BookPick: Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates

Among the many larger-than-life naval officers who strode the quarterdeck in the period I write about (1793-1815) Edward Pellew ranks among the most memorable. Not far from where I live in Devon is the site of his heroic action in saving the lives of some 500 men, women and children from certain death aboard the troopship Dutton that had come to grief just off Plymouth Hoe. He was ashore at the time, heading to a social function in full evening dress. Seeing Dutton‘s plight he stopped his carriage, divested himself of his finery and swam out to the ship and at the point of a sword took matters in hand in the panic that had ensued. Pellew served the Royal Navy with great distinction for 50 years. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest fighting captains of the Napoleonic wars but has somewhat been overshadowed by Horatio Nelson. He died in 1833, a vice-admiral of the United Kingdom, peer of the realm and holder of many foreign honours. As well as great seamanship skills, indomitable courage and sheer grit, Pellew excelled in man management and mentoring. He has been criticised by some as an over-partial father to his own sons but he nevertheless earned the lasting devotion of his men.

Hornblowers Historical Shipmates by Heather Noel-Smith and Lorna M Campbell

hhsThe book sets out the lives of seventeen ‘young gentlemen’ who were midshipmen under Pellew. Together, aboard the frigate HMS Indefatigable, they fought the celebrated action in 1797 against the French ship of the line Les Droits de l’Homme. C. S. Forester placed Horatio Hornblower aboard Pellew’s ship as a midshipman – this book tells the actual stories of Hornblower’s shipmates in real-life and provides a fascinating and absorbing snapshot of the later eighteenth-century sailing navy in microcosm.

From diverse backgrounds, aristocratic and humble, they bonded closely with Pellew, learned their naval leadership skills from him, and benefited from his patronage and his friendship in their subsequent, very varied careers. Besides tracing the men’s naval lives, the book shows how they adapted to peace after 1815, presenting details of their subsequent civilian careers. The colourful lives recounted include those of the Honourable George Cadogan, son of an earl, who survived three courts martial and a duel to retire with honour as an admiral in 1813; Thomas Groube, of a Falmouth merchant family, who commanded a fleet of boats which destroyed the Dutch shipping at Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies, in 1806; and James Bray, of Irish Catholic descent, who was killed commanding a sloop during the American war of 1812.

An Appendix, of a remarkable exchange of letters between Pellew and Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Bibliography of primary and secondary sources, are offered for those wishing to delve deeper into the lives of Hornblower’s historical shipmates and their gallant commander.

Much enjoyed and recommended, and until October 3 you can take advantage of a 40% discount on this book and other titles.

3 Comments on “BookPick: Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates

  1. Pingback: BookPick: Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates | Nighthawk News

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