, USA.


AVL 2018 Speaker: Bill Cumming Lecture: 'Circumnavigations in Trade: the Voyages of the 'Cape Horners'

This the second AVL presentation sat well in a conference entitled 'The Triumph of the Circumnavigators'. Bill Cumming is an acknowledged expert on 19thc deep water commercial sailing ships and particularly the great Scottish Clippers of that era. He has recently published 'Gone' the standard work on the R&J Craig Company of Glasgow whose ships were known as 'Craig's Counties', their vessels named after Scottish Counties such as 'County of Peebles'. The vessels were iron, four mast ships famed for their size, passages and masters. They were the last of their kind and disappeared into history along with their tradition of sail. Crews borne on this trade were of a certain mettle, wedded by circumstance or inclination to the life of long and distant navigations that of necessity bore them round the Horn, that most feared cape. The masters and mates that tasked these crews were themselves time tested in these roles, driven by profit and fame to clap on as much sail as wisdom dared, to make a quick passage if not the record book. Fast passages were not just vanity but had very real implications, to the crew it meant a sooner dry berth, whisky and silver in their pockets and more immediately victuals that didn't run too low. To the masters and owners who shared the profits it meant that seasons of trade weren't missed, cargoes were freighted on the best rates and indeed the markets for traded goods reached soonest. The toll on these ships was severe and for their sheer size they took the practice of late 19th c merchant sail to it's very limit.


AVL 2019 Speaker: Martin Muncaster Lecture : 'Witness to A Sinking'

This year the Alan Villiers guest speaker was the veteran television and radio broadcaster Martin Muncaster. He presented a story of true events witnessed and related to him

by his own father, the famous war artist Claude Muncaster. Martin skilfully set the scene of his father's personal artistic development and family influences that were to later have such bearing on the incident which was the central theme of his talk. Claude was employed in the Royal Navy as both war artist and specialist on ship camouflage during the Second World War. These events took place off Africa at Freetown and involved his father witnessing the shocking sinking of a British submarine astern of his own ship which then itself fell victim to the same attacking German submarine. After the foundering of Claude's ship this submarine then went on to destroy a third and final vessel, a merchantman just in the offing. There is an irony in the title which is deliberate as in the incident itself three vessels were attacked and sunk but the 'stomach punch' of this story was that through a strange turn of fate, Claude Muncaster was due to sail in the lost submarine but having given up his place in this craft to a fellow officer and friend, he was destined to witness this man's destruction in a most cruel and shocking manner. Martin related this 'witness to a sinking' via such personal reminiscences from his father Claude who had described how the effect of the explosion, of the striking torpedo, up-ended the wrecked submarine in the sea before it nose dived under the waves. This all happened so close to his own ship and taking his friend who he had just 'waved off' to the bottom of the sea.