Shedding Light on the Past

I always enjoy hearing from readers and it’s particularly gratifying to find that my books have enriched their lives in one way or another. This was the case with Adam Quinan, who emailed me about Betrayal and Conquest. As an aside, one of the joys – and challenges – of being an author of historical fiction is to be able to do our best to bring the past alive. Historians can only go so far, as they are constrained by having to find evidence in the form of primary sources and documents of any assertion they make; the novelist can use his imagination and what-if thinking to join up the dots in an exciting way…

Over to Adam:

John Thomson, father

John Thomson, father

‘I’ve been slowly catching up with the Kydd series and have just finished Conquest and Betrayal. My great great great grandfather Lieutenant John Thomson was first lieutenant of HMS Narcissus under Captain Donnelly from 1803 – 1806. He was involved in the Cape Town and Buenos Aires expeditions.

Earlier in his career he had been involved in General Abercrombie’s landing at Aboukir Bay which must have come in useful during the landing in Cape Town.

In Buenos Aires he was appointed as Acting-Commander of the captured Spanish ship Neptuno and appointed Port Captain of Buenos Aires (according to a family memorandum) just as Kydd was.

John Thomson, son

John Thomson, son

Unfortunately, unlike Kydd, he was not able to escape after Beresford’s surrender and was captured and held prisoner until the following year’s expedition when he was released and sent back to the UK.

Reading Betrayal and Conquest brought the fairly dry historical narrative to a vivid life, giving me a much better idea of how he might have lived and what he might have experienced.

The full story of his naval career which also involved his service with his father under Sir Edward Pellew aboard HMS Indefatigable and his later activities as a commander in the War of 1812 on the North American station, together with some supporting documents from the National Archives etc. can be found at a website that my brother and I prepared a number of years ago.’

Adam Quinan

Adam Quinan

As a postscript Adam told me:

‘John Thomson 2 had two daughters, one of whom, Emma Jane, married my great great grandfather Dr E.J. Quinan of Dublin in 1851. Unfortunately, John Thomson’s Lloyds Patriotic Fund Sword is no longer in the family, My father years ago traced it to an auction sometime in the 1950s but the purchaser’s name was withheld for privacy reasons. Similarly, the Ottoman medal is no longer in the family.’


I’d love to hear of any other readers’ family links to the Great Age of Fighting Sail. Email me or add a comment to this post. I’ll send a copy of Conquest to the first out of the hat on August 24.

5 Comments on “Shedding Light on the Past

  1. julian, i continue to love the series. i do have a puzzling question, though. ive “always ” thought that the us navy was built to fight the barbabry pirates. am i way off? in fact, wasnt the uss constitution’s first serious effort against them. am i all wet????

    • As I understand it at about the time of Kydd the US had settled on the ‘all small boats’ policy for commerce protection around its shores so the famous six frigates were an aberation and the Barbary corsairs was a side issue.

      • ok, so if i understand right… the barbary pirates were kind of coincidental to the ships already committed to be built for us defense. is that a little closer, julian?thanks for all your great input, btw. im lovin it..

  2. im not sure im commenting in the right spot…..but….i just discovered you. it blows my mind since ive follwed all the more famous naval writers like, forrester, obrian, pope, kent etc. but just found you a month ago. to put it mildly IM LOVIN’ your books. im on the third book of the kydd series. i cant stop myself from going on and on…its funny, also, because you and iare about thesame age as i was born ’44. thank you so much…i am thrilled…
    fred from nashville

    • Thank you for your comments – hope you enjoy the rest of the series. Book 16 is out in October so you’ve got quite a few to look forward to…

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