Tag Archives: A&E Hornblower

Hornblower:The Fire Ships (aka Examination for Lieutenant)

Hornblower:The Fire Ships (aka Examination for Lieutenant)
93 minutes

This episode is comprised of short stories from C.S. Forester’s Midshipman Hornblower and are:
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys (just a small bit)
Hornblower and the Examination For Lieutenant
Hornblower and Noah’s Ark

The approximate date is sometime after 19 Aug 1796 when Spain formally made peace with France and joined in its war against Britain.

Spain has made peace with France and a supply ship carrying Captain “Dreadnought” Foster is sunk by the Spanish. He is rescued by Indefatigable and Hornblower is impressed with him. With supplies running short, Hornblower is sent to Oran with a diplomat to purchase livestock, produce and grains. The Black Plague forces Hornblower and his crew to spend quarantine on the Caroline and they all return safely to Indefatigable. During his lieutenants examination, a Spanish fire ship is sighted. Hornblower and Dreadnought Foster work to steer the ship away from the fleet saving Indefatigable.

The episode opens with the Spanish delivering a message to Captain Pellew that Spain has made peace with France;he has six hours to leave Spanish waters or be fired upon. Meanwhile a supply ship carrying Captain “Dreadnought” Foster comes under attack. Foster takes command when the ship captain believes they have no chance of escape and gives orders they fight. The ship is sunk and Foster and the few surviving crew (one attacked him in the water for sinking the ship) are rescued by Indefatigable.

During the meal with Indefatigable’s officers, Foster relates what happened but finds most of the senior officers not exactly on his side. Hornblower seems supportive and is glad France was deprived of the supplies. The other officers, in particular Pellew, are not so pleased. Due to food supplies running low, Captain Pellew orders half-rations for the crew. He points out to Hornblower that Foster will have to do the same. Meanwhile Bunting, a seaman in Hornblower’s section, is a problem. Fitch was his friend who helped him calm down when pressed. Sadly he dies from malnutrition causing Bunting to be angry. He makes mutinous talks with his mates, Hornblower hears some of it and warns him to stop it. Bunting, believing the officers are hoarding good food, breaks into the ship stores. He finds the food old, stale, and moldy and is caught. Pellew makes him walk the gauntlet where each seaman strikes him with the cat of nine tails. Hornblower admits knowing of his poisonous talk and Pellew orders him to lead him through the gauntlet.

Hornblower is assigned command of the Caroline to transport food supplies and livestock from Oran. Tapling of the foreign service joins him on the expedition. Once ashore they discover Bunting hiding on the longboat. Meanwhile as supplies are being received, it is clear something amiss is going on. It is the Black Death and they must gather up their supplies and leave. Hornblower informs Pellew of what happened and will serve out the three week quarantine on Caroline. During that time, they go ashore to fetch fresh water and encounter a Spanish patrol. Bunting tries to escape but is recaptured. Hornblower ends up killing him in the end. Tapling tries to tell him he was correct in doing so.

However in returning to Caroline, he sees another British ship is taking supplies off it. It is Dreadnaught Foster’s ship and Hornblower tries in vain to prevent it since they are still in quarantine. Foster gets belligerent and Hornblower says his duty is to the fleet. He ends letting Foster taking what his men have already gotten and Foster says he will see him in Gibralatar. Tapling tries to make Hornblower understand he did his duty regarding Bunting but Hornblower wonders if he is fit to be in command. He believes Pellew would have done it differently. They are welcomed back by the Indefatigable and Pellew also tells him he did his duty regarding Bunter. He says men like Bunting have cast themselves adrift and this is part of the bitter brew that officers have to deal with.

At the lieutenants exam, Dreadnought Foster is part of the examination board and Hornblower struggles in dealing with a question. Fortunately the signal is sounded and a fire ship is spotted heading towards the fleet. The three captains and Hornblower board a longboat and head to the fire ship. Foster and Hornblower board and steer it away from Indefatigable. However as they turn to leave, Foster falls through some loose boarding and barely hangs on. Hornblower saves him and they both jump in the water and rescued by the longboat containing captains Hammond and Harvey. Foster relays his unhappiness they were not close enough. Hammond takes offense and a duel is in the offing. Hornblower says that he is saddened that one of the two will not be alive after dawn. That seems to have a calming effect.

Captain Pellew offers Hornblower a drink in his sea cabin and thanks him for saving his ship. He also relates that particular exam board will not likely reconvene and that he was not doing well. Pellew notes though he has been through a much sterner examination and says it has been an honor to serve with him.

Deviations from Midshipman Hornblower
*In the book the exam occurs before the mission to Oran.

*Captain Dreadnought Foster does not appear until Hornblower’s examination. There was no supply ship sunk that he was aboard and had to be rescued later. While it was common back then to refer to a captain by the name of the ship when returning to his ship, it was not commonly used as part of your name elsewhere. In the book, his real first name is never used.

*Bracegirdle is still a midshipman, not a lieutenant.

*There was no Bunting.

*Hornblower captured a Spanish ship and brought to Gibraltar at conclusion of quarantine. It is the commissary officer in port that chides him for serving fresh beef for his crew calling it an extravagance.

*The examination for lieutenant was aboard a captured Spanish ship Santa Maria. One funny scene is a midshipman leaves when he learns Captain Hammond is one of the examiners. He accidentally tossed his dog over the side of the ship and knows he will never get promoted if Hammond is one of the examiners.

*Foster and Hornblower do get aboard a fire ship and steer it away. They are first rescued by Spanish when they jump in the water, who then are captured by British. Foster orders they be let go for saving their lives.

*Foster tells Hornblower that particular examination board will never meet again and that he was failing. However he intends to notify the authorities of his heroism.

Combining three small stories into one coherent episode took some doing for the scriptwriter. The theme that unites is leadership and Hornblower is certainly put to the test. Dreadnought Foster was only in one story (Examination For Lieutenant) and never appears again. The contrasting styles of Pellew and Foster gave Hornblower a chance to see which was the best to emulate. At first he seemed quite taken with Foster’s deeds but slowly comes to realize towards the end that his duty is not just to himself but to the fleet. Foster was indifferent and it cost a supply ship (sunk by the Spanish) and most of its crew. The fact he was willing to take food off a quarantine ship shows the disregard he had for his crew as well. If Hornblower’s men were infected, then taking that meat put his men in mortal danger. Pellew had to put the good of the fleet first in the chance that Hornblower and his men were not infected and would bring to supplies back in three weeks.

The Bunting subplot was to once again show growth and development for Hornblower. Hornblower also had to deal with meting out justice. Not only was Bunting a thief but tried to desert. While ashore he runs to the Spanish patrol but is recaptured. Hornblower does not want to kill Bunting but he was left with little choice. Bunting grabbed his gun and Hornblower fired killing Bunting. He did not like killing Bunting and felt remorse over it. In part that is a good thing. Taking joy in the execution of another human life, no matter how deserving, can lead to one becoming comfortable with taking life. The truth for Hornblower is that sometimes men aboard ships will do bad things. And rules during time of war are strict about such conduct. Which means if he is the senior officer he will have to order punishment. In the books it was never easy for him but he did it because duty demanded it. Captain Pellew points out that it is part of the bitter brew they must endure.

His bravery aboard the fire ship showed he was willing to do the extraordinary for the fleet. Pellew’s growing admiration shows how much he has come from the very junior midshipman that reported for duty aboard the Justinian. All in all, an excellent adventure. The adaptation did not alter too much of the Hornblower universe though it would have been great to have seen Hornblower seize control of the Spanish ship as done in the book. An excellent second outing in the series.

Historical Notes
*On 19 Aug 1796 Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso with France and becoming an ally of First Republic. Spain would combine its forces with France against Britain. Spain’s prime minister Godoy thought it was the best of a bad situation. The war with France had not gone well for Spain. France had seized several northern cities and threats of unrest caused by revolutionary ideals led into the peace decision. Also many in Spain, Godoy included, did not like the British much. However the decision resulted in Spain suffering severe economic problems. Trade with Britain and the United States ended. Shipments between their American colonies faced being intercepted and captured by the British. Spain was a weak imperial power at this time so it did not have many cards to play. They used old galleys to take becalmed ships near land when their escorts were too far away as galleys used slaves to row them. Spain suffered a huge defeat in 1805 when the British defeated the combined French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. After that, Godoy and others like him became more distrusted by those loyal to the old order. Ultimately Napoleon put his brother on the throne and invaded Spain in 1808. That action led to other Spanish to unite in opposition to France and they made peace with Britain. Britain aided by loyalist Portuguese, Spanish guerrillas, and sometimes loyal units of Spain, would work to push France out of the Iberian Peninsula. It would be led by General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington).

*Fire ships were first used in ancient times. They would take a ship and fill it wood (usually the type that would burn hot and fast), light it, and push it toward an enemy ship. Ships are highly flammable due to the dry timber and oils used to seal it. Greek fire was used later from ships to hurl at enemies causing the same effect. Fire ships had become mostly obsolete by the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However some ships of the British and French navies were used for this purpose. They were piloted by a skeleton crew that would steer it, ignite the fuel, and escape in a long boat. It was a devastating weapon when used at ships in port. Since the ships could not get out of the way easily, it meant those ships were in danger of burning up if it got too close. You could sink it with cannon but the danger was the flying debris would land on decks and that it would take too long to sink before it hit its mark. Fire ships became obsolete when metal replaced wood and steam replaced wind power. The concept is still sound but used differently. You use ships or boats packed with explosives, which was done in Operation Chariot in 1942. The old destroyer HMS Campbeltown was packed with explosives and rammed the dry dock in Saint-Nazaire, France to deny the German warship Tirpitz use of the only dry dock it could use in France. That raid was successful but the commandos that accompanied the mission were unable to return in the small boats as they were destroyed by German fire or other things. The were forced to fight their way out and escape overland. Many ended up surrendering when they ran out of ammunition. 622 men (Royal Navy and commandos) were sent out, only 228 would return to England. 169 men died and 215 were taken prisoner. The dry dock remained out of commission until after the war.

HMS Dreadnought, circa 1831-1857 as hospital ship. Image: public domain
HMS Dreadnought, circa 1831-1857 as hospital ship.
Image: public domain

*The character of Dreadnought Foster appears completely fictional as no historical figure exists with that name. There was an HMS Dreadnought of this period that was commissioned in 1801. It was a Neptune class ship of the line with a class of three 98 gun second rates. The most famous ship of this class was HMS Temeraire(1798). During the battle of Trafalgar, it came to Victory’s aid and took on two French ships and captured them. Temeraire would have been known to Hornblower as this ship was used during this period for blockade or convoy duties in the area. Aside from the Temeraire, its sister ships Dreadnought and Neptune also fought at Trafalgar.

*One of the greatest dangers, aside from fire and disease, was malnutrition. By this time, the cause of scurvy was well understood as lacking certain foods in the diet. The discovery of vitamin C was a long way off. It was known a diet of fruits and vegetables was important. Limes were often used on ships (a daily ration along with run) which is why the name “limey” was often used to denote British sailors. The problem for the British was that Spain was closed to them beyond Gibraltar so no hope of getting food there. Other outlets (Sicily, Italy, Greece) were more difficult. The Ottoman’s were not that hospitable either. So the closest and easiest choice were the nearby Barbary states like Oran to supply the fleet until other supply ships arrived.

*The effects of disease on ships was an acute one and could wipe out more than half its crew (or more). The Black Death, although no longer a major threat in Europe, was still around. It is believed today that there were several forms of the plague that spawned from the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Thought possibly to have been spread by traders from the east, most believe it was spread by black rats with fleas carrying the disease. The fleas would jump from rats to humans spreading the disease to their new hosts. 30-60%(depending on the area and how widespread the infection was) of the European population were killed between 1346-53. The plague would reoccur in Europe. It also ravaged North Africa and the Middle East as well. Tapling refers to an outbreak in Smyrna(known today as Izmir in Turkey) in 1786. The date may be fictional but incidents of Black Death did occur in that region in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Review:Hornblower: The Duel(1998)

Artist:Léopold Le Guen Photo: Public Domain
Artist:Léopold Le Guen
Photo: Public Domain

Hornblower: The Duel(1998)
aka Hornblower:The Even Chance
93 minutes


This first installment of the A&E series covers the following short stories from C.S.Forester’s Midshipman Hornblower:

Hornblower and the Even Chance
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God

This episode deals with Hornblower’s arrival on Justinian, his conflict with Midshipman Simpson, transfer to the Indefatigable, his captaincy of the Marie Galante (and its loss) and a major encounter with the French. It concludes with the duel between Hornblower and Simpson.

The starting year is approximately January 1793.

17 year-old Horatio Hornblower arrives on HMS Justinian and meets Captain Keene, who is not well. Keene knew his father (a doctor) as a patient of his. His fellow midshipman chide him on his age and not starting sooner. Meanwhile senior Midshipman Simpson returns to everyone’s regret after failing to pass his examination for lieutenant. He is a bully,tough on Hornblower and rules the other midshipman through fear and intimidation. He comes to particularly dislike Hornblower because he does better than him in navigation classes.

During a game of whist on shore waiting for a merchant convoy to arrive, Simpson accuses Hornblower of cheating because he wins. Hornblower challenges him to a duel, which is accepted, but on the day of the duel Midshipman Clayton(who had become friends with Hornblower) knocks him out and takes his place. Hornblower arrives after the duel to find Clayton mortally injured. Just after he dies it is learned that England and France are now at war (setting the date sometime on or after 1 Feb 1793 when France declared war on England).

Hornblower and other midshipman (and some crew) are transferred to HMS Indefatigable captained by Captain Sir Edward Pellew. In his first meeting with Pellew, he tells Hornblower that he judges a man not by what he hears but what he sees. He is referring to the report of the duel and the fact that Hornblower had someone else stand in for him. Hornblower tries to defend his old captain when Pellew is critical of the conditions that led to the duel but reminded that a ship captain is responsible for everything aboard his ship.

The taking of the Marie Galante, a small merchant ship, gives Hornblower his first command. Unfortunately he discovers later that a cannon shot caused a small hole under the waterline resulting in the ship taking water. They try to plug it up but the cargo–rice–swells causing damage to the ship. They try dumping the rice over the side but to no avail. The small prize crew and the French seamen have to get on long boat and hope for the best. The French eventually take command and the captain wants the compass and charts. Hornblower tosses the compass overboard but the confidant French captain says he will get them to France. Time passes and they are no closer to land than before and the French seamen are angry. Hornblower had kept the coordinates in his head and knows they merely turned around are going parallel to the coast. Fortunately the Indefatigable appears and they are all rescued. The British seamen report Hornblower’s exploits to the crew while he reports to Pellew as to what happened. Pellew is not upset and ultimately says it was better for France to loose the rice rather than Britain to profit from it.

The Justinian is sunk in battle by the Papillon and one of the survivors picked up is Midshipman Simpson. Pellew decides they need to capture the Papillon to take it out of French hands. So he plans a daring raid in which the ship will be seized at night. During that raid, Midshipman Kennedy has an epileptic fit and has to be left in the boat. Meanwhile Simpson cuts the line setting it free and fires on Hornblower hoping it will kill him. It does not and he charges Simpson with attempted murder to Lieutenant Eccleston. Unfortunately both Lieutenants Eccleston and Chadd would die right after that when the ship is raked with enemy fire. Eccleston gives Hornblower command with his dying breath but Simpson tries to take command, and is stopped when Bowles accepts Hornblower’s authority.

Hornblower steers Papillon to where the French are battling the Indefatigable. Their ship is still showing French colors so they are not fired upon. They fire on the French ships giving the Indefatigable a better chance of success. It works and Pellew commends his actions but wants to know he came in command of Papillon. Which leads to a fiery exchange in Pellew’s quarters with Midshipman Simpson. He denies the charges and calls Hornblower a coward. Pellew counters that Hornblower cannot be called a coward considering his heroism in combat. Simpson maintains he is a coward for refusing to defend his honor. Pellew, who ordered Hornblower not to duel, lifts the restriction. At the duel, Simpson purposefully does not wait out the count and fires injuring but not killing Hornblower. Hornblower points the gun in the air and fires saying Simpson was not worth it. Simpson grabs a knife and attempts to attack Hornblower while his back is turned. But a bullet fired by Captain Pellew hits him in the chest killing him on the spot.

Pellew later says he dispensed justice reminding Hornblower he judges by actions not words. Hornblower is grateful but Pellew reminds him that he has fought his duel but not to fight another.

Historical note: The character of Captain Sir Edward Pellew is based upon a real life figure, Edward Pellew,1st Viscount Exmouth. He was a real naval hero of his day, did command the Indefatigable early on in the wars with France, and rose to the rank of Admiral. Likewise the ship HMS Indefatigable was a real ship that served during the wars with France with a distinguished record that included capturing 27 prize ships. Pellew commanded the HMS Indefatigable from 1794-1799 during the French Revolutionary War period.

Deviations From Midshipman Hornblower
*Captain Keene ordered the guns tampered with so the duel between Simpson and Hornblower would be satisfied but no one would be killed. Clayton does not stand in for Hornblower.
*It is Keene who arranges the transfer to Indefatigable because Captain Pellew needs a good whist player. And it offers more opportunity for advancement. And possibly to get Hornblower off the ship after the duel so he and Simpson will not serve on same ship.
*The events on the Marie Galante are mostly the same with minor deviations. They were forced to abandon ship but the are not rescued by the Indefatigable, but by a French privateer. The Indefatigable catches sight and pursues but the ship is too fast. So Hornblower lights a fire that forces the captain and crew to spend time putting it out. That allows the Indy the time to catch up and seize the ship. Pellew inquiries about the fire but Hornblower does not take credit for it.
*The Justinian was not sunk by the French so Simpson never comes aboard. Thus he was not part of the raid on the Papillon. It was another character that had a problem that had to be knocked out to keep quiet. During the escape the boat was cut loose and left drifting into France.
*There was no battle at the end where the Papillon, under Hornblower’s command, saves the Indefatigable. Nor is there a second duel between Simpson and Hornblower.

Although it deviates substantively at some points, the essential outline of the stories remain. However it is curious the scriptwriter choose to focus on the duel. Duelling was indeed common amongst naval officers (army as well) but was frowned upon by religious leaders and the general public. By this time, the use of duelling pistols had become the accepted manner. Since they were single fire weapons, you had only one chance to fire and possibly kill your opponent. Which is why the story is called the Even Chance by the author. From what I read, many duels were resolved by an apology to the offended party. Honor was satisfied and both went on their ways. That was not always the case especially if there was serious issues of honor involved. Midshipman Simpson was not about to apologize for his accusation that Hornblower cheated at cards and was quite happy to accept the duel. Being the older and more experienced of the two, he figured he would win. Plus he was a nasty and cruel man who wanted to kill Hornblower.

Captain Pellew believed the problem lay with Captain Keene for not running his ship right. Hornblower tries to defend him but Pellew reminds him that a captain is responsible for everything that goes on his ship. That in a nutshell is exactly the lesson Hornblower has to absorb and in a large way the entire episode. An officer is responsible for everything that goes on in his department but the captain is responsible for the entire operation from top to bottom. The fact that a bully like Simpson got away with what he did on Justinian shows what happens when discipline is lacking. A sharp lieutenant would have noticed Simpson’s ways and reigned him in or put him up for the captain’s review. Hornblower would command the Marie Gallante and loose her because of a hole on the side under the waterline. In the book he felt the sting of failure for not being able to save the ship and its cargo.

When he returns and reports what happens to Pellew, he faces no harsh criticism (the same as in the book). Pellew also noticed how the men respected him after the return. He learned how to lead and earn the respect of those who serve with them. An important lesson especially back then when sea duty could be long, with awful food, and of course away from any amenities. The only solace for most sailors was the daily rum ration. Water did not last long in the barrels (it turned bad and nasty things began growing in it) which is why beer and alcohol took the place of water at most meals.

Pellew’s taking of the Papillon was a daring plan to rob the French of a powerful ship of the line. And it worked both in the book and in the televised dramatization. Except they added more tension with Pellew under attack from other French ships. In the book Pellew was not foolish enough to engage with other French ships where he could be surrounded, yet the tv version had him in this predicament. This was done, no doubt, so that Hornblower could save the day as the surviving officer of the raid to take the ship (Simpson was under lock and key at this point for trying to kill Hornblower earlier). Still it makes for riveting television and one cannot fault the scriptwriter for wanting to highlight early Hornblower’s courage and daring that he became noted for in the books.

All in all this first installment of Hornblower series is exciting and riveting at times. Some characters are more developed then in the book and continue on through the series for continuity purposes. Ioan Gruffudd plays the part of Hornblower well and actually understands Forrester’s depiction of the character. Robert Lindsay is also excellent as Captain Pellew. People with sharp eyes will recognize Jamie Bamber (Midshipman Kennedy) who went on to play Lee Adama on the new Battlestar Galactica. His character is cast adrift in this episode but returns in Duchess and The Devil. The series would use Pellew’s character more than the book did (he appears mainly in the early books) giving Hornblower a mentor that would offer some needed guidance.

The acting is superb as well as the sets (one of which is replica ship of this period for the Indefatigable). One certainly gets the feel of a ship of the line back then. And why, if you could avoid it, you ran from serving in the Royal Navy as a seamen. There was nothing romantic about it. It was hard work under strict discipline with food that was not that good (even in port!). Worse were long sea voyages where as food ran low you existed on a narrow diet of salted foods, hard tack (look that up!), and rum. A superb first outing for Hornblower and well worth watching.

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