- A.N. Other
- History - general, Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Jane’s health prevented him entering the Royal Navy, so he turned to journalism. In the 1880s illustrated periodicals still depending on images worked up from rough sketches of correspondents by so called “black-and-white” artists. Only gradually were photographs introduced during the 1890s. “Black-and-white” journalism paid poorly, and recognition came slowly to the young artist. He lived in an attic on London’s unsavoury Gray’s Inn Road, close to the home of the newspaper industry on Fleet Street. Jane fitted up his workshop with partitions corresponding to parts of a ship – poop, forecastle, quarterdeck – and slept in the “owner’s cabin.”
For 30 consecutive weeks, Jane called at the Illustrated London News, which turned him down each time. On the 31 st visit he sold a double-page drawing, and soon the name Jane became a recognised signature in the Illustrated and other “black- and-white” periodicals.
Much of Jane’s work drew on his experience with naval manoeuvres of the 1890s as a special correspondent on board new fangled torpedo – boat destroyers, which he made a speciality. The “long sea picnic of the annual manoeuvres” evidently appealed to some schoolboyish streak in Jane’s psychological makeup:
Despite the work, filth and discomfort …… no-one ever washes or removes clothing in a torpedo boat unless during a harbour spell ……. the life has a charm about it that appeals to officers and men alike.
For all the informality, Jane’s time at sea gave him valuable contacts for the future. He met journalists such as William Laird Clowes, the Time’s naval correspondent, and Commander C.N. Robinson, Royal Navy, a contributor of the already prestigious Royal Annual, which continues today as Brassey’s Defence Yearbook. Jane also made the acquaintance of many naval officers and ratings , one of the most significant being Fleet Engineer David Grant, whose service dated from before the 1860 launching of HMS Warrior, the first iron battleship. Jane struck up a close friendship with Grant, gaining useful information about the different ships in which he had served. Typical of Jane’s disregard of contemporary snobbery was his cultivation of engineering officers who provided often pungent comments on ships’ performance that graced the early editions of Fighting Ships.
Throughout the 1890s Jane continued to build his collection of warship sketches, partly from personal observation and partly from photographs. By 1897 he was ready to launch an originally designed visual warship atlas. Previous directories of ships had consisted of alphabetical tables of technical information. But none provided visual reference data in any systematic fashion. As an artist, Jane saw the need to categorize ships by their appearance so that lookouts or officers of the watch could identify unknown vessels as they came into sight. Not only were Jane’s drawings arranged according to the configuration of their subjects’ masts and funnels, he also provided a visual index of ship silhouettes. These pointed to the pages where the corresponding vessels could be found. The silhouettes were deliberately “drawn as the vessels appearance at extreme horizon distance, with the slight distortion that this view often produces. In various forms, the silhouette index lasted until the late 1980s, at which ships were identified by their radar characteristics, rather than their funnels. Although Fighting Ships no longer indexes ships in this way, the approach is still used in the most recent volumes.
As a practical observer of naval operations, Jane also saw the need to integrate illustrations and technical detail, presenting all the information relating to one ship on one page. Although this may seem obvious now, it was an idea that had eluded earlier reference works, such as Brassey’s. When the first issue of All The World’s Fighting Ships appeared in 1898, it was immediately recognized as something out of the ordinary:
…. One of the most valuable and original naval handbooks which it has been our fortune to examine …. there is nothing in existence like it …..
Books such as Brassey’s Naval Annual, the Marine Almanac, and the Aide Memoire do not give details of such things as number of funnels and peculiarities of rig. Yet it is by those that ships are recognised at sea.
Jane’s success did not come any too soon for his personal finances. In 1892 he had married Alice Beattie, who bore him a daughter in 1896. Despite Jane’s supplementing his “black- and-white” sketches with journalism and a series of highly imaginative novels, financial security was hard to achieve. Even in 1900 he wrote to his agent in furious terms: