Capt. James Gaudin is levelheaded, ambitious and has a knack for navigating stormy seas.
With a fiancé in Canada and a lover in Chile, his onshore life is pretty lively, too.
No Tame Cat, Fur Trade Daughter, her Cape Horn Captain and the Chilean Courtesan is a detail-rich slice of Canadiana that is part nautical adventure, part love story and part erotic novel. The fiction-based-on-fact book was written by Denman Island resident Robert Harvey.
The story begins with Gaudin dashing on deck in his bare feet. It’s 2 a.m., Jan. 9, 1878 and his ship, Lady Lampson, has just run aground outside Esquimalt Harbour.
Minutes before, the vessel was slated to set a new record for passage from London. Now Gaudin faces a black mark on his record and the loss of the personal cargo he had onboard.
The centrepiece of No Tame Cat is the Lady Lampson’s 16-month voyage that takes the barque from London to Esquimalt to Chile and back to London again. With sea spray freezing in the rigging and the crew suffering from salt water boils, swollen fingers and frostbite, rounding Cape Horn is no small feat. But Gaudin’s already cut his teeth on winter storms in the North Atlantic.
On an earlier voyage to Victoria, the dashing captain met Agnes, daughter of Alexander Anderson, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader who crossed the Rockies with the Columbia Express from York Factory.
Spunky and determined Agnes plays a pivotal role in the book.
She’s got her own dugout canoe and has her share of adventures, too. And it’s through her eyes that readers get a glimpse of what life was like for young women in the latter part of the 19th century.
Gaudin’s unexpected detour to Chile where he meets the irresistible Consuelo adds a surprising twist to the story. Their liaison is passionate and all-consuming. In the meantime, Agnes waits for Gaudin to return for their long-postponed wedding.
Harvey says the idea for No Tame Cat came from childhood conversations with his grandmother Harvey. “She was born in Saanich in 1878, and used to tell me about her mother’s voyage back to Canada from Jersey,” he explains. “All the ships had rats, of course, and her mother remembered one chewing on her braids.”
The author was also inspired by a silver tea service given to Capt. James Gaudin — his great-grandfather — by the Robert Burnaby family in gratitude for offering Burnaby passage from Victoria to England when he was paralyzed. Harvey drew on family history, 600 pages of logbooks and documents in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, as well as his early years in the tugboat industry to create No Tame Cat.
“It’s all based on fact,” the 83-year-old says. “But I created the dialogue, so that makes it fiction.”
The book cover is from a painting commissioned by Harvey’s father. It depicts Lady Lampson as painted by marine artist Jack W. Hardcastle.
Harvey said he toyed with the idea of writing a book about Gaudin and his father-in-law, Anderson, for years. “I wanted to know more about them and thought others might find it of interest, too.”
So, in 2003, after a 54-year career as a lawyer specializing in civil litigation, Harvey attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and took some writing courses at North Island College.
“Steve Schoenhoff at North Island College was particularly helpful,” Harvey notes. “He made sure we actually wrote something. He gave me a C+ on the first exercise I handed in. ‘This is just lawyer talk,’ he said. That made me loosen up a bit.”
Harvey was born in Duncan and grew up in Victoria. He began practising law in Duncan and later worked in Victoria and Vancouver. He and his wife moved to Denman Island in 1997.
As for writing a book, Harvey says it involves a lot of time at the computer rewriting and rewriting. “The computer is what made it possible,” he admits. “My handwriting is terrible.”
No Tame Cat (338 pages, softcover) is published by Ptarmigan Press and retails for $24.95. It’s available at bookstores and other shops in the Comox Valley, Campbell River, Victoria and Quadra Island.