- EJ Hounslow
We have Fremantle the sailor, well drawn, with vivid accounts of his major fights - Santa Cruz in Tenerife, Copenhagen and Trafalgar, well supported from official records and by contemporary accounts from other participants. We also have Fremantle the person, for which the author has been able to draw on family papers and also the six books that six successor Fremantles wrote about themselves. Here Fremantle is backed up by his redoubtable wife Betsy Wynne, the absolute model of what a successful naval officer has ever needed in a wife.
At all points the international, diplomatic, strategic and political background is well covered including the 18th century interplay of politics and patronage, with a careful analysis of events and causes, so that we can see how both the personal and professional (often conflicting) aspects of Fremantle fit into the situation of his times.
Out of this emerges a consummate seaman, excellent organiser and brave leader, but a difficult subordinate hampered by an habitual want of tact particularly in respect to his expression of the (often justified) shortcomings of his seniors, more at ease in his earlier years as a plain fighting seaman than when faced with diplomatic tasks when he shipped his flag. As to the seniors, the peerless Nelson apart, we see how, for instance, both Hyde Parker and Collingwood advanced to positions that just exceeded their natural capacity.
A fine selection of colour illustrations is provided and also charts of actions although these (never easy to draw) I found fussy and difficult to follow. The very, very good narrative just fails perfection through the odd solecism - 'pennant' (and that should, for obvious reasons, be spelt 'pendant') instead of Flag on p.42 , 'steered' on pp 133 and 140, 'skippered' (inappropriately slangy) (p.165) and 'on' a ship (p.170). There is also the odd comma out of place which strikes a jarring note for the reader.
Overall, however, this is a very useful contribution to the naval history of the Napoleonic Wars. There are yards of books on Nelson; coverage of such a gifted subordinate is very welcome.