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Cover Art: Hornblower's Historical Shipmates
Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable
by Heather Noel-Smith and Lorina M. Campbell
Boydell Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78327-099-6, US $45.00, £25.00
Whether first read in C. S. Forester’s novels, heard on radio, or depicted in film, Horatio Hornblower is a larger-than-life character who has captured our imaginations and taken us back to wooden ships and stirring sea battles. His is a fictional portrayal, but Captain Sir Edward Pellew, his commanding officer, and HMS Indefatigable actually existed. In Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates researchers Noel-Smith and Campbell introduce us to seventeen real young gentlemen who served under Pellew, and examine how his patronage impacted their lives and careers. They also compare and contrast these junior officers with their fictional counterpart, as well as reassess the reputation and legacy of their daring and audacious commander.

During Pellew’s many years in the Royal Navy and his various commands, many young officers served under him – far too many to include in this study. To narrow down this daunting number, the authors chose to focus on those men who were aboard Indefatigable on 13 January 1797. That night off the coast of Brittany, they encountered the French warship Droits de l’Homme and, together with their consort HMS Amazon, they fought a daring battle for twelve hours in the midst of a deadly storm.

The Honorable George Cadogan, Jeremiah Coghlan, William Kempthorne, Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, Henry Hart, Thomas Groube, Alex McVicar, John McKerlie, John Thomson, John Gaze, George Chace, James Bray, William Warden, Philip Frowd, Richard Delves Broughton, and Robert Carthew Reynolds are the seventeen men profiled within these pages. They served as Volunteers, Midshipmen, or Mates; most climbed the ranks to become senior officers and a few served as warrant officers. Some had no sea experience before joining the Royal Navy; others served aboard merchantmen or on East India Company ships. Coghlan was one of the latter, to whom Pellew offered a berth after witnessing his help in rescuing 600 from a shipwreck.

Pateshall’s early experiences most closely mirror those of Horatio Hornblower, and his many letters to family and friends provided the authors with valuable insights into this microcosm aboard the elite of the fleet and being an Indefatigable. This correspondence is just one of the many primary sources the authors consulted in public and private archives in the United Kingdom, United States, and France to bring these gentlemen to life.

At twenty-eight, McVicar was the oldest to join Pellew’s frigate. McKerlie lost an arm during one battle, but served as gunner, boatswain, and schoolmaster during his career. Kempthorne, whose family lived near Pellew’s, was dismissed from the navy, but through his patron’s assistance was reinstated. Thomson, whose father also served aboard Indefatigable, married into Pellew’s family and his years of service took him to ports around the world. Gaze spent most of his career serving under Pellew.

While all seventeen benefited from Pellew’s patronage, they came from diverse backgrounds. One was an earl’s son; another was a runaway from Ireland. Several eventually became admirals, and one was a naval hero in his lifetime. Three faced courts martial. Four had their lives cut short before the wars with France ended.

On the night of the encounter with the French ship of the line, these young men ranged in age from thirteen to twenty-eight. Their experiences and training played key roles in shaping their lives and careers, and the friendships remained strong throughout their lives. Their close relationship with Pellew and their heartfelt condolence letters contradict biographer’s C. Northcote Parkinson’s claim that few loved their patron.

Following the book’s ten chapters are an appendix that reproduces correspondence concerning Pellew’s appointment to HMS Impetueux, a bibliography, and an index. Footnotes appear on the relevant pages within the chapters, rather than being relegated to the end of the book. This makes it easier to note sources and read pertinent information to further explain points in the main narrative. Black-and-white portraits and photographs are also included where they are most relevant to the topics being discussed.

Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates is an in-depth analysis of seventeen of the young men who served under Pellew. The authors ably demonstrate how, through his patronage and guidance, they gained invaluable and wide-ranging experience that served them well throughout their lives. Inclusion of biographical information and historical assessments on Pellew, Indefatigable, and Droits de l’Homme allow readers to gain a broader understanding and deeper appreciation of these gentlemen, the wooden world in which they worked, and the commanding officer who shaped and befriended them. This compelling book is an invaluable addition to any collection with a focus on the Royal Navy and naval history.

Learn more about Sir Edward Pellew
Learn more about HMS Indefatigable versus Droits de l'Homme

Learn more about Horatio Hornblower
Mini-bibliography of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series
Listen to The Adventures of Horatio Hornblower

Book Review Copyright ©2016 Cindy Vallar

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