The Commodore (novel)
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Geoff Hunt|
|Publisher||Harper Collins (UK)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)|
|Pages||282 paperback edition|
|ISBN||0-393-03760-6 first edition, hardback & 0-393-31459-6 paperback edition UK|
|LC Class||PR6029.B55 C66 1995|
|Preceded by||The Wine-Dark Sea|
|Followed by||The Yellow Admiral|
The Commodore is the seventeenth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by British author Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1995. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars and ranges from Ireland to the West African coast.
Jack Aubrey wins the Ringle, a Baltimore Clipper, from his friend Captain Dundas, as the Surprise accompanies HMS Berenice back to England. Maturin first meets with Sir Joseph Blaine, while Aubrey heads home to his family. When Maturin does reach home, he finds finds his young daughter Brigid in the care of Clarissa Oakes, now widowed. He searches for his wife to correct her misapprehensions, about his judgment of her, and about their daughter. Brgid is not talking yet, though old enough to do so. When Maturin meets Sir Joseph at their club, he learns that the Duke of Habachtsthal, the third conspirator in the Ledward-Wray conspiracy, is aiming back at both of them. The Duke's influence has delayed the pardons of both Clarissa and Padeen. Maturin needs to secure his fortune and his family. Maturin asks Aubrey for the Ringle to move his cash to Corunna and then takes Clarissa, Padeen and Brigid to live at the Benedictine house in Ávila, Spain, for safety. Brigid takes to Padeen, and is speaking in Irish and English aboard the Ringle. Both Blaine and Maturin hire Mr Pratt, to gather information on the Duke and to find Diana.
Meanwhile, Aubrey is ordered to take command of a squadron of ships being assembled, a position which earns him the title 'Commodore'. Once the squadron is formed, Aubrey and Maturin are very publicly instructed to disrupt the African slave trade, illegal since 1807 by British law. The other, secret mission of the squadron is to intercept a French invasion force which expects a sympathetic welcome in Maturin's native Ireland. The squadron begins on a difficult note, when the Admiralty reassigns the powerful frigate Pyramus, replacing her with the smaller frigate Thames instead. The Stately is commanded by Duff, a paederast, who destroys discipline by taking young lovers among his forecastlemen. Captain Thomas, unlike Aubrey, values spit and polish more than efficiency in battle, and indiscriminately flogs his crewmen. These two captains and their crews soon find themselves at odds, threatening the squadron's efficiency.
The Ringle meets Bellona, the squadron's flagship, at the Berlings off Peniche peninsula, Portugal, and the squadron make its way to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, with the crews practising hard at lowering down boats and other naval skills. Maturin survives a near fatal bout of Yellow Fever contracted while traipsing around the swamplands of West Africa in his usual search for rare birds and animals, a quest in which he is ably assisted in Freetown by the British colonial governor's wife, Christine Wood (née Hatherleigh), herself an esteemed naturalist and sister of one of Stephen's fellow members of the Royal Society.
The squadron successfully disrupts the slave trade, saving over 5,000 slaves and having eight slaving ships condemned. Aubrey then hastens to meet the French squadron, commanded by the wily Commodore Esprit-Tranquille Maistral, south and east of the point the French are expected to reach (West Cork). Jack informs his captains of his plan of attack and the Bellona attacks the French pennant-ship, with the Thames and Stately attacking the other French two-decker. The first strikes on a rocky shelf and surrenders; the second badly mauls the Stately (Duff loses a leg) and flees eastwards. The four French troop carriers and one frigate are also captured (one frigate also escapes), aided by the Royal Oak and Warwick, who join the scene of battle.
Maturin finds as the novel closes that the Duke of Habachtsthal has committed suicide. This is possibly due to the threat of trial for treason after being identified by Clarissa Oakes and following extensive investigation carried out by Pratt, a former Bow Street Runner employed by Maturin and Sir Joseph Blaine. Stephen is also happily reunited once more with Diana, who happens to be living near that part of the Irish coast with one of her first husband's uncles.
- Jack Aubrey: Appointed Commodore in the Royal Navy.
- Stephen Maturin: Surgeon of the Bellona, physician, natural philosopher, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer.
- Heneage Dundas: Captain of HMS Berenice, brother to the first Sea Lord, and friend of Aubrey.
- Preserved Killick: Aubrey's steward.
- Barret Bonden: Coxwain for Aubrey.
- Padeen Colman: Irish servant to Maturin.
- Sarah and Emily Sweeting: Melanesian girls rescued earlier by Maturin (in The Nuutmeg of Consolation), rated as ships boys, moved to The Grapes under Mrs Broad.
- Awkward Davies: Able seaman.
- Joe Plaice: Able seaman and cousin to Bonden.
- Fellowes: Captain of HMS Thunderer.
- Mr Philips: Admiralty officer aboard the Thunderer with a message for Maturin.
- William Smith: Assistant surgeon on Bellona.
- Alexander Macaulay: Assistant surgeon on Bellona.
- Mr Wetherby: Youngster on Bellona.
- Mr William Reade: Midshipman, about age 15, on HMS Bellona, who lost an arm in battle; introduced in The Thirteen Gun Salute. He sails the Ringle, Aubrey's personally-owned tender, a fast-sailing Baltimore clipper.
- Sophia Aubrey: Wife of Jack and mother of their three children.
- Mrs Williams: Mother of Sophia and aunt to Diana Villiers.
- Diana Villiers: Stephen's wife and mother of their child.
- Clarissa Oakes: Young gentlewoman now part of Maturin's household, introduced in Clarissa Oakes.
- Brigid Maturin: Young daughter of Stephen and Diana, showing developmental problems, until Padeen enters her life.
- Sir Joseph Blaine: Head of Intelligence at the Admiralty, naturalist who studies beetles, and friend of Maturin.
- Mr Pratt: Investigator ("thief taker") introduced in The Reverse of the Medal.
- Mnanson: Jack's butler at Woolcombe.
- Mr Gray: First Lieutenant on the Bellona, who dies from infection after surgery.
- Mr Whewell: Acting first Lieutenant on the Bellona, promoted from master's mate on the Aurora due to his knowledge relevant to the mission.
- John Square: Krooman who assists Stephen in Freetown.
- Houmouzios: Greek money lender.
- Mrs Charlotte Wood: Eminent naturalist.
- Squadron leaders
- Captain Tom Pullings: Bellona
- Captain William Duff: Stately
- Captain Howard: Aurora
- Captain Thomas (nicknamed the Purple Emperor): Thames
- Captain Fitton: Nimble
- Captain Smith: Camilla
- Dick Richardson (introduced in The Mauritius Command): Laurel
Jack Aubrey's squadron:
- HMS Bellona – Seventy-four gun; broadside weight of 926 pounds; crew of 590
- HMS Stately – Sixty-four; broadside weight of 792 pounds
- HMS Nimble – A cutter
- HMS Thames – Thirty-two; broadside weight of 300 pounds
- HMS Aurora – A twenty-four gun; crew of 196
- HMS Camilla – Twenty-gun ship
- HMS Orestes – Brig-rigged sloop
- HMS Ringle – Baltimore Clipper, Berenice then Bellona's tender
- HMS Laurel
- HM Hired Vessel Surprise – Twenty-eight gun frigate
- HMS Berenice – Sixty-four two decker
- HMS Thunderer – Seventy-four
- HMS Royal Oak – Seventy-four
- HMS Warwick – Seventy-four
- Two seventy-fours
- Two frigates
- Four troop carriers
This novel references actual events as any historical novel ought. In respect to the internal chronology of the series, it is the last of eleven novels (beginning with The Surgeon's Mate) that might take five or six years to happen but are all pegged to an extended 1812, or as Patrick O'Brian says it, 1812a and 1812b (introduction to Far Side of the World, the tenth novel in this series). The events of Yellow Admiral again match up with the historical years of the Napoleonic wars in sequence, as the first six novels did.
- Recorded Books, LLC; Unabridged Audio edition narrated by Patrick Tull (ISBN 1419320882)
- E-book edition, W. W. Norton & Company, 2011 (ISBN 9780393088489)
References to actual history
The book makes reference to the West African slave trade. The Bellona stops the Nancy, a slave trading vessel, and O'Brian gives a graphic description of the conditions on board. They see the bodies of two dead small girls being tossed overboard to be eaten by sharks. Once aboard, they discover the slaves only have two feet six inches headroom, and the ones who are sick from dysentery are found lying near the hawseholes, covered in their own excrement. Stephen has their iron manacles removed and the slaver's men are forced to swab out the holds. Once on deck, they count about five hundred in total and, after feeding them, the slaves are landed a couple of days later in Sierra Leone and given their freedom.
Mr Whewell, who has worked previously on slave ships, tells Stephen that the ship is relatively healthy for one fourteen days out of Whydah. He also mentions that it is common for a slaver to lose at least a third of its human cargo on the passage across to the West Indies.