This novel covers the career of Lieutenant William Bissell, an enthusiast for the use of fireships and explosion-vessels. After service on the Montagu (Captain John Knight) and the Donegal under Pulteney Malcolm, Bissell comes into contact, both socially and professionally with Captain Lord Cochrane. The Stella of the title is his small dog, who is a central character in the plot, initially bringing together Bissell and his beloved, Katharine Corbett Barnes, for whose affections he competes with Cochrane. Minor characters include Tierney and Cochrane's brother, Basil Cochrane, both of whom are shown, like Cochrane himself, in a very positive light.
The climax of the novel is the attack on Aix Roads in 1809, in which Bissell is in charge of the planning of the explosion-vessel and the fireships under Cochrane. The details are effectively brought to life, including the stunning effect of the explosion-vessel, and Cochrane's unavailing efforts to move Gambier into action. A coda covers events after the action, including Gambier's court-martial, and Cochrane's elopement and marriage to Katharine Barnes.
As is often the case, Styles does not indicate his sources, or how much of the story is fact and how much is fiction, only providing the statement "All the chief characters in this book (including Stella) really existed. All the chief events really took place." Surprisingly, the most incredible event in the plot, when Cochrane returns to the explosion-vessel after having ignited the fuses to rescue the dog accidentally left behind, is apparently true!
Author: Showell Styles
Title: Stella and the Fireships
First Published by: William Kimber