Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Fireship

The Fireship

2.0 2
by C. Northcote Parkinson, Cyril Northcote Parkinson

See All Formats & Editions

Having obtained a position on the Glatton, Richard Delancey is soon to see action in the Battle of Camperdown. But the Nore and Spithead mutinies intervene to upset the course of his career.


Having obtained a position on the Glatton, Richard Delancey is soon to see action in the Battle of Camperdown. But the Nore and Spithead mutinies intervene to upset the course of his career.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Authentic naval adventure. . . full of action."  —The Sunday Times of London

"The sharp tang of powder and tar and salty sea along with the boom of the cannon and shouts of men in battle."  —Dallas Morning News

Product Details

McBooks Press
Publication date:
Richard Delancey Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Fireship

By C. Northcote Parkinson

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 1975 C. Northcote Parkinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-613-3


The Partisan

THE FRIGATE Medusa was on her passage home from the Mediterranean and lay becalmed almost in sight of Falmouth. The sails flapped idle and useless beneath a dull grey sky. Captain Morris, not being the man to fret over a delay, instantly ordered an exercise in seamanship that would keep his men occupied. The fore-topmast was to be sent down as if to be replaced and then sent up again and re-rigged, each watch to be timed in doing it. It meant stripping the mast down to the standing rigging below the foretop, an arduous task even in a flat calm. The men had of course done it all before, heaven knows how often, but it was one of the more popular crew exercises. When the order was given the seamen of the starboard watch worked methodically and well, leaving nothing undone and presenting a final result which would pass the first lieutenant's critical eye. The officer of the watch reported completion and a note was made of the exact time, only three seconds more than the previous record. Then the order was repeated and the seamen of the larboard watch fairly hurled themselves at the rigging. With more obvious and dramatic effort they raced through each phase and sweated to improve the timing. When the officer of the watch reported completion, Rothery, the first lieutenant, timepiece in hand, was able to announce an improved time: one minute and twelve seconds quicker than the best previous result. The men of the larboard watch cheered and the captain said "Well done!" A new record had been set up and the crew was presently piped to dinner. The only man who looked slightly unhappy was the boatswain, who had noticed one or two loose ends at the conclusion of the exercise. The sky brightened in the afternoon with a freshening westerly breeze. The sails filled, the bow wave gleamed white and the voyage was resumed, the frigate being under orders to report to the commander-in-chief at the Nore.

The two officers whose abilities and men had been tested that morning were very different in type. The larboard watch was led by John Meade, an active young man of a naval family, keen and well liked. Leading the starboard watch was Richard Delancey. His presence on board was somewhat accidental, a result of a raid on the Spanish coast. Wrecked on the Biscay Coast and imprisoned, Delancey had escaped with a handful of his crew, crossed Spain in disguise, ambushed a courier and obtained some vital information about the Spanish Admiral Langara's plans. During the rescue Lieutenant Halsted had been killed and Captain Morris filled the vacancy by appointing Delancey. Three results of this affair are worthy of note. Delancey's intelligence had proved correct: Admiral Langara did sail for Toulon, as predicted, with the object of joining his fleet to that of France. The British Mediterranean fleet, quite unequal to meeting this combined force, had been withdrawn from its station, many of its ships being given a defensive role based on British ports. The Medusa was one of these, being also due for a refit. As a result of the Léon skirmish Captain Morris had been offered the command of a ship of the line, the Bulwark (74) on the Channel Station. His transfer to a bigger ship was somewhat overdue and mention of him in a gazette letter had reminded somebody at the Admiralty of his existence. He knew on that homeward passage that his time in the Medusa was nearly finished.

Delancey knew it too. Soon after docking at Chatham the old despairing routine of trying to get a posting would begin again. But what sort of posting did he want? He was completely without "interest," that essential connection with influential people that was responsible for many a spectacular naval career. To gain promotion his only chance was to be made first lieutenant. If the ship to which he had been appointed were then to capture an enemy ship of equal or superior force, the captain would probably be knighted and he, as first lieutenant, would be promoted master and commander. But Delancey knew that few of the first lieutenants so promoted were actually given a command. They were given the rank as a compliment and then left on the beach, perhaps for years and often for good.

The Medusa made good time up-Channel and dropped anchor at the Nore. After reporting to the flagship, Morris was ordered to take his ship into Chatham. There she was found to be in a worse state of repair than even her carpenter had supposed. Timbers were rotten below the waterline and a whole section of her stern would have to be rebuilt. Captain Morris left the ship at this point, being posted to the Bulwark. Most of the Medusa's crew were drafted to other ships, Rothery being left in command of the party that remained. Readily obtaining leave, the other officers went off to pester the Admiralty, write to their patrons and visit their homes. Delancey had neither patron nor home and came to spend much of his time round the dockyard itself. He knew something of the shipwright's art, having once had a shore appointment in America. This was his chance to learn more. He was also interested in the appearance of ships in dry dock, looking up at them from the dock floor.

He made sketches from this unusual angle and convinced himself that some of them had artistic merit as well as professional accuracy. He was often on the quayside when a ship was warped in and stripped to her lower masts, her fighting tops showing strangely bulky against the sky. Coming to know Chatham Dockyard well, he used to foregather at the Golden Cockerel with other officers who had nowhere to go, promoted boatswains and gunners who had little or no chance of further promotion, but who knew the Navy from a lifetime in the service. The group he joined in the evening was headed by old "Crowbar" Crowley, who had fought under Sir Charles Saunders at Quebec and now held a minor dockyard appointment. He was usually supported by two other veterans, Lieutenant Wetherall and Dumbell, and by such officers as were passing through. On the third night old Wetherall reported that he'd heard the Glatton was soon to be back in the dockyard for alterations and repair. The others showed immediate interest and Delancey remembered her recent action against a French squadron. She was commanded by Captain Henry Trollope, and the affair had involved a remarkable disparity of force. He had forgotten the precise details until Wetherall reminded him.

"Trollope was on his way to join Admiral Duncan off Helvoetsluys. One evening he fell in with four French frigates, two ship corvettes, one brig corvette and a cutter. The odds against the Glatton must have been about six to one."

"More like seven or eight to one," Dumbell interrupted. "The French commodore's frigate was herself probably larger than the Glatton."

"Well, she may have been at that. Anyway, there was a night action, beginning at pistol-shot range, and the French ships were so damaged that one of them sank soon afterwards in Flushing harbour. They fairly broke off the action and fled."

"And the Glatton," asked Delancey.

"She had only one man killed," said Wetherall, "Captain Strangeways of the Marines, who returned to his post after a tourniquet had been applied to his thigh, fainted from loss of blood and died soon after he was once more taken below. There were only a few wounded. Apart from her sails being cut to ribbons, the Glatton and her crew were little the worse."

"What an extraordinary story!" Delancey exclaimed, calling for another round of drinks. "How was it possible?"

"I'll tell you, sir," said old Crowley. "The Glatton was one of nine East Indiamen bought last year from their owners and turned into men-of-war —"

"And damned bad ones at that!" growled Dumbell.

"Too narrow in the beam," Crowley admitted, "too little room for the recoil of the guns. Warships, however, they were to be and the Glatton of 1256 tons was to mount 56 cannon."

"Making her something between a frigate and a ship of the line," said Dumbell, "and no damned use as either."

"Be that as it may," Crowley continued, "Captain Trollope was given the command, the man who was captain of the Rainbow during the last war; the commander before that of the Kite, as clever an officer as you will find in the service. He proposed that the Glatton should be armed only with carronades — 68-pounders on the lower deck, 32-pounders on the upper deck — with not a blessed long gun in the ship. The Navy Board accepted this plan —"

"While members of the Board of Ordnance nearly died of apoplexy," added Wetherall.

"And that is how she was armed in July. The French never knew what had hit them."

The details about the Glatton's armament were new to Delancey. He began to do some sums on a scrap of paper and looked up after a few moments:

"The Glatton fires probably a 1540-lb broadside, more than that of a three-decker like the Queen Charlotte and enough to blow any opponent out of the water!"

"But, lookee," said Dumbell, "why don't we arm all our ships like that?"

"Because it would be lunacy," replied Crowley. "These carronades are short-range weapons. After the first encounter the enemy would not come within half a mile. Then we should be destroyed by long guns firing at long range, and we not able to reply."

"There must be other difficulties," said Delancey. "The Glatton can have no room for the crew she needs. And how can these carronades be aimed? A 68-pounder must pretty well fill the port, having no room to traverse ..."

"You are right, sir!" exclaimed Crowley. "And that is the problem we shall have to solve when the Glatton is docked."

"I look forward to seeing her," said Delancey.

The group went on to talk about a subject much discussed at this time, the question of seamen's pay: the soldiers had been given a pay increase but there had been none for the Navy.

"There will be trouble over this," said Dumbell, "you mark my words. It's not merely that they need the money but the lads are asking why the sodgers should be treated better. Who have won the victories? We have! And who have the enemy managed to beat? The sodgers!" Here was a subject that would last them half the evening and Delancey presently excused himself. He reflected, however, that they were right about the seamen's pay. It was madness, he thought, to do so little for men on whom the government relied so much. Old Dumbell had been right about the possibility of mutiny. It looked different, he supposed, from the minister's point of view, with so many other financial demands to meet, but the sailors had a case. He went back to the Medusa in thoughtful mood.

When the Glatton dropped anchor at the Nore, Delancey was among those who were watching. She was an ungainly ship, still very much the Indiaman, and looked ugly beside the other men-of-war. When she warped into the graving dock he was again on the quayside and soon found an excuse for going on board. He had some slight acquaintance with Captain Trollope, going back to the previous war, but had no reason to suppose that the captain would remember him. The matter was not put to the test, however, for Trollope was not there. He had posted to London from Sheerness and left the Glatton under the temporary command of her keenly efficient second lieutenant, Mr Alexander Grant. Delancey was allowed on board and studied the various problems created by the ship's freak armament. He asked about the lower-deck carronades' lack of traverse.

"Oh, that's the least of it," said Grant with a touch of impatience. "At the range we opened fire that was of no consequence. Our trouble began with having thirty men too few for the guns we mount. Our troubles ended — so far as our recent action was concerned — with the muzzle blast scorching the timber. Come and see for yourself!"

On the Glatton's lower deck, stripped as she was for docking, it was difficult to imagine the ship in action. In the gloomy half light the deck space was cluttered with carpenters' gear and a blacksmith's forge. The workmen had ended their efforts for the day but several were still there, whistling as they prepared to go home. Grant pointed to various marks of burning.

"It did no real damage but the framework round each port will have to be rebuilt."

"It would not appear, sir, that you suffered much from the enemy's shot."

"We suffered amazingly little and our few losses were due to long-range fire from a confounded brig and a cutter. The French frigates were so taken by surprise that they fired at random or not at all."

"I should suppose that your men are in good heart, following such a victory?"

"That is partly true but they won no prize-money."

"Could they expect any, fighting at such odds? Why, if you had taken a prize the French commodore would have shot himself after signing his report and before the court martial could assemble."

"Yes, but one of their frigates sank afterwards in harbour. We claimed head-money for that and it was disallowed. It was said that she would be floated again."

"I expect she will but I would guess that Captain Trollope is still arguing about it at the Admiralty."

"He is at the Admiralty, right enough, but the argument is over the ship's armament. The Ordnance Board want to change everything — never having approved it in the first place — and the captain likes it the way it is, just as he planned it."

"On which side, sir, are you placing your bet?"

"Well, they will refer the question to a committee, meeting here next month, and my guess is that the captain will have his way. He usually does!"

Trollope returned from London before the end of the month and Delancey went to call on him at his lodgings ashore in Chatham. He turned out to be very much what Delancey had remembered — a slim, restless man with piercing eyes, rapid in his speech and quick to understand. He had probably no recollection of having met Delancey before but he showed interest at once when gunnery was mentioned and specifically the problem posed by a large carronade in a small gun port. Delancey explained his interest and added that he had served ashore during the siege of Gibraltar.

"And may I ask," said Trollope, "whether that experience sheds light on the present problem?"

"Possibly, sir. The Spanish artillerymen manning their floating batteries had to fire through wooden embrasures ten foot thick. To guard against muzzle flash they lined the embrasures with sheet tin. I think that is a practicable method of protecting the timber."

"How did you come to know about it?"

"I reconnoitred the batteries, sir, while they were still under construction."

Before the meeting broke up, Trollope had come to the conclusion that Delancey was a very promising officer. They supped together that night and parted with expressions of mutual esteem.

It was a lucky chance that brought Trollope and Delancey together. Trollope had an original mind and admitted to having little use for the concepts of seamanship and discipline which were the accepted gospel on board the Medusa. He questioned some hallowed traditions and shook some cherished beliefs. He was apt to ask why in circumstances which seemed to call rather for agreement and unanimity. The result, moreover, of his recent victory was to place him in a strong position, commended by his sovereign and idolised by the public. He saw in Delancey a man of his own kind, one more interested in gunnery than in ceremonial; a man who might be something of an intellectual, something of a dreamer, more absent-minded than an ideal officer should be, and yet clearly a man of action and courage, a useful man in a desperate situation. Suppressing any doubts he may have felt, Trollope made his decision. When assured of Delancey's agreement to the plan, he proposed to the commander-in-chief at the Nore (Vice Admiral Buckner) that Delancey should be posted second, under Alexander Grant, to the Glatton. Captain Morris agreed very readily and the appointment was approved by the Admiralty in December, 1796. With Grant on leave it fell to Delancey to attend the committee meeting which would decide the vexed question of the Glatton's armament. It was held in January, 1797.


Excerpted from The Fireship by C. Northcote Parkinson. Copyright © 1975 C. Northcote Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Cyril Northcote Parkinson pursued a distinguished academic career on both sides of the Atlantic and first became famous for "Parkinson's Law"—work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Parkinson wrote many books on British politics and economics. His first fictional effort, a "biography" of Horatio Hornblower, met with considerable acclaim and led to the Delancey series. C. Northcote Parkinson died in 1993.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Fireship 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My goodness some actual plot in this one, but still badly written. Overpriced.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago