Thomas Pullings

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Thomas (Tom) Pullings was perhaps the closest of Jack Aubrey’s followers. Aubrey first encountered Pullings as a master’s mate aboard HMS Sophie in 1800. Although Pullings had passed his examination for lieutenant some time before, due to his lack of influence (and, undoubtedly, his lack of status as a “gentleman”) he had not yet been appointed to that rank. Pullings served as an acting lieutenant aboard Sophie after the Cacafuego battle, but again he was denied permanent promotion to that rank. Without a ship, during the Peace of Amiens (1802-1803), Pullings secured a position as a mate aboard the East Indiaman Lord Nelson, in which role he again encountered Aubrey who was aboard the Lord Nelson as a passenger from Gibraltar. When Aubrey was given command of the sloop HMS Polychrest (1803), his first act was to have Pullings made a lieutenant aboard her, and when given command of HMS Surprise (1805), Aubrey immediately obtained Pullings appointment aboard her as Third Lieutenant.

During the Mauritius Campaign (1809-1810), Pullings is present in Jack Aubrey’s squadron as the lieutenant commanding the transport Groper. After Pullings is ordered to wreck the Groper on a beach as a protective breakwater during landings on Resolution, he secures a replacement transport (Emma) which he arms with cannons from a recaptured Indiaman in order to support Jack Aubrey’s lone frigate when confronted with superior French forces. Pullings returned under Aubrey’s direct command as First Lieutenant of HMS Leopard (1812), but was forced to relinquish his position due to illness. Subsequently, Pullings again served as Aubrey’s First Lieutenant aboard HMS Worcester and then HMS Surprise again. In that later capacity, Pullings won promotion to Commander as a result of the Surprise’s defeat of the Turkish ships Torgud and Kitabi.

Again without a ship of his own (there were far more officers with the rank of Commander than there were vessels to command), Pullings returned to Aubrey’s Surprise as a volunteer extra First Lieutenant during her cruise across the Atlantic Ocean in search of the American frigate Norfolk. Pullings departed the Surprise and returned to England in command of a recaptured packet. He was still without a permanent command when he assisted Stephen Maturin in the purchase of the Surprise, sold out of the Navy, in the wake of Jack Aubrey’s Stock Exchange trial. Pullings thereafter served aboard Surprise in her privateering career as Aubrey’s chief mate. When Aubrey was recalled to England for reinstatement into the Navy, Pullings took command of the Surprise and sailed her into the Pacific Ocean on a successful privateering voyage and eventually rendezvoused with Aubrey in the East Indies. During the return trip across the Pacific, Pullings continued to serve Aubrey in a number of roles, including commanding the Surprise or prizes upon occasion. After eventually returning to England and Aubrey’s appointment as Commodore of a squadron for service off the West African coast, Pullings was promoted to Post Captain commanding HMS Bellona as Aubrey’s pennant-ship. We are told no more of Pullings’s subsequent career, although it seems likely that he probably spent some years as a half-pay captain without a further command, given his perpetual lack of influence.

Family background

Born and raised on a Hampshire farm (probably in the late 1770s or around 1780), Pullings nonetheless came from a nautical family. His grandfather was aboard HMS Wager when that ship was wrecked on the coast of Chile in 1739 and later served as boatswain of HMS Indefatigable. An uncle was Sailing master of the brig HMS Seagull in 1799. Thomas Pullings was popular and well-respected for his courage and seamanship. He married in 1803 and had at least four children, including a son, John. Despite his marriage, he was known to have formed close attachments to attractive young women on more than one occasion, although it might be suspected that his charms for such companionship may have been diminished by a disfiguring sword blow to the face received in the Torgud action.

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