View Full Version : Book Review of Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain

Jack Tar
07-02-2014, 22:22

Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain by Stephen Taylor

Before you go any further I feel I should let anyone that opens this thread know that I read this book a few months ago so I apologize if I have any small errors. I did use Wikipedia to get some of the dates and some of the ship specific information.

I'll first start by saying my fascination with this historical figure started the first time I watched the A&E series of Horatio Hornblower. This was also the series that whetted my appetite for other films and then books (fiction and non-fiction) on the topic of naval history. While I know the Royal Navy had other ace frigate captains, Admiral Edward Pellew (1st Viscount Exmouth, Knight Grand Cross of the order of Bath) was certainly at the top.

One of the many things I enjoyed about this book, was you can clearly see the influence his career and exploits had on the writings of Patrik O'Brian, and C. S. Forester. In his early career he truly was how O'Brian portrays Jack Aubrey in the Sophie. Pellew was truly a lead by example man. He embodied a brother in arms mentality where he would not ask any man on his ship to do something he himself would not also do. He led by example rather than by fear of the cat. There were a few occasions where he even jumped off the quarter deck to save men who had fallen overboard (among other selfless things I don't think some Captains would have done). So you can understand how he quickly gained the admiration and absolute loyalty of most of the men that served with him.

His most notable actions were the capture of the 36 gun Cléopâtre 1793 (which got him knighted) with the 36 gun Nymphe, and the running aground of the 74 gun Droits de l'Homme while in command of the 40 gun Indefatigable(with the assistance and loss the HMS Amazon – also ran aground). There is also a recounting of the bombardment of Algiers. If I recall correctly there is an image of the actual map Pellew used to plan the bombardment complete with a wine stain that happened during the planning in his cabin. I also think this was the first time he had bomb ketches under his command....the account of this action in the book is pretty fantastic, no spoilers here. There is also an area in the book that covers his time in the Americas and some actions on Lake Champlain when I believe he was a midshipman. It was pretty crazy to read about them breaking boats down and hauling the parts through the woods and then reassembling them on Lake Champlain. This book truly has some fantastic moments.

The book also delved into his personal life and his affairs on shore. This revolves around his wife and children and the typical things you would imagine that make this historical figure a more rounded individual. I will say that as far as a biography goes it is the most entertaining one I have read to date. His life and career were all the more interesting since he essentially started out as an orphaned boy and rose to be a Commander-in-Chief. One of the more personally memorable areas was when the author brakes down and converts the prize money he gained while he was Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station.....I know the Admiral got a nice share of each prize taken under his command, but I never fully understood just how much money that could be....jaw dropping to say the least. I intentionally wanted to make this review a little vague but descriptive enough to pique anyone’s interest into picking it up. I am almost sure if you open the cover you will find it to be a pretty good page turner.

07-02-2014, 22:29
Thank you for the review, Marc. I was reading on Pellew and the Indefatigable as I was creating my roster for the campaign. From the little I know, he seemed to be a man of virtuous character.

Definitely one to get.

07-02-2014, 22:31
By the way Marc, did you receive any kind of error message when you tried submitting the review? Keith wrote me several minutes ago. He was working on the book review section.

Jack Tar
07-03-2014, 06:01
I didn't get any error messages at all. I was logged on and I figured I'd give it a go again.....it worked like a charm.

07-03-2014, 22:01
I ordered this this evening. I chose the British for the solo campaign as a motivator to read about the Royal Navy, Nelson, etc. This will be a great addition. I adapted my roster from the captains of the Indefatigable, so this will be a timely read. Thanks again, Marc.

Keith mentioned that the Book Review section is operable again. :clap:

Jack Tar
07-03-2014, 22:50
I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did, and I hope I didn't build it up too much. You will have to let me know what you think of it. I feel I should go pick up a copy since I just borrowed it from my Dad....it would be a very welcome addition to my library.