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 Lord Cathcart gave the order for the British army batteries assisted by the fleet under Admiral Gambier to bombard 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, published in April 2018 was 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 loved writing it and am currently working on Hugh Kelly’s next adventure which will take him, along with the second battalion of the 110th, on the disastrous expedition to Walcheren in 1809.
The other joy of An Unwilling Alliance was that it gave 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 gave me the opportunity to go back in time from Wellington’s Peninsular Wars where the 110th had 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 was an odd experience to look back at a younger Paul and remember all the lessons he hadn’t yet learned in 1807 and it 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 was a genuine pleasure and I hope they have the chance to meet up again in the future.
An Unwilling Alliance was published in April 2018 – you can read an excerpt here. My next book, which is centred around the Walcheren expedition, is titled This Blighted Expedition and will be published later this year.
Beginning in 1802, the Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon, and in particular the story of Paul van Daan who joins the regiment as a young officer and rises through the ranks in Wellington’s army.
In a linked series, the Light Division romances, we follow the fortunes of some of the men of the 110th into peacetime. Two books have been published so far, A Regrettable Reputation and The Reluctant Debutante
A second linked series, about a Manx naval officer, begins with An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 and tells the story of Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, Major Paul van Daan of the 110th infantry and the Copenhagen campaign of 1807.
An Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga: 1802 – 1810)
It is 1802, and two new officers arrive at the Leicestershire barracks of the 110th infantry just in time to go to India. Sergeant Michael O’Reilly and Lieutenant Johnny Wheeler have seen officers come and go and are ready to be unimpressed. Neither of them have come across an officer like Lieutenant Paul van Daan.
Arrogant, ambitious and talented, Paul van Daan is a man who inspires loyalty, admiration and hatred in equal measure. His unconventional approach to army life is about to change the 110th into a regiment like no other.
The novel follows Paul’s progress through the ranks of the 110th from the bloody field of Assaye into Portugal and Spain as Sir Arthur Wellesley takes command of the Anglo-Portuguese forces against Napoleon. There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.
Rowena Summers, a shy young governess who brings him peace, stability and lasting affection.
Anne Carlyon, the wife of a fellow officer who changes everything Paul has ever believed about women.
As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.
It is 1810 and Major Paul van Daan and the 110th prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal. Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.
But after a successful battle, Lord Wellington has another posting for his most unorthodox officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment. Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances. And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.
It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life. Given a brief by Wellington which requires Paul to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is waiting for Wellington’s most headstrong colonel to fail dismally at last…
Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men. His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities. And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.
In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences. Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England. With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure. But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul. As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife. Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way.
An Untrustworthy Army (Book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga: June – November 1812)
Back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division. Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos. But the end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat. At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, will Colonel van Daan’s legendary brigade manage to hold together and get themselves back to safety? (To be published in July 2018)
An Unrelenting Enmity (Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga: December 1812 – April 1813)
Wellington’s army is in winter quarters, licking it’s wounds after the retreat from Burgos. In the 110th and the rest of the Third Brigade, however, morale is high. Anne van Daan has successfully given birth to her second child and there is time for a trip to Lisbon to see the rest of the children. Things take a turn for the worse when a new commander is appointed to the 115th serving under Paul, a man who represents everything that Wellington’s most unconventional brigade commander despises. In addition, the new Major has a history with Sergeant Jamie Hammond which looks likely to set off a major explosion in the 110th. (To be published in December 2018)
An Uncivilised Storming (Book 7 of the Peninsular War Saga: May- October 1813)
Lord Wellington leads his army into northern Spain. With a better supply train and a new determination the Anglo-Portuguese army are about to make a push to cross the Pyrenees and invade France. Wellington’s army, including Colonel Paul van Daan and the Third Brigade of the Light Division face the French at Vitoria win a comprehensive victory. There follows an exhausting series of battles as Marshal Soult tries desperately to rally his forces and push the English back. Weary of battle, Paul is appalled when he arrives in time to witness the sacking of San Sebastian by the Allied troops, an atrocity which makes him question his place in the British army. (To be published in April 2019)
An Inexorable Invasion (Book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga: October 1813 – February 1814)
Wellington’s army is invading France. After almost five years of advancing and retreating across Portugal and Spain, Colonel Paul van Daan and his brigade are about to set foot on French soil, the first time many of them have ever done so. At the battles of the Bidassoa and the Nivelle, the men of the light division are at the forefront of the action as Wellington ruthlessly presses home his advantage. But behind the scenes, the European powers are negotiating for Bonaparte’s abdication and the end of hostilities and the disappearance of Sir Henry Grainger, British diplomat and intelligence agent sends Captain Michael O’Reilly and Sergeant Jamie Hammond with a small force into hostile country on a mission which could lead to peace – or cost them their lives. (To be published in August 2019)
An Improbable Abdication (Book 9 of the Peninsular War Saga: March 1814 – January 1815)
Wellington’s army is in France, marching inexorably towards victory. An inconclusive engagement at Toulouse is cut unexpectedly short when the news comes in that Napoleon Bonaparte has abdicated and that France has surrendered. With war finally over, Colonel Paul van Daan and his battered and exhausted men are bound for England and a round of celebrations and gaiety which Colonel van Daan could do without. While the crowned heads of Europe are feted in London, honours and promotions abound and Anne and Paul find themselves learning how to live a normal life again with their children around them. The light division is broken up with it’s various regiments sent to other duties and Lord Wellington, now a Duke, is despatched to Vienna to represent Britain in the complex peace negotiations which threaten to try his patience almost as much as Marshal Massena. But the early months of 1815 bring shocking news… (To be published in December 2019)
An Unmerciful Engagement (Book 10 of the Peninsular War Saga: Waterloo 1815)
For Paul and Anne van Daan, domestic bliss has been interrupted long before they had grown used to it. Bonaparte is loose and with the light division disbanded and many of it’s crack regiments dispersed to other theatres of war around the globe, Wellington needs to pull together an army from the allied nations of Europe. His Peninsular army no longer exists but he still has Paul van Daan and the 110th. Promoted to General, Paul is on his way to Brussels and to a battle far worse than anything he has yet experienced. (To be published in June 2020)
An Amicable Occupation (Book 11 of the Peninsular War Saga: 1815 – 1818 the Army of Occupation)
With the horrors of Waterloo behind him, Paul van Daan is in France commanding a division of the Army of Occupation under Wellington. It is a whole new experience for the officers and men of the 110th, learning to live beside the men they fought against for six long and painful years.
A Civil Insurrection (Book 12 of the Peninsular War Saga: Yorkshire 1819)
Back in England finally, the 110th have settled back into barracks and are enjoying a rare spell of peace when trouble in the industrial towns of the North sends them to Thorndale, Anne’s home city where her father and other mill owners are under threat from what looks like a revival of the Luddite movement. After many years of fighting the French the men of the 110th are faced with a new challenge which might see them pitted against their own countrymen. (To be published in December 2020)
The Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth is more than just a museum. It is a site containing a collection of museums, all of them connected to the Royal Navy and Britain’s maritime heritage and you need more than one day to do all of them. Since we only had one day and since the aim of my visit was to soak up some background information about naval warfare and life in the 19th century navy, I was very specific about the museums we chose but we had time for one or two extras and I will definitely be back to do the rest. This place is absolutely brilliant.
We went first to visit HMS Victory, the flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. She is looking a little odd at the moment since a new phase of restoration and conservation is taking place, and the top half of her masts is missing. Despite that, there is no way that this ship can look anything other than impressive and beautiful.
HMS Victory left the Chatham Royal Dockyard in 1765. Over an unusually long time in service she would lead fleets in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War and in 1805 she achieved lasting glory as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar when Britain defeated the French and Spanish fleet in what is often seen as Britain’s greatest naval victory.
In 1808 the Victory was re-commissioned to lead the fleet in the Baltic. Four years later, no longer required in this role she was relegated to harbour service as a residence, flagship and tender. In 1922 she was saved for the nation and placed permanently into dry dock where she is today visited by millions of visitors from around the world; a museum of the sailing navy and the oldest commissioned warship in the world.
For me, the Victory was a chance to step aboard a warship of the age. My current work-in-progress, An Unwilling Alliance, is about a Manx sea captain who survived Trafalgar and has just been given command of his own warship. The Iris, Hugh’s ship, is not as big as the Victory, being a third rate 74 gun ship, but there is still a strong sense of what life might have been like aboard such a ship and the task of writing about the Iris and its crew suddenly feels more manageable.
The Victory is set up to give a very good sense of life aboard a warship. Sections of the lower deck have hammocks set up and some of the tiny officers and midshipmen’s cabins are furnished as they would have been at the time. You can see the captain and admiral’s quarters and it is fascinating to see how the crew slept and lived alongside the guns. With a battle approaching, furniture would be cleared away and the entire area would become a battleground.
Naval battles at this time were not just about the pounding of heavy guns. Ships fought close together and sailors and marines fired muskets and pistols at the enemy crew as if in a land battle. Nelson’s fatal wound at Trafalgar was caused by a shot down from the enemy rigging which shattered his spine. Once ships were close together the aim was to board the enemy ship and close and savage hand to hand fighting with sword, bayonet and axe would ensue. The ship’s guns did not fire exploding shells, they acted as battering rams, smashing the enemy ship to pieces, and a lot of the wounds treated by the ship’s surgeon came from wooden splinters which could be lethal.
One of the big assets of this museum are its guides. Most are volunteers, often former navy personnel and their knowledge and enthusiasm for their subject is very impressive. These are not people who have done a bit of background reading on the subject; they know it all. We spent a fair bit of time chatting, not just about the Victory and the Napoleonic wars but about other ships and other combats. It would be easy to spend a day just talking to them.
If there is a downside to the Victory, it is the lack of written information. There is a guidebook and an audio-guide. I’m not a fan of either as I find wandering around with a book in my hand or listening through headphones detracts from the experience for me, so initially I found the complete absence of any kind of information boards irritating. I quickly realised that there was always a guide close by to ask, and they always know the answer, but if you’re not one to start talking freely to complete strangers, make sure you get a guide of some kind before you board or you’ll miss out.
The other thing to be aware of, is how low the lower decks are. We were told that some of the warrant officers were six feet or more and it must have been an enormous strain working below decks at that height. At 5’6” I had to stoop a fair bit and my 6’ husband had a backache by the end of the tour.
Having said that, it was a completely brilliant experience and I would recommend it to anybody.
There is a lot of this, it needs plenty of time. The museum is in two parts, one dedicated primarily to Nelson and his war and the rest covering the history of the Royal Navy up to modern times, including a fabulous exhibition about women and their role in the navy, especially the history of the WRENs. It’s a great museum, well-set out with a huge amount of information and something for everybody. We had to rush some parts of it, so be warned and give it time.
This boat trip around the harbour is included in the price of the museums and is well worth doing. It takes about 45 minutes and looks at the history of Portsmouth as a naval base as well as taking a look at any modern Royal Navy vessels that happen to be in port at the time. This was a treat for us as it gave us the chance to get a very good look at the brand new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier which is astonishing. There were a couple of great photo ops including the Victory – the old and the new navy side by side. Well worth doing but wrap up warmly if you’re doing it in January…
This was my bonus treat of the day. Completely out of my period, but the skeletal remains of Henry VIII’s flagship, raised from the Solent and preserved along with many artifacts, is one of the most haunting sights I have ever seen. The museum is very new and combines the history of the ship and its sinking with the story of its recovery very effectively. The technology used to display the ghostly hulk of the Mary Rose, with images of its daily life projected onto it, is impressive. I can remember following this story as a history student back in the eighties and what they’ve done since then defies belief. Along with the Victory, this has to be the highlight of the Dockyard and is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, so atmospheric. Go and see it.
The Mary Rose was the end of our day. I plan to come back and spend a few days in Portsmouth. I want to see the rest of the historic dockyard: there is a lot more to see, including the Victorian HMS Warrior, the Submarine Museum, HMS M.33 and several other attractions that I didn’t have time to explore. This would be an excellent place to visit with children, they have their own dedicated play areas but the exhibits themselves are very much designed for all ages. Mine are older now but they would have loved this place. I would also like to spend time looking at the town itself. I definitely got what I came for, but I want more.
I’ve been worried about taking on the mammoth task of writing about the navy in 1807 when I feel so much more comfortable with the army, but Portsmouth Historic dockyard is a big step forward for me. After months of reading and making notes I suddenly feel that I’ve got a sense of my locations in the same way I did when I stood on the walls of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain. Writing the navy is very different; although they lived and loved on shore, when they went to work they did it in a small space, bound by wooden walls but with the ocean all around them. That must have shaped the character of the men who fought and died with Nelson and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of them better.
An Unwilling Alliance is due for publication in April 2018.
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.
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.
The 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.
Other 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.
We 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.
A 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.
South Barrule, Isle of Man, is the setting for one of the early scenes in An Unwilling Alliance which is due out in April 2018. It is one of the most prominent of the southern hills and its name derives from Wardfell, the hill of the ward or watch where men were stationed to watch for invading ships. In Manx folklore it is said to be the stronghold of the sea-god, Manannan Beg Mac y Lir. It is the site of an ancient hill-fort which was excavated in the 1960s.
View from South Barrule
In the following excerpt, Captain Hugh Kelly has persuaded Miss Roseen Crellin to climb to the top of the hill with him. The couple have only recently met, and Roseen’s father is keen to make a match between them. Hugh is looking for a wife and is definitely interested but Roseen is resisting the idea of being pushed into any marriage with a man she hardly knows, especially since she is pining for a young Englishman who has recently left the island. At the same time, she actually quite likes Hugh, or would do if he would stop trying to flirt with her…
There was a well marked path and although the going was steep, it was not a particularly difficult climb. Hugh kept a cautious eye on his companion but after ten minutes he relaxed. Miss Roseen Crellin, for all her dainty appearance, was as strong as a young pony and strode up the slope without struggling at all, hampered a little by her skirts. The hem was quickly muddied in some of the boggier areas but it did not seem to bother her. Hugh offered a hand on some of the rockier sections of the path and she accepted it although he suspected she did not really need it.
The breeze picked up as they climbed higher. Around them the slopes were covered with heather, the plants massing together to form a thick, bushy carpet, almost a foot tall in places, tough and strong and made to withstand the dry winds across the hills. Already it was beginning to bloom in swathes of mauve and purple and bright pink. It was springy under their feet and there was a familiarity to the feeling which made Hugh smile, remembering hours of scrambling over these hills with Isaac and other friends of his childhood.
A scrabbling made him turn and his companion stopped and put her hand on his arm to still him. They watched as half a dozen rabbits, disturbed by the unexpected human presence, scrambled inelegantly for their burrows, their short tails vanishing below ground in a flurry of panic. Above, silhouetted against blue sky and scudding white clouds, birds soared and dipped. The air was fresh and clean and Hugh felt an unexpected rush of sheer happiness at being here on these hills, breathing this air and hearing the sounds of home around him.
“Do you miss it – when you’re at sea?”
Hugh turned with the startled sense that she had read his mind. “Yes. Oh God, yes. All the time. I love being at sea – been there most of my adult life. A ship is home to me in ways you can’t imagine. But still I miss this. The smell of earth instead of salt and the solid ground beneath my feet. The sense of something real that I can touch and own. A ship can’t give you that. Even the wind smells different here. This is home. This is Mann. Have you travelled off island much?”
“Twice only. My father’s youngest sister married a Manchester cotton spinner and lives just outside the town. I didn’t like it much.”
Hugh smiled at her expression. “Not even the shops and the theatres?”
“I enjoyed the opera,” Roseen said, after a moment’s consideration. “Shops are shops. Once you have what you need, I’d rather go home.”
Hugh laughed aloud. “You’re an unusual girl, Miss Crellin. Here, give me your hand. Almost there.”
At the top they stood for a moment, catching their breath, drinking in the beauty of the landscape which stretched out before them. The wind buffeted them, cooler up here than the gentle breeze at the foot of the hill, and Hugh studied his companion. The exercise had brought colour to her face and the wind had tugged her hair loose from it’s confining pins so that part of it blew free. She did not seem conscious of it at all. Her eyes were on the silver surface of the sea, over beyond Derbyhaven. The odd T shape of the Langness Peninsula jutted out into the sea and a ship bobbed at anchor in the bay. Further out they could see, once again, a flotilla of small boats; the fishing fleet busy about its work.
“It’s so beautiful,” Roseen breathed. “Thank you for bringing me up here, Captain. I’d no idea you could see so far.”
“We’ve picked the right day, it’s very clear. I’ve been up here and barely been able to see to the bottom of the hill for the mist,” Hugh said.
“Have you? Why make the climb?”
“Playing truant from school. Nobody was going to come searching for me up here, and if you duck down behind the old rampart over there it’s very sheltered, you can hardly feel the wind.”
“I’m glad you said that, I wasn’t looking forward to picnicking in a gale.”
Hugh grinned. She was shading her eyes against the bright sunlight, looking around her. Over to the north-west a huddle of white houses and red roofs marked the location of Peel, although it was not possible to make out the distinctive shape of the castle from here. On the opposite side of the island was the larger town of Douglas, growing fast with it’s new shops and some elegant houses built by men making themselves wealthy in trade. To the south-east lay Castletown, just beyond the peninsula, and here he could see the soft grey stone of the castle very clearly.
Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors. It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold. In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.
It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night. I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.
I think it has probably done me good, however. Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going. I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it. I think my head may have needed the break.
It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward. I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business. I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.
This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth. I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself. I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral. And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year. I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.
It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received. I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar. Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.
I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this. He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology. He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous. He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined. He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones. He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard. You are the best.
My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me. That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor. He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books. He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat. Thanks, Jon.
My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day. She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time. She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense. Thank you, bambino.
There are so many other people I should thank. Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.
Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible. There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular. I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat. A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.
The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live. The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted. It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner. Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus. It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…
The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well. The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved. The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.
In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign. There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.
The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart. While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army. In An Unconventional Officer, we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.
I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer. After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.
We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem. I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year. My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time. And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.
My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors. Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did. Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight. They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come. Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.
Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters. Looking forward to 2018.
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.
Captain John Quilliam by Henry Barber (Manx Museum)
Captain John Quilliam RN was born in Marown on the island on 29 September 1771 and died in Michael at the age of 58 after a long and distinguished career. His parents, John Quilliam and Christian Clucas were farmers at Ballakelly and the young John was apprenticed to a stonemason and then worked as a labourer when he was picked up by a press gang in 1794 at the age of 23.
During the Napoleonic wars the press gang operated a number of times on the Isle of Man. The Duke of Atholl was known to have offered financial incentives for men to volunteer for the navy in the island but there were still not enough recruits and Manx sailors were considered particularly valuable by the navy to such an extent that the press gang received an extra bonus for any Manxman taken.
The island was dependant upon its fishing industry and at times it was disrupted as the fleet did not dare to put to see for fear of being apprehended by warships looking for men. In 1798 forty men were impressed in Port Erin bay despite protests from the Governor and the House of Keys to the Admiralty. Another raid in 1811 by the warship Maria took twenty fishermen and a number of men of the Manx Volunteers in a violent attack.
In theory the press gang were only allowed to take those with seafaring experience between the ages of 18 and 55. In times of severe shortage however these rules were relaxed and any man was at risk. In 1810 the press gang invaded Onchan Parish School on the island, terrifying the children who fled from the school. A boy of around 14 was seized by the gang but they were obliged to release him when a group of local women pelted them with stones. On other occasion the gang would seized labourers, farm workers and shop boys on their way home and once aboard ship they listened to no excuse having heard a wide variety of them over the years. Local young men would run for cover when the press gang was scouring the area and there were specially constructed shelters in the hills. Apparently, a field next to Jurby Parish School called Ballaconney which was thickly covered in gorse was a popular refuge for local youths dodging impressment. It is hard to blame them given that those taken would often not return for many years.
Once taken into service, a pressed man would usually be given the option of becoming a volunteer for which he would be paid a bonus. If he chose not to do so his freedom would be very limited. Desertion rates in the navy were so high that even volunteers were seldom allowed shore leave when in port. Food, drink and women were ferried out to the ships to try to avoid losing half the crew every time the ship was in port.
In theory, landsmen and ‘gentlemen’ were exempt from impressment. In practice this was sometimes ignored. If a warship was particularly short handed, with the prospect of battle looming, it was not uncommon for a captain to turn a deaf ear to a pressed man claiming exemption from impressment. Unlike in the army where there was a term of service, even when that was for life, sailors signed on to a ship for a particular campaign and once that was over they were discharged although they could sign on again. Obviously during wartime, a campaign or commission could last for years, so for a pressed man without any way of returning to shore and his previous life, it might well have seemed best to make the most of his time at sea.
The hero of An Unconventional Officer, Paul van Daan, was the son of a gentleman, a wealthy ship owner, who was almost fifteen when he was pressed into the Royal Navy. The circumstances were unusual. The ship on which he had been serving an apprenticeship had gone down in a storm and Paul and a few of the crew had made it to shore on Antigua when a press gang picked them up. In the middle of a group of sailors, the young Paul would have looked no different and an unscrupulous press gang with a quota to fill did not care. Back in England with the formal process of magistrates and paperwork it is unlikely that Paul’s naval service would have lasted much beyond a few days but the exigencies of war in far flung places and the desperation of some captains to crew their ships meant that it was convenient occasionally to turn a deaf ear to protests.
Captain John Quilliam RN was another man who should not have been eligible for impressment as a farmer and labourer, although we do not know very much about his early life or the circumstances of his impressment. Many Manxmen with land based jobs were also part time fishermen and there is no reason to suppose that Quilliam had no experience at sea when he was seized; he might well have been an experienced sailor. With only vague details about the circumstances of his joining the navy, it is not certain if he was pressed or volunteered although local legend is in favour of the impressment story.
Certainly both Quilliam and my fictional character, unlike most impressed sailors, decided to make the most of their chances in the navy. Paul van Daan only served for two years before his wealthy father realised he was alive and brought him home but in that time he had risen to be a petty officer, the naval equivalent of an NCO in the army. John Quilliam served for longer and rose rapidly. He is first recorded in 1797 when he would have been twenty six and three years at sea and he was made a Lieutenant at the Battle of Camperdown by Admiral Duncan.
In 1799 Quilliam took part in the capture of the Spanish treasure ship Thetis and received prize money of over £5000. He fought at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 as First Lieutenant on HMS Amazon. The design of the Amazon meant she was able to get close under the shore batteries, an important but very hazardous undertaking which led to every one of the higher-ranking officers beingkilled leaving Quilliam in command of the badly damaged ship. His gallantry and calmness under fire and the way he took command was rewarded with being made First Lieutenant on HMS Victory by Horatio Nelson.
HMSVictory (photo by Ballista)
Captain John Quilliam RN was a talented and accomplished officer during his time on the Victory and helped to steer her into action at Trafalgar. A contemporary report stated:
“Just as she (the Victory) had got about 500 yards of the larboard beam of the Bucentaure the Victory’s mizzen-topmast was shot away, about two-thirds up. A shot also struck and knocked to pieces the wheel; and the ship was obliged to be steered from the gun room, the First Lieutenant John Quilliam and master Thomas Atkinson, relieving each other at the duty.” (James’s Naval History of Great Britain)
The Battle of Trafalgar by Turner
The Battle of Trafalgar by Turner
After Trafalgar, Quilliam was promoted to Captain and placed in command of HMS Ildefonso, a Spanish ship which needed refitting at Gibraltar. He did not arrive back in England until 1806. In 1808 he captained Admiral Stopford’s flagship, HMS Spencer and then in 1812 he was captain of HMS Crescent on the Newfoundland Station and remained there until Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. His exploits included the capture of the 14 gun American privateer schooner the Elbridge Gerry together with her crew of 66 men.
Quilliam was elected to a seat in the Manx Parliament, the House of Keys in 1807 even though he was then still an active serving officer. At the end of the war he returned to the Isle of Man, investing his considerable wealth in properties, including the Balcony House in Castletown which was built for him as a town house and continuing his career in politics. He was re-elected a Member of the House of Keys in 1817, and on December 21 of that year he married Margaret Stevenson at Castletown. The couple had no children.
Balcony House Castletown (photo by Richard Hoare)
Balcony House Castletown (photo by Richard Hoare)
In 1826 Captain Quilliam was instrumental along with Sir William Hillary in the formation on the Isle of Man of a District Association of the Royal National Institution of the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. He also served as Chairman of the Committee for Shipwrecked Seamen.
Captain John Qulliam RN died on October 10, 1829. He was buried in the Stevenson family vault in the graveyard at Kirk Arbory with the following inscription on his tombstone.
Tomb of Captain John Quilliam (Photo by Kevin Rothwell)
Tomb of Captain John Quilliam (Photo by Kevin Rothwell)
“Sacred to the memory of John Quilliam, Esq., Captain in the Royal Navy. In his early service he was appointed by Adml. Lord Duncan to act as lieutenant at the Battle of Camperdown; after the victory was achieved, this appointment was confirmed. His gallantry and professional skill at the Battle of Copenhagen attracted the notice of Lord Nelson, who subsequently sought for his services on board his own ship, and as his lordship’s first lieut. he steered the Victory into action at the Battle of Trafalgar. By the example of Duncan and Nelson he learned to conquer. By his own merit he rose to command: above all this he was an honest man, the noblest work of God. After many years of honourable and distinguished professional service, he retired to this land of his affectionate solicitude and birth, where in his public station as a member of the House of Keys, and in private life, he was in arduous times the uncompromising defender of the rights and privileges of his countrymen, and the zealous and able supporter of every measure tending to promote the welfare and the best interests of his country. He departed this life on 10 October 1829 in the 59th year of his age. This monument is erected by Margaret C. Quilliam to the memory of her beloved husband.”
In looking at a Manx hero as the subject of a new book, John Quilliam’s story is an inspiration. He is an example of a man who might have lived a fairly undistinguished life as a stonemason, a farmer or a fisherman. Taken by force from his family and his home he was thrown into an unfamiliar life, and he seized it with both hands and more than made the best of it.
Captain John Quilliam RN and Petty Officer Paul van Daan were contemporaries and served in the navy at the same time although Quilliam was ten years older than my fictional hero and remained with the navy while Paul moved on to the army. By the time Paul was pressed in Antigua in 1796, Quilliam was about to receive his first commission. I’m looking forward to a new area of research and finding out more about the navy and the Manx role within it.
Watch this space…