The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

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The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
Cover by Geoff Hunt for The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey.
First edition cover
Author Patrick O'Brian
Cover artist Geoff Hunt
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Aubrey-Maturin series
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Harper Collins (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)
Pages 144 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-393-06025-X, (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 55801030
823/.914 22
LC Class PR6029.B55 A135 2004
Preceded by Blue at the Mizzen

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey is the unfinished twenty-first historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by English author Patrick O'Brian, first published in its incomplete form in 2004. It appeared in the United States of America under the simple title of 21.

Editor's note and afterword[edit]

The published work appears with an "Editor's Note" by Starling Lawrence and an afterword by Richard Snow, who had written an influential review of the series in the New York Times Book Review many years before.[1] Commentators have credited Snow's review with helping to popularize the series in the United States.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins with Surprise in the Strait of Magellan, caught up in foul weather. Hanson first spots Cape Pilar at the very opening of the Strait, and soon Surprise moors and conducts some trade with the inhospitable locals for meat and vegetables. Having re-provisioned, she and Ringle sail northwards in fine weather until they enter the River Plate and moor close to the island functioning as the main administrative centre. A quarantine officer comes aboard, a Dr Quental, and gives the frigate a clean bill of health.

Wantage informs Maturin of a rumpus in the town: a fight between Protestant mariners from a Boston barque clash with the Catholic locals over the right of polygamy. Further signs of local resentment emerge when a large scow dumps the town's filth next to the frigate and the Portuguese sailors shout abuse at the Surprises. Aubrey spots a black Legate and recognises him as his own natural son, Sam. The Most Reverend Doctor Samuel Mputa, the Papal Nuncio to the Republic of Argentina, has recently saved the government from an open rebellion.

The South African squadron, under its Commander-in-Chief Admiral Lord Leyton, finally makes its appearance and the crew of Surprise bring their ship up to a high state of perfection. Jack makes his appearance on board HMS Suffolk and sees his rear-admiral's blue flag hoisted on the flagship. He then has an interview with the somewhat cantankerous Admiral, who instructs him to ask Stephen if two of his officers can sail on Surprise (now a private vessel once more) back to England. While the fleet re-provisions, Ringle sails off under the steady and capable Lieutenant Harding, and later returns with Sophie Aubrey, Christine Wood, her brother Edward and the three children (Brigid Maturin and Fanny and Charlotte Aubrey) who will sail on with Jack and Stephen to South Africa. The final chapters end with an Admiral's dinner before which Stephen and Jack meet Captain Miller, Leyton's nephew and Jack's neighbour at Caxley. Miller, who has a reputation as a ladies' man and as an excellent shot — nicknamed Hair-Trigger Miller — has been paying court to Christine Wood. The Admiral asks Aubrey if he can take Miller on board with him to take up a new position in Cape Town.

In the last few handwritten pages that follow the end of the typescript, as the South Africa squadron makes its way to St Helena, Mrs Wood asks Stephen to prevent Randolph Miller's unwanted attentions. In doing so, Stephen also calls Miller out for naming him a liar. Miller insists on pistols but Maturin insists on his right, as the aggrieved party, to name the weapons; thus they fight with swords, which puts Miller at a disadvantage. The duel takes place: after three or four thrusts Stephen disarms Miller and demands an apology, which Miller gives him.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey - Rear-Admiral of the Blue Squadron, aboard HMS Suffolk.
  • Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer.
  • The Most Reverend Doctor Samuel Mputa - Papal Nuncio to the Republic of Argentina, and Jack's natural son
  • Sophia Aubrey - Jack's wife
  • Brigid Maturin - Stephen's daughter by his dead wife, Diana
  • Christine Wood - a widow, Stephen's love-interest, and an expert naturalist and anatomist.
  • Captain Randoph Miller - an Army officer who courts Christine Wood.
  • Admiral Lord Leyton - Commander-in-Chief South African squadron; Captain Miller's uncle.
  • Lieutenant Harding - First Lieutenant on the Surprise.
  • Horatio Hanson - acting master on the Surprise and natural son of the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV.
  • Dr Amos Jacob - assistant-surgeon and intelligence agent
  • Dr Quental - quarantine doctor
  • Awkward Davies
  • Preserved Killick, Jack's steward
  • Padeen Colman, Stephen Maturin's servant
  • Mr Wells - midshipman on the Surprise.
  • Captain Simmons - Captain of HMS Suffolk
  • Edward Heatherleigh - Christine Wood's brother and a renowned naturalist


  • HMS Suffolk - seventy-four gun man-of-war
  • Surprise - twenty-eight gun privately owned frigate
  • Ringle - a schooner, privately owned by Jack and used as his tender.

Unfinished manuscript[edit]

The book is the posthumous publication of an uncompleted typescript, published as a result of Patrick O'Brian's position as an accomplished author of historical sea-fiction. It comprises the partially corrected typescript of the approximately three chapters completed by O'Brian before his death in January, 2000, as well as a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript which continues beyond the end of the typescript.

One critic has described it as:

... a preparatory exercise, a kind of setting-out; the literary equivalent of the twinkle in the eye. One wonders what a stylist as accomplished as the late Mr O'Brian would have made of the decision to publish such an unready fragment, but reading it sometimes feels like an act of intrusion. You can't help but sense that he might have regarded its appearance as tantamount to arriving at the captain's table clad only in knickers.[3]

The facsimile of O'Brian's handwritten script includes his doodling of placements for a fictitious on-board dinner party.

Publication history[edit]


  1. ^ Snow, Richard (1991-01-06). "An Author I'd Walk the Plank For". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  2. ^ King, Dean (2001). Patrick O'Brian: A Life. United States: Henry Holt and Co. pp. 308–9. ISBN 0-8050-5977-6. 
  3. ^ The Guardian, "Knickers ahoy", 4 December 2004