William Bush was an officer in the British Royal Navy. He was Horatio Hornblower's best friend, and served with Hornblower in the Royal Navy prior to the Peace of Amiens and again during the Napoleonic Wars.
Little is known of the private life of William Bush. A significant personal detail about Bush is that he had a mother and four sisters who lived in a cottage in Chichester and depended upon Bush for their support. His sisters "devoted all their attention to him whenever it was possible," and he was as devoted to them as he gave them half of his pay. It is unknown if Bush grew up in Chichester, or at what age he left home. He was "brought up in a harsh school," an experience which taught him caution and perhaps contributed to his natural stolidity.
In July of 1796 Bush received his commission as Lieutenant while serving on the HMS Superb, and thus took the first significant step in his career as a naval officer. Bush recalls that he relied more on "seamanship and not navigation" to pass the requisite examination.
Bush served on board HMS Conqueror just prior to his assignment to Renown.
Once aboard Renown Bush meets Horatio Hornblower for the first time:
- Lieutenant William Bush came on board H.M.S. Renown as she lay at anchor in the Hamoaze and reported himself to the officer of the watch, who was a tall and rather gangling individual with hollow cheeks and a melancholy cast of countenance, whose uniform looked as if it had been put on in the dark and not readjusted since. (C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p3.)
Although this initial meeting with his junior officer was less than impressive, Bush quickly realized that Hornblower was brilliant yet adept at disguising his brilliance so as not to offend his superiors. Bush's first impulse was to be suspicious of both the brilliance and the evident "duplicity", but his respect for Hornblower overcame this impulse and lead him to friendship and trust. His respect - and his honesty - also compelled Bush to realize that although he was Hornblower's senior officer, Hornblower was the better leader and strategist. Making the best of this awkward situation, Bush gave Hornblower ample opportunity to make and carry out plans during their mission to Samaná. These plans succeeded; Bush gave Hornblower full credit; and Hornblower was promoted to Commander. This was the second significant step in Bush's career as a naval officer. Although it at first appears to be a step backwards (Hornblower was suddenly Bush's superior officer) it was in fact mutually beneficial, for if Hornblower was a born leader Bush was a born follower.
Upon return to England Renown was paid off, and Bush encountered a time of unemployment. As an officer he still retained his half-pay, but this he used primarily to support his mother and sisters. Without either the influence to to gain an appointment as Lieutenant in the reduced navy or the experience necessary to join the merchant service, Bush had to cope with poverty. An aspect of this poverty was social in nature, as it prevented him from spending time in taverns or coffee houses (such as the Keppel's Head) where he normally would have enjoyed the company of his peers:
- In there, he knew, there would be warmth and good company. The fortunate officers with prize money to spend; the incredibly fortunate officers who had found themselves appointments in the peacetime navy - they would be in there yarning and taking wine with each other. He could not afford wine. He thought longingly for a moment about a tankard of beer ... (C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p256.)
In February 1803 a chance meeting with his friend Hornblower resolved both these issues. The renewal of their acquaintance cheered both men. One month later Britain was again at war; and Hornblower, appointed Commander of the sloop of war HMS Hotspur, "diffidently" asked Bush to be his First Lieutenant.
After the Hotspur was lost on Black Rock, Bush served as a junior lieutenant aboard HMS Temeraire, a ninety-eight gun ship of the line during the Battle of Trafalgar. Forester does not give details of Bush's experiences during this time (although he does depict Bush, later, being coaxed to tell the tale).
Bush was characterized chiefly by his loyalty, his patience, good nature, and stolid matter-of-fact outlook. Although Hornblower genuinely cared for Bush, he often frustrated and hurt him through harsh criticism. Hornblower, although a brilliant strategist, was a painfully self-conscious and hyper-actively introspective man who tried desperately to conceal from the world what he perceives as "weaknesses". However, Bush saw Hornblower as he is:
- Bush could be fond of Hornblower even while he laughed at him, and could respect him even while he knew of his weaknesses.
Bush's loyalty to Hornblower was in fact strengthened by Hornblower's limitations and his attempts to conceal them.
Bush often worried that Hornblower was depriving himself not only of food and rest, but also of human contact. Although Bush was an excellent judge of character, he was not a diplomat; and he often kept his concern for his sensitive friend to himself. The friendship survived because of Bush's perseverance.
- Lieutenant Hornblower
- Hornblower and the Hotspur
- Hornblower and the Crisis
- The Happy Return
- A Ship of the Line
- Flying Colours
- The Commodore
- Lord Hornblower
- Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. portrayed by Robert Beatty
- Hornblower TV series. portrayed by Paul McGann
- Alcoa Premiere Television Series. portrayed by Terence Longdon
- Hornblower usually called his friend, in the naval manner, "Mister Bush", or in informal moments simply "Bush".