HMS Speedy (14) under Lord Thomas Cochrane takes the Spanish frigate El Gamo (32)
A quick perusal of this blog will show that I’ve shied away from writing much on major figures of the Age of Sail. While I have biographical entries on lesser known figures, like Sir Henry Duncan and Midshipman Flinders, there is no story on Horatio Nelson or, perhaps the most swashbuckling figure of the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Thomas Cochrane.
My reasoning is grounded equally in two sensibilities, practicality and snobbishness. Practicality because these two men have been the subject of an immense amount of study and literature and there is little I could add to anyone’s understanding of either. Snobbishness because these two men, etc. etc.
I’ll be deviating from this a bit as I delve more deeply into Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage novels because Pope, probably because of his background as a chronicler of the Royal Navy, pulls in a significant number of incidents from the lives of these two men as plot elements.
Now to the story.
I’ve recently finished working my way through Dewey Lambdin’s series of novels following the career of his character Alan Lewrie. I stumbled onto the first by accident, was captured in the first paragraph, back in November and to a certain extent that novel, The King’s Coat, crystallized some ideas that had been floating around in my head about providing a researched resource covering life at sea, particularly life in the British navy, in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
It seems that I have nearly a year to wait until the next installment arrives, so I’ll close this chapter with my perspective on the novel and the character.
Life as a British naval officer during the Age of Sail was tough. Ships were typically commissioned for three years and it would not be uncommon for a naval officer to spend that entire period of time aboard ship. A captain, after Lord St. Vincent assumed control of the navy, could not spend a night out of his ship without the written permission of his admiral.
Such a life had to be hard on families and the general consensus is that the service discouraged marriage until later in one’s career. Some famous officers never married, but is seem that most of those who married did so in their late 20s (Nelson married at 29) or early 30s.
Some admirals definitely disapproved of married officers. When St. Vincent, then only Vice Admiral Sir John Jervis, was assembling his expedition directed at French possessions in the West Indies in 1793 he received letters from officers whom had previously been rewarded by his patronage asking for positions in his ships. One unfortunate received this response:
You having thought fit to take to yourself a wife, are to look for no further attentions from
Your humble servant,
We wrote earlier about the heroism and early death of Captain Robert Faulknor.
Faulknor is an interesting character who demonstrates much of what was right and wrong of the system used by the British Navy to select and promote officers during the Age of Sail.