Steve Murdoch is Professor in History at the University of St Andrews. His publications include Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe 1603-1746 (Leiden, 2006), and The Terror of the Seas: Scottish Maritime Warfare 1513-1713 (Leiden, 2010). He has co-edited (with Alexia Grosjean), Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period (Leiden, 2005) and (with Victor Enthoven and Eila Williamson), The Navigator: The Log of John Anderson: VOC Pilot Major, 1640-1643 (Leiden, 2010). He currently holds the Swedish Academy’s 2013/2014 Olof Palme Visiting Professorship in Peace Studies and is working on a project examining British Privateering and Swedish Neutrality during the 1652-1713 period.
I came late to historical studies. If truth be known, I came late to higher education, having started my professional life working at Aberdeen Harbour on the quayside only 500m away from where my father, Campbell, served his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker in the Hall Russell shipyard. Shipbuilding, ships and the history of the sea had always fascinated me, especially when I heard tales from my family; my uncle, Harry Will, soberly told me of being torpedoed at the age of 17, one of the lucky survivors of crew aboard the tanker Inverlee in 1941. But the notion that civilians were both participants and victims in war stuck with me.
My father also regaled my brother and me with tales of diving the wreck of the Spanish galleon Santa Catarina in the late 1960s and showed us cannon and artefacts perched on the cliff top beside the ruins of Slains Castle (still there today). Inspired, myself and my young friends became wreck hunters ourselves and spent time looking for lost vessels on Balmedie Beach just north of Aberdeen. Not knowing the The Fruitful Bough was a 1946 trawler, to us she naturally became a treasure ship of sorts. The Ben Gulvain was more newly wrecked, but worth searching for souvenirs back in 1976 nonetheless.
However, when I eventually got round to historical academia in my late 20s, the courses I was taught at university tended to focus on the mundane study of medieval kings and queens or the drier aspects of the Scottish economy in the 19th century. It was only really once I got into postgraduate study that this changed. While researching my main topic of interest – Scottish interaction with the wider world in the early modern period – I found myself researching migration, military intervention abroad, commercial relations and a host of other areas which, in one way or another, drew me inadvertently towards maritime studies. In each of these spheres the sea is central. Continually gathering information of direct relevance to my project, I kept stumbling across archives which were interesting, but not pertinent. While they had nothing to do with Scottish history, I found myself penning articles on subjects as diverse as John Brown, A black female soldier on board the Royal African Company ship Hannibal in 1693 or on the oldest recorded admiralty court in the history of Colonial America (Maryland, 1672).
The shift to this maritime world was enticing and led to a co-authored article on Scottish privateering in the third Anglo-Dutch war. Once again I found myself musing at the place of the civilian in maritime warfare and this in turn led to the larger work The Terror of the Seas?: Scottish Maritime Warfare, 1513-1713. The release of this book coincided with the publication of a co-edited edition of a navigational journal by a Scot working for the Dutch East India Company (The Navigator: The Log of John Anderson: VOC Pilot Major, 1640-1643). What had started as a peripheral interest had now become my core research area and led to my successful nomination as Olof Palme Visiting Professor in Peace Studies. Hosted by the Center for Maritime Studies at Stockholm University, the present project aspires to develop themes connected to the place of the individual civilian and the neutral nation in maritime conflict through the British Privateering and Swedish Neutrality project. It appears that I have unintentionally become a maritime historian. Campbell and Harry would undoubtedly be pleased.