The Far Side of the World

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For the Jimmy Buffett album, see Far Side of the World (album). For the 2003 film, see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The Far Side of the World
Far side of the World cover.jpg
First edition
Author Patrick O'Brian
Cover artist Arthur Barbosa
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Aubrey-Maturin series
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Collins (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)
Pages pages (first edition, hardback) & pages 366 (paperback edition)
ISBN 0-393-03710-X, (first edition, hardback) & 0-393-30862-6 (paperback edition UK) 2003 / 0-393-32476-1 (paperback movie tie-in edition)
OCLC 31704568
Preceded by Treason's Harbour
Followed by The Reverse of the Medal

The Far Side of the World is the tenth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1984. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Plot summary[edit]

The Far Side of the World continues the story of Jack Aubrey's exploits during the War of 1812. Aubrey reports to his commander-in-chief at Gibraltar, who sends him and HMS Surprise to intercept the American frigate USS Norfolk. The American ship is under orders to attack British whalers in the South Seas. Jack makes all haste to have the Surprise victualled as quickly as possible and recruits a new master, a Mr Allen. Not only is Allen an excellent seaman but he also has an in-depth knowledge of whalers, having sailed previously with James Colnett on a semi exploration-whaling expedition to the South Atlantic. Stephen Maturin also persuades Jack to take Mr Martin along with them, a clergyman who Jack approves of and who is unhappy with his current ship. During the process of supplying the ship, Aubrey is met with Mr. Hollom an aging midshipman without the talent to go much further in the Navy but with few prospects elsewhere. The desperate Hollom pleads with Jack for a spot in his midshipmans berth. Aubrey initially denies Hollom but, in pity for the sad state of his affairs, relents and gives him a spot.

Maturin receives disturbing news from his intelligence-chief in London, Sir Joseph Blaine, which tends to confirm his suspicions of treason and infiltration of British intelligence by the French. He also hears from his wife, who has heard rumours of the infidelity he pretended in Valletta, Malta with the red-haired Mrs Fielding for intelligence reasons. He sends a letter to reassure her via Andrew Wray, unaware of the latter's role as a French agent.

The Surprise encounters many setbacks, including delays in Brazil from a lightning-struck prow, before they round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean to locate the Norfolk, which has captured and burnt several whalers. An illicit affair is begun between the sweet singing but otherwise untalented Hollom and the pretty wife brought aboard by the sexually impotent gunner, Horner. Stephen soon becomes embroiled in these unhappy circumstances when the gunner comes to him for help as well as later when Mrs. Horner becomes pregnant by Hollom. Maturin refuses to perform an abortion so Mrs Horner turns to his assistant, Higgins. Maturin learns of this and is livid, threatening to inform the captain of Higgins's behavior. Because of the many setbacks and the general knowledge of the affair feelings toward Hollom turn bad and he is soon considered a "Jonah" by the crew - someone who brings bad luck to the ship. As the ship stops at the Juan Fernández Islands for re-provisioning the two lovers fail to return to the ship after going ashore. The gunner is the last to return to the ship and he is observed to be covered in blood by the crew that picks him up. The two lovers are presumed to have been beaten to death by the ferocious, brutal and jealous husband whilst the Surprise was being provisioned. Horner begins drinking even more heavily than before and sinks into a black despair. Later the gunner discovers that Higgins performed an abortion on his wife, and Higgins too disappears from the ship. Subsequently, the gunner dies after hanging himself in his cabin.

The crew of the Surprise, having nearly been shipwrecked by the tail of a typhoon, finally discover the Norfolk wrecked on a reef by the same typhoon and her crew encamped on an island. Aubrey, Mr Martin and some of the crew take Stephen ashore as he is in a coma after hitting his head in a fall during the typhoon. Maturin needs to be on land to be operated on. However, since he is the surgeon and his assistant has disappeared, there is no one in the English crew competent to do it. Just as the surgeon from the Norfolk is preparing to operate on Maturin's skull, he wakes up from his coma. While they are ashore, another heavy storm blows the Surprise away and they are stranded. Relations between the two marooned groups deteriorate rapidly, particularly after Jack announces to the American Captain Palmer that he will have to take his crew prisoner. Some of them are from HMS Hermione, a ship that mutinied in the West Indies and they know they will be hanged if returned to British authorities. The situation reaches a crisis point after Jack orders the crew of the Surprise to lengthen their boat so they can sail away, pushing them particularly hard when he sees an American whaler on the horizon. The crew of the Norfolk sabotage the boat after spotting the same whaler but it is at this point that they see her strike her colours, having been pursued through a gap in the reef by the Surprise.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey: Captain of HMS Surprise.
  • Stephen Maturin: ship's surgeon, friend to Jack, natural philosopher and an intelligence officer.
  • Sophia Aubrey (née Williams): wife of Jack and mother of their three children.
  • Mr Rowan: former First lieutenant on HMS Surprise, sent to Malta with message when Surprise was slow in reaching Gibraltar, did not return before next mission.
  • Mr Honey: Acting third lieutenant on HMS Surprise.
  • Mr Hollom: older midshipman on HMS Surprise.
  • Mr and Mrs Horner: master gunner on HMS Surprise and his young wife.
  • Mr Gill: promoted out of HMS Surprise as its master.
  • Mr Allen: master on HMS Surprise, a man with whaling experience and knowledge of the southern whaling waters.
  • Mr Martin: a Royal Navy chaplain, friend of Maturin and natural philosopher, now assigned to Surprise.
  • Captain Pullings: a Commander with no ship, so he volunteers on HMS Surprise, sharing duties with Mowett.
  • Mr Mowett: First lieutenant on HMS Surprise.
  • Barret Bonden: Jack Aubrey's coxswain since Aubrey's first command.
  • Preserved Killick: Jack Aubrey's shrewish steward on HMS Surprise.
  • Padeen Colman: Stephen Maturin's huge, gentle Irish-speaking manservant and loblollyboy on HMS Surprise.
  • Captain Palmer: Captain of the USS Norfolk
  • Haines: a British Navy deserter on the USS Norfolk


  • British
    • HMS Surprise - Aubrey's favourite command
    • Intrepid Fox - a whaler burned by the Norfolk
  • American
    • USS Norfolk

Series chronology[edit]

This novel references actual events as any historical novel ought. In respect to the internal chronology of the series, it is the fourth of eleven novels 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.

Historical references[edit]

The marooned captain of the Norfolk reminds Aubrey of the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair as a way of protecting members of his crew, who are mutineers off of HMS Hermione.

The USS Chesapeake lay off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, and was under the command of Commodore James Barron. HMS Leopard, under the command of Salusbury Pryce Humphreys, hailed and requested to search the Chesapeake for suspected deserters from the Royal Navy; when the Chesapeake refused, the Leopard began to fire broadsides, killing three aboard the Chesapeake and injuring another 18 (one of whom, Robert Macdonald, later died from his wounds ashore). The Chesapeake, her decks cluttered with stores in preparation for a long cruise, managed to fire only a single gun in reply to the Leopard, and Barron quickly struck his colours and surrendered his ship; however, Humphreys refused the surrender, and simply sent a boarding party to search for the deserters.

HMS Leopard found four Royal Navy deserters among the Chesapeake crew: David Martin, John Strachan, and William Ware, run from HMS Melampus; and Jenkin Ratford, run from HMS Halifax. Of the four, only Ratford was British-born: Strachan was a white man born in the United States (though later serving in the Royal Navy), and Martin and Ware were African Americans (place of birth uncertain). Leopard carried the men to Halifax for trial: the British citizen, Ratford, was sentenced to death and hanged on the Halifax; the three Americans - as non-British nationals - were sentenced to 500 lashes each, but the sentence was later commuted, and the British government eventually offered to return them to the United States and pay reparations.

The USS Norfolk also recalls the historical expedition of the USS Essex. Essex sailed in South Atlantic waters and along the coast of Brazil until January 1813 when Captain David Porter undertook the decimation of English whale fisheries in the Pacific.[1] Although her crew suffered greatly from a shortage of provisions and heavy gales while rounding Cape Horn, she anchored safely at Valparaíso, Chile, on 14 March, having seized schooners Elizabeth and Nereyda along the way. The next five months brought Essex 13 prizes.

In January 1814, Essex sailed into neutral waters at Valparaiso, only to be trapped there for six weeks by the 36-gun British frigate, HMS Phoebe and the 18-gun sloop-of-war HMS Cherub. On 28 March 1814, Porter determined to gain the open sea, fearing the arrival of British reinforcements. Upon rounding the point, Essex lost her main top-mast to foul weather, forcing her return to the harbour. The British, disregarding the neutrality of the harbour, proceeded with the attack on the crippled ship. For 2½ hours, Essex, armed almost entirely with powerful but short range guns called carronades, resisted the enemy's superior fighting power and longer gun range. A fire erupted twice aboard the Essex, at which point about 50 men abandoned the ship and swam for shore; only half of them landing. Eventually, the hopeless situation forced the frigate to surrender. The Essex suffered 58 killed, 97 wounded, while the British casualties were 5 dead, 10 wounded.

Film adaptation[edit]

The novel provided part of the title and some of the plot-structure for the 2003 Peter Weir film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The fictional USS Norfolk morphed into the fictional American-built French privateer Acheron, and episodes also migrated from other books in the series, including Master and Commander and HMS Surprise. The design and size of the fictional Acheron reflect those of the USS Constitution.

Publication history[edit]

  • Collins (1984)
  • Fontana; Paperback edition (1985)
  • W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint Paperback edition (1992) (ISBN 0393308626)
  • Books on Tape; Audio edition (1993) (ISBN 5555768079)
  • HarperCollins; Paperback edition (1994)
  • W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint Hardcover edition (1994) (ISBN 039303710X)
  • HarperCollins; B-format paperback edition (1997)
  • Thorndike Press; Large-print Hardcover edition (2002) (ISBN 0754017834)
  • Thorndike Press; Large-print Paperback edition (2002) (ISBN 0754091759)
  • HarperCollins; Paperback edition (2003)
  • W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue (movie tie-in) Paperback edition (2003) (ISBN 0393324761)
  • Soundings Ltd; Audio CD Edition (2003) (ISBN 1842832689)
  • Recorded Books, LLC; Unabridged Audio edition narrated by Patrick Tull (ISBN 1402591764)
  • W. W. Norton & Company; e-book edition (2011) (ISBN 9780393063820)


  1. ^ Norman Ingrey. "Diagram of Commodore David Porter's Exploits Against British in 1812-1814". The Vidette-Messenger Centennial Edition 1936. Porter County Indiana GenWeb project of 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2014.