William Bush
1800 - 1814
Lieutenant Hornblower
The Happy Return
A Ship of the Line
Flying Colours
The Commodore
Lord Hornblower
Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.
Hornblower - Mutiny
Hornblower - Retribution
Hornblower - Loyalty
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William Bush was an officer in the British Royal Navy. He was Horatio Hornblower's best friend, and served on and off with Hornblower for 15 years.


Bush had a mother and four sisters who lived in a cottage in Chichester and depended upon Bush for their support. His sisters "devoted all their attention to him whenever it was possible," and he was as devoted to them, giving them half of his pay each month. He was "brought up in a harsh school," and experience which taught him caution and perhaps contributed to his natural stolidity.

In July of 1796 Bush received his commission as Lieutenant while serving on the HMS Superb. Bush recalled that he relied more on "seamanship and not navigation" to pass the requisite examination. He served on board HMS Conqueror just prior to his assignment to HMS Renown.

Aboard Renown Bush met Horatio Hornblower for the first time:

Lieutenant William Bush came on board H.M.S. Renown as she lay at anchor in the Hamoaze and reported himself to the officer of the watch, who was a tall and rather gangling individual with hollow cheeks and a melancholy cast of countenance, whose uniform looked as if it had been put on in the dark and not readjusted since. (C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p3.)

Although this initial meeting with his junior officer was less than impressive, Bush quickly realised that Hornblower was brilliant, yet adept at disguising his brilliance so as not to offend his superiors. Bush's first impulse was to be suspicious of both the brilliance and the evident "duplicity", but his growing respect for Hornblower overcame this impulse, and lead him to friendship and trust.

His respect and his honesty also compelled Bush to realize that although he was Hornblower's senior, Hornblower was the better leader and strategist. Making the best of this awkward situation, Bush gave Hornblower ample opportunity to make and carry out plans during their mission to Samaná.

These plans succeeded; Bush gave Hornblower full credit in his report; and at Jamaica, Hornblower was promoted to Commander. Although it at first appeared to be a step backwards, with Hornblower suddenly Bush's superior officer, it was in fact mutually beneficial, for if Hornblower was a born leader Bush was made to support him.

Upon return to England Renown was paid off, and Bush was on half pay during a time of unemployment. Most of his money went to support his mother and sisters. Without either the influence to to gain an appointment as Lieutenant in the peace-time navy, or the experience necessary to join the merchant service, Bush had to cope with poverty. An aspect of this poverty was social in nature, as it prevented him from spending time in taverns or coffee houses where he normally would have enjoyed the company of his peers:

In there, he knew, there would be warmth and good company. The fortunate officers with prize money to spend; the incredibly fortunate officers who had found themselves appointments in the peacetime navy - they would be in there yarning and taking wine with each other. He could not afford wine. He thought longingly for a moment about a tankard of beer ... (C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company, 1998; p256.)

In February 1803 a chance meeting with his friend Hornblower resolved both these issues. The renewal of their friendship cheered both men. One month later, Britain was again at war; and Hornblower, appointed Commander of the sloop of war HMS Hotspur, "diffidently" asked Bush to be his First Lieutenant.

After the Hotspur was lost on Black Rock, Bush served as a junior lieutenant aboard HMS Temeraire, a ninety-eight gun ship of the line during the Battle of Trafalgar.

He served as Hornblower's first lieutenant on HMS Sutherland, and lost a foot when the ship engaged four French ships of the line, and were forced to strike colours.  He shared Hornblower's incarceration in France, and escaped with him after obtaining a wooden leg.  He was promoted to post captain, and served under Commodore Hornblower in the Baltic, commanding HMS Nonsuch.

In the final months of the war Bush and his crew were sent up river near Le Harve, to Caudebec, to blow up both approaching cannons and the powder for them. When Bush did not return to report, Hornblower made inquiries, and found his only friend's boat had been destroyed when the two  groups of powder barges exploded, and no one in his long boat survived, there were in fact, no survivors at all among the boats sent by Nonsuch. The loss of Bush was treated rather off-handedly, the summation of his epitaph was a line where Hornblower could not imagine a world without Bush in it. Considering Bush was one of two men Hornblower called friend, he was little mourned and less spoken of.


Bush was characterised chiefly by his loyalty, his patience, good nature, and stolid matter-of-fact outlook. Although Hornblower genuinely liked Bush, he often frustrated and hurt him through harsh criticism. Hornblower, although a brilliant strategist, was a painfully self-conscious and hyper- introspective who tried desperately to conceal from the world what he perceived as "weaknesses". However, Bush saw Hornblower as he is:

Bush could be fond of Hornblower even while he laughed at him, and could respect him even while he knew of his weaknesses.

Bush's loyalty to Hornblower was in fact strengthened by Hornblower's limitations and his attempts to conceal them.

Bush often worried that Hornblower was depriving himself not only of food and rest, but also of human contact. Although Bush was an excellent judge of character, he was not a diplomat; and he often kept his concern for his sensitive friend to himself. The friendship survived because of Bush's perseverance.

He was described as having "frank, blue eyes," a man who did not tolerate infringement on his authority, but was at the same time a generous soul with no meanness in him, though blessed with little imagination. He was sturdy, intrinsically cautious, phlegmatic in temperament, and unlike his friend Hornblower, had a cast iron stomach, and never suffered from seasickness. He was also said to be immensely strong, and of light footed quickness, a demonstration of which was described in his defence of the Renown during the prisoner revolt aboard; he suffered nine knife and sword wounds, none of which were life threatening, requiring fifty-three stitches to close, but no one managed to inflict a more serious wound. (C.S. Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower; Little, Brown and Company)


  • Hornblower usually called his friend, in the naval manner, "Mister Bush", or in informal moments simply "Bush".