by Jan L.
Copies of this document were delivered to the descendants of
of Lord H. Hornblower and Lt. A. Kennedy.
I have directed the Bank to give you this letter on the hundredth
anniversary of my death, and am confident that by the time you break the
seal the events I describe will be of merely historical interest to my
own descendants and most of those other men named. To the family of Lt.
Kennedy, I extend my humble apology that this official notice has taken
so very long. I did meet once, privately, with Mr. Kennedy's mother, and
gave her the opportunity to correct an injustice, but she kindly chose to
honor her son's wishes, keeping his secret and my own.
There is already an official record of the events aboard the
Renown, which sailed from Plymouth in the year 1800 under the command of
Captain James Sawyer. This record, of the court-martial for mutiny of
the ship's lieutenants, including myself, presents only some of the facts
and those in a manner that completely distorted the actual sequence of
events. What was obscured, even obliterated by that court-martial, was
the fact that, no matter the Court's findings, Captain Sawyer was unfit
to command the vessel and had in fact nearly sunk her by an
ill-considered attack upon a Spanish fort from an indefensible position.
I am not, however, concerned with the facts of those events,
Captain Sawyer's behaviour, nor even of what posterity may think of me
when this letter comes to light. I write this to clear the name and
reputation of Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, who was wounded in the final
battle aboard Renown during which Captain Sawyer was killed by escaped
The crux of the trial was this: Several days before we engaged
Spaniards as we were ordered to do, it became obvious to all the
Lieutenants aboard that the Captain was not capable of command. We had
met in secret, attempting to determine what course of action we might
take to preserve not only our mission, but the safety of the ship and her
crew. Captain Sawyer's informer, Hobbs, a man of staunch but misplaced
loyalty, roused Sawyer and we officers were forced to scatter in order to
avoid being found together and charged with conspiracy to mutiny.
I wish to state at this point that if Dr. Clive had been capable
discerning, he would have declared Captain Sawyer too ill to perform his
duties. Sawyer was in no way at fault; his record as a Captain was
exceptional, and his suspicions the product of a diseased mind. He
should for his own sake have been relieved of duty. Instead, Dr. Clive
soothed the worst of his ravings by drugging him into an addiction to
opium; I believe that Dr. Clive was himself enslaved to alcohol. At no
time in the course of these events were we planning or attempting to
mutiny. Our intention was to persuade Dr. Clive to face his
responsibility, give a sick and incapable Captain the care he required,
and put the ship under the command of officers who could carry out the
orders we had been given, as Captain Sawyer clearly could not.
To return to my narrative: As we were seeking exits from the
Captain Sawyer -- armed with two pistols -- managed to wander into a
companionway placed in such a way as to block both the door of the
storeroom where Mr. Kennedy had concealed himself, and the passage where
I was concealed with M'man Wellard. Mr. Kennedy chose to reveal himself,
perhaps reasoning that since he was alone he could not be accused of
conspiracy. He approached Captain Sawyer in a calm and respectful
manner. Captain Sawyer at this point was extremely excited, and had both
pistols pointed at Mr. Kennedy.
I wish this point to be noted, because it should be obvious
that if the Captain had at any point felt his life was in danger from Mr.
Kennedy, he was fully armed; Mr. Kennedy was defenseless. This is
crucial to the remainder of my explanation.
In danger or not, Captain Sawyer backed away from Mr. Kennedy.
Kennedy's attention was on the firearms; I doubt he even saw the open
hatch. I expected Captain Sawyer to fire at any moment, and moved from
my own place of concealment, hoping to disarm him before some tragedy
occurred. However, before any of us could take action, Captain Sawyer
backed over the edge of an open hatchway and fell. Whether I could have
prevented his accident by shouting a warning, I do not know; I feared
that any sudden noise might provoke the Captain into firing. We all
rushed forward as he fell, but whether we could have done anything to
assist him was doubtful, and his unconsciousness and subsequent behavior
did, at least temporarily, persuade Dr. Clive to declare him unfit, even
though he later retracted the diagnosis.
No one, including my mentor, Commodore Sir Edward Pellew (Viscount
Exmouth), seemed capable of believing that Captain Sawyer could have
fallen by accident. Dr. Clive might have observed that the Captain's
attempt to fire upon a fort that was clearly at an impossible angle
proved that his perceptions were seriously impaired, but there was much
that the doctor might have done that he did not. I cannot account for
Dr. Clive's ineptitude, his vacillation, and his behaviour during the
court-martial, except to speculate that his will and intellect were so
corroded by his drinking that he, too, was unfit for service.
For whatever reason, Captain Charles Hammond, of the Court
unable to accept that Captain Sawyer might have truly been unfit for
duty, or that he fell by accident. Captain Hammond was convinced that
the irregularities in our mission could be explained only as a mutiny,
and he was determined to have a scapegoat. It seemed to me that if
anyone were to be held responsible, it should have been the First
Lieutenant, Mr. Buckland; as the officer in command following this
supposed mutiny, he was the one who gained by it -- and as officer in
command he was officially responsible. I have not mentioned Mr. Buckland
until this point, because in fact he was hardly more capable than Captain
Sawyer. The man had no command ability; or if he ever had had it, he had
been so undermined by Captain Sawyer's persecution that there was nothing
left of him but a quivering wreck of indecision. Whatever their reasons,
two of the three judges on this court accepted Mr. Buckland's claim that
I was responsible. By the last day of the trial, I was fully expecting
to be convicted, disgraced, and hanged.
Half a century later, none of this matters in the least. The
that remains of importance to me is that I owe my entire career, and my
very life, to my dearest friend, Lieutenant Kennedy. After being fatally
wounded in that last battle aboard Renown, he exerted an heroic force of
will and, without my knowledge or consent, appeared in court and
confessed to having pushed Captain Sawyer down the hatchway. It was his
dying wish that I accept this act as a parting gift, and I have honoured
But I am an old man. If there is any manner of afterlife,
frankly doubt, it will not be long before I will see my old friend once
more. Even if this is not to be the case, I feel an obligation to return
his gift, as I no longer need it.
Despite the official findings of the court-martial, I wish
to state now
and for the record that Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy did not, dispite his
dying testimony, push Captain James Sawyer into the hold of the Renown.
I was ranking officer on the scene; Captain Sawyer's accident was and is
my responsibility, and I hope that the service I have given my country in
the intervening years has justified Mr. Kennedy's sacrifice.
As Admiral of the Fleet, I have made note of this generous
expunged the conviction from his record. Mr. Kennedy gave his life for
mine in the service of King and Country, and I have not in my life known
a finer gentleman nor a braver heart. If history is to remember anything
of either of us, let it be that.
I am, in all candour,