Taking Command
By Roz Wyatt-Millington

Horatio Hornblower sat in the small room looking at the packet that Commodore Pellew had handed to him.

"To the Captain of
The Retribution
Horatio Hornblower"

Slowly he turned it over and broke the seal on the back. He pulled out the sheet of parchment, and the sheet of paper it contained ­ the former his temporary commission as a commander, and the latter his orders. He laid the orders to one side for a moment, while he read his commission .

Orders of Sir Richard Lambert, Knight of the Bath, Vice-Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels employed and to be employed on the Jamaica Station, to Commander Horatio Hornblower, formerly of His Majesty's ship Renown.
Be virtue of the authority given to me, I hereby appoint you Commander of His Majesty's sloop the Retribution. You are requested and required to proceed on board and take upon you the charge and command of Commander in her accordingly; strictly charging and commanding all the Officers and Company of said Sloop to behave themselves jointly and severally in their respective Employments with all due Respect and Obedience to you their Commander; and you likewise to observe as well the General Printed Instructions as what Orders and Directions you may from time to time receive from any of your superior Officer for His Majesty's Service. Hereof nor you nor any of you fail as you will answer the contrary at your Peril.
And for so doing this shall be your Order.
Given at Kingston, Jamaica Station, January 24th 1802.

Horatio sat staring at this for several moments, before shaking himself, and picking up his orders. They were simple enough ­ escorting a convoy to the Downs, taking dispatches to the Admiralty at the same time. But first he had to commission the Retribution, and provision her for three months. He wandered who would be appointed as his lieutenant. A sloop only had one lieutenant, plus a master and two or three master's mates as the other watch keepers. There may also be up to four midshipmen. Bush would stay with the Renown ­ she could not be deprived of most of her lieutenants after all that had happened. That made him think of Archie again ­ how he would have rejoiced to see Horatio promoted, and then the cost of the promotion ­ the loss of Archie's good name. At least he had been buried in a proper grave, not the pauper's grave that would be customary for a dead mutineer, Commodore Pellew had used his influence there.

Horatio turned his thoughts from this sadness ­ there would be time enough for grieving. For now he had a large number of things to do ­ not least of which was to buy an epaulet to mark his new rank. With that thought in mind, Horatio stood, put the commission and his orders into his pocket and went to find the nearest place to buy naval uniform.

With the unaccustomed weight on his left shoulder, Horatio wandered down to the jetty to find a boat to take him to Renown. He had to organize the transfer of his dunnage to the Retribution tomorrow. He wanted to see Bush and thank him for everything, and he also needed talk to Captain Cogshill, the new temporary captain of Renown to ask if he could steal Matthews and Styles to serve in Retribution. He wasn't going out to the Retribution for a few hours. He knew his officers and crew needed time to get the sloop ship-shape before their new captain descended on them.

As luck would have it, a boat from Renown was alongside at the jetty. It contained Mr. Hobbs who had been ashore to sort out the replenishment of the powder and shot onboard Renown. He greeted Horatio with the appropriate respect, and was happy to offer his boat to convey Horatio out to the ship. There was no conversation in the boat, mainly as Mr. Hobbs was still wary of the young officer who had done so much, but who had fallen foul of his captain. On arriving, Horatio insisted on no honours by using the larboard entry-port as opposed to the normal starboard one.

He was however greeted by the officer of the anchor watch ­ a Midshipman Jeffries, who was new aboard and therefore did not recognize him. Several of the crew did however; Horatio could see that from their expressions. He returned the midshipman's salute, and said, "I am Lieuten Commander Hornblower. I need to speak to your captain, if you will pass my respects to him."

"Aye, aye, sir." Turning, the lad beckoned a seaman over and said, "My respects to the captain, and Commander Hornblower requests an interview."

The seaman disappeared down the companion ladder, and silence reigned on the deck while the two officers awaited his return, which was swift in coming. The seaman returned, and knuckling his forehead to Horatio said: "The captain's compliments, sir, and you are to go to the cabin directly."

"Thank you Peters." The seaman looked startled at Horatio remembering his name. The midshipman looked even more startled that this commander knew the name of a crewman on-board a ship that was not his own. Horatio decided not to enlighten him as to why ­ one of his companions would do that soon enough. For now he had to get to the cabin.

The midshipman asked, "Do you wish a guide sir?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Jeffries. I know my way well enough."

With that Horatio went below and made his way to the captains cabin ­ where he nodded at the sentry, before knocking on the door. On hearing "Come" from inside, he opened and entered.

"Ah ­ Commander Hornblower. I am pleased to meet you ­ I have heard a lot of good things about you. Particularly your conduct during the difficult times of the last mission on this ship."

"Thank you, sir, but I merely did my duty.

I have come aboard, sir, to collect my dunnage from the wardroom, and also to request a favour from you."

"Well what is it man?"

"I would like to have Mr. Matthews and Bo' sun's Mate Styles transferred to Retribution, sir. We have served together for a long time ­ they were both members of my division on-board the Indefatigable, when we all served under the Commodore."

"You want to steal my bo'sun do you Commander." Horatio's face fell ­ he was going to refused ­ he knew it. "Come now man, don't look so glum. In fact I had already had a communication from the Commodore on this very matter. The pair of them are, at this moment, in the process of being transferred to Retribution. However they do not know who their new captain is ­ do you want to surprise them?"

"Actually, sir, I think I do."

"Good. They are in a boat on their way over there now, along with the levy of ten seamen drawn from this ship. I believe all ships in port have been levied for a number of seamen ­ so you should have something near your complement."

"Thank you, sir. And now if you don't mind I must be away. Have I your permission to have my gig call here tomorrow to collect my dunnage? And may I borrow one of your boats to take me back to the shore when I am done?"

"Of course, Commander ­ and good luck."

"Thank you, sir."

With that Horatio left the great cabin, and made his way down one deck to the wardroom. He knocked on the closed door ­ no longer could he just walk in ­ he was not a member now. He was stood carefully so his left shoulder was hidden in the gloom ­ thereby not immediately making clear his new position.

The door suddenly opened, and a welcome face appeared in the hatchway ­ that of Lieutenant Bush. "Why are you knocking Mr. Hornblower ­ surely you can manage to come in to your home?"

"Well, Mr. Bush it is no longer my home." With that Horatio moved so his epaulet shone in all its glory. Bush's eyes were immediately drawn to it, and his face changed.

"I see, sir. Congratulations, sir. To what vessel have you been appointed?"

"To the Retribution Mr. Bush ­ the Gaditana as was. I am to commission her, and then sail with dispatched to England. Now may I come in ­ I have to pack my belongings. My gig will be here tomorrow to collect them."

"Oh, sorry sir. Of course you may come in." With that Bush drew away from the hatchway, and Horatio stepped into the room, which for nearly three years had been his home and refuge. He saw Archie in every corner ­ his face with all its expressions: joy, frustration, anger, bewilderment, and the words he spoke to break his friend's introspective moods. Horatio realized that he was going to miss Archie the most because he was so different ­ and could be relied on to chivvy him out of one of his depressed, and self-recriminating states.

As Horatio stepped further into the room, the officers gathered at the table looked round ­ saw Horatio, and then saw his epaulet. He watched every face go from easy welcoming friendship, to guarded expressions, and a slow rising to the feet of all present. The loneliness of command came home to Horatio at that point. Buckland's face most of all was a sight ­ his jealousy was plain to see, and his was noticeably the sole absent voice in the round of congratulations that were offered up.

"Thank you gentlemen. But do not let me disturb you. I have come merely to pack my dunnage, and collect some personal items, before going to my new ship. Mr. Bush ­ will you help me sir?"

"Of course, sir. I would be happy to."

The two of them crossed the wardroom to Horatio's old cabin, while the reminder of the officers returned to their activities. Once in the cabin, Horatio turned to Bush and said, "Archie Mr. Kennedy's things. Have they gone ashore yet?"

"No they haven't. The captain hasn't decided what to do with them ­ he and the commodore don't think it appropriate to send them to his family. Why?"

"I would like something from them ­ his Shakespeare books if possible. They will help me through the dark times ­ you, more than any other, know what he did for me. Mr. Bush no William, can you help me with this?"

"Now you mean, sir?"

"No William, just before my sea-chest leaves the ship tomorrow. No inventory will be taken of his belongings. Just put the books in with everything else. I need them to remember the best friend I ever had ­ and one who willing lost everything for me, including his name. You and I will not forget him, William ­ no matter what the rest of the navy and the world does."

"We will not, sir Horatio. He did what he did for you, but I watched him day after day, both on-board this ship, and in the prison infirmary. What you and he had was special and in the end I think we all came to share it. Remember the cliff Horatio, and how he jumped into the sea with one man who was afraid of heights and another who couldn't swim."

"Indeed William ­ we will have to remember the good times we had. I hope you and I will remain in contact ­ and please consider me a friend ­ as far as our respective ranks allow. What you and I have is different from what he and I had ­ but it means a lot still."

"Thank you, sir. I am privileged to be able to call you friend. Now have you got everything that belongs to you?"

"I have I think ­ my gig will be here at six bells of the forenoon tomorrow. Now I must be away ­ I have a ship to commission ­ and a crew to mould. Thankfully my bo'sun and his mate will be of use there."

"Bo'sun you mean we have to find a new one sir?"

"Indeed you do. Mr. Matthews and Styles are coming with me. I don't think they would like being left behind. We've been through much together ­ from prize ships sinking due to rice, through being surrounded by the Spanish fleet in fog, to prison and beyond. You know it was Archie who was the first to say he would honour my word to the Dons to return ­ and then Matthews and Styles spoke out as well."

"Well, sad through I am to see a good bo'sun go sir ­ I must agree with you that they would not be happy being left on-board here."

"I am finished here now. Time to say goodbye to a place which has seen much."

The pair of them walked back into the wardroom, where Horatio turned to Mr. Bush ­ and holding out his hand said, "Goodbye Mr. Bush, and good fortune. It has been an honour to serve with you"

"Likewise sir and good luck. And I don't believe it is goodbye quite yet. We will no doubt see each other in Kingston before you sail."

"That we will Mr. Bush. Anyway, goodbye for now." They shook hands, and then Horatio looked around the officers in the wardroom: "Gentlemen, it has been an honour to serve with you all."

With that Horatio left and made his way back to the quarterdeck. "Mr. Jeffries, I have your captain's permission to use one of this ship's boats to take me back to jetty. Would you be so good as to organize it?"

"Of course sir ­ I believe the launch is about to take Dr. Clive ashore ­ if that is agreeable to you."

"It is. Thank you."

As Horatio waited at the entry port, he realized by the bustle around him, that he was going to get the appropriate honours on leaving the ship. When the launch was ready, he nodded to Dr. Clive who went down the side first. Then Horatio, touched his hat to the quarterdeck and the ensign, and swung his legs over. The piping of the calls nearly threw him of balance, as he picked his way down the side. The sideboys, in their white gloves held the sideropes out for him to hold onto. As soon as his head descended below the level of the deck, the piping stopped, and he dropped the rest of the way into the launch. He seated himself and the midshipman in charge gave the commands to get them away from the side of the ship.

Again Horatio sat in silence until they reached the jetty. At which point ­ following the principle that the senior officer was last into the boat, but first out, he clambered out, and set out for the dockyard offices. Once there he had a clerk take a note to the effect that he would be at the Retribution at about two bells of the afternoon watch ­ that is 1 o'clock in the afternoon. This gave him an hour and a half to deal with the dockyard ­ to obtain enough powder, shot, and other provisions to store his ship for the required three months.

At a little before one ­ having eaten a good dinner, Horatio returned to the jetty, and after a little bargaining engaged a shoreboat to convey him to the Retribution. As the boat neared the sloop, the response of "Retribution" to the challenge from the deck, as opposed to the previously expected "aye, aye", brought it home to Horatio that he was now in command. A ship's captain was known by his ship when being transported by boat. At the entry port to the sloop he could see the side party gathering ­ the sideboys running down to hold the sideropes, and the bo'suns call in the hand of Styles winking in the sunlight waiting to greet him. There was a faint crunch as the boat touched the sloop then he was scrambling for grip with his shoes, as his hands grasped the outstretched ropes. The squealing of the calls sounded as he made his way up the side ­ and as his foot touched the gangway, there was a noisy clatter as the marines presented arms ­ and the officers gathered on the quarterdeck removed their hats. As he stepped on the quarterdeck he raised his hat to the gathered officers, and after he had replaced his, they replaced theirs.

The lieutenant, the warrant officers and the midshipmen were obviously all in their best uniforms ­ a splash of blue and white on a scrubbed deck. The lieutenant came forward and introduced himself, "Lieutenant John Parks sir."

"Mr. Parks ­ name the officers if you please."

As he did so, Horatio ran an experienced eye over them all ­ the master and his mates, the purser, the surgeon, the two midshipmen, the gunner, the carpenter, and finally a man who needed no introduction, the bo'sun. "Mr. Matthews, it is good to have you here."

"I am glad to be here, sir, and if I may presume, congratulations on your promotion."

"Thank you." Then to the remaining officers: "Gentlemen I am pleased to meet you. Now Mr. Parks, all hands aft if you please."

There was little need for the word to pass ­ every man was there anyway, but the calls of Matthews and Styles obediently piped All hands aft down the hatchways. As the sharp tones of the pipes died away Horatio stepped to the front of the quarterdeck, and removed his commission from his pocket. There was an immediate order of "Off hats" from Mr. Parks, and Horatio began to read in a clear voice.

"Orders of Sir Richard Lambert "

He continued in a strong voice right up to the last words "you will answer the contrary at your Peril."

He rolled up the parchment, and looked around at the crew. It was customary for a new captain to say a few words at this point, but Horatio was too tongue-tied to try. He contented himself with a nod, and said to Lt. Parks, "Dismiss the hands and come to my cabin in fifteen minutes. We have much to do."

As he went below to the captain's cabin, he heard the chatter from the men as they were dismissed and some of them were talking about their impressions of him. He'd forgotten about the sailors from the Renown until he heard one of them boasting about the cap'n's action at the fort, and during the prisoner uprising. He realized that he would soon get a reputation amongst the crew, and there was nothing he could do about it.

As he entered the captain's cabin, he realized once again the loneliness of command ­ and wished so much for the presence of Archie. Just the memory of his name brought the memories flooding back ­ from that first meeting on board the ill-fated Justinian, and Archie's irreverent "Welcome to Purgatory" remark, through everything that happened up to the Papillion raid. And then the agony of finding Archie in the Spanish prison ­ and willing him to live, and his support in going back to that self-same prison, as well as after the debacle of Muzillac, and Quiberon Bay. The events on board Renown, and Archie's return to the fort, with William Bush to help set the fuses and protect him. The horror he felt on discovering Archie's wound after the prisoner uprising. And then his final moments of life, as he slowly faded, after his selfless decision to tell the court that he pushed the captain into the hold. So much to remember.

How proud Archie would have been to know that his friend had made that first step up, to commander. And how he would have teased Horatio over the unfamiliar weight on his left shoulder. But not any more ­ Archie was dead and buried ­ and as far as the Navy was concerned forgotten. However, Horatio would not forget the true Archie ­ not the one the Navy saw as a mutineer and disgraced man, but the friend willing to lose everything to save his friend. William Bush would remember this Archie as well, he was sure of it, even if nobody else did. And the quietness of both hearts, the legacy of Archie Kennedy would live on. One day Horatio vowed silently ­ one day I will clear his name, and the Navy will know the true story of Lt. Archibald Kennedy.


1.Wording of commission adapted from "Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian, and "Ramage and the Dido" by Dudley Pope. "Lieutenant Hornblower" by CSF was used to find the titles and style of wording for Admiral Lambert. These books are also general references for the actions that occur when a new captain joins a ship. The bit about boarding to starboard for officers, and larboard otherwise comes from "Ramage and the Freebooters" by Dudley Pope.