Man Of War mh-9, page 1part #9 of Matthew Hervey Series
Man Of War
( Matthew Hervey - 9 )
War at sea: While Matthew Hervey is getting ready to re-join his regiment in England, his close friend Captain Peto is at sea preparing his mighty line-of-battle ship for war with the Turks.
1827: Captain Peto has just taken command of HMS Prince Rupert, the only three-decker line-of-battle ship in His Majesty’s Fleet — a wooden fortress whose formidable firepower is the equal and more of Bonaparte’s grand battery at Waterloo. But his journey to the Aegian, where Admiral Codrington’s flagship awaits him, will not be smooth sailing, having as he does, a largely inexperienced crew. He’s also been entrusted with the safe passage to Malta of the Admiral’s youngest daughter — a situation that is far from ideal for Peto and his crew.
A year on, and Hervey is in London recovering from a recent bout of malaria. All is set fair for his upcoming marriage, and his subsequent return to active duty in the Cape. But trouble lies ahead as family commitments clash with affairs of the heart, and Hervey finds himself embroiled in a military enquiry that could result in public humiliation.
As the cataclysmic sea-battle of Navarino Bay looms ever closer for Peto and his crew, Hervey faces a regimental crisis that may be beyond even his capabilities.
Allan Mallinson is a former cavalry officer. Besides the Matthew Hervey series, he is the author of the recently revised and updated Light Dragoons, a history of four regiments of British Cavalry, one of which he commanded. He is also a regular reviewer for The Times and the Spectator, and defence commentator for the Daily Telegraph.
For more information on Matthew Hervey, please visit his website on www.hervey.info
Also by Allan Mallinson
AND FEATURING MATTHEW HERVEY
A CLOSE RUN THING
1815: introducing Matthew Hervey, fighting for King and country at the Battle of Waterloo.
‘I have never read a more enthralling account of a battle . . . This is the first in a series of Matthew Hervey adventures. The next can’t come soon enough for me’ DAILY MAIL
THE NIZAM’S DAUGHTERS
1816: in India Matthew Hervey fights to prevent bloody civil war.
‘Captain Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons and ADC to the Duke of Wellington is back in the saddle . . . He is as fascinating on horseback as Jack Aubrey is on the quarterdeck’ THE TIMES
A REGIMENTAL AFFAIR
1817: Matthew Hervey faces renegades at home and in North America.
‘A riveting tale of heroism, derring-do and enormous resource in the face of overwhelming adversity’ BIRMINGHAM POST
A CALL TO ARMS
1819: Matthew Hervey races to confront Burmese rebels massing in the jungle.
‘Hervey continues to grow in stature as an engaging and credible character, while Mallinson himself continues to delight’ OBSERVER
THE SABRE’S EDGE
1824: in India Matthew Hervey lays siege to the fortress of Bhurtpore.
‘Splendid . . . the tale is as historically stimulating as it is stirringly exciting’ SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
RUMOURS OF WAR
1826: while Matthew Hervey prepares for civil war in Portugal, he remembers the Retreat to Corunna twenty years previously.
‘I enjoyed the adventure immensely . . . as compelling, vivid and plausible as any war novel I’ve ever read’ DAILY TELEGRAPH
AN ACT OF COURAGE
1826: a prisoner of the Spanish, Matthew Hervey relives the blood and carnage of the Siege of Badajoz.
‘Concentrating on the battle of Talavera and the investment of Badajoz, both sparklingly described, [Mallinson] plays to his undoubted strengths’ OBSERVER
COMPANY OF SPEARS
1827: on the plains of South Africa, Matthew Hervey confronts the savage Zulu.
‘A damn fine rip-roaring read’ LITERARY REVIEW
MAN OF WAR
1827: at home and at sea, crises loom.
‘As tense, exciting, vivid and gory as we’ve come to expect from this master of military fiction’ SPECTATOR
The Mediterranean and the course of HMS Prince Rupert, 1827 (page 16).
The Allied Squadrons and the Turkish Fleet at Navarino, October 20th, 1827 (page 378).
‘Soldiers and sailors are always acceptable in society,’ says Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. But, says Kipling a century later:
In times of war, and not before,
God and the soldier men adore;
When the war is o’er and all things righted,
The Lord’s forgot and the soldier slighted.
Certainly army officers, especially when in regimentals, remained acceptable in society after Bonaparte had ceased his great disturbing. It was the rank and file who all too quickly regained their status as ‘the brutal and licentious’. Sailors were spared this ignominy to some extent, for when they were not at sea they did not greatly trouble the country – at least not beyond a few ports. Their officers may have lost a little status (in the opinion of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall they had, of course, possessed little in the first place), but the relative fortunes of the army and the Royal Navy were anyway changing. Traditionally, Britain had entrusted her prosperity and safety to her ‘wooden walls’, the ships that kept the seas safe for her merchantmen, and saw off the periodic threats of invasion. There was a hearty fear of a standing army and the expense and hazard of continental campaigns. And this was no less so, to begin with, in the war with revolutionary France. The death of Nelson had moved the fleet and the nation; the ‘band of brothers’ – Nelson’s captains – and their younger siblings had not imagined, however, that their service would soon be eclipsed by men in red coats ashore. After 1808, when Bonaparte’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula gave Britain her chance to come to grips with the real Napoleonic engine of war, the Grande Armée, Trafalgar became rather a distant, if hallowed, memory; Salamanca, Talavera, Vitoria – these and others were the names that thrilled an Englishman in the decade that followed. And then the greatest of them all – Waterloo, the Iron Duke’s culminating victory, which sent Bonaparte to his distant, fatal exile, and ushered in the concert of Europe on which an everlasting peace was to be built.
Now, however, in 1827, two decades after Trafalgar, the pendulum of military fortune was swinging back: it was His Majesty’s ships that would again make war in the cause of peace and of liberty; the slave trade was being vigorously suppressed, and a triple alliance of Britain, France and Russia would oblige the Turks to quit Greek waters – the very cause for which Byron had died in the Peloponnese, and which philhellenes throughout Europe had long promoted. The Royal Navy was at last resurgent. Men like Matthew Hervey’s friend Captain Sir Laughton Peto, who had thought themselves beached, would have their chance once more.
But what of those in red coats? There were certainly far fewer of them than at any time in the life of all but the most grey-haired. Many were gaining a good dusting in far-flung corners of the growing empire; Hervey’s own uniform, though blue not red, had had a good dusting in India, and of late in the Cape Colony. But the growing use of the army to police the nation’s agrarian, industrial and political unrest made the cavalry unwelcome in some quarters (‘Peterloo’ was on the lips of many a rabble-rouser yet, and in the pages of the radical press). And when the explosive element of Catholic emancipation was added, coupled inextricably as it was with the condition of Ireland, society at times looked distinctly brittle. The old order was changing; the statesmen and soldiers who had brought Bonaparte to his knees and had managed to ke
This, then, is Matthew Hervey’s world, simple soldiering no longer his refuge. Family and friends are become equally a source of comfort and of disquiet. His future is on the one hand settled and propitious; on the other, uncertain and discouraging:
Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear Friends, when firstThe clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass . . .And from that hour did I with earnest thoughtHeap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore.Shelley
A FIRST-RATE COMMAND
Gibraltar, 28 September 1827
The barge cut through the swell with scarcely a motion but headway – testament to the determination with which her crew was bending oars. In the stern sat Captain Sir Laughton Peto RN, his eyes fixed on their objective, His Majesty’s Ship Prince Rupert – glorious sight against the backdrop of the Rock. To Peto’s mind Rupert was in no measure diminished by the towering crag; her three decks, her lofty masts, somehow outsoared the shadow of that Pillar of Hercules. Neither were her batteries belittled by those of the massive Montague Bastion, which Peto himself had only lately quit. Impregnable as was the citadel-Rock, Rupert was yet the most powerful of His Majesty’s ships at sea, a floating fortress able to send any of the King’s enemies to the bottom, as her forebears had done two decades earlier (and not many leagues to westward).
Any ship of the Royal Navy would look admirable at anchor in Gibraltar Bay, reckoned Peto: the Rock and the ‘Nelson chequer’ were as perfect a unity as any he could think of. As perfect as if they had been in Plymouth Sound, at Spithead, the Nore, or at Portsmouth. And Peto had been intent on nothing but the great three-decker from the moment he stepped into his barge.
She was an arresting picture, to be sure, but neither did it do for a captain, especially one of his seniority, to have eyes for so mere a thing as a boat’s crew; his attention must be on more elevated affairs than a midshipman and a dozen ratings. Above all, though, it was opportunity to study his new command as an enemy might. Peto was acquainted by reputation with her sailing qualities, but how might another, impudent, man-of-war’s captain judge her capability? He fancied he might know what a Frenchman would think. That mattered not these days, however; it was what a Turk thought that counted, for a year ago the Duke of Wellington, on the instructions of the foreign secretary, Mr Canning, had signed a protocol in St Petersburg by which Russia, France and Great Britain would mediate in the Greeks’ struggle for independence; and increasingly that protocol looked like a declaration of war on the Ottoman Turks.
What a mazy business it all was too: the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, on his sickbed for months, and in April the King sending for Canning to form a government, in which many including the ‘Iron Duke’ then refused to serve; and now Canning himself dead and the feeble Goderich in his place. Peto did not envy Admiral Codrington, the commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, whose squadron he was to join: how might the admiral do the government’s will in Greek waters when the government itself scarcely knew what was its will? He could not carp, however, for he was the beneficiary of that uncertainty: soon after Rupert had left Portsmouth, where formerly she had been laid up in Ordinary, their lordships at the Admiralty had sent a signal of recall to her captain (and promotion to flag rank), followed by an order for him, Peto, to proceed at once to Gibraltar to take command in his stead.
The wind was strengthening. Peto did not have to take his eyes off his ship to perceive it. Nor did he need to crane his neck to mark the frigate-bird that accompanied them, tempting a prospect though such an infrequent visitor was – and sure weather vane too, for he had frequently observed how the bird preceded changeable weather, as if borne by some herald of new air. With a freshening westerly it would not be long before Rupert could make sail; and he willed, unspoken, for hands to pull even smarter for their wooden world – his wooden world.
He had waited a long age for this moment, for command of a first-rate; waited in fading expectation. Well, it were better come late than never. And so now he sat silent, perhaps even inscrutable (he could hope), in undress uniform beneath his boatcloak: closed double-breasted coat with fall-down collar, double epaulettes for his post seniority, with his India sword hanging short on his left side in a black-leather scabbard; and within a couple of cables’ length of another great milestone of his nautical life.
At their dinner at the United Service Club (when was it – all of six months ago?) he had told his old friend Major Matthew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons that he was certain another command would not come: ‘There will be no more commissions. I shan’t get another ship. They’re being laid up as we speak in every creek between Yarmouth and the Isle of Wight. I shan’t even gain the yellow squadron. Certainly not now that Clarence is Lord High Admiral.’ For yes, he had been commodore of a flotilla that had overpowered Rangoon (he could not – nor ever would – claim it a great victory, but it had served), and he had subsequently helped the wretched armies of Bengal and Madras struggle up the Irawadi, eventually to subdue Ava and its bestial king; but it had seemed to bring him not a very great deal of reward. The prize-money had been next to nothing (the Burmans had no ships to speak of, and the land-booty had not amounted to much by the time its share came to the navy), and KCB did not change his place on the seniority list. Their lordships not so many months before had told him they doubted they could give him any further active command, and would he not consider having the hospital at Greenwich?
But having been, in words that his old friend might have used, ‘in the ditch’, he was up again and seeing the road cocked atop a good horse. The milestones would come in altogether quicker succession now.
And what a sight, indeed, was Rupert! Even with sail furled she was the picture of admiralty: yellow-sided, gunports black – the ‘Nelson chequer’; and the ports open, too, of which he much approved, letting fresh air circulate below deck; and the crew assembling for his boarding (he could hear the boatswain’s mates quite plainly). What could make a man more content than such a thing? He breathed to himself the noble words: gentlemen in England, now abed, will think themselves accurs’d they were not here.
There was one thing, of course, that could make a man thus content: the love, the companionship at least, of a good woman (he knew well enough that the love of the other sort of woman was all too easy to be had, and the contentment very transitory). And now he had that too, for in his pocket was Miss Hervey’s letter.
Why had he not asked for her hand years ago? That was his only regret. He felt a sudden and most unusual impulse: he wished Elizabeth Hervey were with him now. Yes, in this very place, at this very moment; to see his ship as he did, to appreciate her lines and her possibilities – their possibilities, captain and his lady. Oh, happy thought; happy, happy thought!
They closed astern of Rupert – Peto could make out her name on the counter quite clearly now – and he fancied how he might see Elizabeth’s face at the upper lights in years to come. When first he had gone to sea, a lady might have stood at the gallery rail, but galleries had fallen from fashion. A pity: he had always loved their airy seclusion. The Navy Board was now building ships with rounded sterns, and sternchasers on the upper decks (Admiral Codrington flew his flag in one of these, the Asia). And about time, too, was Peto’s opinion, for a stronger stern and a decent weight of shot to answer with made raking fire a lesser threat. But in his heart he was glad to have command of a three-decker of the old framing: she was much the finer looking (in truth, his own quarters would be the more commodious too); and he certainly had no intention of allowing any ship to cross his stern.
His cloak fell open, and in pulling it about himself again he noticed his cuff: Flowerdew would be darning it within the month. But that should be of no concern to him. He was not – never had been – a dressy man. If the officers and crew of His Majesty’s Ship Prince Rupert did not know of his character and capability then that
Not that it was any business of the officers and crew: he, Sir Laughton Peto KCB, held his commission from the Lord High Admiral himself. These things were not to be questioned, on pain of flogging or the yard-arm. Except that he considered himself to be an enlightened captain, convinced that having a man do his bidding willingly meant that the man did it twice as well as he would if he were merely driven to it. Though, of course, it was one thing to have a crew follow willingly a captain who was everywhere, as he might be in a frigate, but quite another when his station was the quarterdeck, as it must be with a line-of-battle ship.Nisus had but one gun-deck; in action the captain might see all. Rupert had three, of which the two that hurled the greatest weight of shot were the lower ones, where the gun-crews worked in semi-darkness, and for whom in action the captain was as remote a figure as the Almighty Himself. The art of such a command, he knew full well, was in all that went before, so that the gun-crews had as perfect a fear of their captain’s wrath – and even better a desire for his love – as indeed they had for their heavenly maker. If that truly required the lash, he would not shrink from it, but at heart he was one with Hervey in this: more men were flattered into virtue than were bullied out of vice. Besides, in these days of peace, the press gang and assize men were no more: the crew were volunteers. The old ways had gone.
ALLAN MALLINSON SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Words of Command (Hervey 12) (Matthew Hervey)The Sabre's Edge mh-5The Making Of The British ArmyHervey 05 - The Sabre's EdgeA Call to Arms mh-4Man Of War mh-9The Passage to IndiaOn His Majesty's Service mh-11
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