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HMS Pickle: The Swiftest Ship in Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar

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HMS Pickle: The Swiftest Ship in Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar


By Peter Hore

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
5-1/4” x 8”, hardcover, 192 pages
Illustrations, bibliography, index. $34.95
ISBN: 978-0750964357
HMS Pickle was the second-smallest British warship at Trafalgar. Pierced for 14
guns, this schooner was part of the anonymous swarm of small vessels populating the
Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Except for HMS Pickle being picked to carry
the post-battle dispatches (and news of Nelson’s death), it would be completely
forgotten today.
HMS Pickle: The Swiftest Ship in Nelson’s Trafalgar Fleet at Trafalgar,” by Peter
Hore, tells the history of the ship and its various crews. It is a slim but interesting volume
about a minor but significant vessel.
Hore actually tells the story about the first two Royal Navy warships named
Pickle. In the first decade of the nineteenth century the Royal Navy briefly had two ships
simultaneously named Pickle. Both were schooners, both came from the West Indies,
and both were active at the same time. Hore unsnarls the resulting confusion by relating
the history of both ships.
The focus is on the Trafalgar Pickle. A fascinating story it proves. This Pickle was
launched in 1799 under the name Sting. Built in Bermuda it was a schooner, with foreand-
aft sails on both masts. Schooners are common sailing vessels today, but the
Royal Navy then considered them experimental. Hore describes how the ship was
purchased in the West Indies station in 1800, renamed Pickle and used to carry
Hore not only describes the ship’s history, but also describes those who
impinged on the ship. The list includes the woman who would become Lady Hamilton
(well before that date), Lord Hugh Seymore (who could potentially have rivaled Nelson
had he not died of Yellow Jack), and Michael Fitton (whose exploits were retold in
fictional form by Showell Styles).
Beyond the prominent and eccentric, Hore also relates the lives of the men and
officers who served on Pickle. Hore gives a face to the typical mariners who manned
the Royal Navy of the period, both before the mast as sailors and on the quarterdeck as
Herein lies the fascination. Pickle’s moment of glory came after Trafalgar, when it
carried Admiral Collingwood’s report of the battle to the Admiralty. Its captain was a 35-
year-old lieutenant, capable, but previously luckless. He made the most of his
opportunity, racing other ships, and avoiding superior officers to be the first with the
news. Hore describes the consequences of both success and failure in the race.
Yet the majority of his career and Pickle’s career fell outside that brief moment of
fame. Hore describes that as well, both the tedium and the danger. The book is less a
story about Trafalgar than of life on the little vessels in the Royal Navy during the age of
fighting sail.
Mark Lardas
League City, Texas


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