In Pursuit of the Essex (Kindle)
Heroism and Hubris on the High Seas in the War of 1812
On 26 October 1812, during the war between Britain and the United States, the frigate USS Essex set sail on the most remarkable voyage in the early history of the US navy. After rounding Cape Horn, she proceeded to systematically destroy the British South Seas whaling fleet. When news reached the Royal Navy’s South American station at Rio de Janeiro, HMS Phoebe was sent off in pursuit. So began one of the most extraordinary chases in naval history.
In Pursuit of the Essex follows the adventures of both hunter and hunted as well as a host of colourful characters that crossed their paths. Traitorous Nantucket whalers, Chilean revolutionaries, British spies, a Peruvian viceroy and bellicose Polynesian islanders all make an appearance. The brilliant yet vainglorious Captain Porter of the Essex, his nemesis Captain James Hillyar of the Phoebe, and two young midshipmen, David Farragut and Allen Gardiner, are the principal narrators.
From giant-tortoise turning expeditions on the Galapagos to the perils of rounding Cape Horn, via desperate skirmishes with spear-toting natives on the Marquesas and a defeated duellist bleeding his life out onto black, volcanic sands, the reader is immersed in the fantastical world of the British and American seamen who struggled for supremacy over the world’s oceans in the sunset years of the age of sail.
Ben Hughes’s graphic account is a work of non-fiction, yet reads like a novel, from the opening view of the Essex preparing for her cruise on the Delaware River to the story’s bloody denouement in Valparaiso Bay.
Hughes takes a nice approach to the topic, following the two ships all the way from home waters to the final battle, rather than just focusing on the eventual dual itself.History of War, John Rickard
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A very valuable volume for anyone interested inShips in Scale, January 2016 -February 2017 - reviewed by Roger Marsh
the naval warfare of the era and particularly in this fascinating series of episodes from the War of 1812 – and one that will also provide very enjoyable reading.
Hughes has provided a very good, evenly balanced and thorough account of the meeting of HMS Phoebe and USS Essex. His reliance on Gardiner and Farragut's journals adds a new layer of description and comment to the story. Well worth having on one's bookshelf, the book will appeal to those interested in the specific incident, the War of 1812 more generally and naval engagements, particularly those featuring a pursuit and a dramatic showdown.The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, the October 2016- reviewed by Thomas Malcomson
In Pursuit of the Essex is an attempt to sift through the myths and legends about this well-known battle. Hughes succeeds in this endeavor and shows why Porter was deemed a hero by the Americans even though he lost his ship and many of his men, and why the English barely noticed Hillyar’s success. The inclusion of maps, the sailplan and deck plan of a period frigate, illustrations, end notes, a bibliography, and an index enhance the reading and make it easy for readers to locate specific information. While many others have written accounts of what happened, Hughes consulted a variety of firsthand accounts and other primary documents to provide a fresh look that brings the combatants to life by showing them as they truly were. His summary of what happened to the individuals he highlights, and the ships themselves, provides readers with a complete picture of what occurred.Pirates and Privateers
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The frigate USS Essex set sail on 26 October, 1812. After rounding Cape Horn, she proceeded to systematically destroy the British South Seas whaling fleet. When news reached the Royal Navy’s South American station at Rio de Janeiro, HMS Phoebe was sent off in pursuit. So began one of the most extraordinary chases in naval history. In Pursuit of the Essex follows the adventures of both hunter and hunted as well as a host of colourful characters that crossed their paths: traitorous Nantucket whalers, Chilean revolutionaries, British spies, a Peruvian viceroy and bellicose Polynesian islanders. A gripping tale!Big Jules Blog - Julian Stockwin