Fiction from Fact

July 5th, 2020
Penny Hampson

My upcoming book A Bachelor’s Pledge is a work of fiction but there are many elements of the story that actually occurred. I try to fit them in seamlessly, so that it is not too much like a history lesson for the reader.

Falmouth from Pendennis Castle, ancestryimages.com

It is late 1810, and my hero, Phil Cullen, is instructed by the War Office to make all haste to Falmouth. They want him there quickly but even so, ‘he’d known the War Office wasn’t expecting him emulate Lieutenant Lapenotiere’s journey in reverse — two hundred and seventy-one miles in under thirty-eight hours; that would be too much!’

The Admiralty by Thomas Malton the Younger, Yale Center for British Art

That brief extract refers to the famous dash from Falmouth by Lieutenant John Lapenotiere to bring the news of the victory at Trafalgar and Nelson’s death to the Admiralty in London on the morning of 6th November 1805. An astonishing feat.

The Victory (Admiral Nelson’s ship) by JMW Turner, Yale Center for British Art

Another not so happy reference concerns a packet-ship being held in quarantine in Falmouth harbour. Phil is chatting to his informant and learns that the Princess Augusta, a packet come from the Windward Islands has yellow fever on board. ‘Captain, surgeon, and more ’n ten seamen already dead.

A packet ship under sail, Thomas Luny, Yale Center for British Art

The Princess Augusta was a real ship and did indeed have a terrible time with yellow fever, losing many of her crew, but this incident actually took place a year previous to the events in my story.
A newspaper of the time reports for 18th September 1809: ‘On Tuesday, the Princess Augusta packet, arrived from the Windward Islands, having lost her Capt, St Aubyn, Mr Melhuish mate, and ten seamen with the yellow fever. Her whole crew consisted of but 32 men and boys. This we believe, is a greater proportion of deaths than any packets crew have experienced from this dreadful disease.

And there is a person who makes an appearance in my story who really did exist, Governor Melvill, an inspiring individual who was the commander of Pendennis Castle.

Philip Melvill

I have him taking my characters, Phil and Sophia on an escorted trip round the castle. His real life adventures in India are far more hair-raising. I wrote about him here, and his memoirs are available online. He did so much for the poor and the sick in Falmouth that I could not leave him out.

St Mawes by Turner, with Pendennis Castle in the background, Yale Center for British Art

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my forthcoming book.

If you’re interested, you can discover more at the following:

The Falmouth Packets, by Tony Pawlin, 2003, Truran
News of Nelson John Lapenotiere’s Race from Trafalgar to London, by Derek Allen & Peter Hore, 2005, SEFF édition
Memoirs of the Late Philip Melvill, Esq. Lieut. Gov. Of Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, London, 1812
The Melvill Family, a Roll of Honour of the Descendants of Captain Philip Melvill, Lieutenant Governor of Pendennis Castle, by E. J. Joubert de la Ferté, 1920
The Melvill Family and India, by David Williams, 2014 ( https://cpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dist/1/251/files/2014/05/Melvill-case-study-PDF-Final-19.08.14.pdf)

4 Responses

  1. 5th July 2020

    Thank you for sharing your interesting post. I’ve learnt a lot. It’s going to be an interesting book, Penny.

    • PennyH
      5th July 2020

      Thanks, Paula! I hope readers will find it interesting.

      • 5th July 2020

        I’m sure they will.

      • PennyH
        5th July 2020