Denis Smith is the author of seven previous books, winner of the University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian biography (twice), the J.W. Dafoe Book Prize (twice), and a recipient of the Spanish Orden del Mérito Civil for his book The Prisoners of Cabrera: Napoleon’s Forgotten Soldiers, 1809-1814. He is a retired professor of politics, editor and university administrator who lives in Ottawa, Canada.
A short guide for the reader
What is fact and what is fiction in this tale? How much of the testimony, the correspondence, the eyewitness accounts, comes from the historical record? Is this a novel or a biography?
To ease your way, here are some signposts. The narrator, Peter Turnbull, was a real person, as were all the other participants. The only facts I can swear to about Turnbull are that he discovered Francisco de Miranda imprisoned in Cádiz in November 1814, and that he was the son of John Turnbull, Miranda’s loyal patron over the quarter-century from 1785 to 1810. Turnbull’s narrative is imagined, but the story he tells is as close to truth as I can divine it.
As far as I know, there is no account of any testimony delivered by Francisco de Miranda to Peter Turnbull in the cells of La Carraca in 1815-16. But what he says here is closely based on Miranda’s reports in his own immense collection of diaries and papers, or elsewhere in the record. Miranda’s final reflections are my imagined reconstruction of what he really told a prominent Venezuelan who visited him while he was a prisoner in Morro Castle, Puerto Rico, in 1813.