Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

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Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Author C. S. Forester
Publication date 1950
Publication Order
Preceded by
Lord Hornblower
Followed by
Lieutenant Hornblower

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (originally published in 1950) is a Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester. Although it may be considered as the first episode in the Hornblower saga, it was written as a prequel, the first Hornblower novel, The Happy Return, being published in 1937.

Unlike all other Hornblower books, this novel is episodic, with named chapters that often focus on a self contained incident.

Many major plot elements of the Hornblower TV series were drawn from this volume, as well as from Lieutenant Hornblower.

Plot SummaryEdit

The Even Chance Edit

Hornblower reports aboard HMS Justinian, Captain Keene commanding, in January, 1794, as a midshipman of seventeen years of age, unusual as most begin their career at the age of twelve or so, and becomes seasick at anchor in Spithead, a dubious distinction. Seasickness is a trait seen often throughout his career. Soon after being assigned to the midshipman's berth, Hornblower meets John Simpson who had just failed the examination for Lieutenant. Simpson was the terror of the midshipman's berth wreaking havoc with all the other midshipmen making them do all sorts of embarrassing things. Soon after, Simpson and Hornblower were in town along with officers and crew members from other ships comprising a press gang. They stopped in the Lamb Inn and shortly met up with Lieutenant Chalk and Midshipman Caldwell of HMS Goliath and soon they were playing a round of whist. Simpson made a comment that Hornblower took as an accusation of cheating which caused Hornblower to make a challenge.

Two days later, after Hornblower chose pistols, one charged, the other not, as his choice of weapons, Hornblower and Simpson met for the duel. As neither one was killed in the duel, they found out that Captain Keene had ordered that both weapons would be primed, but, not charged. After return to Justinian, Hornblower met with the Captain upon which Keene offered Hornblower transfer to HMS Indefatigable, Sir Edward Pellew commanding.

"You know too much about the game, you know the backs of the cards as well as the fronts."
―John Simpson

The Cargo of Rice Edit

HMS Indefatigable, Sir Edward Pellew commanding, attacked and captured several french ships in a convoy in the Atlantic Ocean approximately three hundred miles from England. After taking the brig Marie Galante of Bordeaux with a cargo of rice, Pellew assigns Hornblower, with four crew members from the cutter, to take command and to take her to any English port he can make. Upon taking command, Hornblower locked up the french crew and dumped the wine they were drinking overside, then set his prize crew to re-slinging the foretopsail yard, then set course for England. The next morning, he and Matthews sounded the well to find no water, unusual for any ship at sea. In conversation with the french Captain, Hornblower made the decision to investigate the damage to the hull below the waterline. Being lowered overside on a line, Hornblower determined the size of the hole, and had a sail fothered to plug the hole to minimize the leak. But, to no avail, the brig had taken on too much water which was absorbed by the rice, causing it too expand placing pressure on the hull and the deck. The crew tried to save the ship by jettisoning the cargo overside, but, they were unable to bring the cargo up from the hold, it was lodged too tightly by the swelling of the wet rice. Soon, the Marie Galante began to break up due to the expansion of the rice causing the prize crew and the french crew to abandon ship, and she sunk very quickly, alas for Hornblower's first command.

The Penalty of Failure Edit

Hornblower, his prize crew, and the French crew are in a boat after the loss of the Marie Galante. Hornblower is seasick and has self doubts because of his loss of the ship. The boat set sail after having out a sea anchor overnight. Hornblower and the french captain argued whether to sail for Bordeaux or for England, the wind fair for Bordeaux, but, difficult for England. Then the crew was picked up by the french privateer Pique, Captain Neuville commanding, the English crew taken prisoner. Hornblower has his eighteenth birthday while aboard Pique. After a few days, the Indefatigable appears. But, the Pique was the faster sailor. Hornblower starts a fire outside the paint locker, so the Pique was forced to heave to so the wind would not accelerate the fire, allowing Indefatigable to take the Pique as a prize. Captain Pellew took the loss of the Marie Gallante lightly and when questioned about the cause of the fire aboard Pique, Hornblower guessed that, perhaps, it was spontaneous combustion.

The Man Who Felt Queer Edit

Having chased Papillon into the Gironde, Indefatigable lay just out of shot of the batteries, Pellew sought a way to take Papillon. Midshipmen Hornblower and Mallory are called to join the Captain and the other officers for dinner. After dinner, Hornblower found that this was a meeting to detail a cutting out expedition to take Papillon. Hornblower was assigned to command the jolly boat and to board Papillon and to aloft to set sail while the other boats are engaged in battle to take the ship. Hornblower goes aloft on Indefatigable to practice his assignment. Hornblower assigns Jackson to take command if Hornblower falls. Hales, assigned to stroke oar, mentions that he feels 'queer-like'.

When the boats shove off for the expedition, Hornblower takes the tiller. Hales apparently has a seizure putting the oars into disarray. After Jackson takes stroke oar, Hales becomes incoherent and Hornblower is forced to strike him with the tiller bar to silence him. After the other boats boarded Papillon, Hornblower steers for the larboard mainchains and board Papillon. Climbing aloft, his crew discovers that the footropes are missing. Led by Hornblower, they climb onto the topmast yard and loosed the sail from there. Sliding down the brace, Hornblower let his hands slide on the rope causing severe friction burns. Meanwhile other prize crewmembers set sail with other sails, Papillon getting underway with the Indefatigable crew. French batteries open fire. Jackson provides first aid to Hornblower's hands and cautions him as to the proper technique of descending by rope. Hornblower discovers the loss of the jolly boat and Hales as no one was aboard the jolly boat to bring her out with Papillon, Hales being either dead or unconscious.

The Man Who Saw God Edit

This chapter begins with winter in the Bay of Biscay, HMS Indefatigable, Captain Sir Edward Pellew commanding, patrolling the french shore. Midshipman Hornblower looking over his men before the Captain's inspection notices that Styles had several spots of sticking plaster on his face. When questioned Styles replies that they're boils. After discussing the situation with the surgeon, Hornblower retreated to the mizzen-top, a good place for some solitude. Finch arrives on the top and Hornblower gives permission to join him. Finch tells Hornblower that God's in the maintop and the devil's in the cable tier during the dog watches. Later, during the dog watches, Hornblower finds Finch's comment about the Devil strange, so, decided to investigate. Upon entering the tier, Hornblower finds Styles part of a rat fight in which he has his hands tied and tries to kill rats by biting them, and others bet on the outcome. The marks on Styles' face are from rat bites. Hornblower recognizes several of the hands encouraging Styles and placing bets. He breaks up the ring and warns them to never be caught again in this activity.

Indefatigable begins a chase of a french ship, Hornblower assigned to the swivel gun at the mizzentop. As the ships come together, Hornblower fires the swivel gun at the french's helm disabling one of the helmsman, the french opens fire with a broadside followed by a broadside by Indefatigable then a shot strikes the mizzen, Hornblower fires at the helm again disabling all the remaining helmsman, then the ships crashes together, the mizzen snapping off near the deck crashing into the mainmast coming to rest on the mainyard. the mizzen begins to slide outboard along the yard. Hornblower attempting to get Finch to jump to the mainyard, Finch was frozen with fear. Hornblower yells that God was on the mainyard, that puts Finch into action and they both jump to the mainyard, then meets with Midshipman Bracegirdle, then descends to deck to safety.

The Frogs And The Lobsters Edit

HMS Indefatigable, Captain Sir Edward Pellew commanding, is at anchor in Plymouth Sound waiting to escort the transport ships Sophia and Dumbarton to France with a wing of the 43rd Foot, Earl of Edrington, major commanding, and French troops under the command of the Marquis of Pouzauges, Brigadier General of His Most Christian Majesty Louis XVII to France to attempt to take the country from Napoleon. Hornblower was assigned to attend to the embarkation of the French troops as he spoke the language.

Meeting with the Baron de Charette commanding and additional five thousand troops, the forces were to invade Quiberon and Muzillac. Hornblower was assigned to accompany Pouzauges and to report to Edrington of any developments. Then Midshipman Bracegirdle, after he and Hornblower set up the gun emplacement, invites Hornblower to help him blow up the bridge. Hornblower, then, returns to Muzillac and upon his arrival witnesses the portable guillotine in action, then is invited to dinner by Pouzauges.

After the french muster in the morning and during breakfast, shots are heard from the six pounders of Bracegirdle firing upon the republic infantry across the causeway. Leaving Bracegirdle, Hornblower rides to the 43rd to report to Edrington. Hornblower is assigned by Edrington to find the French émigré general and suggest that he posts a detachment up the road from their location. As he approaches the French, he realizes that royalist forces are in retreat from republic forces. Hornblower hightails it back to Edrington to report and the 43rd takes position to cover the French retreat. Bracegirdle and his men came by in a horse cart sans cannon, and Edgrington sends them off to shore to make ready for the 43rd to embark and leave France. The 43rd reembarks while causing considerable damage and casualties to the republic forces. and so ends the attempt to overturn the revolution.

The Spanish Galleys Edit

This chapter opens with Hornblower as midshipman of the watch aboard Indefatigable while at anchor in Cadiz, when he observes an eight-oared pinnace approaching. Hornblower translates the conversation between Pellew and the Spanish Captain, who states that Spain has made peace with France and that Indefatigable will be fired upon unless she leaves within six hours. As Indefatigable made ready to get underway Hornblower was able to observe a couple of spanish galleys as they row about the area.

Sometime later, Indefatigable is providing escort for a convoy of merchants with stores from the Barbary States enroute to Gibraltar. At this time the convoy was becalmed and all the ships were in tow by their boats to try to make for the Mole when they see a couple of galleys making for the convoy to engage some of the ships. This would be easy pickins. Hornblower calls for his jolly boat crew and got into the water. The cutter and longboat, which were towing Indefatigable are also in the chase. The cutter is rammed by one of the galleys, and the jolly boat comes about in chase. They grapple onto and board the galley, taking her in just a couple of minutes, then manages to get the galley near the gig so it's crew can board and assist. Lieutenant Chadd, taking command, Hornblower reports to Captain Pellew who, since Soames, the sailing master, was lost when the galley collided with the cutter, makes Hornblower Acting-Lieutenant.

The Examination For Lieutenant Edit

This chapter begins as Indefatigable sails into Gibraltar Bay with Acting-Lieutenant Hornblower on deck observing the spanish fleet in Algeciras and reporting same to Captain Sir Edward Pellew. He has been Acting-Lieutenant for about two months. After anchoring at The Mole, Hornblower is called into the Captain's cabin who informs him that he is to report to the prison hulk Santa Barbara the next day for his Lieutenant's examination. After a day of studying and extreme uniform preparation with help from the midshipmen's berth, Hornblower was rowed to Santa Barbara...he and about forty other midshipmen from various commands. Then the members of the examination board arrived»Captains Foster (HMS Dreadnaught), Harvey (shipyard), and Hammond (HMS Calypso). At the sight of Hammond, one midshipman immediately leaves because of an incident some previous years ago. After several others had their examinations, some successful, some not, it's Hornblower's turn. His first question was: 'You are close-hauled on the port tack beating up the channel with a nor'easterly wind blowing hard, with Dover bearing north two miles, the wind veers four points and takes the ship flat aback. What would he do?' Rendering Hornblower speechless, 'Dismasted! With Dover cliffs under his lee, serious trouble!' Before he could answer, a cannon shot was heard, then more shots.

With that the board members hurried out of the cabin, with Hornblower following. He and they saw the red rocket, the general alarm, then saw the fire ships running before the wind straight for the anchorage. the three Captains and Hornblower climb down into a boat. Pulling for Calypso they came across a brig on fire caught on the Santa Barbara's cable endangering some two thousand prisoners. Foster makes the decision to attempt to board her and steer her clear, Hornblower accompanies Foster. Hornblower boards first followed by Foster. Hornblower takes the wheel.

Guided by Foster, and steered by Hornblower, the fire ship clears the Santa Barbara and the Dauntless then as the fire burns through the tiller ropes, they jumped overside, Hornblower shoved by Foster. Soon they were picked up by a Spanish boat. In a short time, the Spanish boat was taken prisoner by two British boats and they were rescued. Hornblower inquired unto Captain Foster about his Lieutenant's examination, Foster replied that he would have to await for another board.

Noah's Ark Edit

So, this story finds Mr. Hornblower still Acting-Lieutenant and accompanying Mr. Tapling of the diplomatic service in the longboat with sacks of gold in the Gulf of Oran approaching shore in order to purchase stores for Indefatigable.

Upon landing at the pier, Tapling negotiates with the British Consul Duras for payment and delivery of the barley and cattle, then the Consul leaves to see the Dey about ordering the trade. Awaiting the return of the consul, Hornblower and Tapling note a rat acting sickly or old, then noticed a Moor acting as if he were drunk, although alcohol is forbidden among these people. Then Duras returns and a group of locals brings the barley and herd the cattle onto lighters. During this activity several more men collapse into unconsciousness. Then suddenly, Duras collapses and Tapling recognizes the Black Plague.

So, Hornblower gives the order to reload the gold onto the longboat and makes for Indefatigable where he confers with the Captain, from ship to ship across the water, on the situation that the crew may have been exposed to the black plague. The Captain gives permission for Hornblower's crew to load the cattle and barley onto the transport brig Caroline and orders its crew to transfer off. Since he had only eighteen crew, it took two days to load the ship and get underway. For three weeks the Caroline wanders the area near Gibraltar until they were assured that the plague was not on the ship.

Not long before the three weeks was up, Caroline landed in Spain with a raiding party for second time to obtain water, and was clawing off when a Spanish guarda-costa began chase. Upon the arrival of the guarda-costa Hornblower was able to capture her, and so, was able to sail into Gibraltar with the stores and a prize. Hornblower was later scolded by the Chief Commissary for wasting a bull per day while at sea while there were provisions aboard.

The Duchess And The Devil Edit

Le Reve, sloop taken as prize of HMS Indegatigable, anchored in Gibraltar under the command of Acing-Lieutenant Hornblower. As Indefatigable is still as sea, Hornblower reports to the port Admiral who immediately purchases her as HM sloop Le Reve and assigns her and Hornblower to take despatches to Plymouth. Hornblower also receives a letter addressed to him inviting him to dinner by the Governor Major-General Sir Hew and Lady Dalrymple. At Governor's House he meets Her Grace the Duchess of Wharfedale and Hornblower is surprised to find out that he is to convey Her Grace to England.

After the Duchess and her maid boards Le Reve, the sloops weighs anchor and gets underway. That afternoon in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, they run into a thick fog. Late in the midwatch just a first light, Midshipman Hunter summons Hornblower on deck. As they listen, they could hear the characteristic subtle sounds of other ships nearby, invisible in the fog. As the fog lifts, Hornblower finds that he is in the midst of a Spanish fleet of not less than ten ships of war. The Duchess informs Hornblower that she in not really a Duchess, but, and actress of some renown, Kitty Cobham using the personna of the Duchess to be able to travel in Europe and return much more easily than an actress. She will continue to play the part of the Duchess to enable her to attain England.

Hornblower and his crew is transferred to Ferrol, a prison on the northeast coast of Spain. After four months, Hornblower receives a letter from Kitty that she has reached England and has delivered his despatches to the Admiralty. Not only that, but, he was informed by the Commandant that he has been promoted to Lieutenant by their Lordships at the Admiralty. He was then transferred to the Officers' quarters and given privileges of his new rank, which included receiving half-pay of Lieutenant and the liberty to visit the town and vicinity two hours each day upon giving his parole that he would return.

Oftimes, he would go up to the shore to stare out to sea wishing he were back on board a ship of the British navy. One day, the sentry summons the sergeant of the guard. Hornblower asking what they were looking at, the sergeant gave him his telescope, whereupon Hornblower discovers that a British ship of war was in pursuit of a spanish ship. The fortresses of Ferrol and San Anton across the bay were manned and ready to fire upon the British ship should she come within range. Unfortunately, the gale winds put the Spaniard into the Devil's Teeth, she was dismasted and down by the bows on the rocks. With the storm winds the crew had no way of saving themselves. Hornblower explained that he may be able, with the help of a boat and crew, to rescue some of the crewmembers. So, by tying some barrels beneath the thwarts of the boat she would remain afloat even awash, and a crew, Hornblower attempts, after giving his parole to not attempt escape, to rescue the crewmen. They manage to get to the ship and take off two the the three survivors. With darkness coming and the heavy seas, they could not return to Ferrol that day, so they put to sea and set a sea anchor. During the night, one of the survivors dies, leaving only one. At dawn, they discover that the British frigate was almost hull-up to the north. Hornblower signals the frigate. He and the crew board HMS Syrtis, frigate, Captain George Crome commanding. Hornblower informs the Captain that the crew are not liable for capture as they were at sea to rescue the crew of the stricken ship and that he was under parole to return. Crome agrees to return Hornblower and his crew at first opportunity. So, under flag of truce, they are delivered to A Coruña and he to Ferrol.

A few months later, Hornblower is summoned by Commandant who informs him that, due to his gallant rescue of the crew of the stricken Spanish ship, at the risk of his own life, he is released and returned under flag of truce to his fellow countrymen.

So, ends Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.

References Edit

Characters Edit


Carlos BoegasBoltonBowlesBracegirdleBromley

CaldwellCarsonChaddChalkBaron de CharetteChristieClayClaytonClevelandClynesKitty Cobham (Duchess of Wharfedale)George CromeCutler

Hew DalrympleDanversLady Matilda DalrympleDuke of BelchiteDouglas

EcclesEarl of Edrington



HalesHammondHannayHarveyHepplewhiteHerbertHetherHoratio HornblowerHunter







PartridgeSir Edward PellewPreston


John SimpsonSoamesStanleyStyles




Ships Edit

Locations Edit

External links Edit

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