“When we put on this uniform, Mr. Hornblower, we entered into a life of adventure and adversity, but above all, a life of duty. A duty to our people, our king, our country, but also, a duty to our men. We must always be a source of inspiration to them, Mr. Hornblower, and whatever may befall us, whatever, we must never forget we are officers in his majesty’s navy.”
As a boy he would do handstands out on the yardarm, and even as a captain he could still climb to the tops faster than any of his men. On at least four occasions he is known to have leapt into the water to save men who had fallen overboard, and he became a local hero in Plymouth when he dived into stormy seas in order to supervise the evacuation of a ship that had run aground. According to Taylor, Pellew was the likely model for Jack Aubrey in Patrick O’Brian’s novels: a captain who was ruthless in action, affectionate with his crew, and magnanimous to those he defeated in battle.
Excerpt from a Telegraph review of Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain, by Stephen Taylor
The Wreck of the East Indiaman Dutton in Plymouth Sound, 26 January 1796
The painting interprets an event from the life of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833), 1st Viscount Exmouth.
The Dutton was built on the Thames in 1781 and chartered by the East India Company. It was bound for the West Indies with troops on board when it was wrecked in Plymouth Sound during a gale on 26 January 1796.
At the time Pellew was stationed at Falmouth, commanding a squadron of frigates. He was in Plymouth when this incident occurred and, being a powerful man, himself swam out with a line to the grounded ship. This allowed breeches buoys to be rigged by which all but four of the 600 on board were saved under his oversight.
The ship is depicted with its masts gone, close to the shore to which it is connected by the rescue lines being held in tension by a well-organized crowd, with figures in transit from ship to shore along them. The carved figurehead at the bow of the ship appears ghostly, while the waves crash over the deck.
Figures are still on deck awaiting rescue, with the officer prominent in the blue uniform coat on the ship’s poop probably intended as Pellew. There are figures still in the water holding onto bits of wreckage as they try to reach land and others are depicted lying exhausted on the rocks.
More debris from the ship floats in the water to the right. The outline of a fort rises on the left and the coastline of Devon is silhouetted in the distance, through the driving rain.
The painting creates an atmosphere of high drama, with dark clouds, the wind, heavy waves and people gesticulating from the shore.