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The triumph of Trafalgar may be seen in two ways: it lifted the fear of invasion for England on the one hand, and on the other it gave command of
the seas to the Royal Navy, which they immediately put to good use. One by one Britannia relieved the French of their possessions and added to her own, so by the end of the war in
1815, there was an empire that was truly global, and which, even in my own lifetime, accounted for a quarter of the world's population. Kydd's adventures in CONQUEST therefore mark the start of an exciting new episode in his naval life: the race to empire.
Kathy and I had the great pleasure of visiting Cape Town on location research for this book in November 2009. Much of what Kydd knew there remains to this day. The Castle of Good
Hope is in immaculate order, astonishing in a fortification nearly four centuries old. Government House still stands regally in the very pleasant Company Gardens where Kydd
promenaded with Thérèse. And the Chavonne Battery, which fired on L'Aurore during her daring reconnaissance, has been preserved for posterity.
But, of course, there have been changes, most notably around the seafront of Table Bay. In the early nineteenth century it boasted just a single rickety jetty; today it has been
extensively reclaimed to produce a world-class harbour. The battlefield at Blaauwberg is now near a pleasant beach town with a stunning view of Table Mountain. Simon's Town was much
developed for the Navy and later became famous during the Second World War convoy battles.
As always in my books, I follow the historical record and take pains neither to distort nor exaggerate history. For instance, some readers may be sceptical about the French frigate
I have sailing in unsuspectingly into Cape Town harbour to be taken by the British without a single gun fired, but this did actually happen, as did the bizarre scenes at the sinking
of Britannia when the madman vowed he would die rich at last.
South Africa today is a vibrant multi-cultural society. Soon after the period in which I set this book, the Xhosa increased their warlike activity on the Eastern Frontier and later
fought several wars before they in turn were pressed from the east, this time by the Zulus. The Xhosa eventually displaced the Khoikhoi to become the most prominent population group
in Cape Colony, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu among them. At the entrance to the Cape Town public library I was delighted to come across a poster in isiXhosa: Ngabafundi
abafundayo abaziikokeli - ‘Leaders are always readers’!
This book is dedicated to the Lady Anne Barnard, whose warm and delightful letters, journals and drawings informed much of my research on colonial Cape Town. I feel some degree of
guilt in not being able to acknowledge everyone I consulted in the process of writing this book but they all have my deep thanks. Special mention, however, must be made of the
assistance provided by the staff of the National Library of South Africa, the Cape Town Archives, the Simon's Town Museum and the South African Maritime Museum. And, of course, I
would be remiss in not expressing heartfelt appreciation to my wife and literary partner, Kathy, my agent Carole Blake, and my editor Anne Clarke.