Edward Pellew, captain of the legendary Indefatigable, was quite simply the greatest frigate captain in the age of sail. An incomparable seaman, ferociously combative yet chivalrous, a master of the quarterdeck and an athlete of the tops, he was as quick to welcome a gallant foe into his cabin as to dive to the rescue of a man overboard. He is the likely model for the heroic but all-too-human Jack Aubrey in Patrick O'Brian's novels. Pellew was orphaned at eight, but fought his way from the very bottom of the Navy to fleet command and a viscountcy. Victories and eye-catching feats won him a public following. Yet as an outsider with a gift for antagonizing his better-born peers, he made powerful enemies. Redemption came with his last command, when he set off to do battle with the Barbary States and free thousands of European slaves. Contemporary opinion held this to be an impossible mission, and Pellew himself, in leading from the front in the style of his direct contemporary Nelson, did not expect to survive.
Pellew's humanity as much as his gallantry, fondness for subordinates and blind love for his family, and the warmth and intimacy of his letters, make him a hugely engaging and sympathetic figure. In Stephen Taylor's magnificent new life he at last has the biography he deserves.