Horatio Nelson is one of Britain's great heroes and his later life is well documented. Pauline Hunter Blair offers us a rare chance to explore his early history -- through painstaking research and imaginative but plausible reconstruction. Before Horatio Nelson was eighteen, he had sailed towards all points of the compass: as captain's servant, coxswain of the captain's gig, able-bodied seaman, foretop man, and midshipman. After Chatham, he sailed to the West Indies on a sugar ship, the Mary Ann, when he must have first revelled in the glorious trade winds. Her captain was a trusted naval friend of his uncle's, now commanding this merchantman, for whom perhaps the boy developed a loving admiration which almost caused his naval ambitions to falter.
Safely back in the Medway and Thames, he learned their tides, channels, sand banks, and landmarks or points of departure: on one occasion very probably under a Lt Boyles, who sounds like his old friend of Burnham days. When news of the Arctic voyage to seek a north-east passage to the Pole fired his imagination, he was off in a converted bomb-ketch, aptly named the Carcase, to foggy, frosty wastes, encountering floating structures of ice, padding white bears, walrus, and a million sea birds. Six tempests on the way home initiated him into the buffeting manners of the rough North Sea. HMS Seahorse then carried him south, round the Cape, across the Indian Ocean to Madras, and the Bay of Bengal to Calcutta; then to Ceylon, to Bombay, and up the Persian Gulf. They were once involved in a minor but possibly explicable exchange of fire, off the Malabar coast, with some ships of one Hyder Ali, out from Mangalore; his first taste of a skirmish. HMS Dolphin and her kind Captain carried him home from Bombay, a sad victim of malaria, and not expected to make England. But on the way, miraculously, he recovered. Logs of all but the first of these voyages exist, so that we can follow the events. This is a fictionalised account of his relations with captains, officers, masters, and friends.
Author: Pauline Hunter Blair
Title: A Thorough Seaman
First Published by: Church Farm House Books
Date: 1 June 2000