Caribbee: A Kydd Sea Adventureby Julian Stockwin
As the captain of a useful frigate, Thomas Kydd is claimed by the Leeward Islands station, exchanging the harsh situation in South America for the warmth and delights of the Caribbean. It’s a sea change for Kydd, who revisits the places and people that figured in his time as a young seaman. Some are nostalgic and pleasing, while others bring challenges of a
As the captain of a useful frigate, Thomas Kydd is claimed by the Leeward Islands station, exchanging the harsh situation in South America for the warmth and delights of the Caribbean. It’s a sea change for Kydd, who revisits the places and people that figured in his time as a young seaman. Some are nostalgic and pleasing, while others bring challenges of a personal nature. In Europe, Napoleon is triumphant on land, but so far away in the Caribbean, Kydd and the others feel secure and make the most of running down prizes and sending off fat convoys of sugar to England. But, in a stroke of genius, Bonaparte finds a way to take revenge for Trafalgar and shocks Kydd out of complacency when an element from his past returns and Kydd is accused of murder. In a stroke of irony, it is that same past that may just provide Kydd the means to clear his name.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
"S-sir! Mr Curzon's compliments, an' we've raised Barbados!" came the wide-eyed report.
The frigate L'Aurore had been at sea for long weeks, beating up the coast of South America in frantic haste on a mission that might well see the catastrophic situation of the British in Buenos Aires reversed. It had been a voyage of daring speed and increasing privation as provisions and water ran low under the pressing need for hurry. Reduced to short allowance, the griping of hunger was constantly with them.
Captain Thomas Kydd looked up from his desk. "Thank you, Mr Searle."
The ship's youngest midshipman hesitated, unsure whether to wait for a response for the second lieutenant.
Kydd laid down his pen. "Tell Mr Curzon I'll be on deck presently."
Apprehension stole over Kydd as he contemplated his task: to persuade a senior commander-in-chief to detach part of his fleet to go south in rescue of an unauthorised expedition that had sought to liberate South America from the Spanish.
It had all started brilliantly. Their tiny force had quickly captured the seat of the viceroyalty of the River Plate, Buenos Aires, but then the population had turned on their liberators and forced the surrender of their land forces. Commodore Popham, still at anchor off the port there, was desperately seeking support to retake the city.
From the quarterdeck Kydd gazed across an exuberant expanse of white-flecked blue sea to a distant light grey smudge, Barbados — where was to be found the Leeward Islands Squadron. There were just hours left to ensure that his arguments to its admiral for weakening the defences of the vital sugar islands by parting with his valuable assets were sound and convincing.
"A noble achievement, our voyage, sir, I'm persuaded," Curzon offered, as they neared.
"A damned challenging one," agreed Kydd, absently. There was murmuring that he didn't catch from the group around the wheel behind him but it wasn't hard to guess its drift. These were men who had left shipmates as prisoners to the Spaniards and they were expecting to see them freed soon by bold naval action.
Barbados was at its shimmering tropical best. After the intense blue of the deep sea, with its gaily tumbling white combers, and shoals of bonito and flying fish pursued by dolphins, there was now calm and beguiling transparent jade water above the corals. Along the shore coconut palms fringed dazzling white beaches. Neat houses on stilts with distinctive green jalousies perched above the tide line.
It was an impossibly lovely prospect for those who had voyaged so long and endured so much but, mission accomplished, they must leave and return to that grey southern madness.
By the time they had made the bluffs of South Point and left the brown and regular green of sugar fields safely to starboard, anxiety returned to steal in on Kydd. There was the possibility that the Leeward Islands Squadron was at sea, in which case it could be anywhere and would have to be found. However, his real concern was that, as a junior frigate captain, he was going to debate high strategy with a senior admiral. But there was no alternative: too many brave men depended on what he was about to say.
He was in full dress uniform well before they opened Carlisle Bay. It was soon established that the fleet was in, an imposing sight — three ships-of-the-line, escorting frigates and many others. But Kydd's eyes were on just one, the largest, which bore the flag of the commander-in-chief, Leeward Islands Squadron.
He knew little of the man: that he was a Cochrane unrelated to the one Napoleon called "the wolf of the seas," that by reputation he was cautious and punctilious but had nevertheless distinguished himself in battle, and that he was yet another Scot who had reached flag rank in the Royal Navy. None of this was going to help.
An officious brig-sloop rounded to under their lee and, after a brief exchange of hails, L'Aurore was shepherded into the anchorage to take up moorings with three other frigates. It felt odd after so long under a press of canvas to be at rest with naked masts.
In his mind Kydd went over yet again the burden of what he would argue. If successful they could be returning south within days with reinforcements and if not ... Well, would he have to go back empty-handed?
An expressionless Coxswain Poulden kept tight discipline in the boat's crew as they approached the flagship. Northumberland was in immaculate order, the welcoming captain in white gloves as Kydd stepped aboard, carefully lifting his hat to the quarterdeck and waiting while the boatswain's call died away. Then he was escorted to the grand cabin of the commander-in-chief.
"Captain Kydd, is it not?" Cochrane said, in a dry Scots burr, rising from his desk.
"L'Aurore frigate, thirty-two guns, sir."
"As I can see. Her reputation for speed on a bowline is known even here, Captain."
"Sir, I've news of great importance, a matter that sorely presses, bearing as it does on our situation in the south."
"Oh? Do carry on then, sir."
"I'm directed by Commodore Popham, my commander, to make my number with you in respect of an urgent operational request he has to make."
"I see." Cochrane's manner became unexpectedly mild, almost whimsical, as if restraining a humorous confidence. "And you are his emissary. Then do tell what this might be at all."
"I'm not sure how much you know, sir, of our descent on Buenos Aires, which —"
"You'll take a sherry, Kydd? I favour a light manzanilla in this climate. Will you?"
"Thank you, sir. We met with some success initially, seizing the city and quantities of silver, but —"
"Do sit, Captain. I'm sure it's been something of a trial, your long voyage."
"— but he now stands embarrassed for want of reinforcement," Kydd went on doggedly.
"Which he begs I might furnish."
"Sir, the matter is pressing, I believe, and —"
"And I'm therefore grieved to tell you that your mission is in vain."
Was this a direct refusal before he'd even mentioned the details?
"Sir, I have a letter for you from the commodore that establishes the strategics at back of his request."
Cochrane laid it on the desk, unopened. "That won't be necessary."
Kydd felt a flush rising. "Sir, I do feel —"
"Captain, two weeks ago your reinforcements touched here on their way to the River Plate."
"Why, that's —"
"Together with your commodore's replacement. He is under recall to England to answer for his conduct."
Kydd was thunderstruck.
"So that disposes of the matter as far as you are concerned, wouldn't you say?" the admiral said, toying with his quill.
"Um, yes, it does seem, sir, that —"
"Quite. Then I suppose it would appear that you and your valiant frigate are now without purpose."
Keyed up for a protracted confrontation, Kydd could think of nothing with which to meet this.
Cochrane leaned forward and said, with a frown, "I presume you realise how vital — how crucial — these islands are to Great Britain? You do? Then you'll be as distracted as I am, not to say dismayed, when you learn that this humble fleet is all that is left to me in the great purpose of defending the same. After Trafalgar we were stripped — I say stripped, sir — of ships of force and value. Should the French make a descent with serious intent, I have the gravest reservations whether I'm in any kind of a position to deter them."
"Er, I see, sir."
"So I have it in mind that, following the stranding of Félicité frigate, I shall be attaching you to my station pending Admiralty approval."
Kydd caught his breath. As a commander-in-chief, Cochrane was entitled to avail himself of the services of passing vessels, and there was little doubt that the Admiralty would be reluctant to go to the trouble of sending out a replacement when one had so fortuitously presented itself.
"A light frigate, of little consequence to operations in the south, while here I'm in great want of frigates both for the fleet and to go against French cruisers and privateers. Yes, my dear Kydd, consider yourself as of this moment under my command. Flags will find you a copy of my orders and see you entered into the fleet's signal card and so forth, and I've no doubt you'll wish to water and store while you can. We're shortly to sail on fleet manoeuvres, which will serve as a capital introduction to our ways."
There was nothing for it: Kydd had to accept that he and L'Aurore were now taken up and Popham's brave little expedition was replaced by a full-scale enterprise from England that didn't need them. Their being was now to be found in the Caribbean.
Cochrane mused for a moment, then rose and extended his hand. "Therefore I do welcome you to the Leeward Islands Squadron, Kydd — you'll find me strict, but fair." He rang a silver handbell.
A wary lieutenant entered. "Sir?"
"Flags, this is Captain Kydd of L'Aurore frigate. He's to join our little band and I leave him in your capable hands to perform the consequentials. Oh, and the residence will need to know that they'll be having another guest at the levee."
"Aye aye, sir. Er, it does cross the mind that Captain Kydd's presence might be considered fortunate at this time ... ?"
"What's that, Flags?"
"The court-martial, sir. You now have your five captains."
"Ah, yes. Like to get this disagreeable business over with before we sail. Er, set it in train, will you? There's a good fellow."
Legal proceedings could not begin in a court-martial unless five post captains could be found to sit in judgment and cases had sometimes dragged on for months while waiting for the requisite number.
It was not the most auspicious beginning to his service here.
Back aboard his ship, Kydd cleared lower deck and told her company of developments, mentioning that with powerful reinforcements on their way their shipmates would soon be set at liberty, and announcing the agreeable news that they would be exchanging the winter shoals and lowering darkness of defeat in Buenos Aires for the delights of the Caribbean. It more than made up for the trials of the voyage.
In the time-honoured way, boats had already put off from the shore to the newly arrived ship, laden to the gunwales with tempting delights for sailors long at sea — hands of bananas, moist soursops, grapefruit-tasting shaddock, fried milk, not to mention bammy bread and live chickens, all dispensed with noisy gusto by laughing black faces.
Even Gilbey, the dour first lieutenant, was borne along on the tide of excitement and, wrinkling his nose at the mauby beer, insisted on picking out half a dozen fresh coconuts for the gunroom.
"That no good for youse, de fine buckra officer!" a stout lady said, snatching them back. "I got toppest kind, verra tender an' young. You leave others t' the kooner-men!" She triumphantly produced some smaller ones, still enshrouded with fine coir hair.
Kydd kept a blank expression. He knew very well what was going on from those long-ago times in the Caribbean as a "kooner-man" himself. Deciding not to interfere, he let Gilbey conclude the deal and stood back as seamen quickly moved in to relieve her of the store of bigger, older nuts. Quite soon there would be merriment of a different kind below decks: the L'Aurores would have wasted no time in "sucking the monkey" — quaffing the powerful rum that had taken the place of milk inside their purchases.
Curzon was compounding with Bowden, the third lieutenant, in the subscribing of a sea-turtle — calipash and calipee — and Kydd graciously acceded to joining them, looking forward to the warmth of a dinner with his officers.
Liberty ashore was promised as soon as storing was complete, but for Kydd there was first a stern duty. At the summons of the single court-martial gun booming over the anchorage, he boarded his gig for Northumberland. He noted others making their way over the glittering sea but he had been occupied with the rendering of myriad accounts, reports and the like to his new commander, and a probing survey of fitness of his ship. Today, therefore, was their first face-to-face meeting, and he was looking forward to making the acquaintance of those with whom he would serve in the future.
This time Kydd was gravely welcomed at the side by the admiral, then went over to join the group of captains standing together on the other side of the deck.
He lifted his cocked hat in greeting. "Kydd, L'Aurore frigate, new joined."
"New snaffled, I'd wager," one hard-faced captain retorted. "Always was tight with his ships, our Sir Alex. Oh — Sam Pym o'Atlas 74. We'll know more of you shortly, I'd hazard. Your first time in the Caribbee?" he asked.
Kydd caught himself. It was not, for he had been here as a young seaman — it seemed so very long ago. "Er, in the last war, as a younker only," he admitted, then went on, "Do we know who's to be tried at all?"
"Won't take long, if that's your meaning. Some foremast jack out o' Hannibal thought to offer his lieutenant violence on being given an order or some such. His Nibs can be relied upon to come down hard on any who —"
A sour-faced captain leaned forward and hissed, "Sssh, gentlemen. There's to be no discussing the case before it's heard."
The court met in the admiral's spacious day cabin, set out in its full panoply — dark polished mahogany on all sides, flag-draped side tables and the scarlet of marine sentries rigidly to attention. A long table set athwart dominated the scene.
In dignified silence, the captains filed in one by one and sat in order of seniority, the president of the court occupying the largest chair in the centre. On either side were tables for the prosecution and the defence, the clerkly judge-advocate decorously apart from both. The massed dark blue and gold of full dress uniforms filled the space with a powerful impression of the awful majesty of naval discipline.
"Are we settled, then, gentlemen?" Cochrane asked politely,looking right and left. "I'm sure you know the rules. We'll take dinner at two but I'm not expecting a protracted session."
There were nods and murmurs. Kydd eased his neck-cloth, stealing glances at his neighbours, who, he could see, were adopting suitably grave expressions.
Properly sworn, the court was now in session.
"Then we shall begin. Bring in the accused."
There was a shuffling outside and the prisoner appeared, the clink of manacles loud in the silence.
"Your name and rate?"
"Dan'l Smythe, able seaman, sir."
Kydd took in the man: his expression was wary and his eyes darted about the cabin. Wiry and well tanned, he must be in his forties; this was no cringing youngster regretting an impulse. The voice was grog-roughened but steady. If the act had been committed while drunk, it would make no difference to the sentence.
"Daniel Smythe, you are charged that on the seventeenth day of September last you did ..."
Kydd listened grimly. It was much as Pym had said but the twenty-second Article of War was being invoked, a capital charge — and he was sitting in judgment on the man.
"Do you plead guilty, or not guilty?"
There was a pathetic nobility in his manner. He had been brought from days' confinement below in irons to an abrupt appearance before so many senior naval officers, yet he was clearly going to play it through to the end.
The young officer who had been appointed to act in his defence looked nervous. He dropped his pen and, red-faced, fumbled to pick it up.
Opposite, the prosecuting officer waited with a heavy patience, then rose. "Sir, this is as clear-cut a case as any I have seen and I donot propose to try the patience of the court with a lengthy submission. I shall be calling but two witnesses, Lieutenant Beale, against whom the offence occurred, and Hannibal's captain."
A ripple went about the court: if the captain himself was coming forward as a prosecution witness there could be little hope for the defence.
"Thank you, Mr Biggs. Lieutenant Hubbard?"
The officer got to his feet and addressed the court. "Sir, Able Seaman Smythe denies the charge, saying his actions have been grievously mistaken and —"
"Just so. Your witnesses?"
Hubbard hesitated. "Er, Able Seaman Hogg and Sailmaker's Mate Martin who were both —"
"Yes. Are they present?" Cochrane enquired.
Kydd frowned. If the only testimony Smythe could muster were fore-mast hands, things were looking bleak for him.
"They are, sir."
"Then we'll proceed. Mr Biggs?"
Excerpted from Caribbee by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2013 Julian Stockwin. 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.
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Meet the Author
Julian Stockwin is a retired teacher and educational psychologist, and a former lieutenant commander of the Royal Navy Reserve. He entered the British Navy at age 15 and was eventually named a Member of the British Empire. He is the author of the Kydd Sea Adventures series.
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If you like Kydd, you'll like Caribbee.
A wonderfully written chapter in the life of Captain Kydd. Kydd almost comes to life and gets the reader involved in his adventures, trials and tribulations. The writing style of this author takes a little getting used to, as he uses the language of the times in those days. But, was a good read and entertaining.