With Hearts Courageous

Written by Jon Steven Nappa
Review by B. N. Peacock

With Hearts Courageous is the second installment in the life of Sir William Hillary, founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Although idealized and occasionally too dialogue dependent, this second novel captures Hillary’s impassioned devotion to saving lives imperiled by the sea. His motto, With courage, nothing is impossible, is the novel’s theme as well as Hillary’s guiding light.

Nappa rightly notes in his Afterword “In the broad strokes, it’s [the novel] reasonably accurate. The details are fictionalized.” Sir William moved to the Isle of Man around 1808, probably to escape his creditors, like his fictionalized friend, Colonel St. John, and to marry his second wife, Emma Tobin, perhaps bigamously. As in the novel, HMS Vigilant’s wreck and rescue, and, hard on its heels, HMS Racehorse’s (given as the Merchant) were as daring and vivid as written. The loss of lives incurred by the second wreck obsessed Hillary. He tirelessly strove to provide a permanent, national rescue effort, which in 1824 resulted in the formation of The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, later renamed the RNLI, funded by private subscriptions.

The novel’s strength lies in Hillary’s indomitable spirit. A middle-aged man starting over. A sixty-year-old man braving the storm, in a race against time and the sea. Shipwrecked at life’ end by total bankruptcy and the loss of his beloved Emma. Courage. Hillary possessed it.