The Complete Midshipman Bolitho

The Complete Midshipman Bolitho

by Alexander Kent


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590131275
Publisher: McBooks Press
Publication date: 11/25/2006
Series: Bolitho Novels Series , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 292,418
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alexander Kent, pen name of Douglas Edward Reeman, joined the British Navy at 16, serving on destroyers and small craft during World War II, and eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant. He has taught navigation to yachtsmen and has served as a script adviser for television and films. His books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages.

Read an Excerpt

The Complete Midshipman Bolitho

The Bolitho Novels: 1

By Alexander Kent

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Bolitho Maritime Productions, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-323-1


A SHIP of the line

Although only noon, the clouds which scudded busily above Portsmouth harbour made it seem closer to evening. For several days a stiff easterly wind had turned the crowded anchorage into angry criss-crossing patterns of whitecaps, and an attendant drizzle gave each buffeted ship and the stout walls of the harbour defences a glistening, metallic sheen.

On Portsmouth Point itself, solid and uncompromising, stood the Blue Posts Inn. Like inns and hostelries in every busy seaport, it had been added to and altered over the years, but still retained an appearance of a sailor's haunt. In fact, it was used more by young midshipmen than any other seafarers who came and went with the tides, and because of this it held an atmosphere all of its own. Low-beamed, noisy and not particularly clean, it had seen more than one would-be admiral pass through its scarred doors.

On this particular day in mid-October 1772, Richard Bolitho sat wedged in a corner of one of the long rooms half listening to the babble of voices around him, the clatter of plates and tankards and the hiss of rain against the small windows. The air was heavy with mixed aromas. Food and ale, tobacco and tar, and each time the street doors opened to a chorus of curses and complaints the keener tang of salt from the waiting ships.

Bolitho stretched his legs and sighed. After the long and broken coach journey from his home in Falmouth, and a large portion of rabbit pie which was one of the Blue Posts' favourite dishes for the "young gentlemen," he was feeling drowsy. He glanced curiously at the other midshipmen nearby. Some were very young. Children, no more than twelve years old at the most. He smiled, despite his normal reserve. When he had joined his first ship as midshipman he too had been twelve. Only by thinking back to that time could he appreciate how he had altered. How the Navy had changed him. He had been exactly like one of the boys along the table from him. Frightened, awed by the noise and outward hostility of a man-of-war, yet somehow determined not to show it, and always imagining that everyone else was entirely unimpressed by his surroundings.

And that had been four years ago. It was still difficult to accept. Four years in which he had matured and moulded to the ship around him. At first he had believed he would never be able to learn all that was asked and demanded of him. The bewildering complex of rigging and shrouds. The miles of cord-age of every shape and length which made a ship move and obey. Sail drill and gun drill, up aloft on dizzily swaying yards in rain and sleet, or on days when it was so hot he had almost fainted and dropped to the deck far below. He had learned to understand the unwritten laws of the world between decks, the loyalties and rules which made everyday life possible in the overcrowded turbulent existence of a King's ship. He had not only survived, he had come through it better than he had thought possible. But not without some bruises and a few tears to mark his journey.

Now, on this dismal October day, he was joining his second ship, the seventy-four-gun Gorgon, which lay somewhere at anchor in the Solent.

He saw a small midshipman wolfing down a huge portion of boiled pork, and smiled grimly. He would live to regret it. It would be a long and lively pull in a boat through this wind.

He thought suddenly of his home in Cornwall, the great grey-stone house below Pendennis Castle where he and his brother and two sisters had grown up together. And where for that matter the Bolitho family had been living for generations. It had been different from what he had expected, from what he had dreamed about as he had endured storm and heat alike. For one thing, only his mother and sisters had been there to greet him. His father, who commanded a ship similar to the one he was joining, had been away in Indian waters. His older brother, Hugh, was senior midshipman in a frigate in the Mediterranean. The house had seemed quiet and very still after a ship of the line.

His new appointment had been delivered on his sixteenth birthday. To proceed with all despatch to His Britannic Majesty's Ship Gorgon at Spithead, which under the command of Captain Beves Conway was re-commissioning for duty in the King's name.

His mother had tried to hide her dismay. His sisters had laughed and cried as the fancy took them.

When he had made his way to board the Falmouth coach he had seen the farm workers nod to him as he had passed. But no show of surprise. For many, many years Bolithos had left the grey house to join one ship or another. Some of them had never returned.

And now it was all beginning again for Richard Bolitho. He had vowed that there were mistakes he would never repeat, some lessons he would remember above all else. A midshipman was neither fish nor fowl. He stood between the lieutenants and the true backbone of any vessel, the warrant officers. At one end of the ship, aloof and unreachable like some sort of god, was the captain. Above, around and beyond the overcrowded midshipmen's berth were the ship's company. Seamen and marines, volunteers and pressed men alike, packed together between decks, yet at all times separated by status and experience. Harsh discipline was the rule rather than the exception, danger and death from working the ship in all weathers were too commonplace to mention.

When landsmen saw a King's ship working clear of the shore, her yards alive with sailors and freshly set sails, when they heard the bang of gun-salutes, the lusty voices of those at the capstan joining in a well-tried shanty, they knew nothing of that other world within the deep hull. Which was probably just as well.

"Anyone sitting here?"

Bolitho came out of his thoughts and looked up. Another midshipman, fair-haired and blue-eyed, was smiling at him.

The newcomer added, "Martyn Dancer. I'm joining the Gorgon. The landlord pointed you out to me."

Bolitho introduced himself and moved along the bench.

"Not your first ship."

Dancer smiled sadly. "Almost. I was in the flagship until she went into dock. My experience amounts to three months and two days." He saw Bolitho's expression. "I started late. My father was unwilling to let me go to sea." He shrugged. "But I had my way in the end."

Bolitho liked what he saw. Dancer had certainly begun his sea career late. He was about his own age, and had the quiet, cultured voice of a good family. A town family, he decided.

Dancer was saying, "I have heard that we are sailing for West Africa. But then ..."

Bolitho grinned. "It is as good a rumour as any. I heard it too. It will be better than beating back and forth with the Channel Fleet."

Dancer grimaced. "The Seven Years War has been over for nine years. I'd have thought the French would be at us again by now, if only to get their Canadian possessions back."

Bolitho turned as two crippled seamen approached the landlord who was watching one of his girls ladling stew into pewter pots.

No real war for nine years. It was true enough. And yet there were still other conflicts around the world which never stopped.

Uprisings and piracy, colonies fighting their new masters, they had claimed as many victims as any line of battle.

The landlord said harshly, "Be off with you! I want no beggars here!"

One of the sailors, his right arm amputated almost to the shoulder, retorted angrily, "I'm no bloody beggar! I was in the old Marlborough, seventy-four, with Rear-Admiral Rodney!"

There was complete silence in the long room, and Bolitho saw that several of the younger midshipmen were staring at the two cripples with something like horror.

The second man exclaimed anxiously, "Leave it be, Ted! The devil will give us nothin'!"

Dancer said, "Give them all they need." He dropped his eyes, confused and angry. "I will pay."

Bolitho looked at him, sharing his concern. His shame. "That was well said, Martyn." He touched his sleeve impetuously. "I am glad we are joining together."

They both looked up as a shadow fell between them and one of the smoky lanterns.

The one-armed man was staring at them, his face very grim. He said quietly, "Thank you, young gentlemen." He thrust out his hand. "Good luck go with you. I reckon I'm seeing two captains."

He moved away as one of the serving girls carried two steaming pots of food to a side table, adding for the room's benefit, "Some of you take heed of this day. A lesson for you."

The landlord thrust his large bulk towards the midshipmen as the buzz of conversation slowly returned.

"I'll take your damn money now!" He glared at Dancer. "And after that ..."

Bolitho said calmly, "After that, landlord, you will bring two glasses of brandy for us." He watched the man's mounting fury, gauging the moment as he would the fall of a nine-pound shot.

"I would mind your manners if I were you. My friend here is fortunately in good humour. But his father owns most of the land around this point."

The landlord swallowed hard. "But, God bless you, sir, I was only teasing! I'll bring the brandy at once. The best I have, and I trust you will allow me to pay for it." He hurried away, his face suddenly worried.

Dancer said incredulously, "But my father is a tea merchant in the City of London! I doubt if he has ever seen Portsmouth Point in his life!" He shook his head. "I think I shall have to sharpen my wits if I am to keep pace with you, Richard!"

Bolitho smiled gravely. "Dick, if you don't mind."

As they were sipping their brandy the street door was flung wide open. This time it did not close. Framed in the entrance was a lieutenant in a streaming tarpaulin coat, his cocked hat sodden from spray and rain.

He barked, "All midshipmen for the Gorgon to muster at the sallyport at once. There is a party of men outside to take your chests to the boat."

He strode to the fire and snatched a goblet of brandy from the landlord.

"It's blowing like hell outside." He held his reddened hands above the blaze. "God help us."

As an afterthought he added, "Who is the senior amongst you?"

Bolitho saw the anxious exchange of glances, the way that the snug contentment had given way to something like panic.

He said, "I think I am, sir. Richard Bolitho."

The lieutenant eyed him suspiciously. "So be it. March 'em to the sallyport and report to the boat's cox'n. I will be along shortly." He raised his voice. "And when I get there, I want every mother's son of you ready to leave, see?"

The smallest midshipman said desperately, "I think I'm going to be sick!"

Somebody laughed, but the lieutenant roared, "You're going to be sick, sir! Say sir when you address an officer, damn you!"

The landlord's wife watched the untidy cluster of midshipmen hurrying towards the rain.

"Yew'm a bit hard on 'em, Mr Hope, sir."

The lieutenant grinned. "We all had to go through it, m'dear. Anyway, the captain's difficult enough as it is, what with one thing and t'other. If I'm adrift with the new midshipmen then I'll be in for a broadside!"

Outside on the wet cobbles Bolitho watched some seamen loading the black chests into an assortment of barrows. Burly and tanned, they looked like experienced sailors, and he guessed that the captain was taking no chances by allowing less reliable members of his company ashore in case they deserted.

In weeks, even days, he would know these men and many more. He would not fall into the old traps as in his other ship. He knew now that trust was something you had to earn, not a gift which went with the uniform.

He nodded to the senior hand. "We will move off directly."

The man grinned at him. "Not the first time for you then, sir?"

Bolitho fell in step beside Dancer. "Or the last."

At the sallyport they found the boat's coxswain sheltering behind the wall. Beyond it the Solent heaved and broke to endless ranks of cruising wave crests, and against the leaden sky the few gulls looked like white spindrift.

The coxswain touched his hat. "I suggest you get 'em all aboard, sir. There's quite a tide runnin' an' the first lieutenant wants the boat to do another trip afore the dog watches." He dropped his voice. "'Is name is Mr Verling, sir. Be warned. 'E's a mite rough on some young gennlemen. Likes 'em to try their 'ands at everythin' 'e does." He chuckled unfeelingly. "Gawd, look at 'em. 'E'll 'ave 'em for breakfast."

Bolitho snapped, "And I you, if you don't stop gossiping."

Dancer stared at him as the man hurried away.

Bolitho said, "I've met his sort before, Martyn. The next minute he'd be asking permission to go off for a quick tot of rum." He grinned. "I think the lieutenant back there would be displeased, never mind the formidable Mr Verling."

The officer in question appeared by the wall, his eyes somewhat glassy.

"Into the boat! Lively there!"

Dancer said quietly, "I think maybe my father was right!"

Bolitho waited for the others to clamber down the slippery ladder towards the pitching longboat.

"I'm not sorry to go back to sea." And he was surprised to find that he meant it.

The journey from the sallyport to the anchored two-decker took the best part of an hour. During the trip in the madly leaping long-boat the midshipmen who managed to survive being violently sick had plenty of time to study their new home as she grew larger and taller through the relentless rain.

Bolitho had made it his business to learn something about his next appointment. Seventy-fours, as these sturdy two-deckers were nicknamed, made up the bulk of the fleet. In any big sea battle they were always predominant in the line where the fighting was hardest. And yet he knew from experience, and what he had heard old sailors say, that each one was as different from the other as salt from molasses.

While the oarsmen pulled the boat over each angry crest he kept his attention on the ship, seeing the towering masts and crossed yards, the shining black and buff hull with its lines of closed gun-ports, the scarlet ensign at her high stern and the jack at her bows making patches of colour against the background of grey sea and sky. The oarsmen were getting tired from their hard efforts, and it took the repeated stroke from the coxswain and several threats from the red-faced lieutenant to keep them working in unison.

Around and under the long bowsprit and jib-boom, beneath which the brightly gilded figurehead seemed to stare down at the silent midshipmen with something like hatred. It was a splendid if frightening example of a wood-carver's art. The Gorgon's figure-head was a mass of writhing serpents, the face below set in a fierce glare, the eyes very large and edged with red paint to give an added effect of menace.

And then, panting and scrabbling, they were being pushed, hauled and bundled unceremoniously up the ship's side, so that when they arrived on the broad quarterdeck it seemed almost sheltered and calm by comparison.

Bolitho said, "She looks smart enough, Martyn."

He ran his eyes quickly along the neat lines of the quarterdeck nine-pounders, their black barrels gleaming in the rain, the trucks freshly painted, every piece of tackle neat and carefully stowed.

Seamen were working aloft on the yards and along the gangways on either beam which joined quarterdeck to forecastle. Beneath the gangways, at the same regular intervals, were the upper deck batteries of eighteen-pounders, while on the deck below them were the ship's main armament of powerful thirty-two-pounders. When required, Gorgon could and would speak with loud authority.

The lieutenant shouted, "Over here!"

The midshipmen hurried to obey, some fearful and already lost. Others wary and careful to watch what was required of them.

"In a moment you will go to your quarters." The lieutenant had to raise his voice above the hiss of rain, the persistent din of wind through rigging and furled sails. "I just want to tell you that you are now appointed to one of the finest ships in His Majesty's Navy, one with high standards and no tolerance of laggards. There are twelve midshipmen all told aboard Gorgon, including yourselves, so the mothers' boys had best work doubly hard to avoid trouble. You will be given postings to gun decks and other parts of ship until you are able to work with the people without making a poor example to them."


Excerpted from The Complete Midshipman Bolitho by Alexander Kent. Copyright © 2005 Bolitho Maritime Productions, Ltd.. 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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The Complete Midshipman Bolitho 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Springer1911-A1 More than 1 year ago
I found this novel by Kent to set the stage for a look at the Royal Navy through the eyes of a young man on his journey through the Royal Navy as an officer. This is the first book and it sets the stage for a good read. Young Mr. Bolitho comes from a long line of Naval Officers. He is exposed to the good and bad of shipboard life. Lacking in depth of the day to day duties of the lower decks, it makes up in a study of what is expected of a Midshipman. If you are a fan of Historic Naval Fiction then this is a must read. I am convencied that to be well-rounded in HNF, you must read several different authors. I look forward to the next in the collection
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In my teens I read Beat to quarters and really enjoyed it but until recently I have not had much interest in historical fiction. Now having read all the Hornblower stories I had the urge to find more of the same. Much to my delight I came across Alexander Kent's stories. They delivered more than I could have hoped for. Great period writing with a solid character who grows and develops as the stories progress. There's rarely a dull moment following Richard Bolitho through his exploits growing up in the Royal Navy. These are thoroughly enjoyable stories that keep you coming back for more
rickofoly More than 1 year ago
I own the whole series and have read them numerous times.  Kent really does a great job of fleshing out the characters and writing them so you  care a them.   HIGHLY recommend this series if you love Nautical fiction
canmanTX More than 1 year ago
great starter to the series
Anonymous 25 days ago
I enjoyed this book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent stories from a master mariner, who served his country well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt the spray, the characters fear, exhilaration, and loss. Not many authors can reach that level of skill.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first A. Kent book and I enjoyed the character development and story line. I plan on continuing with the series.
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