William Bush (Hornblower)

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William Bush
Horatio Hornblower character
First appearance Lieutenant Hornblower
Last appearance Lord Hornblower
Created by C. S. Forester
Portrayed by Robert Beatty, Paul McGann
Occupation British naval officer
Title Captain
Nationality British

Captain William Bush RN is a fictional character in C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. He is Hornblower's best friend, and serves with Hornblower in the Royal Navy prior to the Peace of Amiens and again during the Napoleonic Wars.

Character sketch[edit]

Bush's role in the novels is that of Hornblower's best friend and second-in-command. He is characterized chiefly by his loyalty, his patience, good nature, and stolid matter-of-fact outlook. Although Hornblower genuinely cares for Bush, he sometimes frustrates and hurts him through harsh criticism. Hornblower, although a brilliant strategist, is a painfully self-conscious and hyperactively introspective man who tries desperately to conceal from the world what he perceives as "weaknesses". However, Bush sees Hornblower as he is:

Bush could be fond of [Hornblower] even while he laughed at him, and could respect him even while he knew of his weaknesses.

Bush's loyalty to Hornblower is in fact strengthened by Hornblower's limitations and his attempts to conceal them.

As the Hornblower novels progress, Bush often worries that Hornblower is depriving himself not only of food and rest, but also of human contact. Although Bush is an excellent judge of character, he is not a diplomat, and he must often keep his concern for his sensitive friend to himself as Hornblower is inclined to snap when Bush expresses it. Their friendship survives because of Bush's perseverance. In Hotspur, Hornblower decides that Bush is as resigned to the vagaries of Hornblower's mood as he is to the vagaries of wind and weather.

Outside his friendship with Hornblower, Bush is characterized as a stoic who endures the hardships and vagaries of naval life without complaint. Unlike Hornblower, he is untroubled by enforcing brutal naval discipline, believing that "contact with injustice in a world that was essentially unjust was part of everyone's education" and being entirely intolerant of cowardice and disloyalty, though he otherwise has a kind nature. Although he is not as imaginative as Hornblower (it is frequently noted in Lieutenant Hornblower that Bush's pattern of thinking is not as vivid or innovative) he is a highly competent and reliable seaman who finds enjoyment in naval routine.

Biographical summary[edit]

Little of the private life of William Bush is revealed in the Hornblower novels. A significant personal detail about Bush is that he has a mother and four sisters who live in a cottage in Chichester and depend upon Bush for their support. His sisters "devoted all their attention to him whenever it was possible," and he is as devoted to them as he gives them half of his pay. Forester does not reveal whether Bush grew up in Chichester, or at what age he left home. He was "brought up in a harsh school," an experience which taught him caution and perhaps contributed to his natural stolidity.

Forester did not give a date of birth for Bush: indeed, Bush's age changes over the course of the novels. Bush is first described as being a few years older than Hornblower (similar to an older brother), but is later described as ten years older. There is also inconsistency with the length of Bush and Hornblower's friendship: statements in the first novel imply that Bush only met Hornblower with the commission of Lydia, which was overwritten by Lieutenant Hornblower. Nevertheless, Forester does portray Bush consistently as a character who is wistfully protective of his younger friend.

In July 1796 Bush received his commission as lieutenant while serving on the HMS Superb, and thus took the first significant step in his career as a naval officer. Bush recalls that he relied more on "seamanship and not navigation" to pass the requisite examination.

Bush served on board HMS Conqueror just prior to his assignment to Renown. However, Hornblower "biographer" C. Northcote Parkinson remarks that "Bush's last ship had been the HMS Dolphin sloop".[1]

Once aboard HMS Renown, Bush meets Horatio Hornblower for the first time:

Lieutenant William Bush came on board H.M.S. Renown as she lay at anchor in the Hamoaze and reported himself to the officer of the watch, who was a tall and rather gangling individual with hollow cheeks and a melancholy cast of countenance, whose uniform looked as if it had been put on in the dark and not readjusted since. [2]

Although this initial meeting with his junior officer was less than impressive, Bush quickly realized that Hornblower was brilliant yet adept at disguising his brilliance so as not to offend his superiors. Bush's first impulse was to be suspicious of both the brilliance and the evident "duplicity", but his respect for Hornblower overcame this impulse and lead him to friendship and trust. His respect - and his honesty - also compelled Bush to realize that although he was Hornblower's senior officer, Hornblower was the better leader and strategist. Making the best of this awkward situation, Bush gave Hornblower ample opportunity to make and carry out plans during their mission to Samaná. These plans succeeded; Bush gave Hornblower full credit; and Hornblower was promoted to commander. This was the second significant step in Bush's career as a naval officer. Although it at first appears to be a step backwards (Hornblower was suddenly Bush's superior officer) it was in fact mutually beneficial, for if Hornblower was a born leader Bush was a born follower.

Upon return to England Renown was laid up, and Bush encountered a time of unemployment. As an officer he still retained his half-pay, but this he used primarily to support his mother and sisters. Without either the influence to gain an appointment as lieutenant in the reduced navy or the experience necessary to join the merchant service, Bush had to cope with poverty. An aspect of this poverty was social in nature, as it prevented him from spending time in taverns or coffeehouses (such as the Keppel's Head) where he normally would have enjoyed the company of his peers:

In there, he knew, there would be warmth and good company. The fortunate officers with prize money to spend; the incredibly fortunate officers who had found themselves appointments in the peacetime navy - they would be in there yarning and taking wine with each other. He could not afford wine. He thought longingly for a moment about a tankard of beer ... [3]

In February 1803 a chance meeting with his friend Hornblower resolved both these issues. The renewal of their acquaintance cheered both men. Due to impressing several influential officers in a game of whist and his record from the Renown, Hornblower was appointed commander into the sloop of war Hotspur. Hornblower "diffidently" asked Bush to be his first lieutenant; Bush, for his part, was hoping to be asked.

Bush served as a junior Lieutenant on board HMS Temeraire during the Battle of Trafalgar (Temeraire is on the left side of the picture, immediately behind Bucentaure, the dismasted ship).[4]

After the Hotspur was wrecked off Brest, Bush served as a junior lieutenant aboard HMS Temeraire, a ninety-eight gun ship of the line during the Battle of Trafalgar. Forester does not give details of Bush's experiences during this time (although he does depict Bush, later, being coaxed to tell the tale).

In 1808 Bush rejoined Hornblower as First Lieutenant of HMS Lydia sailing to the south Pacific to deliver arms and ammunition to Don Julian Alvarado, a rebel against Spanish rule. He took part in the capture of the Spanish ship Natividad, her hand-over to Don Julian, and the subsequent battle to destroy her caused by Spain's changing sides.[5]

After his return to England he was transferred to HMS Sutherland along with all the rest of the crew of Lydia. In the Mediterranean Sutherland made various attacks along the Spanish and French coasts, but was eventually sunk after fighting four French ships off Rosas. Bush lost a foot to cannonfire during the battle.[6]

Bush and Hornblower were sent to Paris to stand trial for breaking the rules of war. Assisted by Brown, the Captain's Coxswain, they managed to escape, and after lying low for several months, escape downriver to Nantes, re-capturing the British prize Witch of Endor, and sailing out to the British fleet. As a result of this action Bush was promoted to Commander, and sentenced to death in absentia by a French court. He was given a shore appointment at the dockyard at Sheerness.[7]

A year later Bush was chosen by Commodore Hornblower as Captain of HMS Nonsuch, the flagship of Hornblower's small squadron in the Baltic. He took part in the destruction of a French privateer, and then travelled to Russia, seeing action at the siege of Riga.[8]

Bush returned to England and commanded Nonsuch as part of the Channel Fleet under Pellew. He was detached to support the French Royalists in revolt against Napoleon at Le Havre. While leading a night-time amphibious attack on an approaching siege army, Bush was presumed killed in the explosion of a powder barge.[9]


Bush appears in the novels Lieutenant Hornblower (much told from his point of view), Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower and the Crisis, The Happy Return, Ship of the Line, Flying Colours, The Commodore, and Lord Hornblower.

William Bush's ships[edit]


Bush is portrayed by Robert Beatty in the 1951 adaptation Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. In the film, Bush is not as severely wounded during the sinking of the Sutherland; he is wounded in the leg rather than losing it entirely.


In the Hornblower TV series, Bush was played by Paul McGann. Few changes were made to the character, although some aspects of his role in Lieutenant Hornblower were transferred to Lt. "Archie" Kennedy, who does not appear in the novel.


  1. ^ C. Northcote Parkinson, The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower; Barnes & Noble, 1998; p. 65).
  2. ^ C. S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p. 3.
  3. ^ C. S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p. 256.
  4. ^ Auguste Mayer's picture as described by the official website of the Musée national de la Marine (in French)
  5. ^ C. S. Forester, The Happy Return.
  6. ^ C. S. Forester, A Ship Of the Line.
  7. ^ C. S. Forester, Flying Colours.
  8. ^ C. S.Forester, The Commodore.
  9. ^ C. S. Forester, Lord Hornblower.