Hector Baines

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Lieutenant Hector Baines, a naval officer some twenty-one years of age, suddenly acceded to command of his ship The King of the North after its captain and many of the crew had been killed in an engagement in the West Indies, a battle in which Lieutenant Baines himself was so unfortunate as to suffer the loss of his leg; but despite this terrible inconvenience he took command of his vessel and, having somehow brought her whole out of the action she was in, set sail for England. On the voyage home, being then acting-captain, he had the luck to fall in with a Spanish ship and take her a prize: and as the Spaniard was laden with treasure he was thus able to return to England not only a hero but with his fortune assured, since as the senior officer aboard his share of the prize money was by far the largest.

Justly feted on his return, his story trumpeted in The Morning Post, the captain became something of a social lion. Everyone desired to visit him, and when he married and brought his wife to London they were both waited upon by eager throngs of wellwishers, including many persons of rank and influence. Captain Baines could not lack for promotion now that he had such interest at his command - and this despite his obscure birth and lowly origins.

John Childermass cites the tale of Captain Baines to Mr. Norrell as a striking instance of the power of the modern press to transform even those without good social connexions into objects of public notice. He instances this to explain to his master why he wishes Mr. Segundus to write to the newspapers on Mr. Norrell's behalf and inform them of the feat of magic he recently performed in York[4]. Mr. Segundus obligingly does so, and the sequel fully answers all Childermass's expectations.