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.
Captain Henry Trollope with the moratlly wounded Marine Captain Henry Ludlow Strangeways on the deck of HMS Glatton
We’ve observed on several occasions that many of the incidents in novels set during the Age of Sail are heavily influenced by actual events. In most cases, the novel’s protagonist expands on the accomplishments of the actual character. In Ramages’s Diamond
, Lord Ramage manages to turn the battery later known as HMS Fort Diamond
into a combat multiplier that enables his mini-squadron consisting of his frigate, a prize frigate, and a prize sloop to snap up a French convoy and its escorts.
Alexander Kent, on the other hand, perhaps feeling that the actual event was too improbable, actually downplays Nelson’s use of one Spanish ship of the line as a bridge to board and take a second, larger Spanish ship of the line and has Richard Bolitho use a friendly brig as a bridge to board and take a French frigate.
Every once in a while, though, the novel’s protagonist makes out worse than the actual character.
One of the interesting thing I’m encountering in this project is teasing fact out from fiction. In reality, we don’t know a whole lot about life on an man o’ war of the Age of Sail. Some accounts have come down to us but they don’t talk about a lot of the details because that information was self evident to people of the time. Novels by people like Frederick Marryat can provide us with a lot of insight but we are hampered by the fact that they are fiction and we know how well our own fiction reflects modern society and current events.
Obviously, a novelist writing of this period must use his imagination and knowledge to fill in blank spots much as a modern archaeologist works to fill in the historical record based on clues, intuition, and deduction. The better the author, the harder it will be to tell where the seams are between what is known and what is guessed. For an excellent example of work in this genre, read Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal
So where is this going?
One of the most interesting aspects of the naval fiction set in the wars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is that the majority of actions described actually happened in one form or another.
Following the tradition of American radio legend Paul Harvey, I’ll try to tease some of these incidents out of realm of fiction and show how, in some cases, the fictional version is more believable than the actual event.
In our first episode, Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho takes the role of Horatio Nelson at the Battle of St. Vincent.
English Harbor and the shipyard there, known as Nelson’s Dockyard, figures prominently in the novels of Dewey Lambdin, Dudley Pope, and Alexander Kent.
English Harbor was a focal point of British power in the Leeward Islands with the dockyard repairing and refitting British ships beginning around 1725. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 the dockyard fell into gradual decline until it was finally closed in 1889.
Wikipedia has a very in depth biography of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower but the entries for Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage, Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho, and Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie are much less developed.
I took an initial cut at improving the Lewrie entry today and will continue. Help is always appreciated.
So much of the personal life of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho centers around his home in Falmouth and Carrick Roads.
This is one view: