Mary McGrigor,
Defiant & Dismasted at Trafalgar:
The Life & Times of Admiral Sir William Hargood

(Pen & Sword, 2004)

The likes of Hornblower, Aubrey, Ramage and other fictional heroes of the British navy would never have been possible without true-life heroes such as Nelson, Cochrane and Admiral Sir William Hargood.

Hargood, unless you're a scholar of the Napoleonic wars, is likely an unfamiliar name. But this valiant officer led a storied career in the service of Britain, including bold action at Trafalgar that demonstrates amazing courage and loyalty. Mary McGrigor -- working with a rare copy of Joseph Allen's biography commissioned by Hargood's widow and written shortly after Hargood's death -- gives this hero his due in Defiant & Dismasted at Trafalgar.

The book begins in 1772 when Hargood, the 10-year-old son of a country gentleman, was sent to join the naval service as a midshipman, and it traces his career with a series of notable actions. He first went to war -- against the American colonies -- in 1775.

But it was during Britain's ongoing war with Napoleon's France that Hargood truly distinguished himself. Advancing quickly through the ranks -- and making valuable friends, including Horatio Nelson himself and the future king of England, along the way -- Hargood was captain of the 74-gun ship Belleisle at Trafalgar. There, although his ship was crippled and unmaneuverable, Hargood and his crew fought a gallant, heroic fight against significant odds.

That one day's fighting would be enough to earn Hargood's name a place in the annals of naval history, but there's plenty more to tell, from an unavoidable surrender, a court martial and a harrowing escape during a slave revolt on San Domingo.

Besides telling in great detail the story of Hargood, McGrigor's book also is a trove of information about the detailed workings and various duties of shipboard life without ever becoming tedious. All in all, Defiant & Dismasted at Trafalgar should be on the short list of books to read for any fan of that exciting naval era.

review by
Tom Knapp

21 November 2009

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