Periodically, we’ve noted instances where actual events enter naval fiction set during the Age of Sail will little more than the names of people and ships changed. Sometimes the actual events are toned down for the novel because of the implausibility of the real event, such as Cochrane taking El Gamo or Nelson using one Spanish first rate as a bridge to board and take a second first rate.
Another incident ties together Midshipman Horatio Hornblower, Lieutenant Lord Ramage, and Commodore Horatio Nelson. Fog and the Spanish Fleet.
In the short story, Hornblower, the Duchess, and the Devil, which is included in C. S. Forester’s Mr. Midhipman Hornblower, Hornblower, commanding a prize en route to England, finds himself enshrouded in fog, a fog which also includes the Spanish fleet and is subsequently captured and imprisoned at the fortress at Ferrol. In Dudley Pope’s Ramage, Lieutenant Lord Ramage, commanding the cutter HMS Kathleen, finds himself in the same unpleasant circumstances. He however, evades imprisonment, gains key intelligence on the Spanish fleet then in port in Cartagena, and is able to warn Admiral Sir John Jervis of their intentions.
The real story is just as strange.
Yet something had to be done. The Lydia had supplied him with two hundred able-bodied seamen (his placard said nothing of the fact that they had been compulsorily transferred without a chance of setting foot on English soil after a commission of two years’ duration) but to complete his crew he needed another fifty seamen and two hundred landsmen and boys. The guardship had found him none at all. Failure to complete his crew might mean loss of his command, and from that would result unemployment and half-pay — eight shillings a day — for the rest of his life.
One of the underlying themes of most novels set during the Age of Sail is the difficulty of manning a ship of the era. Those familiar with C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower will recall the sleepless nights Captain Hornblower spent worrying about his ability to man HMS Sutherland (quoted above) because he knew if he could not man her, Admiralty would give her to someone who could. Continue reading
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.
If you are interested in all things Hornblower, ScaryFangirl.com is the place for you.
Plot lines of movies and television shows, genealogy, synopsis of novels, and discussion boards are all there, albeit with a heavy dose of estrogen (not that there is anything wrong with that).
Check it out.
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.
Cap de Creus, Spain. Easternmost point of Catalonia.
Fans of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower will instantly recognize this a dominant feature in Hornblower’s patrol area off Catalonia in HMS Sutherland (see Ship of the Line). It is off this point that Hornblower, by masterful seamanship, was able to tow a ship of the line carrying the flag of the Rear Admiral Leighton which had been dismasted in a sudden storm.
Ferrol, Galicia, has been linked to the sea for its entire history. The remnants of the Spanish Armada took shelter here and it remains the major Spanish naval base on the Atlantic coast.
Ferrol, of course, is also well known to fans of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. The fortress at Ferrol, in the foreground, is where Midshipman Hornblower was imprisoned for two years and where, despite his lack of an ear for pronunciation, he learned Spanish that aided him in later adventures.
Most readers of naval fiction of the Age of Sail are fairly familiar with the broad outlines of the Napoleonic Wars. In reality, Britain had been at war with Revolutionary France for nearly seven years when the 18 Brumaire Coup brought Napoleon to power.