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John Frederick Thomas Jane - founder of Jane's Fighting Ships

Page updated 3rd October 2011

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Frederick Jane was not of Devon stock, being born on the 6th August, 1865 in Surrey. His father became the vicar of Ottery St Mary. He was the son of the Rev. John Jane descendent of several naval figures and explorers. As a child, he showed a keen interest in the navy, and would sale his model ships on the local village pond in Upottery near Honiton, Devon. To add interest to his hobby, he devised a complex system of signalling, which would eventually be adopted by the Royal Navy when on manoeuvres.

The young Frederick was sent to Exeter School for his education, where he took a particular interest in chemistry, especially chemistry of the explosive type. A master at the school drily wrote of Frederick's interest - "He can be expected to go a long way, in one direction or another." While at school he started a sketchbook of the many "ironclads of the world".

Early in life he served as a volunteer with the Bermacedist fleet in the Chilian War (1879 to 1883), having travelled to Chile with a view of reporting on the struggle. He was present at the torpedoing of the cruiser Blanco Encálala.

In 1889, he was commissioned by a magazine, to cover the war games and inspection of the combined fleets at Spithead, by Kaiser Wilhelm II. He sketched and noted the statistical details of 100 ships, and as a result, gained a reputation for the accuracy and quality of his drawings, which were considered to be some of the finest of his generation. During the 1890's he also worked as an illustrator for scientific romances and for his own novels such as To Venus in Ten Seconds and The Violet Flame.

It was in 1898 that he combined all his records, into publishing Jane's Fighting Ships - within two years it was accepted as the definitive guide to the navies of the world. In 1909, five years after the Wright Brothers' first tentative flight at Kittyhawk, Jane published All the Worlds Airships (Aeroplanes and Dirigibles).

Frederick Jane's, war gaming tactics had been adopted by the Center for War Gaming at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. A Welshman, Hector Charles Bywater was brought in to advise the US Navy on tactics. He used, Jane's tactics to devise a strategy that would, ultimately, influence the outcome of the Second World War in the Pacific, against Japan.

Jane married twice – first to the daughter of Mr Hamilton Beattie in 1902, and some years after her death, he married the eldest daughter of Captain H C Carre RN. In 1906, he stood as a Parliamentary Candidate for Portsmouth. He was an early motoring enthusiast and keen promoter of the new Boy Scout movement.

Jane is said, in 1910, to have kidnapped Winston Churchill in Portsmouth to prevent him speaking at a political meeting for a Liberal candidate. He met Churchill at the station and drove him into the country side. Frederick Jane died on 8th March 1916, aged of 51 at his home at Southsea.

So, a boy's war games on a Devon pond, chemistry experiments at Exeter School, and penchant for recording all things naval, led to a publishing empire, and influenced the tactics of the Second World War in the Pacific.

Included at the suggestion of Martin Coombs

Sources: include the Sydney Mornng News (9th May 1916) and the Mercury, Hobart (6th May 1916)

John Frederick Thomas Jane Illustration by Jane from 1908.

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