The Gun Ketch covers the years 1786-1789 in the career of Dewey Lambdin’s naval character, Alan Lewrie.
It opens with Lieutenant Alan Lewrie in England after his return from the Far East as chronicled in The King’s Privateer. While awaiting his new ship, the converted bomb ketch HMS Alacrity, he takes advantage of this opportunity to visit the Chiswick family, North Carolina loyalists with whom he became acquainted during the American Revolution (see The French Admiral) and with whom he renewed that acquaintance before his last commission. He finds the family well situated as tenant farmers on the Surrey estate of the brother of the family patriarch, with the older brother, Gouvernour, married into the family of the local squire, Sir Romney Embleton.
Major spoilers follow.
Alan and Caroline are irresistibly drawn to one another despite her uncle’s insistence upon finding a more financially advantageous match for her with various local widowers or with the son of Sir Romney, Henry Embleton. Caroline accepts Alans proposal which causes Henry to become a laughingstock. The events come to a head during a fox hunt which features the omnipresent cat, William Pitt, in a central role.
Caroline’s uncle makes it clear that the couple are not welcome and Caroline accompanies Alan to port to await his new command. She prevails upon him to take her to the Bahamas with him.
Upon arrival in the Bahamas he receives a less than warm welcome from his new commander, Commodore Garvey, and is given the task of undertaking a hydrographic survey. He is warned that Garvey is looking for any excuse to remove him from command to replace him with his son. He quickly finds that the station is overwhelmed trying to enforce the Navigation Acts, which close the Bahamanian ports to all ships except British ones, and dealing with piracy. As a result not much happens. While on the survey Lewrie sees an American merchantman chased by several small pirate ships. He gives chase and saves the merchantman. He locates the pirate base and captures the pirates, returning them to Nassau for trial.
Caroline becomes pregnant.
Lewrie collaborates with a kindred spirit, Commander Rodgers, to capture ships and goods belonging to a prominent local merchant whom Alan believes to be leading a piracy ring. Unfortunately, a local jury finds the man innocent which results in Lewrie and Rodgers being effectively banished from Nassau to remote areas of the Bahamas. Mail stops arriving and Alan has to deal with jealousy and uncertainty over Caroline’s health as well as boredom and frustration. He doesn’t do it well. Eventually mail reaches him through the good offices of his and Caroline’s landlord by way of a prominent local planter, Colonel Deveaux.
Alan becomes convinced that Commodore Garvey is part of the the piracy ring and enlists Rodgers in a desperate attempt to expose the ring and bring down Garvey. Meanwhile, Caroline has safely delivered a son but the merchant Lewrie suspects of being at the center of the piracy ring, Finney, has decided that he is in love with Caroline. He tries to seduce her but is forcefully rebuffed.
Lewrie and Rodgers raid the pirate camp and succeed in developing irrefutable evidence of the complicity of Finney and Garvey in the operation. Finney is hunted down as he flees to Charleston, SC. Garvey is sent home to retirement.