Rough Passage to London

Written by Robin Lloyd
Review by Juliet Waldron

On April 7, 1814, two American farm boys go out to see, under cover of darkness, a newly built fighting vessel anchored at Potapoug on the Connecticut River, and become frightened witnesses to a destructive British attack on the town. So begins Rough Passage to London, a story that spans fifty of the early years of our Republic. The brothers, one after the other, escape a dreary situation and run off to what turns out to be an even tougher life at sea. The younger, despite coming in “through the scuppers,” becomes, by the young age of 25, captain of a sailing ship on the Black X line, which ran packets from New York to London. This momentous period saw a flood of immigrants to the new world, as well as enormous social changes, key among them for purposes of the plot, the abolition of the slave trade.

The author, a former NBC News foreign correspondent, brings his reporter’s talents to the novel, which is rich in historical and sea-faring detail, but this is also a tribute, a semi-biographical take on the real-life story of his ancestor, Captain Elisha Ely Morgan, whose trials and temptations must have been many. I enjoyed the story and the historical detail, but the characters are rather two-dimensional, so be advised that this is a well-written, lovingly researched sea “story” which never quite takes off into what I think of as a “novel.”