After eight years of war between Britain and France there is at last a rumour of peace. But the old enemies are well aware that any settlement will be only a breathing space in which to recover from their terrible losses. To obtain the best terms the French muster a show of strength from Biscay to the Channel ports. At the British Admiralty there are some who see a daring opportunity to even the score at any negotiation table – and who better to undertake it than the young Rear Admiral Bolitho! In June 1801 Bolitho's small squadron is still repairing the scars of battle earned at Copenhagen – and as he receives his orders from London Bolitho is, for the first time in his life, torn between the demands of duty and his real desire to marry. When the squadron sails it is joined by an additional ship, a frigate with many memories from the past. But where Bolitho's flag leads so his captains must follow, if necessary to the brink of disaster – for theirs is a tradition of victory.
March 1808, and war spreads in Europe as Napoleon holds Portugal and threatens his old ally, Spain. The Royal Navy's blockade of enemy ports continues, and a new anti-slavery bill further stretches the hard-pressed fleet's resources, as more ships are required elsewhere to suppress that profitable trade. Estranged from his wife and child, and plagued by the fear of blindness, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho or ordered once more to the Cape of Good Hope to establish a permanent naval force there following the success of his previous mission. He leaves behind the contempt of society and the bitter memories of a friendship betrayed, and with the mistress he will not forsake takes passage on the ill-fated Golden Plover. With them are others eager to quit the land: Valentine Keen, for whom command at the Cape is both promotion and an escape from his own troubled marriage, the faithful Allday, and young Stephen Jenour, who finds in this dangerous voyage a passage to maturity. When shipwreck and disaster overtake Golden Plover, a hundred-mile reef off the coast of Africa becomes a powerful symbol of crisis and survival, claiming alike the innocent and the damned. Beyond the reef little remains, only raw courage and reckless hope, and the certainty that for those in peril and for those at home life has changed irrevocably.
The September in question is in 1803 when press gangs ruled the quayside, and Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho finds himself the new master of Argonaute, a French flagship taken in battle. With the short-lived Peace of Amiens in ruins, he must leave behind the safety and security of Falmouth and take his place in the harder war which follows. With the exception of Nelson himself, the recently-knighted Bolitho is the youngest admiral on the Navy list, but his new status sits uneasily upon his shoulders along with his new command. For the most part the officers of his hastily-formed squadron lack experience, whereas their French counterparts are well-trained and confident. And Bolitho is also a man plagued by worry about the coolness behind his recent parting with his beautiful wife Belinda. What lies ahead is the reality of war at close quarters – where Bolitho will be called upon to anticipate the overall intention of the French fleet. And where, not for the first time, his own human reactions and the dictates of his position will be at odds. But it is the realisation that the battle has come to a personal vendetta – between himself and the French admiral who formerly sailed Argonaute – that drives Bolitho and his men to a final rendezvous where no quarter is asked or given.
In March 1784, at a time when most of the fleet was laid up, His Majesty's frigate Undine weighed anchor at Spithead to begin a voyage to India and far beyond. As her new captain, Richard Bolitho was glad to go, despite the nature of his orders and the immensity of the voyage – for he was leaving an England still suffering from the aftermath of war. But he was to learn that signatures on proud documents did not necessarily make a lasting peace, and found himself involved in a conflict as ruthless as the one which had given him his first command during the war with France. In an uneasy peace the expansion of trade and colonial development in little-known areas of the East Indies soon pushed aside the pretence and brought the guns' fury into the open. There was no set line of battle or declared cause to rally Undine's small company. But the dangers and the endless demands had to be faced by the man who commanded the only King's ship available.
In the bitter February of 1813, with convoys from Canada and the Caribbean falling victim to American privateers, Sir Richard Bolitho returns to Halifax to pursue a war he knows cannot be won, but which neither Britain nor the United States can afford to lose. After nearly thirty years of almost continuous conflict with the old enemy, France, England and her Admiral desire only peace. But peace will not be found in the icy Canadian waters, where a young, angry nation asserts its identity, and men who share a common heritage die in close and bloody action. Nor is there peace for those who follow the Cross of St George: not for the embittered Adam, mourning his lover and his ship, nor for Rear-Admiral Valentine Keen, who remains strangely indifferent to responsibility. Nor will there be peace from those who use this struggle between nations as an instrument of personal revenge
As 1794 draws to a close Richard Bolitho, commanding the old seventy-four-gun ship of the line Hyperion, leaves Plymouth to join a squadron blockading the rising power of Revolutionary France. After six months of repairs his ship is ready to fight again, but her company is mostly raw and untrained. Unfortunately, Bolitho finds himself under a commodore who is no match for the French admiral, Lequiller, whose powerful squadron uses guile and ruthless determination to elude him and vanish into the Atlantic. Hyperion, as part of a small British force, gives chase, the desperate voyage taking them from the Bay of Biscay's squall to the heat of the Caribbean – and for each mile sailed and every battle fought Bolitho finds himself being forced into the ever more demanding role of strategist and squadron commander.
It is March 1811, and Richard Bolitho is recalled to duty after only two and a half months of precious peace in Cornwall with his beloved mistress Catherine. Promoted Admiral, his choice of flagship and flag captain shock the Admiralty, but Bolitho, poignantly aware of his own vulnerability, surrounds himself only with those men he can trust completely: the faithful Allday, the withdrawn and intelligent Avery, and James Tyacke, who must confront the sternest test of his loyalty with great personal courage. When diplomacy fails the cannon must speak, and Bolitho, patrolling the troubled waters from Antigua north to Halifax, knows that when war with America comes he must fight an enemy not foreign but familiar, for the freedom to leave the sea forever.
In June 1793 Captain Richard Bolitho arrives at Gibraltar to take command of the Hyperion, a seventy-four-gun ship of the line. Although not completely recovered from a serious fever contracted in the Great South Sea, Bolitho is eager to get back to duty against the rising might of Revolutionary France. He sails to join Lord Hood to partake in the Monarchist-inspired occupation of Toulon. But at heart Bolitho is still a frigate captain, and he is soon fretting at being tied to the fleet's apron strings; his ship, too, is old and slow, her hull weed-encrusted after nearly four years' continuous commission. Beneath the Mediterranean sun, and often in sight of the enemy coast, Bolitho and his tired old ship face one conflict after another – and when at last the ill-fated campaign collapses in failure it is the Hyperion, outgunned and outnumbered, which takes her rightful place in the line of battle.
It is February 1818, and Adam Bolitho longs for marriage and a safe personal harbour. But with so much of Britain's fleet redundant, he knows he is fortunate to be offered HMS Onward, a new 38-gun frigate whose first mission is not war but diplomacy, as consort to the French frigate Nautilus. Under the burning sun of North Africa, Bolitho is keenly aware of the envy and ambition among his officers, the troubled, restless spirits of his midshipmen, and the old enemy's proximity. It is only when Nautilus becomes a sacrificial offering on the altar of empire that every man discovers the brotherhood of the sea is more powerful than the bitter memories of an ocean of blood and decades of war.
In September 1804, England stands alone against France and the fleets of Spain, daily expecting an invasion. Entrusted with an urgent mission for the King, Vice-Admiral Richard Bolitho hoists his flag above the veteran seventy-four-gun ship Hyperion and sets sail with a new squadron for the Caribbean. Plagued by the knowledge that both his troubled marriage and the eye injured in his last battle with Contre-Amiral Jobert are worsening, Bolitho is eager to quit the land less than three months after his return home. But even his beloved old ship Hyperion, hastily restored from an ignominious existence as a hulk, is full of tormenting memories and lost faces. Ordered to plan and effect a daring raid on the Spanish Main, Bolitho spares himself nothing. It is more like a death-wish than a mission. He himself leads the dawn attack against enemy mortars in La Guaira, capturing after a bloody battle the rich prize of His Catholic Majesty's biggest treasure-ship laden with gold and silver. In Antigua once more, he is roused from his darkness of soul by the rediscovery of a passion which defies convention and every risk to his reputation. His future is full of uncertainty as he sails east to Gibraltar, for a rendezvous that all who follow his flag will remember. For the year is 1805, an historic year for the English fleet, and Hyperion is set to fight her last great
The year is 1777 when the revolution in America has erupted into a full-scale war. The navy's main task is to prevent military supplies from reaching Washington's armies and to destroy the fast-growing fleet of French and American privateers. As a junior officer Bolitho is often bewildered by swiftly changing events, but in a ship of the line, under a hard and determined captain, he has little opportunity for uncertainty. At a time of shortages and sudden death even a lieutenant can find himself faced with tasks and decisions more suitably given to officers of greater experience – and as the Trojan goes about her affairs the threat to Bolitho and his companions makes itself felt from New York to the Caribbean.
Filled with high-seas intrigue and sharp tensions, this nautical novel takes an intense voyage into the heart of Napoleonic-era Africa. The year is 1819 and Captain Adam Bolitho has been sent on an urgent but risky mission to make a fast passage from Plymouth to Freetown, West Africa, with secret orders for the senior officer stationed there. Due to the slave trade being declared illegal, ships in every harbor are waiting to be scrapped and officers have been cut loose without hope of future commands, thus Adam soon finds himself the object of envy and jealousy. For Adam, newly married and as fiery as ever, Africa will bring reunions and unexpected allies, and a treachery that wears the mask of friendship, and threatens the very heart of all he loves.
Antigua, 1817 and every harbour and estuary is filled with ghostly ships, the famous and the legendary now redundant in the aftermath of war. In this uneasy peace, Adam Bolitho is fortunate to be offered the seventy-four gun Athena, and as flag captain to Vice-Admiral Sir Graham Bethune once more follows his destiny to the Caribbean. But in these haunted waters where Richard Bolitho and his 'band of brothers' once fought a familiar enemy, the quarry is now a renegade foe who flies no colours and offers no quarter, and whose traffic in human life is sanctioned by flawed treaties and men of influence. And here, when Athena's guns speak, a day of terrible retribution will dawn for the innocent and the damned.
This story is set in the winter of 1773, in and around the West Country of England. Midshipman Bolitho's ship, the Gorgon, is laid up for refit, and he with some other 'young gentlemen' is allowed home for Christmas. Bolitho, now seventeen, returns to his family in Falmouth, taking with him his best friend and fellow midshipman, Martyn Dancer. Bolitho soon discovers that all is not well in Cornwall. There are rumours of an increase in smuggling, even of witchcraft, and when a murdered man is found near the Bolitho house, ugly rumour becomes reality. Wrecking, the most savage of all crimes, is a further cause for alarm. Only a small and agile man-of-war can be of use against such restless enemies. To Falmouth comes one such vessel, the Avenger, and thoughts of a carefree leave are quickly forgotten by Richard Bolitho, especially when he learns the name of the Avenger's commander.
In October 1789, Captain Richard Bolitho, in command of the frigate Tempest, arrives at Sydney, capital of the infant colony of New South Wales. The ship has been in commission for two years and has been employed on isolated patrols, searching out pirates and protecting the great spread of trading concessions and their vulnerable supply routes. Instead of being ordered to England as he hopes, Bolitho is despatched to the outwardly idyllic islands of the Great South Sea where yet another trading concession has been claimed for the Crown. He hears of the Bounty mutiny in the same waters, and is aware of the many temptations to his own men, and to himself. Unknown to him, the uneasy peace across Europe is relentlessly drawing to an end, and when news of the French Revolution eventually reaches Bolitho's lonely command he finds danger and death among the islands, and an involvement which is both personal and tragic.
It is December 1815 and Adam Bolitho's orders are unequivocal. As captain of His Majesty's frigate Unrivalled of forty-six guns, he is required to 'repair in the first instance to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and reasonably assist the senior officer of the patrolling squadron'. But all efforts of the British anti-slavery patrols to curb a flourishing trade in human life are hampered by unsuitable ships, by the indifference of a government more concerned with old enemies made distrustful allies, and by the continuing belligerence of the Dey of Algiers, which threatens to ignite a full-scale war. For Adam, also, there is no peace. Lost in grief and loneliness, his uncle's death still unavenged, he is uncertain of all but his identity as a man of war. The sea is his element, the ship his only home, and a reckless, perhaps doomed attack on an impregnable stronghold his only hope of settling the bitterest of debts.
In October 1772 Richard Bolitho waits at Portsmouth to join the Gorgon, a seventy-four gun ship of the line. Although only sixteen, Midshipman Bolitho is already a veteran of four years in the King's Navy, and is determined that in this, his second ship, he will not make the mistakes or forget the lessons of his earlier experiences in the hard and demanding ways of the sea. Many of the ship's company are new and untrained, and when the hazards of bad weather, and the relentless hardships which are the daily lot of the common sailor, begin to show themselves, the midshipmen soon discover that authority, no matter how junior, is no easy thing. England is at peace with her old enemies, France and Spain, but the growing menace of piracy across the trade routes, worsened by rich and brutal trade of slavery between Africa and the Americas, make sea travel no less perilous. Gorgon's captain is ordered to take his ship to Africa's west coast and 'show the flag', and by example and swift action to destroy those who challenge his authority. From the captain down to the midshipmen it becomes evident that their new enemy is as dangerous and as skilful as any who fights in the line of battle.
'Peace or war, the requirements for this squadron remained unchanged. To protect, to show the flag, and to fight if necessary, to maintain that mastery of the sea which had been won with so much blood.' On the eve of Waterloo, a sense of finality and cautious hope pervade a nation wearied by decades of war. But peace will present its own challenges to Adam Bolitho, captain of His Majesty's Ship Unrivalled, as many of his contemporaries face the prospect of discharge. The life of a frigate captain is always lonely, but for Adam, mourning the death of his uncle Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho, that solitude acquires a deeper poignancy. He is, more than ever, alone, at the dawning of a new age for the Royal Navy, where the only constants are the sea and those enemies, often masked in the guise of friendship, who conspire to destroy him.
When in 1798 Richard Bolitho hoists his broad pendant as commodore of a small squadron and prepares to re-enter the Mediterranean he is soon made aware of his responsibility. There are rumours of a massive French armada and of the latest type of artillery – and Bolitho's orders are to seek out the enemy and to discover the intentions of his growing force. Without any British bases in the Mediterranean, and unable to show favour to old friends, Bolitho is well aware that there are others within his ships who are no less dangerous than the enemy – and during the weeks and months in which the squadron faces the hazards of the weather and French broadsides alike, Bolitho knows that far more than his own future is at stake. A fleet, even a nation, could depend on his decisions and, when he places his squadron between the Nile and the power of France, he must accept the price of the challenge.
The year is 1778, the ship is the 18-gun HMS Sparrow, England's finest sloop of war, and the Captain is Richard Bolitho, sailing his command into the fury of battle. The American Revolution has turned the Atlantic coast into a refuge for privateers and marauding French warships, and it is up to young Bolitho to fight the colonial rebels, to stave off the treachery of a beautiful woman, and to overcome the dangerous incompetence of a senior officer before it is too late.
The year is 1774 and Bolitho is now a newly appointed third lieutenant joining the 28-gun frigate Destiny at Plymouth. It is a far step from midshipman's berth to wardroom – and at a time when most of the fleet is laid up Bolitho is considered fortunate. Bolitho's promotion is tinged by personal sadness, but his new captain soon points out that Bolitho's loyalty is to him, the ship and His Britannic Majesty – in that order. Despatched on a secret mission far south to Rio and then to the Caribbean, Destiny and her company face the hazards of conspiracy, treason and piracy – and, as the little ship sails on, Bolitho has to learn amid broadside battles at sea and the clash of swords in hand-to-hand actions how to accept his new responsibilities as a King's officer.
In the spring of 1802 Richard Bolitho is summoned to the Admiralty in London and given his orders for a difficult and, to him, distasteful task. Even an advanced promotion to vice-admiral to make him one of the youngest ever appointed does not compensate for his sudden and thankless mission. Bolitho and his wife are expecting their first child, and for once he is loath to quit the land for the demands of duty. The Peace of Amiens, signed a few weeks earlier, is already showing signs of strain as the old enemies wrangle over the return of colonial possessions won and lost during the war. In the little sixty-four-gun Achates Bolitho sails West for Boston, and thence to the Caribbean where he must hand over the island of San Felipe to the French. Bolitho discovers that to be a man of diplomacy is not enough, and as threat and counter-threat weave a web of intrigue around his lonely command he balances success against the danger to the men who must follow him even to the cannon's mouth.
In March of 1814, Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho returns to England from several months' rigorous patrolling off the North American coast. The bitter and inconclusive war with the United States has not yet ended, but news of Napoleon's defeat and abdication has stunned a navy and a nation bled by years of European conflict. Victory has been the impossible dream and now, for Bolitho, a vision of the future and a personal peace seems attainable. He remains, however, an admiral of England, and an unsympathetic Admiralty dispatches him to Malta. Perhaps this appointment is a compliment, perhaps a malicious ploy to keep him from the woman he loves and the freedom for which he craves? He cannot know, but the voice of duty speaks more insistently even than the voice of the heart, and in this familiar sea where both glory and tragedy have touched his life, Bolitho must confront the future, the renaissance of a hated tyrant, and the fulfilment of destiny.
Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho returns to England after the capture of Martinique, and finds a brief respite from war and politics in the arms of his mistress, Lady Catherine Somervell. But the affairs of nations allow little time for personal happiness, and to his surprise and dismay Bolitho is ordered almost immediately to the Indian Ocean, where the shadow of a new conflict already darkens the horizon as the old enemy, France, forges an uneasy alliance with America and threatens British trade routes. Haunted by the deaths in their country's service of Nelson and Collingwood, and by his own vivid memories of shipwreck and tragedy, Bolitho is well aware of the price of admiralty, and for the first time considers the possibility of life not only beyond the reef but beyond the sea itself.
In the spring of 1797 Richard Bolitho brings the 100-gun Euryalus home to Falmouth to be flagship of the hastily formed squadron which has been chosen to make the first British re-entry to the Mediterranean for nearly a year. As flag captain, Bolitho is made to contend with the unyielding attitudes of his new admiral, as well as the devious requirements of the squadron's civilian advisor. England is still stunned by the naval mutiny at Spithead, in which Bolitho's admiral was personally involved, and as the squadron sets sail the air is already alive with rumour of an even greater uprising in the ships at the Nore. Only when the squadron is drawn to a bloody embrace with the enemy does the admiral see the strength in Bolitho's trust and care for his men – but by then it is almost too late for any of them.
In September 1800 Richard Bolitho, a freshly appointed rear-admiral, assumes command of his own squadron – but, as the cruel demands of war spread from Europe to the Baltic, he soon realizes that his experience, gained in the line of battle, has ill-prepared him for the intricate manoeuvring of power politics. Under his flag the Inshore Squadron has to ride out the bitter hardship of blockade duty and the swift, deadly encounters with the enemy. An old hatred steps from the past to pose a personal threat to him, but at the gates of Copenhagen, where his flag flies admidst the fury of battle, Bolitho must put all private hopes and fears behind him.
February 1806 … The frigate carrying Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho drops anchor off the shores of southern Africa. It is only four months since the resounding victory over the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, and the death of England's greatest naval hero. Bolitho's instructions are to assist in hastening the campaign in Africa, where an expeditionary force is attempting to recapture Cape Town from the Dutch. Outside Europe few have yet heard of the battle of Trafalgar, and Bolitho's news is met with both optimism and disappointment as he reminds the senior officers that, despite the victory, Napoleon's defeat is by no means assured. The men who follow Bolitho's flag into battle are to discover, not for the first time, that death is the only victor.
Portsmouth, 1782. His Britannic Majesty's frigate, Phalarope, is ordered to assist the hard-pressed squadrons in the Caribbean. Aboard is her new commander-Richard Bolitho. To all appearances the Phalarope is everything a young captain could wish for, but beneath the surface she is a deeply unhappy ship-her wardroom torn by petty greed and ambition, her deckhands suspected of cowardice under fire and driven to near-mutiny by senseless ill-treatment.
It is spring 1792 and England is enjoying a troubled peace, with her old enemy France still in the grip of the Terror. In harbours and estuaries around the country, the fleet has been left to rot, and thousands of officers and seamen have been thrown unwanted on the beach. Even a frigate captain as famous as Richard Bolitho is forced to swallow his pride and visit the Admiralty daily to plead for a ship. As the clouds of war begin to rise once more over the Channel, he has no choice but to accept an appointment to the Nore, and the thankless task of recruiting for the fleet. For Bolitho, still suffering the after-affects of a fever caught in the Great South Sea, and haunted by the death there of the woman he had loved, even so humble a command is a welcome distraction. With his small flotilla of three topsail cutters he sets out to search the coast for seamen who have fled the harsh discipline of His Majesty's Navy for the more tempting rewards of smuggling. As he is soon to discover, his opponents are no ordinary free traders, but the most brutal gang of smugglers England has known, the Brotherhood – a gang with men of influence behind them and a secret, sinister trade in human misery. Treason is never far distant, murder commonplace, and when a King's ransom is in peril, Bolitho is ordered to proceed 'with all despatch' to recover it. Trapped by the treachery and cunning of an old adversary, and under enemy fire, he needs all the loyalty and courage of his three gallant cutters if he is to fulfil his mission.