The Fighting Temeraire: The Battle of Trafalgar and the Ship that Inspired J.M.W. Turner’s Most Beloved Painting

Written by Sam Willis
Review by John R. Vallely

Sam Willis is no stranger to the world of the wooden walls of England and the Jack Tars who manned them. He effectively brings his passion for sailing ships to the fore in narrating the life and times of two Royal Navy warships christened H.M.S. Temeraire—the first a vessel captured from the French in the Seven Years’ War and the more famous 98-gun ship of the line that played a critical role at Trafalgar in destroying Napoleon’s hopes of invading England. Temeraire’s saga is not simply the story of two ships, but is the analysis of the role the Royal Navy played in British life and memory as well as a listing of the extraordinary difficulties naval service in the age of Fighting Sail represented. Willis’s epilogue “On Iconic Warships” deserves mention as a fine piece of writing. Turner’s sadly touching on Temeraire’s final moments reminds us of the passing of an era that remains so popular with readers of historical fiction.