Tuesday, March 16, 2010

People: "Brilliant And Intrepid"

Most of us who are rabid fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels know the story well. Jack Aubrey is "loosely" based on the vigorous and controversial hero of Nelson's Royal Navy, Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane. It's one of those established "facts" that no one questions for the most part. After a chance meeting with a handsome portrait followed by some research, your humble hostess would now argue that a certain capable officer of the same era is being left out of the mix. Today, Brethren, allow me to introduce you to Captain Sir William Hoste.

Unlike Cochrane, Hoste was not from a family of landed gentry. Born on August 26, 1780, Hoste was the son of Dixon Hoste, rector of Godwick. Much like his hero and mentor, Horatio Nelson, Hoste was a clergyman's child. The Hostes rented Godwick Hall from Sir Thomas Coke while young William was growing up and it was through this connection that he would come to the sea.

Coke, as it turned out, was acquainted with the then Captain Nelson. This relationship allowed William to have his name entered into the Royal Navy books at the tender age of 5. This little trick allowed Hoste to accumulate "book time" while at home attending to his studies. It would also make him eligible to become an officer at a remarkably young age.

In April, 1793, Nelson took William aboard his HMS Agamemnon, a 64 gun man-of-war, as Captain's servant. William excelled in his duties and caught Nelson's attention. In a not unusual instance of complete disregard for his wife's feelings, Nelson wrote her that William "...each day rivets himself stronger to my heart." He made only passing and belittling mention of his other young servant, his wife's son Josiah Nesbit. Leaving the hapless Josiah in the dust, William was promoted to Midshipman by February, 1794.

From there, William's career took off. He followed Nelson into HMS Captain and fought with him in the Battles of Cape St. Vincent in 1796 and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. William was with Captain Nelson when he lost his arm. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1798 (thanks in no small part to Nelson and all that book time William scored starting at age 5).

Aboard HMS Theseus commanded by Ralph Miller, William participated in the famous Battle of the Nile. After this victory, Nelson recommended the 18 year old for promotion to Master and Commander and the promotion was confirmed in December. William took command of HMS Mutine at Naples. Three years later he was still in charge of Mutine but now under Lord Keith, who saw no reason for further promotions. The brilliant career slowed down and might have stalled all together if it weren't for William's perpetual benefactor Nelson. On his recommendation, and based on more than one capable action aboard Mutine, William made Post-Captain in 1802.

Mutine had largely spent her time around the Nile delta and William contracted malaria some time before his promotion. By 1803 he was suffering from a "lung infection" which may or may not have been the first signs of tuberculosis. He was forced to take some time off but returned to the Mediterranean aboard HMS Eurydice in 1804.

By 1805 he was again reporting to Nelson and in command of HMS Amphion. He was engaged in "diplomatic" (read intelligence) work in Algiers when the Battle of Trafalgar was fought. Upon hearing of Nelson's death, William was inconsolable. He wrote his father that "...to have lost such a friend... is really sufficient to overwhelm me."

It didn't, of course. William was given a cruise in the Adriatic where he captured or sunk 200 enemy vessels and brought trade with France to a halt locally. He was then given a Commodore's flag with two other ships under his command. In March, 1811 his squadron was attacked by the able French Captain Dubourdieu. The seven French frigates came straight at William's three but, with the signal Remember Nelson flying from Amphion, William and his ships won the day. Dubourdieu was killed, one of his ships was grounded and William took two as prizes. The battle, which occurred in the Bay of Vis, prompted the locals to name a small promontory there Hoste Island.

This success certainly was used as an example by O'Brian. A later victory, in which William had cannon raised up onto a rocky cliff above an enemy fortress with block and tackle in 1814 was used almost verbatim in The Hundred Days.

William Hoste, however, was becoming a sick man. Malaria ate away at him and he eventually contracted TB. He returned to England, received a Baronet in 1814 and was knighted in 1815. William married Lady Harriet Walpole in 1817. His health didn't deter him from the business of family. By 1825 they had six children. Appointed to the royal yacht Royal Sovereign that same year, William continued as her Captain until 1828. He contracted a cold in January and never managed to recover. By December he was gone.

The man that inspired O'Brian and that Admiral Alexander Cochrane called "...brilliant and intrepid" is buried in St. John's Chapel, London. Another place I must visit when I'm there.


Dwight said...

When you do visit St. John's at the Tower, also make time to visit the regimental museum of the Royal Fusiliers. Very homey, and very cool...


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Another interesting O'Brian related post. I'm guessing he used a lot of different historical figures as the basis for jack Aubrey, but clearly you are right and this is one of them, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Dwight & Timmy!

Dwight: sounds good. I'll need to rent a flat in London to accomodate the length of my sight-seeing adventures.

Timmy: given the indepth research that O'Brian did, I have to agree with you that Jack is an amalgam of lots of different seafarers. May they all rest well.