My friend Jim Klein was an expert on the economics of maritime trade and a long-term member of the naval history online discussion group The Patrick O’Brian Gunroom, where he was known to us all as The Admiral. He passed away quietly at home in San Francisco on 14 February 2014.
He was a highly successful businessman who also became an inspiring university lecturer in economics, but the members of the Gunroom knew him for his passion for the sea, his knowledge of maritime trade in the age of sail, and his incisive wit. Those who got to meet him and talk with him in the context of naval history enjoyed this larger-than-life figure communicate his passion in whirlwind action.
In recent years Jim filled his time with teaching and also with travel, good friends, good food, sailing, study and developing a great deal of knowledge about naval history, especially the theory and practical understanding of the economics of the early period of global maritime trade.
I have many fond memories of Jim from virtual conversations over the internet, shared with like minds, often on the history of the global maritime economy, especially the Dutch and English East India Companies and my own area of interest in that field, the Hanseatic League. But my fondest memories are of his presence when we met over the years in Oxford or London.
I recall the Trafalgar Bicentenary commemorations in 2005, when a small group from the USA were my guests at the Admiralty in London, returning the compliment at the great Guildhall dinner the next day in the presence of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. We all had a tremendous time, with Jim leading the more festive aspects, interspersed over the days with good naval history and thoughtful commemoration of all those who had died in the battle. Jim enthused over every aspect of the tour with his infectious grin and a loud “This is great!”
I recall with particular fondness the evening at the Society of Antiquaries of London two years later, at which Jim’s habitual Aloha shirt – in muted tones of yellow and blue in deference to the formal occasion – scandalised the other Fellows. He was amused by the arcane ceremony of an eighteenth century learned society, but his knowledge of the maritime trade of the period impressed the many who listened to him over the pre-meeting tea and biscuits. He insisted that we celebrate my election to Fellowship that day, and after an hour of critical scouting we found an Italian restaurant to his liking in Soho.
Over a long and delicious dinner we debated the merits of various naval commanders and Jim began to plot Thomas Cochrane’s action at Basque Roads 1809. Using piles of salt for the sandbanks, mounds of black pepper for the Isle d’Aix, a breadstick for the defence boom, silverware for the warships, we debated the moves of the English and French ships and what we would have done in place of the great Lord Cochrane, a hero to us both (and incidentally, the model for O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey).
The waiters were horrified but the padrone was placated by Jim ordering drinks all round and large brandies for us. Other diners joined in and Jim explained the nuances of the action – how Cochrane himself took fireships right up to the French men-o’-war, breaking the great defence boom but then nearly getting blown up as the gunpowder fuses were too short, rejoining the Imperieuse to sail around the fortress under fire, signalling to his commander to send in the line-of-battle ships, but no help coming, and Cochrane, disconsolate at having so very nearly taken the whole enemy fleet, pulling back his little flotilla and his men to avoid casualties. Jim’s finale was rapturously applauded.
Jim’s love of the sea and of the beauty of ships in the age of sail, of the best naval fiction, and his knowledge of the importance of maritime trade to world history and global economics, were a joy to his many friends in the Gunroom, only a few of whom had the pleasure of meeting him.
At sunset in San Francisco on 22 February those friends from the Gunroom began a Rolling Toast. As the sun set wherever they are in the world they toasted Jim – our Admiral – in gin, whisky or brandy, champagne or good red wine. On Sunday evening at 17:34 Zulu 5000 miles away over Homer’s wine-dark sea, in my garden in Oxford I raised a glass of Catalan Cava – a wine he came to know on his visit to Rosas – in memory of many happy hours well spent in his company.