John Grimes was a seaman aboard the HMS Hotspur. He was in his twenties, skinny, and excitable. After he affirmed that he had served as a steward in a West India packet, Captain Horatio Hornblower made him his steward. When Hornblower was planning his raid on the French coast, he had planned to bring Grimes along as his aide-de-camp. Grimes broke down and begged Hornblower to let him remain on board. Disdainfully, Hornblower allowed him to stay.

After facing the scorn of his shipmates. and fearing a flogging or hanging, he hung himself in the Captain's cabin. To save face for Grimes' family, Hornblower listed him as killed in action.