Home Popham was born at Gibraltar in 1762 while his father, Joseph, was Britain’s consul in Tetuan, Morocco. His father was apparently a devotee of both marriage and fatherhood. Home allegedly had twenty siblings and some twenty-three half-siblings.
He wasn’t immediately destined for the navy. In 1776, he enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge. He went on a couple of short voyages while at Cambridge, and in 1778 he made a firm decision joining the navy aboard HMS Hyena, commanded by family friend Captain Edward Thompson, and was present at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent where Hyena was a repeating frigate.
Hyena paid off in 1782 as the American Revolution was winding down. Captain Thompson was promoted to commodore and given command of a small squadron off the coast of West Africa. He brought young Home along with him as a marine surveyor. Shortly thereafter Popham was promoted to lieutenant.
Old Salt Blog has posted an excellent review of Louis Arthur Norton’s book Captains Contentious – The Dysfunctional Sons of the Brine.
Sometimes it is hard to fathom how the United States either gained or maintained her independence given the surplus of knaves and poltroons who gravitated to our army and navy in times of national crisis. George Washington spent the first half of the American Revolution fighting off various intrigues designed to have him removed from office. Our small and largely ineffectual navy was beset by narcissists and self-promoters. We produced enough savants, idiot and otherwise, to win. Barely.
A bit of the review
Norton looks at five ship’s captains who fought for the infant American Navy in the Revolutionary War. When not fighting the British, these captains also fought with each other, with their crews, their peers and with politicians ashore. Their personal quirks and flaws, in turn, hindered their careers and helped shape their victories. Norton examines the exploits of John Manley, Silas Talbot, Dudley Saltonstall, Joshua Barney and John Paul Jones. Each is a fascinating study in the character of these courageous if often flawed naval commanders.
Help keep the lights on and beer flowing. Buy a book.
Statue of Robert Surcouf in Saint Malo
Robert Surcouf was as close to a born privateer as one was likely to find. Born on December 12, 1773 in Saint Malo, both his mother and father’s families had produced famous privateers among them René Duguay-Trouin.
He was reputed to be a rowdy young man, prone to fighting, and he was packed off to sea in March, 1789, aboard the slaver Aurore. In February, 1789, Aurore with a load of slaves was caught in a tropical cyclone and wrecked in East Africa. The ship was repairable and Surcouf came to the captain’s attention through his energy and perseverance while removing the rapidly decomposing bodies of 400 dead slaves from the hold of the ship so it could be made seaworthy. He was hired on as first mate in that captain’s next ship. That ship was also wrecked and Surcouf signed onto the French corvette Bienvenue which was bound for Lorient to be paid off. He arrived back in Brittany in January 1792. Continue reading
The Breton city of Saint Malo was infamous to the British navy and merchantmen as a home of some of the most brazen privateers produced by France. In earlier wars, British merchantmen had paid tribute directly to Saint Malo to allow unhindered passage through the English channel.
Though Dunkirk produced more privateers, Saint Malo figures more prominently in naval fiction. It also produced Robert Surcouf, who’s activities when based out of Mauritius made capturing that island a necessity for the British.
The last novel I summarized on this blog was the C. Northcote Parkinson novel, featuring is character Richard Delancey, Dead Reckoning. The book covers about five years of Delancey’s career and involves operations in Borneo and, most significantly, against the remaining French possessions centered on Mauritius.
I’ll be using the next few posts to acquaint you with some of the characters involved in the campaign and some of the actions which lead up to it.