Tom Riley

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Character Profile

Name: Tom Riley
Date of Birth:
Service: Royal Navy
Rank: Captain
Nationality: British
Billets: HMS Belize, Third Lieutenant
HMS Reliant, Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, Captain
HMS Allegiance, Captain


Tom Riley was an officer in the Royal Navy, a longtime friend and colleague of William Laurence. In appearance, he had fair, freckled skin, and tended to telegraph his emotions on his face. He was ordinarily of an easy-going humour.

Riley's father owned substantial plantations in the West Indies, including Jamaica, and several hundred slaves to work them. Riley himself owed no small portion of his personal wealth to these plantations. He was also deeply attached to his father. This initially put him at odds with Laurence, whose father Lord Allendale was a staunch abolitionist and had mentioned Riley's father by name in the House of Lords, as one of the slaveowners who "disgrace the name of Christian, and blight the character and reputation of their country."

Riley quite naturally resented this public insult. Laurence, on the other hand, was not particularly attached to his father personally but did share Lord Allendale's abhorrence of slavery. The two men never made peace on this subject but simply came to an unspoken agreement not to discuss it.

At the time the Amitie was captured by the HMS Reliant in January 1805, Laurence was captain and Riley was second lieutenant. Riley had been with Laurence since 1797, when he was a midshipman, including service aboard the HMS Belize as Laurence's third lieutenant. Had it been up to Laurence, Riley would have been first lieutenant of the Reliant rather than Gibbs, who had been imposed on Laurence by the Admiralty.

As first lieutenant, Gibbs was assigned to take the Amitie into port, with the expectation that he would be confirmed as her captain. Thus, Riley was the ranking officer aboard the Reliant when Temeraire hatched and chose Laurence as his own captain, effectively removing Laurence from the Navy to be pulled into service in the Aerial Corps. Laurence took advantage of this opportunity to brevet Riley to captain, a promotion that was eventually confirmed by the Admiralty despite Admiral Croft's desire to give either the Reliant or the Amitie to some favourite of his own.

Captain Riley and the Allegiance, 1805-1806

Captain Riley commanded the Reliant from January to October 1805, when the ship sailed with Nelson's fleet and took part in the blockade at Cadiz prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. The Reliant was seriously damaged in a storm following the battle. Riley found himself a captain without a ship, without seniority or influence in the Admiralty to help him obtain a new command.

Shortly afterwards, Laurence came within danger of becoming a captain with a dragon. Temeraire's display of the Divine Wind at the Battle of Dover had made public the fact that he was not an Imperial dragon, as had been supposed, but rather one of the much more rare and valued Celestial dragons. A delegation led by Prince Yongxing came from China to Britain to demand that Temeraire be turned over to them.

Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with dragons, Temeraire refused to leave Laurence, while Laurence refused to lie to him in order to trick him aboard a ship bound for China. This dilemma was resolved by sending Laurence and in fact Temeraire's entire crew along with the dragon aboard the dragon transport HMS Allegiance. The ship did not have a captain at the time, so Laurence was able to do Riley another favour by sending him a note advising him to apply for the position - without mentioning Laurence's name, as at this point the Lord Barham, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was thoroughly fed up with Laurence.

The trip caused some tension between Riley and Laurence. Riley had grown into his position and acquired an authority that was new to Laurence, who for most of their acquaintance had known him as a subordinate. The Valerie engagement complicated the situation in two ways. First, Temeraire was injured severely enough that the dragon surgeon Keynes banned him from flying for a month. This meant that he could not feed himself by fishing, which in turn required that the ship to make a stop at Cape Coast, a slave port, to take on additional livestock.

Second, Temeraire's first and second lieutenants, Granby and Evans, were both severely injured in the engagement, leaving third lieutenant Ferris in charge of the aviators. Ferris lacked Granby's experience and did not know how to persuade the other aviators to take no notice of the sailors' jibes.

The natural tensions between the sailors and naval officers on one hand and the aviators on the other erupted in an incident involving midshipman Reynolds, midwingman Martin and Blythe, the armourer's mate. Blythe, who was ground crew and not an officer, struck Reynolds, who was. Laurence intervened to stop Riley's first lieutenant, Lord Purbeck, from arresting Blythe on the spot. Riley in turn resented Laurence correcting Purbeck on deck and insisted on having Blythe flogged a full fifty lashes rather than a mere dozen. In the heat of the discussion, Laurence let slip his distaste for the stop at Cape Coast, which put Riley's back up.

Thus, the situation was already uncomfortable when the ship actually reached Cape Coast. Laurence sent the two young runners, Roland and Dyer, below deck to tidy his cabin in order to protect them from the human misery on display. Temeraire, however, was too large to hide away and too curious not to ask questions, which Laurence was too honest to avoid answering. Furthermore, one of the Chinese officials, Sun Kai, overheard the conversation and asked Laurence questions of his own, referring to the practice of slavery as "dishonourable." This only deepened Riley's resentment, as well as the resentment of the sailors on behalf of their captain.

As a result of this unhappy situation, the usual ceremonies that accompanied the Allegiance's crossing of the equator were rather subdued.

It was shortly after this, after the feast hosted by the Chinese delegation to celebrate the Chinese New Year in February 1806, that Riley made the discovery that Roland was a girl. He was quite shocked by this, as the presence of female officers in the Aerial Corps was generally kept secret outside the Corps. When Laurence explained to him that Longwings and a few other breeds would only accept female captains, Riley countered that after the Valerie engagement, he had met the leader of Laurence's formation with "his" Longwing. He was referring, of course, to Catherine Harcourt, a slender woman whom Riley had only seen in uniform, with the hood of her riding jacket pulled up over her long braid. Riley was dismayed to be contradicted by Temeraire, and he fled the conversation completely when Temeraire began to ask questions about human reproduction, it being news to him that humans did not hatch from eggs.

From western Africa to China is a long voyage aboard a sailing ship. Both Riley's and Laurence's tempers cooled eventually. Temeraire saved the Allegiance from attack by a sea-serpent. Riley and Purbeck were then stricken with malaria, leaving the ship's third and fourth lieutenants in command. (The ship's second lieutenant was apparently not present for the voyage.) Having more experience of maintaining discipline among naval crews, Laurence stood watches in turn with the two younger officers. By the time the Allegiance reached Macao in June 1806, the atmosphere on board was considerably more peaceful.

From Macao Laurence, Temeraire and ten of their crew, as well as the two runners, continued on to Peking by air. The Allegiance, with the rest of the aviators, continued northwards through the China Sea, stopping to assist a Chinese fleet that was attempting to subdue an enormous band of pirates established in the Zhoushan Islands, off what is now Shanghai. The Allegiance then crossed the Yellow Sea to anchor in Tien-sing Harbour (modern Tianjin), from which Riley continued on to Peking to meet Laurence and Temeraire.

Prince Yongxing's death shortly afterwards cleared the way for Laurence to be adopted by the Jiaqing Emperor and, now at least nominally a member of the Chinese Imperial family, accepted by the Chinese as Temeraire's companion. This left the British party free to return to Britain, which they planned to do aboard the Allegiance. With this intention, they sailed back south from Tien-sing as far as Macao. Here, an onboard fire left the ship unable to continue further for at least two months. At the same time, Laurence and Temeraire received orders from Admiral Lenton to head for Istanbul with all possible speed. After some discussion, they parted company with Riley and the Allegiance in order to make their journey overland.

Africa and Marriage, 1807

By the time the Allegiance returned to Britain in the spring of 1807, the entire Aerial Corps had been struck down by the Dragon Plague. However, it had also been discovered that Temeraire himself had somehow acquired an immunity to the plague. This was thought to be due to an earlier exposure during the trip to China and to a cure which had somehow been effected while the Allegiance lay in harbour in Cape Town. Admiral Jane Roland therefore decided to send all of Lily's formation to Cape Town aboard the Allegiance.

Riley at first welcomed Laurence and his colleagues back aboard. However, Laurence had been unable to avoid the request of a family of would-be passengers, Rev. Josiah Erasmus, his wife Hannah and their two daughters. Both the Reverend and his wife were freed slaves who wished to travel to Africa as missionaries. Laurence and Erasmus had a mutual acquaintance in William Wilberforce, a political ally of Laurence's father. Socially, there was no polite or even reasonable way in which Laurence could refuse the Erasmus' request to travel aboard the Allegiance as his guests, even though he knew it would anger Riley.

To make things worse, when it came time for the passengers to board, Hannah Erasmus and her children were left sitting in the harbour in a "small and poky" boat, with no effort being made to bring them aboard ship. Once again, as in the Reynolds-Martin-Blythe incident, Laurence was unable to restrain himself from intervening, in this case by requesting that Temeraire lift the little boat up onto the ship's deck. Once again, Riley resented the interference. The result was an angry quarrel, interrupted first by Harcourt wanting to know where Lily's tubs of oiled sand were to be stowed - sick with the plague, the Longwing needed to have oiled sand to sneeze into so that her acid would not eat through the deck - and then by Maximus's captain, Berkley, warning them every word could be heard on deck and that Temeraire was about to join in.

As formation leader, it normally would have been Harcourt's place to deal directly with the captain of their transport. Knowing that Riley was shocked by and disapproved of the presence of women in the Aerial Corps, Harcourt and Laurence had agreed that Laurence would deal with him instead. However, after the quarrel, Laurence was forced to ask Harcourt to resume the position of go-between for the three-month journey to Cape Town.

Laurence noted in the weeks afterwards that Riley seemed awkward and uncomfortable around both himself and Harcourt. He assumed that this was due to embarrassment over the quarrel. However, shortly after the the Allegiance reached Cape Town, Harcourt was forced by frequent bouts of nausea to inform the other aviators that she was pregnant. When asked, she freely shared the information that Riley was the father, but neither she nor the other aviators considered it necessary to inform Riley.

Laurence took a somewhat different view of the matter, assuming that the liaison had occurred at Riley's instigation (probably not the case, based on later remarks by Riley) and that the naval captain had both responsibilities and rights in the matter. However, before Laurence could speak to Riley, a British party including both Laurence and Harcourt, among others, was captured by the Tswana dragon Kefentse and brought as captives to Mosi-oa-Tunya.

By the time Temeraire, Lily and Dulcia rescued the party - which included Dulcia's captain Chenery - two things had happened. Harcourt's pregnancy had begun to show, and the Tswana forces had embarked on a plan to end the slave-trade by driving the Europeans from Africa. The three dragons with their captains and crews arrived in Cape Town just in time to cover the evacuation of the European residents aboard the Allegiance, where it did not take Riley long to realize that his liaison with Harcourt had had consequences.

Like Laurence, Riley assumed that he had rights and responsibilities in the matter of Harcourt's child. Determined not to be "an outrageous scrub", he tried to do what was, by his standards, the right thing: he asked Harcourt to marry him, promising her that his family would do "all that is proper." He even went so far as to arrange with the former governor of Cape Town that the governor's wife should "receive" Harcourt into society - that is, provide a sort of social sponsorship - which would "make everything easy" for Harcourt in Britain.

Harcourt, of course, refused. Her fellow aviators regarded Riley's behaviour as quixotic at best and harassing at worst, with Chenery muttering ominously about "working on" the naval captain.

Quarrel or no quarrel, Riley turned to Laurence as the one member of the formation likely to share his own view of the matter. His determination to pursue the marriage had a very practical aspect. His father's estates were entailed (could not be inherited by a woman), and his older brother had only daughters. It was only after Laurence explained this - with some difficulty - to Harcourt that she agreed to the marriage, although on the condition that if the child were a girl, she would be given the Harcourt name. Indeed, Harcourt rather expected that if the child were a girl, Riley would divorce her, as in her view of things, he would have no further need for her or the child.

For his part, Riley understood Harcourt's world as little as she understood his. He initially expected her to resign from the Corps after marriage, but was finally given to understand that Lily could not be spared (which was true enough) and that "no one else can be found to take the beast on" (which Laurence did not attempt to correct). The marriage ceremony itself illustrated the gulf of understanding between Harcourt and Riley. It did not occur to Harcourt to obtain a dress, it did not occur to Riley that she would not do so, and when the minister asked for objections, Lily attempted to supply some.

The Occupation of Britain, December 1807 - March 1808

By the time Harcourt's and Riley's child was born in February 1808, Britain had been occupied by Napoleon's troops for two months. To Harcourt's and Lily's disappointment, it was a son - in Lily's opinion, an extremely smelly and noisy boy. They both returned to duty almost immediately afterwards, leaving Riley alone in Loch Laggan with the infant and, fortunately, a wet nurse. Riley was astonished to learn that newborn infants need to be fed every two hours, baffled by Catherine's lack of interest and extremely worried about the Allegiance, which was now in dry-dock in Plymouth, with Napoleon's army between her and her captain. To Lily's disgust, he had refused to give Harcourt a divorce.

Jane Roland had once commented to Laurence, early in their acquaintance, that while marriage is not held against aviators at all in the Corps, "It is only that it is rather hard on the other person, always taking second place to a dragon." Harcourt's and Riley's marriage was proving this out abundantly.

After the Battle of Shoeburyness in March 1808, Laurence's death sentence - he had been convicted of treason - was commuted to transportation and labour in order to stop Temeraire from organizing the other British dragons to obtain more rights. The Allegiance had been fitted out as a prison ship to transport Laurence and Temeraire - along with many, many other less notable convicts - to Australia under Riley's command.

Harcourt thought that perhaps the boy ought to be sent with his father for the voyage, although Laurence attempted to dissuade her. Riley was seen to come aboard "late, and grim, and alone," just before the ship lifted anchor. However, it would have been entirely possible for him to have had the boy - and the requisite wet nurse - sent aboard earlier, so Harcourt's final decision on the matter is not yet known.