By Stephen Taylor
W. W. Norton & Company, $28.95, 368 pages
Edward Pellow was one of the most successful frigate captains of the British naval fleet that challenged and eventually defeated Napoleon. Pellow came from humble beginnings, which was rare in the days when having “interest” was almost mandatory for success in military life. His reputation for physical prowess, accurate gunnery and excellent seamanship most certainly made him the model for Jack Aubrey of the Aubrey and Maturin 20-book series by Patrick O’Brian.
As a young man fighting the colonists of the fledgling United States in 1776, he was commended for his gallantry, which gave him his “step up” to midshipman – the first on the ladder to becoming an officer. In 1793 he was named captain of his first frigate, the Nymphe. There was only one problem: there were no seamen to work the ship. Using his ability to inspire and lead men, he recruited more than 80 Cornish miners with no sea experience to join his ship. These men became the core of one of the most successful sailing crews of the era.
“No man ever knew better how to manage seamen.”
In 1795 Pellew took command of the HMS frigate Indefatigable, taking his hand-picked crew with him. This is the ship he is most associated with. Shortly after his promotion, Pellew, in uniform with his sword at his side, became aware that a ship, the Dutton, was aground and breaking up with 500 troops and their families on board. Without hesitation he boarded the ship and took over command. As in many crises, some people did not want to obey his orders, and he took to brandishing his sword until he had established order. He stayed on board until everyone was rescued from the sinking ship. This helped to establish his reputation for bravery and dedication to the common man. Sir Pellew became Lord Exmouth in 1814. I found this book very interesting and well written.
Reviewed by Brian Taylor