Moving up the ranks – purchase and promotion: An Excerpt from An Unwilling Alliance

Officer and private of the 40th foot

In the early nineteenth century, officers of the army acquired their commissions by purchase, a system which lasted until 1871 when it was abolished by the Cardwell reforms.  Attempts were made from time to time to regulate the system and prevent the worst abuses associated with it, but it was impossible to keep control over every promotion and it was often too easy for an officer with money to bypass the system.  Senior officers used the system to improve their retirement funds and wealthy juniors used it to climb the ladder faster…

Paul had been in Dublin with five companies of the 110th when he had received his promotion to major and with it the news that he would take command of the first battalion under Sir Arthur Wellesley in Denmark. The promotion had come at a relatively young age and he had leapfrogged a number of older and longer serving captains in the regiment. The commander of the second battalion, Major Middleton was in his fifties and considering retirement but there were several men who could have claimed Paul’s promotion as their due.
Paul was trying hard not to feel defensive about his good fortune, but he was under no illusions that the main factor in his success had been financial. Under the traditional system, promotion was offered to the next man in line in the regiment. If none were able to come up with the purchase price, the commission could be sold to an officer from another regiment wanting to transfer for promotion. The Duke of York, who had made admirable attempts to reform some of the abuses of the system, had put in place length of service conditions for promotion to captain and major which were effective in peacetime although might be relaxed during campaigns when officers were in short supply. Paul had barely reached the required number of years when the promotion had been offered and in his battalion alone, at least four other captains had served longer; more if the second battalion were taken into account.
Money had made the difference. Paul’s mother had been the daughter of a viscount but his father was from a trade background and had made his fortune in shipping and finance many times over. When the elderly Colonel Dixon had decided to retire, his commission was sold to Major Johnstone who was in command of the first battalion. Paul, puzzled by Wellesley’s conviction that the majority was his if he was willing to pay for it, had quickly realised that the colonel was expecting his retirement to be funded by a premium on the sale of his colonelcy, a premium which Johnstone could only afford if he added the sum onto the sale of his own commission.
The premium was strictly against regulations but Paul was aware that they were an open secret in fashionable regiments, where commissions were sometimes sold for twice the regulation price set by the government. He was both irritated and amused at the approach by the regimental agent, with Dixon and Johnstone remaining at a discreet distance as if the negotiations might sully their hands. Commissions in the 110th did not generally command much of a premium; it was a relatively new regiment with no history and little reputation thus far, but Colonel Dixon was very well aware of both the personal fortune and the ambition of his most unlikely company officer and had taken the gamble.
Grimly aware that he was about to be fleeced, Paul had gone back to his mentor, Sir Arthur Wellesley who was in London on Parliamentary business and invited him to dine at the Van Daans’ London home. Paul’s father and brother were away in Leicestershire and they had dined privately and sat afterwards over a good port.
“Have you received your commission, Major?” Wellesley had said. They had talked, during dinner, of neutral matters; of the current situation in India and the proposed expedition to Denmark. They had also spoken of politics and the latest London scandals. Paul had been waiting to see if his chief would raise the subject.
“Not yet. I am trying to decide if it is worth the extremely over-inflated price I am being asked to pay for it.”
Wellesley gave one of his barking laughs. “Expensive, is it? Yes, I’d heard that Dixon is in need of funds.”
“Colonel Dixon,” Paul said, sipping the port, “is currently still my commanding officer so it would be unthinkable of me to call him an avaricious old goat. At least anywhere he can hear me.”
“What makes you think I won’t report that, Major?”
“You never report any of the other appalling things I say to you in private, sir, so I’m cautiously optimistic.”
“Are you going to pay it?”
Paul pulled a face. “Sir, it’s not the money. It just galls me that he’s making that kind of profit out of a system which shouldn’t allow it. There are at least six or seven other men in the regiment who are eligible for this promotion. We can discount Longford, Cookson and Graham – none of them could raise even the regulation price. Which is a good thing in Longford’s case because he’s an incompetent arsehole who shouldn’t hold the commission he does. But men like Gervase Clevedon and Kit Young and Jerry Flanagan…they’ve every right to be furious if I buy in over their heads. I really want this. But I have to serve with these men.”
Wellesley reached for the decanter. “It is your choice, Major. Would it help if I told you that even if you do not accept it, somebody else will.”
Paul raised his eyebrows. “Into the 110th? Have we suddenly become fashionable without my noticing it?”
“No,” Wellesley said with a laugh. “But sometimes it is more than that. Have you come across Captain Edmund Willoughby?”
Paul frowned, puzzled. “If I have, I don’t remember him. Which regiment?”
“He has served variously in the 4th, the 10th and the 24th. Moved each time for promotion and he has come up very fast indeed. Faster than you have.”
“How?”
“Money. Connections. A considerable enthusiasm on the part of a very high ranking member of the peerage to see his natural son progress.  He will use the 110th as his next stepping stone; the timing is very convenient for him. Would you like me to tell you how many weeks actual combat experience he has?”
Paul met the hooded eyes across the table. “Sir, are you applying emotional blackmail to get me to cough up the money for this piece of highway robbery we are calling a promotion? Is this gentleman likely to get my battalion killed in his first action with them?”
“I imagine it is very possible,” Wellesley said tranquilly. “Either that or you will be on trial for shooting him in the head to prevent it.”

(From An Unwilling Alliance by Lynn Bryant, due to be published in April 2018)

 

Military Courts Martial – my new displacement activity…

An Irregular Regiment
Quill penI’ve spent some time over the past week or two reading accounts of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century courts martial for my next book, An Unwilling Alliance.   A surprising number of them came to absolutely nothing and the novelist in me desperately wants to know the full story behind how they came about. Were charges brought maliciously? Commanding officer didn’t like the look on your face? Got off because you were really good at hiding the evidence? Or because you were really good at your job and nobody wants to lose you? So many possibilities, I’m going to have to be forcibly restrained from court martialling half my characters now, it sounds like so much fun…
 
Surgeon James Dalzell of the 32nd in 1800 is my favourite so far, though. He got into it in an Assembly Room (probably drunk or fancied the same girl in my opinion) with his commanding officer Major James Wentworth Mansergh and made use of “unwarrantable and most offensive language” by telling him “the said Major Mansergh that he was a damned rascal and a Scoundrel and no Gentleman and threatening to pull him by the nose and afterwards on the same night repeating the same language raising his hand in a threatening manner and again threatening to pull him, the said Major Mansergh, by the nose.”
 
Surgeon Dalzell seems not to have actually been arrested for this until six months later and on that occasion he really kicked off and informed Major Mansergh in the presence of soldiers of the 32nd in the barrack yard that “his command was a damned rascally one to the prejudice of good Order and Military Discipline.”
Clearly something had ticked Surgeon Dalzell off beyond the telling and if there was a man on that court martial with a straight face by that point, he was a better man than I am.  A brief search has revealed that to threaten to “pull a man’s nose” was considered an insult likely to lead to a duel in the ante-bellum South and when I need another distraction I am going to download that article in full as I want to find out the origin of that one.  Certainly it is clear that Surgeon Dalzell and Major Mansergh were not going to be exchanging Christmas gifts.
But the plot thickens even further.  Enter Captain William Davis who was also court-martialled in 1800.  Captain Davis was also charged with using disrespectful and improper language to Major Mansergh in the barrack yard on the same evening that Surgeon Dalzell hit the proverbial roof.  While no nose pulling appears to have been involved here, Captain Davis followed the major, attempted forcibly to stop him and called him “a damned Rascal and a Scoundrel and at the same time raising his hand in a threatening manner to the prejudice of good Order and Military Discipline.”
Now there is clearly a bit of a theme here, and it looks as though the court was able to spot it.  Surgeon Dalzell, interestingly was acquitted of the charges of nose-threatening and general name-calling.  The court made mention of something that Mansergh said about the surgeon in a conversation with Captain Davis that evening in the barrack yard which had caused Dalzell to lose his temper.  Although he was acquitted, he was instructed to make an apology to Major Mansergh for improper language and conduct.  The wording of the apology is very specific – I’m guessing all Dalzell had to do was read it out and the matter was over.  Clearly the court felt that whatever had happened, Dalzell was provoked.
Captain Davis wasn’t quite so lucky and I wonder if that was because of his rank.  Certainly given that he went for his commanding officer in front of the enlisted men on the parade ground, he was very unlikely to get away with it.  Captain Davis was found guilty and suspended without rank or pay for the term of two years.  Even so, the court expressed some sympathy for Davis, pointing out that his treatment by Mansergh, while it can’t justify his actions, certainly mitigated his sentence.  Presumably without it, he might have been cashiered.
The editor has very kindly provided footnotes of what happened to the principals in the various cases and that’s where it becomes interesting.  Captain Davis sold out the following month, presumably unable or unwilling to live without pay or rank for the next two years.  Surgeon Dalzell must have taken his medicine and made his stilted apology to Major Mansergh because he remained in the army and was appointed Surgeon to the Forces in Ireland in 1804.  Clearly he managed to control his temper better in the future.
Major Mansergh was not the subject of the court martial but that did not stop the court from expressing its opinion that his conduct appeared “highly reprehensible, in not having supported his command with more propriety and energy”.  What else was said off the record, or by Mansergh’s own commanding officers is not recorded, but Major Mansergh sold out the following month and did not return to military service.  Somehow I have a feeling there might have been a celebration in the mess at some point…
The book containing these fascinating stories is A Collection of the Charges, Opinions and Sentences of General Courts Martial as published by authority by Charles James (published in 1820).  It’s frustrating not knowing the stories behind some of these trials but what is interesting to me is a novelist is the outcomes of many of them.
Until I started looking in to military discipline in more detail, I think I had assumed that a court martial was seen as a disgrace and the end of an officer’s career but clearly that is not the case.  In both the army and the navy, officers were court-martialled, acquitted or received minor punishments and went on to do very well.  Captain Bligh of the Bounty survived no less than three courts martial during his career.
Court martial seems to have been a valid way of seeking an enquiry into an incident.  An officer censured for some error would often ask for a court martial to clear his name; a good example of this would be Lt-Colonel Charles Bevan after the fiasco at Almeida in 1811 whose request for a court martial was denied, a fact which contributed to his suicide.
The other fact about a court martial which came as a surprise to me was that the King looked at all trial records and had the right to override either the verdict or the punishment.  I was aware through research into the Peninsular War that the commander-in-chief had the right to commute sentences on men convicted of local offences but it appears that it was not uncommon for the King to completely overturn the decision of the General Court Martial, either in deciding to declare a verdict of not guilty, or simply to announce that he no longer required the services of the officers involved.
In matters of military discipline in the 18th and 19th century there must always have been a lot of leeway depending on individual circumstances.  An officer committing an offence needed to be charged by a senior officer and there must have been many occasions where a good officer got away with an informal reprimand simply because he was good at his job and valued.  Equally there would have been senior officers with a bee in their bonnet about particular issues for example Admiral Gambier was known to be an evangelical Christian and used to fine his officers for bad language.  Commanders confident in their relationships with their officers will have used different methods of management, saving court martial for extreme cases in the same way that a good manager rarely uses the formal disciplinary process.  There are always variations from the strict letter of the law.
And that’s probably a good thing for one of the officers of the 110th infantry…

The Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807: an Unwilling Alliance

Copenhagen on fire, 1807

The bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 occurred when Britain carried out an attack on a neutral country in order to either destroy or capture its fleet to prevent it falling into the hands of the French.  This little known action of the Napoleonic Wars was seen by many as a stain on the British character although the government remained steadfast in its belief that the attack was an unpleasant necessity.

In 1806 Napoleon launched his Continental System which was designed to paralyse Great Britain through the destruction of British commerce. The decrees of Berlin in 1806 and Milan in 1807 proclaimed a blockade: neutrals and French allies were not to trade with the British.  The Continental System damaged some English industries, but as the British had an overwhelming superiority at sea, enforcing the system proved too difficult for Napoleon. His efforts to police his blockade stretched French forces too thin, and he was never truly able to make it work.

Britain’s first response to the Continental System was to launch a major naval attack on the weakest link in Napoleon’s coalition, Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French and Russian pressure to surrender its fleet to Napoleon. Despite the defeat and loss of many ships in the first Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Denmark-Norway still maintained an impressive navy. Most of the Danish army was at this time defending the southern border against possible attack from the French.

There was concern in Britain that Napoleon might try to force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British ships, perhaps by invading Zealand.  The British believed that access to the Baltic was vitally important to Britain for trade, raw materials for building and maintaining warships and Royal Navy access to Britain’s allies Sweden and originally Russia against France.  The British thought that when Prussia was defeated, Denmark’s independence looked increasingly under threat from France and had previously tried unsuccessfully to persuade Denmark into a secret alliance with Britain and Sweden.

On 21 January 1807, Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he had received information from someone on the Continent “that there were secret engagements in the Treaty of Tilsit to employ the navies of Denmark and Portugal against this country”.  He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger lives.  The reports of French diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government uneasy, and by mid-July the British were convinced that the French intended to invade Holstein in order to use Denmark against Britain.

After a wealth of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, Canning received intelligence from Tilsit that Napoleon had tried to persuade Alexander I of Russia to form a maritime league with Denmark and Portugal against Britain.  Spencer Percival, the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote a memorandum setting out the case for sending forces to Copenhagen.  With some reluctance, the King agreed.

The British assembled a force of 25,000 troops and Canning offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence, with a convention signed for the return of the fleet after the war, the protection of 21 British warships and a subsidy for how many soldiers Denmark kept standing. On 31 July, Napoleon told Denmark to prepare for war against Britain or else France would invade Holstein.  Neither France nor the British persuaded the Danes to end their neutrality, so the British published a proclamation demanding the deposit of the Danish fleet; the Danes responded with what amounted to a declaration of war.

The Danish forces in the city amounted to 5,000 regular troops and a similar number of militia. Most of the civilian inhabitants of Copenhagen were evacuated in the few days before Copenhagen was completely invested.

On 26 August, General Sir Arthur Wellesley was detached with his reserve and two light brigades of British artillery, as well as one battalion, eight squadrons and one troop of horse artillery from the King’s German Legion to disperse a force which had been sent to relieve the beleaguered city. On 29 August, at Koge the British force overpowered the Danish troops, which amounted to only three or four regular battalions and some cavalry. 

The Danes rejected British demands, so the British fleet under Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 to 5 September 1807. In addition to the military casualties, the British bombardment of Copenhagen killed some 195 civilians and injured 768.  The bombardment included 300 of Congreve’s rockets which caused fires.  Due to the civilian evacuation, the normal firefighting arrangements broke down and over a thousand buildings were burned.

On 5 September, the Danes sued for peace, and the capitulation was signed on 7 September. Denmark agreed to surrender its navy and its naval stores. In return, the British undertook to leave Copenhagen within six weeks.  On 7 September 1807 Peymann surrendered the fleet which was either captured or destroyed to stop it falling into the hands of the French.  On 21 October 1807, the British fleet left Copenhagen for the United Kingdom but Denmark remained at war with them until 1814.  There were attacks in Parliament on the government’s decision to invade and bombard a neutral country but Canning remained convinced that he had made the right decision.

An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 is a new venture for me in several ways.  It is the first book which is partly set on the Isle of Man where I live, and Captain Hugh Kelly and Roseen Crellin are both Manx.  I have been asked fairly frequently if I intend to write a book with a Manx setting.  I wanted to do so but since the Napoleonic wars were a long way from Mann, the obvious setting was the navy since many Manxmen served with great distinction, most notably Captain John Quilliam RN who was first lieutenant aboard the Victory during Trafalgar.  Writing about the army has become second nature to me; the navy took some work but I’m loving it now to such an extent that I have already decided where Hugh Kelly’s career is taking him next.

The other joy of An Unwilling Alliance is that it gives me an opportunity to combine both the army and the navy.  Joint operations were very common then as now and a lot more difficult given the limited communications of the day.  Officers and men on both sides had a tendency to assume that their branch of the armed forces was the best and jokes were common but there was genuine resentment in some cases.  If a joint operation went wrong each side often blamed the other as a matter of course; poor John Pitt, Earl of Chatham definitely came in for some of this after the disastrous Walcheren campaign in 1809 where blame could probably have been shared between the army, the navy, the planners of the operation and sheer bad luck.  I have given myself the challenge of trying to convey some of this feeling at Copenhagen, where at least one of the army commanders, Sir Arthur Wellesley, would have done things very differently had he been given the choice.  And then there is genuine cooperation and the beginnings of friendship between Captain Hugh Kelly, my down-to-earth, plain-speaking Manxman and the flamboyant, newly-promoted commander of the first battalion of the 110th, Major Paul van Daan.

Finally, an Unwilling Alliance has given me the opportunity to go back in time from Wellington’s Peninsular Wars where the 110th has been fighting for the last four books and take a look at an earlier episode in Paul’s history which was briefly referred to, but not described, in An Unconventional Officer.  It has been an odd experience to look back at a younger Paul and remember all the lessons he hadn’t yet learned in 1807 and it has also reminded me somewhat painfully why keeping detailed character lists is so important when writing a historical series.

In terms of historical sequence, An Unwilling Alliance fits in at the end of chapter seven of An Unconventional Officer, when Paul has just been promoted to major and given the news that the battalion is being posted to Denmark under Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Paul is twenty-five and still has a lot to learn about how to manage the army, his temper, his love life and his unemotional commander.  Captain Hugh Kelly is thirty and started out life as a farmer’s son on the Isle of Man; he came up the hard way and has a lot of experience that Paul still lacks.  Watching them get to know each other has been a genuine pleasure and I hope they have the chance to meet up again in the future.

An Unwilling Alliance is due to be published in April 2018 – you can read an excerpt here.

 

 

Copenhagen 1807 – the Navy meets the Army, an Excerpt from An Unwilling Alliance

Old Haymarket, Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, 1807 the British army under Lord Cathcart and the Royal Navy under Admiral Gambier cooperated to seize the Danish fleet to stop it falling into the hands of the French.  Denmark was a neutral country and the bombardment of Copenhagen, although it achieved its aim, was not universally popular.

The army reserve was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, keen to return to the field from his position as Chief Secretary in Ireland, and in An Unwilling Alliance a meeting of the various commanders brings together Captain Hugh Kelly, the Manx commander of the Iris and a young army major on the rise, serving under Sir Arthur Wellesley, Major Paul van Daan…

Hugh turned at a sudden noise from the stable yard.  The commanders had left their horses in charge of a groom and the man had roped them to a long wooden bar outside the stables.  There was no sign of him now but one of the horses, a solid piebald with knots in his mane and a thick neck, had broken loose from the rail and was backing up across the yard.  His freedom was making the other horses restive and they were pulling on their tethers.  Hugh swore softly under his breath and made his way outside.

Another man was ahead of him, one of the escort who had arrived with the army commanders.  He was tall and fair, an officer in a red coat, his back to Hugh as he approached the piebald, placing himself between the horse and the way out of the yard.  Hugh went to the bar where the other horses were tied and inspected the ropes.  As he had suspected, every one of them was poorly tied, ready to be loosened with a determined tug.  Hugh sighed and released the first of them, retying it.

The officer spoke, his voice a clear baritone which was hard to place.  The accent spoke of privilege and wealth and the purchase of a commission but the phrasing and words were slightly unusual, as if this man had lived a varied life in many places.

“Stand still, you cross-eyed Danish bastard, I’m not chasing you halfway across the city because a groom can’t tie a knot.  Come here.”

He caught the loose rein and then moved in confidently as the horse reared up in fright, putting a soothing hand on the ungroomed neck and running it down the horse’s shoulder.  “All right lad, I know you’re scared.  No need to be.  Come on, let’s get you back where you should be and fed and watered.  And by the look of you a brush wouldn’t go amiss.  Come on.”

He was holding his body against the horse, steadying him, and the animal quietened immediately, soothed by the confidence in both voice and body.  Hugh watched in reluctant admiration as the man turned, leading the horse back into the yard.  He was wearing the insignia of a major and looked several years younger than Hugh with fair hair cut shorter than was fashionable, especially in the army or navy, and a pair of surprising blue eyes.  The eyes rested on Hugh for a moment, then the major led the horse back to its place at the rail and began to tie him up.  Hugh watched him in surprise for a moment, recognising the knot and then looked up into the major’s face.

“I doubt he’ll break away from that,” he said in matter-of-fact tones, moving on to re-tie the next horse.

The major did the same.  “How to tie a knot that stays tied was one of the only two useful things the bloody navy taught me,” he responded, pleasantly.

“What was the other?” Hugh asked.

“How to kill people.  I got very good at that.”  The major tied the last knot and surveyed Hugh’s handiwork to ensure that it was properly done with an arrogance which both irritated and amused Hugh.  Then the man looked up and saluted.  “Major Paul van Daan, Captain, 110th first battalion.  I’m here with Sir Arthur Wellesley.”

“Sir Arthur Wellesley might have been walking back to his lodgings if you’d not been as quick,” Hugh said, returning the salute.  “You’d think a groom would be better at tying up horses, wouldn’t you?”

“A Danish groom, this week?  What do you think, Captain?”

Hugh grinned.  “I think a pack of British commanders having to walk through town because their hired horses have buggered off might be a small victory but very satisfying,” he said.  “Captain Hugh Kelly of the Iris, Major.  How did you end up in the army, then?  Navy didn’t suit?”

“I was fifteen and I didn’t volunteer, Captain.  Put me off a bit.”

Hugh shot him a startled glance.  “Christ, you don’t sound like a man who ought to have been pressed.”

“They don’t always play by the rules.  But it was definitely educational.”

“How long were you in?”

“Two years.  Made petty officer, fought in a few skirmishes and at the Nile.”

Hugh felt his respect grow.  “I was there myself,” he said.  “Let me buy you a drink.  They’ll be a while, I suspect.  You on Wellesley’s staff?”

The major grinned.  “Not officially, although he bloody thinks I am.  Let me have a word with that groom and I’ll be with you.”

Hugh watched as he went to the stable door and yelled.  The man emerged at a run and stood before Van Daan, his eyes shifting to the neatly tied horses in some surprise.  He looked back at the major, his expression a combination of guilt and defiance.

Van Daan reached out, took him by one ear, and led him to the horses as if he had been a misbehaving schoolboy.  He indicated the newly tied knots, spoke briefly and then clipped the groom around the head, not very hard.  Hugh saw him point to the feed troughs and water pump, using gestures to make up for the language difficulties.  He then pointed to the piebald’s tangled mane and muddy coat and gestured again.  The groom was nodding, his sulky expression lightening a little.

Having given his orders, something with which Hugh observed sardonically that Paul van Daan seemed very comfortable, the young major reached into his coat pocket and took out two coins which he held up.  The groom’s eyes fixed on them and Paul van Daan pointed to the horses and spoke again.  The man nodded.  The major handed him one coin and put the other back into his pocket.  Then he smiled, the first real smile Hugh had seen him give, and it transformed his face.  The groom smiled back as though he could not help it, and the major put his hand on the man’s shoulder, laughed, and then ruffled the dirty hair with surprising informality as if he were a younger brother or cousin.  He released the groom and went to the ugly piebald horse, stroking his neck.  The animal nuzzled his shoulder and Van Daan smiled, reached into his pocket and took out a treat.  He stroked the horse as he fed it and Hugh watched him and wondered if the small drama he had just watched played out was regularly enacted with Van Daan’s men.  If it was, he suspected the man was an asset to the army.

“Major van Daan!”

The voice was cold, clipped, it’s tone biting, coming from an upstairs window of the inn, the room where the commanders were dining.  Van Daan turned and looked up.

“Is there a reason why you are in the stable yard socialising with the grooms when the man I have sent to search for you is combing this establishment looking for you?  Or are you under the impression that I asked you to accompany me in order to give you a day off?”

Major Paul van Daan saluted with a grin to the upstairs windows where the dark head of Sir Arthur Wellesley protruded.  “Sorry, sir, didn’t think you’d need me for a bit.”

“It appears that the secretary provided speaks very little English and I would prefer to have this meeting fully documented in a language that the cabinet in London understands.  Sir Home Popham appears to be of the opinion that no minutes are needed at all which makes me all the more determined to provide them.  Try to write legibly for once.”

“On my way, sir,” Van Daan said.  Wellesley withdrew his head and the major gave one more nut to the piebald, called a word to the groom who was filling water buckets with considerable speed and joined Hugh at the door.  “I’m sorry, Captain, we’ll need to postpone that drink, it appears I am now a secretary as well as a battalion commander.  Thanks for your help with the horses.”

“You’re welcome,” Hugh said.  “You in trouble, Major?”

“Wellesley?  Jesus, no, that’s him on a good day,” Van Daan said, laughing.  “I’d better go before he causes serious offence.  Good afternoon.”

An Unwilling Alliance is due for publication in April 2018.  An Unconventional Officer, telling the story of Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry is available on Amazon.

 

The National Maritime Museum and Greenwich

By Txllxt TxllxT Wikimedia Commons

Working on a book based around a navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, a visit to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich seemed like an ideal way to start this visit to London.  I can remember going to all the Greenwich museums growing up, but it has been a very long time.

The National Maritime Museum is the leading museum of its kind in the UK and probably one of the best in the world.  It is part of a complex known as the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and includes the Royal Observatory and 17th-century Queen’s House In 2012 the complex was given the overall name of Royal Museums Greenwich along with the famous Cutty Sark which stands nearby.

Greenwich has always had associations with the sea and the navy has roots on the waterfront while Charles II founded the Royal Observatory in 1675 for “finding the longitude of places”. The home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian since 1884, Greenwich has long been a centre for astronomical study, while navigators across the world have set their clocks according to its time of day.  Something about this knowledge has always given me a slight sense of awe when visiting this part of Greenwich.

The National Maritime Museum has a huge collection on Britain’s seafaring history including art, maps and charts, manuscripts, models and plans, navigational instruments and personal items belonging to important historical figures such as Nelson and Captain James Cook.

Flamsteed House, the original part of the Royal Observatory, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and was the first purpose-built scientific institution in Britain.  In 1953, the Old Royal Observatory became part of the Museum.

The 17th-century Queen’s House, an early classical building designed by Inigo Jones, is the keystone of the historic “park and palace” landscape of maritime Greenwich.  The Queen’s House was refurbished in 2001 to become the heart of displays of art from the Museum’s collection.

In May 2007 a major capital project, “Time and Space”, opened up the entire Royal Observatory site for the benefit of visitors. The £16 million transformation features three new modern astronomy galleries, four new time galleries, facilities for collections conservation and research, a learning centre and the 120-seat Peter Harrison Planetarium designed to introduce the world beyond the night sky.

The National Maritime Museum has galleries exploring various aspects of Britain’s maritime history.  A gallery dedicated to Nelson and the Navy tells the story of Admiral Nelson, his battles, his life and his death at Trafalgar, and sets the battle in the context of the wars against the French in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  It describes the ships, the sailors and how they lived and the way the navy was perceived at home.

Figureheads, National Maritime MuseumThe gallery concerned with traders explores the relationship between Britain and the wider world, particularly the powerful East India Company which spread its influence until it controlled huge areas of territory in India.  I found this fascinating, partly because I studied this at University and partly because I spent time researching the Company in India when I was writing about Assaye in An Unconventional Officer.

Another gallery covered the difficult subject of the transatlantic slave trade, both up to abolition and beyond.  I thought this topic was well-handled, looking at both slavers and abolitionists as well as the slaves who fought back against their masters in places like Haiti.

Naval Heroes, National Maritime MuseumOther galleries explored the maritime history of London, the first world war and in Voyagers, the personal significance of Britain’s maritime story.  I particularly liked the exploration of Turner’s famous painting of Trafalgar which analysed the painting and it’s meaning in the context of national pride and naval power following the battle.

The museum is huge and there is so much to see and do that it is easy to miss things.  Work is in progress on a new gallery and there are various temporary exhibitions, a children’s play area and the fabulous Great Map.

If the museum has a fault, it is that the various galleries are sometimes hard to follow in the correct order.  Especially as it is sometimes possible to enter a gallery from either end it is easy to find yourself going around in the wrong order and there is no numbering of exhibits to help with this.  With a fairly good background in history it didn’t really bother me that much, but I can imagine it would irritate some people.

I loved the museum along with the Royal Observatory, which completed the story of some of the scientific aspects of navigation and the Cutty Sark, standing 400m outside.  I didn’t manage the Queen’s House this time around, although I’d like to go back to it.

The Cutty Sark is one of my clearest childhood memories.  It was a Sunday afternoon treat, even just going to see it.  Going aboard was even better.  The ship was one of the fastest tea clippers in the world and there was something romantic for me as a small girl, standing on the deck gazing up at the tall masts and trying to imagine billowing sails and a fresh breeze at sea.  I was devastated in 2007 when the ship was badly damaged by fire and have followed the progress of the restoration.

Greenwich Foot TunnelWe used to take the bus to the Isle of Dogs back in the sixties and seventies and then walk through the foot tunnel to Greenwich.  The foot tunnel is a piece of history in itself, a masterpiece of late Victorian engineering which opened in 1902 and was built to replace an expensive and unreliable ferry service which took workers living south of the river to work in the docks and shipyards.  The entrances at each end are beneath glazed domes and I can remember the joy of running through the tunnel calling out and hearing my voice echo, bouncing off the walls eerily.  We used to count the steps at each end.  There were lifts but for some reason we seldom used them.

The Cutty SarkA visit to Greenwich is both a research aide for the new book and a trip down memory lane.  The strong sense of standing with both feet in maritime history is just what I need as I embark on the second half of my book which places me aboard a Royal navy ship bound for Copenhagen in 1807 under Admiral Gambier.  But there is also a sense of standing with at least one foot in my own past, a child growing up in the East End with parents who took us to some historic site almost every weekend.  There is a strong link between that excited little girl standing on the deck of an old ship and trying to imagine how it felt to sail in her and the woman writing a novel of those who did.  I owe that as a debt to the parents who gave me that sense of history and why it matters to all of us.

The new book, An Unwilling Alliance, is due for publication in April 2018.

An Unwilling Alliance – coming in 2018

Castle Rushen
Castle Rushen, on the Isle of Man

When Hugh Kelly left Mann aged 16 he expected never to return. His parents were both dead, the family farm repossessed and the navy seemed like a good option for a penniless lad with big ambitions and no prospects. Fourteen years later he returns as a Trafalgar veteran with a healthy amount of prize money and his own command in refit at Yarmouth. He is in search of land and a home and a wife to look after them when he goes back to sea.
Roseen Crellin is determined not to give in to her father’s efforts to find her a good husband. The man she wanted has sailed away and she has no interest in a marriage to a man who sees her a convenience rather than a woman.
It seems a courtship with little future but fate intervenes unexpectedly and as Hugh sets sail to join the Royal Navy on it’s way to Copenhagen he is forced to reassess his feelings towards the girl he had not bothered to get to know, while Roseen discovers a world beyond the hills and glens of her island home and a side to herself she had never known existed.
An Unwilling Alliance is the first of my books to be set partly on the Isle of Man where I live.  It is also the first set in the very different world of the Royal Navy.  I’ve been wanted to do a Manx setting for a long time, but since I write historical novels I needed to find the right time period.  I have considered, and am still considering, a novel set in the English Civil War but I haven’t studied that period since University and it will be a lot of work.

In the end I decided to stick with my current period, helped by reading the story of Captain John Quilliam, the Manxman who served with Nelson aboard the Victory.  This is not his story but there are parallels between his progress and that of Captain Hugh Kelly, and like Quilliam, Kelly comes home to his island with his pockets well-lined with prize money and in search of a home and a wife.

I hope that An Unwilling Alliance will be published early in 2018 and will be followed by An Untrustworthy Army, book five in the Peninsular War Saga.