Monday, January 16, 2006

The Packet Service

I've always had a great love of the sea and sailing ships of all sizes. I also love adventure stories that feature a powerful love story. This combination inspired me to set my three most recent books in 1795, when England was at war with Napoleonic France.

The ships I chose to write about were schooners employed by the Packet Service to carry mail to and from Britain's growing worldwide empire. They also carried dispatches to and from the various theatres of war. They even carried bullion and ransom money to free those passengers on Packets unfortunate enough to be captured in the Mediterranean and held prisoner by pirates.

The Packet Service was based in Falmouth from 1689 until 1851, and made a huge difference to the town's size and status. Boat-builders worked flat out constructing new ships to replace those captured or sunk in battles with the French navy, pirates or the roving privateers who considered the packets valuable prizes.

The captains and crews of the packets were incredibly brave, risking death or capture every time they sailed. To ensure the packets made the fastest passage possible, the Post Office decreed that the ships should carry the minimum of guns with which to defend themselves. If attacked they were to flee rather than fight. If cornered they could fight only for as long as it took to sink the mail. Then they should surrender.

This ruling was loathed by proud, brave Cornishmen, and there are many stirring stories of resistance, even of packet ships turning on their attackers and becoming captor rather than victim.

My latest in this series will be published next month by Robert Hale, and is entitled DANGEROUS WATERS. The story begins in Falmouth and moves to Jamaica at a time when the island was overrun with French refugees and in the grip of a slave revolt. I'll tell you more about it next time, when I really do hope to have a jacket photo.

From Jane Jackson.

1 comment:

Gabriele Campbell said...

Sounds like a fun setting.