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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Today's the day!

Yes, it’s finally here. The fifth Esme Quentin Mystery, The Scourge of the Skua, is published today!


The story begins with the discovery of a murder in a client’s family history, plunging Esme Quentin back to a time when lawlessness ruled the high seas and piracy was rife…


Click on the book image below to find out more...

Inspiration


As you know, the Esme books are often inspired by my own family history research. But, while I’ve not discovered any pirates amongst my ancestors (not yet, anyway!), some of what Esme learns in the story has a connection with the experiences of my husband’s 2x great uncle, Charles Alfred Baker, known as Alfred, who joined the British Navy in 1873, aged 15.


Joining the navy wasn’t a choice Alfred made for himself. It was the natural progression from attending King Edward’s school in Godalming, where he’d been sent following the tragic death of his father Charles Gabriel Baker.


The tradition for giving orphans and poor boys the opportunity to pursue a naval career dates back to the mid-18th century when the Royal Navy found itself short of volunteers at the start of the Seven Years' War.


Harsh conditions


Infamous cat-o-nine-tails

As Esme finds out in The Scourge of the Skua, life would have been hard on the naval training ship, HMS Vincent, where Alfred was a trainee. The navy's reputation for excessive discipline, especially with the dreaded 'cat' (cat-o-nine-tails), was notorious. Statistics for HMS Vincent showed that there were 14 floggings on board in 1864, the highest number amongst the training ships listed.


Concerned at the Navy's poor PR, and perhaps mindful of the recent scandal of excessive punishment of boys aboard the Trident in 1861, the Admiralty appointed Commander Ryder to investigate. It soon became clear from comments and letters Ryder received from ships' captains, that such discipline was considered vital in keeping control of the boys and to ensure the appropriate “motivation” for them to become worthy seamen.


Alfred's about turn


HMS Penguin (courtesy of wikimedia.org)

Despite the harsh working conditions, Alfred’s early navy records appear to suggest that he did well. Remarks about his character range from “very good” to “exemplary”, until one entry, while he’s serving on HMS Penguin, the assessment rates him only as “fair”. But after that, it goes seriously downhill!


In the column headed, If discharged. Whither and for what cause, are written the words, "Run. Rio de Janeiro".



To confirm this turn of events, Alfred’s name appears in the Police Gazette in March 1878, under the heading, Deserters of the Military.


Given his past excellent record, I’ve often wondered whether something significant happened for Alfred to take such a drastic step. Desertion was an extremely serious offence and those found guilty were subject to court martial and potentially a death sentence. But whatever his reasons, Alfred had clearly decided he’d had enough of navy life.


Happy Ending


The authorities never did catch up with Alfred. He somehow made it back to England and met up with his brother Edward, where the two of them joined the crew of a ship called the Durham in 1880 and worked their passage to Australia, where they settled.


A year after his arrival, Alfred married Charlotte Neil in Adelaide, and went on to father 5 children.


 

When obsession from the past is unleashed upon the present



But with no instruction to find out more, Esme instead turns her attention to clearing the dilapidated outbuilding at her new cottage. Amongst the junk she finds a 17th-century map associated with the name Chalacombe, a local family with an intriguing and mysterious history.


As Esme begins to unpick the threads of the family’s story, she is plunged back to a time when lawlessness ruled the high seas and piracy was rife.

The arrival of an unwelcome visitor raises questions which Esme cannot answer, and in a desperate search for the truth, Esme stumbles upon a bizarre and disturbing crime.


Has she inadvertently uncovered a link between the Chalacombe family’s enigmatic past and the 100-year-old murder? But who might be threatened by such a revelation now, in the present day? Who has got the most to lose?


Get your copy of the latest ESME QUENTIN MYSTERY HERE!

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