“We need some action, Tim, some proper action with steel and smoke and powder. Blood and Glory, Hastie! That is what we need.”
The Poisoned River
For Horatio Nelson, life on the West Indies station has been a disappointment.
While other men have fought the American rebels, he has been forced to cruise the Caribbean disrupting Spanish shipping, and harrying the pirates, privateers and smugglers moving contraband to the detriment of the English exchequer.
The work is mundane, with few opportunities for the glory he craves.
When the governor of Jamaica decides to send an expedition up the San Juan river to link the Caribbean with the Pacific Ocean, the potential prize is enormous. The Spanish Main will be split in half, and England will control the whole continent.
If he succeeds, Nelson’s will be a hero.
But the river is notorious as ‘a hundred miles of white man’s death.’ Dense jungle, fever, snakes, alligators, mosquitoes, big cats – it has them all.
And half way up the river is a fort full of Spanish soldiers.
Within weeks of landing the expedition at the river’s mouth, Nelson is on a gruesome killing ground.
The Dreadful Havoc
After the disastrous expedition up the Rio San Nelson – at the age of only 22 – is ‘a dead man walking.’
He is carried ashore at Port Royal in a cot, and saved from certain death only by the intervention of Captain ‘Coachee’ Cornwallis, who is determined Nelson recover.
Nelson is put in the care of Mrs Cuba, a woman steeped in voodoo, whose methods were frowned on by the medical establishment.
With his faithful companion, Tim Hastie, Nelson spends many weeks with Cuba and her young nurses, often delirious and racked by fever and by pain.
Sent back to England still a wreck, Nelson must endure a long and painful journey.
The Powder Keg
To his dismay, Nelson is sent on escort duty in the icy Baltic, and from there to Canada with bullion to pay the British Army in Quebec.
With the American War of Independence over, it is all too tame for Horatio, who is desperate to seek glory on the Caribbean Station.
When he finally gets there, and the French invade Turk’s Island, the intensely patriotic Nelson can’t believe his luck – until his own counter-invasion goes horribly wrong.
Returning to Britain, half in disgrace and with a wife most men think tragically unsuitable, he is on the verge of giving up the sea – or even, horror of horrors, joining the French Navy!
The hated French, however, are his saviours.
For it is now the 1790s, and the French Revolution has torn a gash in Europe.
The growing chaos of their revolution reignites the war between the two countries, and Nelson, appointed to command the Agamemnon, finds himself in the Mediterranean, where his destiny takes some unexpected turns.
One of them is his meeting with a beautiful young woman.
She is called Emma Hamilton.
Jan Needle was born in Portsmouth and after a spell in journalism took a degree in drama at Manchester University where he started writing plays for stage, TV and radio, then novels for adults and children. He has had more than 40 books published including versions of Moby Dick and other classics aimed at opening up this sometimes heavy-going world to a new generation.