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.
Ramage is the first novel in the Lord Ramage series by Dudley Pope which chronicles the adventures of Nicholas Ramage, a British naval officer during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Ramage is set in the Mediterranean theater around 1796, after Nelson has left HMS Agamemnon for HMS Captain. We join Ramage when he is already a lieutenant.
Major spoilers follow.
Porto San Stefano. A village located in the municipality, and on the peninsula of, Monte Argentario in Tuscany.
This is the town where Lieutenant Nicholas Ramage, escaping in a launch from his sunken frigate HMS Sibella, found the doctor for the wounded refugee his ship had been sent to Italy to rescue, Marchessa de Volterra.
Ramage’s boat approached from the north and was hidden across the headland from the harbor.
I was familiar with Dudley Pope’s nonfiction work long before I ever became acquainted with his Nicholas Ramage novels. I read his Battle of the River Plate in high school and purchased his Great Gamble: Nelson at Copenhagen some 30 years ago, in hardback and when I really couldn’t afford it.
I blundered into Ramage’s Diamond some years ago but Pope’s books are hard to find, or were before the era of Amazon and Borders, and the only other book in this series that I’ve read is Ramage’s Mutiny. I read both of these before I’d really started exploring the side currents of naval warfare in the Age of Sail and found Ramage to be too perfect a character. Where Hornblower is constantly beset with self doubts, Ramage is a natural commander and seaman who is loved by his men and supremely confident in his abilities.
Having abandoned my attempt to read the Thomas Kydd novels, I decided to start with the first Ramage novel, eponymously titled Ramage.
Thus far I haven’t been disappointed. Lieutenant Ramage is an interesting character: intense, hard nosed, and with an amusing speech impediment that wasn’t mentioned in the later two novels I’d read. Some reviewers have pooh-poohed his luck but, again, if one looks at actual incidents during the age Pope’s fiction is just as plausible as what actually happened.
I plan to do a synopsis of the book in the next week and move on to the next in the series as I await then next Alan Lewrie novel.