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Sailing Ship Fiction

This genre of fictional naval literature was pioneered by C.S. Forester in the 1930s, and later imitated by other authors who adopted his approach of following a Royal Navy officer's career, from midshipman or less to higher RN ranks, at the time of Britain's wars with France and her allies from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.

More details on the Royal Navy at the time of Sailing Ships are on another page.

    
Two framed French colour prints (50x37cm) dated 1794, gracing the east wall of my bedroom:
Left: entitled "Vaisseu Vénitien de 100 canons portant pavillon de Vice Amiral" (engraving by Verico)
Right: entitled "Vaisseu Napolitain de 74 canons en Galla" (engraving by G. Maria Merlo)

In addition to those mentioned below, a comprehensive list of authors and books of this fictional genre - and of sailing ship history - can be found on David Hayes's Historic Naval Fiction website, also giving details of new releases as they are published.

C.S. Forester (1899-1966)

C.S. Forester was the pen name of Cecil Louis Troughton Smith who wrote a series of 10 novels, set between 1794 and 1848, about Horatio Hornblower - one of which was made into a movie in 1951 and most into a TV series in 1998-2003 - inspired by what he had read in 1927 in his 3 acquired volumes of The Naval Chronicle (covering the period 1790-1820), a Gazette where RN officers wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues of the time, when handling a square-rigged sailing ship was an art difficult to master both in peace and war.

Another of his novels made into a successful film directed by John Huston was The African Queen, the name of a small steam riverboat that manages to sink the German gunboat Königin Luise on Lake Victoria during WWI, also made into a movie in 1951.

C.S. Forester
  1. The Happy Return (1937)
  2. A Ship of the Line (1938)
  3. Flying Colours (1938)
  4. The Commodore (1945)
  5. Lord Hornblower (1946)
  6. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950)
  7. Lieutenant Hornblower (1952)
  8. Hornblower and the Atropos (1953)
  9. Hornblower and the Hotspur (1958)
  10. Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies (1958)
    

His other novels on sailing ships:

  1. The Captain from Connecticut (1941) *
  2. The Barbary Pirates (1953) *

He also wrote two novels on the Royal Navy and US Navy in WWII, respectively:

  • The Good Shepherd (1955)
  • The Man in the Yellow Raft (1969)

C.S. Forester's character of Horatio Hornblower was the role model for the other, similar characters created by the following authors, as well as the subject of a fictitious biography (The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower) by C. Northcote Parkinson.

Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000)

Patrick O'Brian was the pen name of Richard Patrick Russ, who wrote a series of 21 books about Jack Aubrey and his ship's surgeon and friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, set from 1800 to 1815:
  1. Master and Commander (1969)
  2. Post Captain (1972)
  3. HMS Surprise (1973)
  4. The Mauritius Command (1977)
  5. Desolation Island (1978)
  6. The Fortune of War (1979)
  7. The Surgeon's Mate (1980)
  8. The Ionian Mission (1981)
  9. Treason's Harbour (1983)
  10. The Far Side of the World (1984)
  11. The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
  12. The Letter of Marque (1988)
  13. The Thirteen-Gun Salute (1989)
  14. The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
  15. Clarissa Oakes (1992)
  16. The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
  17. The Commodore (1994)
  18. The Yellow Admiral (1996)
  19. The Hundred Days (1998)
  20. Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
  21. The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004)
.
Patrick O'Brian


Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World (2003)
Australian director Peter Weir's 2003 movie Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World was an example of painstaking care about historical authenticity, which included buying a reproduction of the 18th-century HMS Rose, a 20-gun 6th-rate post ship (a small frigate) of the Royal Navy for the shots of HMS Surprise at sea, and constructing a full-scale replica - mounted on gimbals in a large seawater tank - for deck and below-deck shots. The cast of actors for the ship's crew was mostly British, for credible period accents.

Patrick O'Brian also wrote The Golden Ocean, a novel based on the 1740 circumnavigation of the globe made by RN Commodore George Anson, later Admiral of the Fleet and First Lord of the Admiralty during the Seven Years' War (1757–1762), among whose reforms were the removal of corrupt defence contractors, improved medical care, submitting a revision of the Articles of War to Parliament to tighten discipline throughout the Navy, uniforms for commissioned officers, the transfer of the Marines from Army to Navy authority, and a system for rating ships according to their number of guns.


HMS Surprise (HMS Rose)
under full sail

Adam Hardy (1921-2005)

Adam Hardy is a pseudonym used by Kenneth Bulmer, a prolific author who in 3 years produced 12 of his 14 novels based on the character of George Abercronbie Fox, set from 1775 to 1801:
  1. Powder Monkey (1973)
  2. The Press Gang (1973)
  3. Prize Money (1973)
  4. Siege (1973)
  5. Treasure (1973) *
  6. Blood for Breakfast *(1974)
  7. Court Martial (1974) *
  8. Battle Smoke (1974) *
  9. Cut and Thrust (1974) *
  10. Boarders Away (1975) *
  11. The Fireship (1975) *
  12. Blood Beach (1975) *
  13. Sea Flame (1976) *
  14. Close Quarters (1977) *
Adam Hardy

Dudley Pope (1925-1997)

Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope was encouraged by C.S. Forester to write fiction, and produced 18 novels based on the character of Nicholas Ramage, set from 1796 to 1807:
  1. Ramage (1965)
  2. Ramage and the Drumbeat (1967)
  3. Ramage and the Freebooters (1969)
  4. Governor Ramage RN (1973)
  5. Ramage's Prize (1974)
  6. Ramage and the Guillotine (1975)
  7. Ramage's Diamond (1976)
  8. Ramage's Mutiny (1977)
  9. Ramage and the Rebels (1978)
  10. The Ramage Touch (1979)
  11. Ramage's Signal (1980)
  12. Ramage and the Renegades (1981)
  13. Ramage's Devil (1982)
  14. Ramage's Trial (1984)
  15. Ramage's Challenge (1985)
  16. Ramage at Trafalgar (1986)
  17. Ramage and the Saracens (1988)
  18. Ramage and the Dido (1989)
Dudley Pope

Alexander Kent (1924)

Alexander Kent is a pen name of Douglas Edward Reeman, a prolific British author who wrote a 30-novel saga about Richard Bolitho, set from 1772 to 1819:
  1. To Glory We Steer (1968)
  2. Form Line of Battle! (1969)
  3. Enemy in Sight! (1970)
  4. Flag Captain (1971)
  5. Sloop of War (1972)
  6. Command a King's Ship (1973)
  7. Signal – Close Action! (1974)
  8. Richard Bolitho, Midshipman (1975)
  9. Passage To Mutiny (1976)
  10. In Gallant Company (1977)
  11. The Inshore Squadron (1977)
  12. Midshipman Bolitho and the Avenger (1978)
  13. Stand into Danger (1980)
  14. A Tradition of Victory (1981)
  15. Success to the Brave (1983)
  16. Colours Aloft (1986)
  17. Honour This Day (1987)
  18. With All Despatch (1988)
  19. The Only Victor (1990)
  20. Beyond The Reef (1992)
  21. The Darkening Sea (1993)
  22. For My Country's Freedom (1995)
  23. Cross of St. George (1996)
  24. Sword of Honour (1998)
  25. Second to None (1999)
  26. Relentless Pursuit (2001)
  27. Man of War (2003)
  28. Band of Brothers (2005)
  29. Heart of Oak (2007)
  30. In the King's Name (2011)
Alexander Kent

Under his own name he also wrote 5 novels on the Blackwood family of the Royal Marines:

  • Badge of Glory (1982)
  • The First to Land (1984)
  • The Horizon (1994)
  • Dust on The Sea (1999)
  • Knife Edge (2004)

In addition, some 26 novels on World War II (see some on another page).

Roger Burnage (1933)

Roger Burnage has written 5 novels on the exploits of James Abel Merriman from 1793 to 1800:
  1. A Certain Threat (2012)
  2. The Threat in the West Indies (2014)
  3. Merriman and the French Invasion (2014)
  4. The Threat in the East (2015)

Roger Burnage

David O'Neil (1935)

David O'Neil has written 3 novels on the seafaring adventures of Robert Graham and Martin Forrest-Bowers:
  1. Sailing Orders (2013)
  2. Distant Gunfire (2014)
  3. Quarterdeck (2014)

David O'Neil

David Donachie (1943)

David Donachie is a prolific Scottish author who has written 12 novels on the naval career of John Pearce, a character who starts out as a press-ganged lowerdeck seaman, and rises subsequently first to petty officer and then to officer status::
  1. By the Mast Divided (2004)
  2. A Shot Rolling Ship (2005)
  3. An Awkward Commission (2006)
  4. A Flag of Truce (2008)
  5. The Admirals’ Game (2008)
  6. An Ill Wind (2009)
  7. Blown off Course (2010)
  8. Enemies at Every Turn (2011)
  9. A Sea of Troubles (2012)
  10. A Divided Command (2013)
  11. The Devil to Pay (2014)
  12. The Perils of Command (2015)
David Donachie

Previously, he had written 6 novels on Harry Ludlow, a privateersman turned crime investigator in the late 1700s:

  1. The Devils Own Luck (1991)
  2. The Dying Trade (1993)
  3. A Hanging Matter (1994)
  4. An Element of Chance (1995) *
  5. The Scent of Betrayal (1996) *
  6. A Game of Bones (1997) *

In addition, he also produced:

  • 3 novels on the relationship between Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton (2001, 2004).
  • 3 novels on Royal Marine actions, under the pseudonym of Tom Connery (1996, 1997, 1998).
  • 6 novels set in Roman Times, under the pseudonym of Jack Ludlow (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997).
  • 3 novels on SAS Boat Troop operations, under the pseudonym of Johnny 'Two Combs' Howard (1999, 2000).

Julian Stockwin (1944)

Julian Stockwin has written 16 novels on the exploits of Thomas Kydd, another character who starts his naval career (from 1793 to 1806) as a press-ganged lowerdeck seaman, and rises subsequently first to petty officer and then to officer status:
  1. Kydd (2001)
  2. Artemis (2002)
  3. Seaflower (2003)
  4. Mutiny (2004)
  5. Quarterdeck (2005)
  6. Tenacious (2005)
  7. Command (2006)
  8. The Admiral's Daughter (2007)
  9. Treachery (2008) (US title: "The Privateer's Revenge")
  10. Invasion (2009)
  11. Victory (2010)
  12. Conquest (2011)
  13. Betrayal (2012)
  14. Caribbee (2013)
  15. Pasha (2014)
  16. Tyger (2016)
Julian Stockwin

Dewey Lambdin (1945)

Dewey Lambdin is a prolific US author who has written 22 novels about the naval career from 1780 to 1807 of Alan Lewrie, a London 'rake' disinherited by his natural father and forced into sea service as a midshipman:
  1. The King's Coat (1989)
  2. The French Admiral (1990)
  3. The King’s Commission (1991)
  4. The King’s Privateer (1992)
  5. The Gun Ketch (1993)
  6. HMS Cockerel (1995)
  7. A King’s Commander (1997)
  8. Jester’s Fortune (1999)
  9. King’s Captain (2000)
  10. Sea of Grey (2002)
  11. Havoc's Sword (2003)
  12. The Captain’s Vengeance (2004)
  13. A King’s Trade (2006)
  14. Troubled Waters (2008)
  15. The Baltic Gambit (2009)
  16. King, Ship and Sword (2010)
  17. The Invasion Year (2011)
  18. Reefs and Shoals (2012)
  19. Lewrie and the Hogsheads (2012 - Short story)
  20. Hostile Shores (2013)
  21. The King's Marauder (2014)
  22. Kings and Emperors (2015)
  23. A Hard, Cruel Shore (2016)

Dewey Lambdin

Sean Thomas Russell (1952)

Sean Thomas Russell is the first Canadian author in this genre, and so far has written 5 novels about the exploits of Charles Hayden from 1793 to 1794:
  1. Under Enemy Colours (2007)
  2. A Battle Won (2010)
  3. A Ship of War (2012)
  4. Take, Burn or Destroy (2013)
  5. Until the Sea Shall Give up Her Dead (2014)
Sean Russell

Alaric Bond (1957)

Alaric Bond has published 9 novels in the Fighting Sail series, covering the 1795-1803 period:
  1. The Jackass Frigate (2008)
  2. His Majesty's Ship (2009)
  3. True Colours (2010) *
  4. Cut and Run (2011) *
  5. The Patriot's Fate (2012) *
  6. Turn a Blind Eye (2012) *
  7. The Torrid Zone (2014)
  8. The Scent of Corruption (2015) *
  9. HMS Prometheus (2016) *
  10. The Blackstrap Station (2016) *


Alaric Bond

Broos Campbell (1957)

Broos Campbell has written 3 novels about the Caribbean adventures of US Navy midshipman, later lieutenant, Matty Graves in 1799:
  1. No Quarter (2006) *
  2. The War of Knives (2007)
  3. Peter Wicked (2008)
Broos Campbell
* Books not yet acquired.

From Fiction to History

HMS Victory,
moored and visitable at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth

H.M.S. Victory - a 104-gun 3-deck 1st-rate ship of the line - was Vice-Admiral Nelson's flagship in the victorious Battle of Trafalgar where he lost his life on October 21, 1805, shown above in the black-and-buff colour scheme typical of the RN fighting ships of the time.

The era of sailing ships is also covered by a large body of historical literature. A few interesting books on the subject:

  • Cochrane the Dauntless by David Cordingly (biography of the controversial RN Captain Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, probably a source of inspiration for the feats of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey).
  • The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle (an account of 230 years of piracy).
  • The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby (a 1956 autobiographical account of his time on the four-masted steel barque Moshulu during her last voyage in the Australian grain trade).
  • Along the Clipper Way by Francis Chichester (an anthology of sailing stories from Sir Francis Drake onwards)

My library contains of the above books.

From a later time, you can peruse images of WWI warships of the Royal Italian Navy (RIN) on another page.

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