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.
Shortly after the men of HMS Queen Charlotte manned the shrouds with the cheer that set off the Spithead Mutiny, the leaders from that ship set out in a boat to visit all the ships in the Channel Fleet. At each ship they boarded and directed the ship to send two delegates, a term that would cause a lot of misunderstanding at Spithead and government recalcitrance at The Nore, to the Queen Charlotte that evening.
Generally, this went off without a hitch though Admiral John Colpoys aboard HMS London tried to prevent the delegates from coming aboard and was only restrained from having his marines fire on them by the intervention of Bridport.
Bridport tried to convince the mutineers aboard his ship that he would send their demands to the Admiralty and they should return to their duty and await an answer. Having waited in vain for over a month for an answer from Lord Howe, whom they greatly respected, they had little confidence in Bridport’s ability to get their grievances addressed by Admiralty. They probably also knew that they had crossed the Rubicon by refusing to make ready for sea and that at the very least the leaders would be hanged if they relented.
Captain Edward Riou
Earlier I noted how many, if not most, of the actions described in naval fiction actually have deep roots in the history of the Age of Sail. In that initial essay I pointed out how Richard Bolitho’s action in To Glory We Steer of boarding an enemy ship by using another ship as a bridge was actually less remarkable than the historical event, Captain Horatio Nelson of the 74-gun HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent using the 80-gun San Nicholas as a bridge to board and take the 112-gun San Josef.
I came across another instance in this description of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novel, Desolation Island.