Friday 29 July 2016

Naval Hero Sir James Lucas Yeo – Part 2

A recent blog introduced us to the real-life naval hero Sir James Lucas Yeo (1782 – 1818), a handsome and dashing officer who might seem overdone were he to step from the pages of a novel. At the end of that first article (Click here to read it) we left him in 1805, just appointed to command of a French privateer that he had been involved in capturing and which had been commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Confiance. This 22-gun, 490-ton corvette was initially classified in British service as a sloop and reclassified as a “sixth rate” in 1807, the same year in which Yeo achieved coveted post-captain rank. Already identified as an intrepid commander who led from the front, Yeo was to get an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to manage an amphibious force when he was assigned to complex operations off the coast of South America.

By late 1808 French garrisons and harbours in overseas colonies were largely cut off from the homeland, but still represented threats to British interests as support-bases for naval units and privateers which could escape the blockade of the European coasts. The main British focus for elimination of such bases was on the Caribbean but a smaller force was allocated to conquest of Cayenne – later known as French Guiana – on the north-west coast of South America. This operation was entrusted to Yeo. By this stage of the Napoleonic Wars Portugal was also at war with the French, and following invasion by them the Portuguese government had relocated to its vast colony of Brazil. Portuguese forces were accordingly allocated to Yeo to support British forces.

Location of Cayenne - map from 1760s
Note position of island and flanking rivers
What would now be described as Yeo’s task-force consisted of the Conficance, supported by two armed Portuguese brigs, Voador (24 guns) and Vingança (18 guns), and two unarmed vessels brigs, acting as transports for some 550 Portuguese regular troops. Seaman and marines from all vessels were also available for land operations and, as he had demonstrated in 1805, Yeo had experience of assaulting coastal fortifications. His objective was Cayenne, the town that gave its name to the French colony and was its administrative centre. Situated on an island between the estuaries of the Cayenne and Mahury Rivers, it was dominated by a masonry star fort (see illustration) and the approaches to it were covered by several smaller forts and gun batteries. Yeo’s first concern was to clear the approaches, concentrating on the positions along the Mahury River.

Plan view of main "star-fort" at Cayenne
Yeo began operations by landing a force in the early hours of the night of 7th January 1809 despite heavy rain – which was to continue as a complicating factor through the subsequent fighting – and loss of boats in heavy surf, luckily without loss of life. A Portuguese force was allocated to capture of one French fortification, and Yeo’s seamen and marines to another. Surprise paid off and both positions were carried with minimal losses. They were now garrisoned with British and Portuguese personnel. Two further forts were now detected – the fact that they seem to have been unknown previously reminds one how difficult reconnaissance was in the days before availability of aircraft –  and Yeo brought the shallower draught Portuguese vessels inshore to provide covering fire while he launched land assaults – characteristically leading from the front. The attacks were successful and both positions were occupied.

Victor Huges (1762 - 1826 )
The French governor, Victor Hugues (a major player in the French colonies in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods), now sallied from Cayenne with the small forces available to him to attack the captured fortifications but was repulsed.  Yeo pushed his forces forward towards a defensive position close to Hugues’ own residence and a British party sent under a flag of truce to negotiate a surrender was fired upon. This may have been a diversion to assist an ambush of Yeo’s other forces. Sword in hand, Yeo drove these attackers back to Hugues’ house and captured it in hand-to-hand fighting. This was decisive as it was now obvious that there were insufficient French forces to withstand the invasion. Cayenne itself, garrisoned by some 400 troops, surrendered without a fight on 10th January and the remaining French positions surrendered in the following days.

French frigate Clorinde - generally similar to Topaze
Successful as it was, Yeo’s task-force had only one reasonably powerful vessel, the Confiance herself. On station off Cayenne while the operations continued onshore, her crew had been depleted by allocation of seaman and marines to the land attack – there were now only two midshipmen and twenty-five sailors on board. It was therefore of concern when on 13th January a 40-gun French frigate was seen approaching. This was the 40-gun Topaze, well capable of swift destruction of Confiance, and with her the Portuguese vessels. The Topaze had been despatched from France to reinforce the Cayenne garrison and she carried both troops and supplies. Were she to press the advantage of her superior armament the tables could easily be turned on Yeo.

In this situation the hero of the hour turned out to be Yeo’s younger brother George, one of the two midshipmen. With Confiance’s depleted crew – which he supplemented by some twenty local volunteers, all free black men – he relied on bluff as his only hope. He took Confiance directly towards the Topaze, with every display of intention to engage. He was not however aware the Topaze’s captain had instructions to avoid combat if the troops and supplies she carried were at risk. The outcome was that Topaze turned tail and ran, heading for the French-held Caribbean island of Guadoloupe. She never reached it – she was detected close to it by British forces and was captured by HMS Cleopatra. Taken into British service, she was to be named initially as Jewel and later as Alcmene.

Yeo’s victory at Cayenne had been comprehensive. With small forces and few casualties – for the British a lieutenant killed and twenty-three men wounded, and for the Portuguese one killed and eight wounded – the entire French colony fell under Anglo-Portuguese control. 400 regular French  troops were captured and some 800 local militia and irregulars were disarmed before being allowed to return to their homes. Some 200 cannon were captured as well as other military supplies. For its time, Yeo’s operation had been a text-book example of planning and executing an effective amphibious operation. It earned him well-deserved knighthoods from both Britain and Portugal – he was still only 27 years old – as well as a personal gift of a diamond ring by the Portuguese Prince Regent. His health had suffered in the campaign however – not surprisingly, as he was not a man to spare himself – and he required a period of recuperation before assuming his next command, the frigate HMS Southampton.

And that’s where we’ll leave him for now. We’ll return in a later blog to tell of Yeo’s subsequent – and even more challenging – career.

Britannia’s Spartan - and the Taku Forts, 1859 

The Anglo-French assault at the Taku Forts in Northern China – and the highly irregular but welcome intervention of the neutral United States Navy – was one of the most dramatic incidents of the mid-nineteenth century. It also led to the only defeat of the Royal Navy between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of World War 1.

A remark of the American commander at the height of the battle - "Blood is thicker than water" - has entered the English language.

The Taku Forts attack event is described in detail in the opening of Britannia's Spartan.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Guest Blog by Catherine Curzon: “The Sailor King”

Followers of my blog will have noted that my list of links to other blogs includes A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life a vastly entertaining blog that addresses all aspects (but especially outrageous ones!) of 18th Century life. Catherine Curzon, alias Madame Gilflurt, has been kind enough to write a guest blog for me on the life of Britains King William IV (1765 1837) who became known as The Sailor King.

Over to Madame for more

William IV A Stormy Voyage to the Throne

William IV in dress uniform by Sir Martin Archer Shee
The end of the Georgian era is a point that has come in for some debate and, as I found when researching Life in the Georgian Court, William IV is not a man who is often included in the notorious list of the Georgian monarchs. William was not a farmer like his father, nor a Prinny, like his brother but instead the Sailor King, a committed naval man and the heirless monarch who came to the throne when he was already well into his sixties, paving the way for the Victorian era that was to follow.

When William gave his first newborn cries at Buckingham House, his status as third son to George III and Queen Charlotte meant it was unlikely that he would ever inherit the throne. Rather than submit to the painstaking preparation to rule that his brother faced, Williams life was set to be a nautical one. Under the guidance of his tutors, Major-General Budé and Dr James Majendie, he grew up fast until, at the age of thirteen, William joined the Royal Navy. It was the best decision for all, the king decided, keeping his son safely away from the potentially thorny influence of his brother, George.

Accompanied by a tutor, William went to sea as a midshipman aboard the Prince George and, in 1780, he even went to war serving at the First Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. He was a keen member of the crew yet his fame was about to get the better of him. It was in New York during the American War of Independence that William dodged a kidnap attempt sanctioned by George Washington himself. Though he was unharmed, this marked the end of the young mans unrestricted gadding about.
The moonlight Battle of Cape St Vincent, 1780 by Francis Holman (17291784)
Williams rise through the ranks took a hiatus when he spent a couple of years in Hanover and found his first romantic fancy but in 1785 he was once more at sea, this time as Lieutenant. Just twelve months later, he was captain of his own vessel. By the age of nineteen, the ambitious young sailor was captain of HMS Pegasus and came to the attention of Nelson, who was soon a devoted admirer; indeed, William gave the bride away and was a witness when Nelson married Frances Nisbet in 1787.
HMS Pegasus - seen at St. John's, Newfoundland, in a  contemporary sketch 
Capriciousness was not the sole preserve of George, Prince of Wales, and William, though apparently a charming and fun sort of chap when the mood took him, was not a man who liked to be questioned. This meant that relationships with his crew were occasionally just a little fractious, though he had no such problems when it came to charming the girls.

In 1789, Williams star had grown even higher and he was appointed Rear-Admiral and placed in command of HMS Valiant. However, though his professional star was in the ascendancy,
at home William was not satisfied with the way things were going. Whilst his brothers had been made into dukes, no similar honour appeared to be coming his way and his father, in fact, seemed downright reluctant.
William as Lord High Admiral 1828

Finally, William decided to force the kings hand and declared that he was thinking about standing as the parliamentary candidate for Totnes in Devon. As he had known it would, the threat sent George III scrambling to meet his demands and he accordingly named his son Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789.

The following year, William resigned from active service, a decision he would always regret. He pined to be back at sea during the Napoleonic Wars, yet no call ever came. Following a speech in which he questioned the need for the conflict, he became convinced that this was the reason that he received no command and recanted, speaking out in favour of the war, but still no call came.

Promotions followed and eventually he rose to the rank of Lord High Admiral, yet even this couldnt match the thrill of a naval command. When he took to the waves with a fleet of ships in 1828 and no word as to their mission, Wellington demanded that he resign; William was happy to oblige. Two years later William inherited the throne as his two older brothers died without leaving living legitimate issue.

William died on 20th June 1837, just a week before the seventh anniversary of the beginning of his reign. With his death, Queen Victoria assumed the throne whilst in Hanover, where no woman could rule, the crown passed to his brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

No longer would the two thrones be linked.

An era had ended.
About the Author

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian and blogs on all matters 18th century at A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life.

Her work has featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austens Regency World. She has also provided additional material for the sell-out theatrical show, An Evening with Jane Austen, will she will introduce at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, in September (tickets are available here).

Catherine holds a Masters degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

Her book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository and all good bookshops!

About Life in the Georgian Court

As the glittering Hanoverian court gives birth to the British Georgian era, a golden age of royalty dawns in Europe. Houses rise and fall, births, marriages and scandals change the course of history and in France, Revolution stalks the land.

Peep behind the shutters of the opulent court of the doomed Bourbons, the absolutist powerhouse of Romanov Russia and the epoch-defining family whose kings gave their name to the era, the House of Hanover.

Behind the pomp and ceremony were men and women born into worlds of immense privilege, yet beneath the powdered wigs and robes of state were real people living lives of romance, tragedy, intrigue and eccentricity. Take a journey into the private lives of very public figures and learn of arranged marriages that turned to love or hate and scandals that rocked polite society.

Here the former wife of a king spends three decades in lonely captivity, Prinny makes scandalous eyes at the toast of the London stage and Marie Antoinette begins her last, terrible journey through Paris as her son sits alone in a forgotten prison cell.

Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world, where even a king could take nothing for granted.

Friday 15 July 2016

Naval Hero Sir James Lucas Yeo – Part 1

When reading of action by the Royal Navy in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic War period one is struck not just by the commitment in carrying the fight into the enemy’s inshore waters – and even harbours – but by the almost insane gallantry that was so widespread among officers and enlisted men alike. Nowhere was this more apparent than in “cutting out” operations – captures of enemy shipping by boarding parties in small boats – and in assaults on coastal fortifications. Hazardous as such actions were, they represented craved-for opportunities for young officers to distinguish themselves and to earn advancement, while prize-money provided a welcome inducement for officers and men alike.

James Lucas Yeo - a dashing captain whom
 Jane Austen heroines would have swooned over!
One such example of a young officer who earned fast promotion, and whose career would probably have brought him to the most senior levels, had he not died young, was Sir James Lucas Yeo (1782 – 1818). He is best remembered today for his command of British naval forces on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812 but his rapid ascent to such a significant command started with a spectacular attack on coastal fortifications in 1805. Handsome and courageous, obviously a born leader, he seems like a figure who steps from the pages of a work of naval fiction.

Yeo joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 10. By 1805, having already seen significant action, this twenty-three year old was serving as First Lieutenant on the frigate HMS Loire. Her name betrayed her French origin – it was Royal Navy policy for ships captured from the enemy to retain their original names – and this 1350-ton, 150-ft frigate had been captured off the west coast of Ireland in 1798 in the aftermath of the Battle of Tory Island.
The Battle of Tory Island, 12th October 1796 by Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821) -
Loire escaped but was run down and captured six days later
In June 1805 – when Spain was still allied with France – the Loire was on patrol off the north-west coast of Spain. Information reached her that a 26-gun privateer was fitting out in Muros Bay, a deep inlet on this indented coast. Loire’s Captain Fredrick Lewis Maitland (1777-1839) had been in the bay on a previous occasion and – though his recollection was not perfect – believed it possible to either to capture or destroy the enemy vessel. The complication was however that the entrance to the bay was commanded by a shore battery and in any contest between a warship and shore-based artillery the ship was likely to come off worst. This insight was summarised in Nelson’s aphorism that “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort”. As a precursor therefore to Loire entering Muros Bay, Lieutenant Yeo was directed to take a landing party of fifty men – seamen and marines – to storm the battery.

Frederick Lewis Maitland (1815)
On the morning of 4th June the Loire stood in towards the bay, apparently to draw fire from the battery to provide a diversion to cover the landing party’s approach. In the elegant expression of the time, the Loire was described as having been “much annoyed” by fire from the battery, which proved to be armed with two guns only. Loire’s action proved effective enough for Yeo to get his force ashore under the battery. The arrival of this group proved enough for the troops manning the battery guns to abandon the position, leaving Yeo in possession. He immediately ordered spiking of the guns but also identified, about a quarter mile distant, and further into the bay, a “regular fort protected by a ditch and a gate", with its guns commanding the inner bay. The presence of this fortification had not previously been known – Captain Maitland’s recollection of his previous visit to the bay was indeed incomplete.

With the battery eliminated – but with Yeo and his men still ashore – Captain Maitland now brought the Loire further into the bay. He could now see that the privateer was a corvette – later to be identified as the Confiance – and also a large armed brig. He concluded that these vessels had not yet shipped their guns and were, accordingly, at his mercy. Only now however was he to become aware of the previously unseen fort. Loire was now subjected to what was descried as “well-directed” fire from shore, with virtually every shot striking her hull. Nothing daunted, Maitland dropped anchor in a position relative to the battery’s protective embrasures that made aiming of its guns at the ship virtually impossible. He then engaged the fort but the Loire’s fire alone could not be enough to neutralise it –  that would be dependent on Yeo, ashore, having the initiative to take appropriate action.

Yeo brought his force, apparently undetected, close to the fort’s landward side – activity in the fort itself being focussed on action with the Loire. He launched a charge at the outer gate, where a single soldier fired on them and then retreated within. The landing party stormed behind him and towards a second, inner gate, which also appears to have been open. Here a furious struggle commenced, with the Loire’s men opposed by the fort’s governor, Spanish troops and the crews of the French privateers. Yeo led from the front and killed the governor with a blow that broke his own sword in two. The defenders broke and retreated back into the fort, some being seen from the Loire as jumping down – twenty-five feet – from the embrasures. It was later stated that “such as laid down their arms received quarter, but the slaughter among those who resisted was very great”. After surrender however care does seem to have been taken of the wounded prisoners and indeed the local bishop and one of the community leaders afterwards went out to the Loire to express gratitude for this. Despite the heavy French and Spanish casualties. Loire lost no men, though Yeo and fifteen others were wounded – eleven on the ship as a consequence of fire from shore. (It should be borne in mind however that the classification “wounded” could be serious enough as to require amputation).
Loire (L), under command of Surcouf, capturing the East Indiaman Kent in 1800
With the fort neutralised, Captain Maitland now easily captured the Confiance and the brig – both of which proved to be as yet unarmed – as well as a Spanish merchantman. The brig was found to be not ready for sea, and was accordingly burned, but the Confiance was taken into Royal Navy service. She was a ship with an already notable history. Commissioned in 1799, this 490-ton corvette had served in the Indian Ocean under the renowned French privateer (and slaver) Robert Surcouf.  Confiance’s most notable action under his command was capture in 1800 of the East Indiaman Kent after a fierce battle. She had returned to Europe under Surcouf’s command but when found by Loire was fitting out for a new privateering voyage under another captain.

Command of what was now HMS Confiance was now awarded, deservedly, to Yeo who was promoted to commander – who would achieve coveted post-captain rank two years later. In Confiance he was to achieve notable further success in the South Atlantic and by the War of 1812 had built a reputation that earned him the important command on the Great Lakes.

And Captain Maitland? Napoleon Bonaparte was to surrender to him on board HMS Bellerophon in 1815, in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo.

 James Lucas Yeo’s further career – and Confiance’s – will be the subject of a future blog. 

Britannia’s Shark by Antoine Vanner 

1881 and the power of the British Empire seems unchallengeable.

But now a group of revolutionaries threaten the economic basis of that power. Their weapon is the invention of a naïve genius, their sense of grievance is implacable and their leader is already proven in the crucible of war. Protected by powerful political and business interests, conventional British military or naval power cannot touch them. A daring act of piracy draws the ambitious British naval officer, Nicholas Dawlish, and his wife into this deadly maelstrom. Amid the wealth and squalor of America’s Gilded Age, and on a fever-ridden island ruled by savage tyranny success – and survival –will demand making some very strange alliances...
Britannia’s Shark brings historic naval fiction into the dawn of the Submarine Age. 

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Guest Blog by Helen Hollick: Pirates, Night-Walkers and White Witches!

The Nautical Fiction genre has many different sub-genres within it and once of the most entertaining – and original – has been virtually created by one writer, my friend Helen Hollick. You may have encountered her previously as a guest in my blog and I’ve invited her back to mark the launch of her latest novel in a series she herself describes as “Nautical Adventure with a touch of Fantasy”. There’s a message in her blog also for aspiring writers – don’t be put off by refusals and hang in there doggedly! Though I operate at the other end of the Nautical Fiction spectrum (gritty and linked to real events) I can endorse her advice wholeheartedly.
                                                                                                        Antoine Vanner 

The Fascination of Fantasy

By Helen Hollick

I wrote the first Voyage of my Sea Witch series because I had enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl. (Have to admit I didn’t think much of the others.) The movie was fun. It was not meant to be taken seriously – a sailor’s yarn of a tale.

I wanted to read something similar, a nautical adventure to be read with a large pinch of salt. Something written for fun, to be read for fun. I also wanted something with an adult content. I’m not talking erotica or OTT horror or violence, just an adult book for adult readers with a bit of realists adult content. I found plenty of young adult novels (Pirates! By Celia Rees as a good example). Plenty of ‘straight’ nautical fiction – and as much as I love C.S. Forrester and Patrick O’Brian they are somewhat lacking in the make-believe department, and even in the ‘romance’ side of things. (Not  exactly many women taking major roles in their books are there?)

So, simple solution. Write the book I wanted to read.
Sea Witch was the result, followed by Pirate Code, Bring It Close, Ripples In The Sand and now, released on 7th July 2016 the Fifth Voyage, On The Account.

Rather frustratingly, though, no publisher or agent wanted Sea Witch. They loved the story, but all said the same two things:

Adults do not read pirate novels.
It will not be easy to market a cross-genre novel.
(Heavy sigh from me.)

The first is utter nonsense. Adults adore pirates, whether it be movies, TV shows (look at the popularity of Black Sails) Re-enactments, pirate festivals – Talk Like A Pirate Day….

The second? Maybe a good point, but deciding to go Indie after these sort of comments I have had no problem whatsoever with marketing. Publishers like their novels to be square pegs in square holes – Indie authors can be any shape we like! I market the series as Nautical Adventure with a touch of Fantasy. They are a blend of P.O.B., Hornblower, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe.

The fantasy in my series I try to keep as believable as I can – there are no mermaids, but there is, spread through the series, a ghost, a Night-Walker and the spirit of the sea, Tethys. Plus my lead female protagonist, Tiola Oldstagh, the ‘love interest’ for my pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne. She is a white witch, a Wising Woman, the last of the Old Ones. I think of her powers as having more of ‘the Force’ as in Star Wars rather than the magic spells of Harry Potter.

As for Maha'dun the Night-Walker, who has a considerable part in this fifth Voyage, no he is not a vampire. Night creatures are not restricted to handsome guys (or gals) who wander about afraid of the sun baring very sharp fangs. Owls are night-dwellers. Bats are night dwellers, so are my Night-Walkers.

Alas I am not going to reveal what he is here, as that is to come in Voyage Six, Gallows Wake. But no, he does not have fangs and he does not drink blood. He was also great fun to write, especially as Jesamiah assumes that he is Tiola’s lover – that causes a stir between husband and wife I can tell you!

So why the interest in fantasy? Why not just stick to the straight nautical romps? Why do readers like dragons, elves, fairies, witches, wizards, vampires, mermaids… lah lah lah….?

Simple answer. Escapism.

We all like to believe that there is magic around us, in whatever shape or form. Perhaps because ordinary life is too boring, mundane or plain normal. Who can deny looking at a rainbow and automatically thinking of that pot of gold which is supposed to rest at its end? Who cannot gaze up at the stars and think of alien worlds?

Mind you, I still haven’t quite figured out the attraction of pirates and vampires – aren’t they supposed to kill people? Ah, perhaps that is the point – there’s safe danger lurking behind their smiles! No matter how dark, how fearful the narrative of a book (or a movie) it is all make-believe, we can enjoy being thrilled, frightened – or fall in love – knowing our real lives are perfectly safe.

So it is like I said. Escapism.
Although maybe I could add ‘Romantic’ Escapism! 

The Sea Witch Voyages – swashbuckling nautical adventure yarns for adults
Sea Witch : Voyage One
Pirate Code : Voyage Two
Bring It Close : Voyage Three
Ripples In The Sand : Voyage Four
On The Account : Voyage Five  


Twitter: @HelenHollick
Author Page on an Amazon near you :

1066 Turned Upside Down (e-book)