The Mauritius Command

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The Mauritius Command
MauritiusCommand.jpg
First edition
Author Patrick O'Brian
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Aubrey-Maturin series
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Collins (UK)
Publication date
1977
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)
Pages 294 pages (Hardback edition) & 268 pages (Paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-00-222383-X (Hardback edition) & ISBN 0-00-615348-8 (Paperback edition UK)
OCLC 3426756
823/.9/14
LC Class PR6029.B55 M38 1977
Preceded by HMS Surprise
Followed by Desolation Island

The Mauritius Command is the fourth naval historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1977.

Aubrey is married and the father of twin girls, owner of a cottage with a fine observatory he built. He is more than ready to be back at sea. He and Stephen Maturin join a convoy charged with taking two well-located islands in the Indian Ocean from the French.

Plot summary[edit]

Jack Aubrey and Sophia Williams are married and the parents of twin girls. They live at Ashgrove Cottage on his half-pay, not enough to support fellow navy men in the household. Sophia's mother lost her money, including Sophia's portion, and now lives with them. They have Cecelia, Sophia's young niece in their household as well. As much as he loves Sophia, Aubrey is ready to go to sea again. Stephen Maturin comes to call, and soon after Aubrey's orders are delivered from the port Admiral. He is given command of the 38-gun frigate HMS Boadicea. At Plymouth he picks up orders and Mr R T Farquhar, a political gentleman. He is to sail to the station at Cape Town where the ships of a convoy will meet. Not long away from home, they meet with the French ship Hébé which is escorting a captured merchant ship. The Boadicea captures both ships. He sends the prizes to Gibraltar. The timely capture allows the ship to send letters home, gain a French cook and the Hébé's English prisoners, able seamen. The long journey in the Atlantic gives Aubrey time to bring the crew of the Boadicea up to his standards of efficiency in gunnery, and gives Maturin and Farquhar time to develop strategies.

On arrival, Aubrey meets Admiral Bertie who confirms Aubrey's position as Commodore and his broad pendant is flown. He receives formal instructions to disrupt French interests in the region, and ultimately to take the islands of Mauritius and La Réunion. The convoy includes Lord Clonfert of the Otter, an Englishman with an Irish title; Captain Corbett of the Néréide; and Captain Pym has the Sirius. Corbett sailed from the West Indies station with some of Aubrey's followers aboard. Bonden, Killick and others join, after Aubrey trades men into Corbett's ship. Corbett is capable but a flogging captain. Bertie advises Aubrey that Clonfert and Corbett are not on good terms with each other.

For the first 2,000 mi voyage to the islands, Aubrey switches his pendant to the elderly 64-gun ship of the line HMS Raisonnable. The Caroline is taken; Corbett sails her, christened the HMS Bourbonnaise, with dispatches to Cape Town and England. The rest of the convoy returns to Cape Town. Aubrey shifts back to the HMS Boadicea and sails upon news of more merchant ships taken by the French. The convoy is caught in a major hurricane, whence it sails back to Cape Town for repairs, receiving the first mail in many months. Sophia's letters are water-damaged, so Aubrey does not understand her full message.

La Réunion capitulates almost without loss after a landing by Army troops joined by sepoys under the British East India Company, all under the active and decisive Lieutenant Colonel Harry Keating, with ships of the convoy on both sides of the island. Their path is eased by Maturin's propaganda and political meetings to explain why the locals should be happy to accept the British, with Farquhar as interim Governor. Mauritius proves more challenging. Maturin has an accident boarding the HMS Néréide, which is part of the force sent to Île de la Passe. He is seriously injured, so misses some of the action in his recuperation aboard. The action was successful. Maturin is put down on Mauritius to continue his work. A small group of ships, under the command of Captain Pym, puts soldiers on Mauritius to staff the fort. The French appear with three ships Bellone, Minerve, Victor and two Indiamen Ceylon and Windham. They boldly attack the fort and then sail into the port; the British are caught unprepared but decide to attack. The struggle goes on for days with heavy casualties and in the end two British ships run aground. Sirius and Magicienne are burnt to prevent their capture, and Iphigenia and the fort at Île de la Passe are abandoned to be retaken by the French. The Néréide is taken and Clonfert is severely wounded in the neck and head by a splinter. A messenger vessel, with Maturin aboard, reaches La Réunion to inform Aubrey of the losses and the failed attack on Port Southeast.

Boadicea sails the night to check Île de la Passe, to see it under French control; then Boadicea chases the Manche and the Vénus, in a vain attempt to separate them. After making contact with Pullings, who has the guns of Windham aboard the Emma, Aubrey believes his fortunes have changed. Then Captain Corbett re-joins at St Denis, with the HMS Africaine. Chasing the French during the night, Africaine clashes with the Astrée and the French Iphigenie. The encounter goes badly and Corbett is killed during the fight after being wounded, possibly by his own oppressed men. The French capture the Africaine, but leave it dismasted when the Boadicea bears down on them; the Astrée refuses an engagement. Joined by the Otter and Staunch, the flotilla reaches La Réunion where refit of the Africaine is the Commodore's top priority.

Maturin and Bonden return from Mauritius with news that HMS Bombay is nearby, in a running fight with both the French Vénus and Victor. The Boadicea engages the French ships. He makes use of volunteer crew from the refitting HMS Africaine to board and capture Bombay and the Vénus. During the encounter the French Commodore, Hamelin, is killed. Aubrey plans how to finish the battle, once the remaining French ships will be ready to sail, and his ships are ready to fight again, when they reach Mauritius. Keating is equally ready. The Emma nears the Boadicea, with many other British sails in view. Tom Pullings comes aboard with the Gazette announcing the birth of a son to Sophia. Aubrey is ecstatic at the news. Then he opens Admiral Bertie's letter ordering him to join the fleet at Rodriguez, where he will be on the Illustrious, and the Army led by General Abercrombie. The final invasion, based on Aubrey and Keating's original plan, is almost without bloodshed. The French capitulate after being given honourable terms.

Maturin finds that Clonfert, at the military hospital in Port Louis, has committed suicide, unable to face Jack Aubrey, who he considers as a rival. A ceremonial dinner is given at Government House. Maturin has spread some rumours about Aubrey's father soon to have power in London, which rumours are believed by Bertie. The Admiral gives Aubrey the honour of taking the dispatches of this success aboard the Boadicea to England.

Characters[edit]

See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey - Captain in the Royal Navy and appointed Commodore during this story. Also captain of HMS Boadicea.
  • Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack, natural philosopher and intelligence officer.
  • Sophia Aubrey - Jack's wife, his true love and mother of his children; a beautiful and strong woman.
  • Charlotte and Fanny - Jack and Sophie's twin, infant daughters.
  • Cecilia - Young daughter of Mrs. William's middle daughter. Niece of Sophie and Jack, living with them at Ashgrove Cottage.
  • Mrs. Williams - Jack Aubrey's mother in law, now bankrupt.
  • Bessie - cook at Ashgrove Cottage.
  • Lady Clonfert - wife of Captain Lord Conflert, seeking passage to join him at the Cape
  • Robert Townsend Farquhar, Esquire - temporary governor of La Réunion, trained in the law, skilled in politics, no ear for music, good chess player. He is R T Farquhar when picked up at Plymouth, but oddly William Farquhar, Governor-designate in Adm. Bertie's orders to Aubrey.
  • Lt. Lemuel Akers - 1st in HMS Boadicea detached to sail HMS Hyaena to Gibraltar.
  • Lt. Seymour - 2nd in HMS Boadicea (acting 1st)
  • Lt. Trollope- 3rd in HMS Boadicea (acting 2nd)
  • Mr Buchan - Master in HMS Boadicea
  • Mr Richardson - Midshipman in Boadicea, nicknamed Spotted Dick, skilled in mathematics, partner to Aubrey in navigation. Later he takes the Pearl aviso to Rodriguez island.
  • Johnson - master's mate in HMS Boadicea, Acting Lieutenant, appointment confirmed at Cape Town
  • Mr. John Fellowes - Bosun of the Boadicea
  • Admiral Bertie - Admiral in Simon's Town, for Cape Town station of the Royal Navy, with an eye to financial gain and baronetcy
  • Captain Pym - captain of HMS Sirius
  • Lord Clonfert - commander of HMS Otter and then post captain in HMS Néréide
  • Captain Corbett - captain of HMS Néréide and then HMS Africaine
  • Captain Eliot - captain in HMS Boadicea while Aubrey sailed in HMS Raisonable
  • William McAdam - Surgeon in HMS Néréide, specialist in diseases of the mind, knows Clonfert and knew his father as well
  • Golovnin - Russian fleet lieutenant, captain of sloop Diana caught at Cape Town when Russia joined with France for a while, slipped away without harm.
  • Barret Bonden - Jack Aubrey's Coxswain, who joined him at Cape Town
  • Preserved Killick - Jack Aubrey's steward who joined him at Cape Town
  • Mr. Fortescue - captain of the schooner Wasp, and a man fond of birds, spent a long time with the albatross, shared specimens with Maturin after carrying him ashore on La Réunion
  • Lt. Colonel Harry Keating - British army commander of the 56th Regiment of Foot, leader of all army and sepoy units.
  • Colonel Fraser - British army officer leading a brigade in the attack on La Réunion, arrived on the Sirius.
  • Colonel McLeod - British army officer leading a brigade in the attack on La Réunion, arrived on the Boadicea.
  • Captain Lucius Curtis - captain of HMS Magicienne who joined convoy after chasing Vénus, which took more merchant ships
  • Captain Lambert - captain of HMS Iphigenia
  • Tom Pullings - Lieutenant under Aubrey earlier, enters the action as Captain of troop ship Groper, then of Emma.
  • Colonel Saint-Susanne - French army commander on La Réunion, surrendered the island on terms.
  • Lord Narborough (Garron) - captain of HMS Staunch, arrives during La Reunion action, was third in the Surprise
  • Mr. Satterly - Master in HMS Néréide
  • Lt. Webber - 2nd in HMS Néréide
  • Hamelin - French commodore, based in the Vénus
  • Duvallier - French commander in Port South East
  • General Abercrombie - commander of the invasion army, takes command over Keating

Ships[edit]

The Squadron[edit]

The French[edit]

  • Hébé is the former HMS Hyaena (taken in the Atlantic)
* N.B. were real ships during the period depicted.

Major themes[edit]

The novel gives further scope to Maturin's role as both a secret agent (in which he uses propaganda effectively to support the campaign) and as a naturalist (in which he is seen collecting relics of the extinct birds the Dodo and the Solitaire), while Aubrey experiences naval battles as the "looker-on" while others are directly in the fight. Aubrey makes the strategic decisions and knows the timing of when to act, but must learn how to manage other captains, not only the crew directly reporting to him. One theme is the contrast between Aubrey's development in his career and acceptance of what comes, to the insecurity of Clonfert, also a skilled seaman, who had been with him in the West Indies when neither had been "given his step" to commander or captain.

Walton comments that "The most interesting thing about this volume is Lord Clonfert, an Irish peer who feels the need to outdo everyone—his surgeon says at one point that if Jack is the dashing frigate captain, Clonfert has to be the dashing frigate captain to the power of ten. He’s ridiculous, he lies, but he is brave and does know the waters. And for once we hear Stephen and Jack discuss him, because he’s not a shipmate so Stephen doesn’t feel like an informer talking about him. He’s a psychological curiosity without any doubt, and O’Brian does him very well. There’s also the flogging Captain Corbett—so among his little fleet there’s one dandy and one tartar, and Jack has to try to manage them diplomatically."[1]

Allusions to history and real persons[edit]

The military actions of the novel are very closely based upon the Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811 carried out by the Royal Navy in 1810 under Commodore Josias Rowley. O'Brian notes this in the preface. The island was formally captured on 3 December 1810. Many of the names of people involved in that action are given to characters in the novel.

O'Brian used literary license in making Aubrey a Commodore while still a relatively junior captain. Commodore is a temporary title for him, not a permanent rank like Captain or Admiral. At that time, a Commodore's appointment was a considerable plum, and only very senior captains received them.[citation needed] On a remote station, when an admiral would have to draw on the smaller number of captains, it would be a different matter. Aubrey was appointed directly by the Admiralty with the help of Maturin's persuasion, as Maturin had been at work on the intelligence side of the project. There are other differences from the historical event, one being that the French captain of the Vénus Hamelin survived the encounter, surrendering to the British, going on to honor in France. In contrast, Captain Corbett's reputation and death aboard ship match that of Robert Corbet, who was captain of Nereide and then given the Africaine when he brought the captured Caroline in to England. Lord Clonfert is fictional, in place of Nesbit Willoughby, who was captain of HMS Nereide; though Willoughby had a spotty career and took many wounds, he survived the battle and lived unmarried.

Aubrey made the acquaintance at the Royal Society of Miss Caroline Herschel, famed astronomer and sister to William Herschel, and she aided him in the technique of polishing the lens for his telescope. She was in her sixties at the time period of the novel. In his development as a scientific sailor, Aubrey had presented a paper on his method for improving navigation by tracking the planets.

The island now called Réunion (French La Réunion) had several names in this era, including Île Bourbon and Île Bonaparte, reflecting the opposing sides in France. Bourbon was the name of the royal family deposed by the French Revolution and a way to refer to the royalists among the French; Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of the expanding French empire. The French ship Caroline was rechristened as HMS Bourbonnaise, both because there was already a ship named Caroline in the Royal Navy, and the island where she was taken had that as one of its names.

Allusions to literature[edit]

The story contains numerous allusions to the ideas and thinking of others. At one point Aubrey is recorded "adding, not without pride, Ex Africa surgit semper aliquid novo, – novi, eh?" ("Always something new coming out of Africa".) This is the popular version of a quotation from Pliny the Elder, "unde etiam vulgare Graeciae dictum semper aliquid novi Africam adferre" [2] Later Maturin quotes the Earl of Rochester, "Every man would be a coward if he durst" (which he would have seen in Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets.)[2] Throughout the novel there are allusions and quotes. including Alexander Pope, Pliny the Elder, Samuel Johsnon, Horace, Lewis Carroll and from King Lear by Shakespeare.[2]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

"Jack's assignment: to capture the Indian Ocean islands of Réunion and Mauritius from the French. That campaign forms the narrative thread of this rollicking sea saga. But its substance is more beguiling still..." —Elizabeth Peer, Newsweek [3][4]

Kirkus Reviews found the language of the novel to have the "poetry of fact":

... It's that kind of book, shot through with unobtrusive culture and period texture that flows like a serenade: even the nautical detail--telescopes and stores, regs and discipline--have a lived-in fray of poetic experience and warm handiness. Jack's job is to round the Cape of Good Hope and take the islands of La Reunion and Mauritius from the French. His biggest headache comes after being made temporary commodore and being given his first command of a whole squadron of ships: the captains under him are a nervewracking, neurotic and brutal lot, and all are vividly drawn with every crotchet intact and rolling eyeball secure. They have real nerve to them, a crazy inner skip to their hearts, and O'Brian captures it all in language deep with detail and the poetry of fact on blue-water currents under the trades.[5]

Publishers Weekly found O'Brian to be a graceful writer, but there are problems in the novel's structure:

This initiates the reissue (see H.M.S. Surprise above) of O'Brian's long-out-of-print novels, set in Napoleonic-era England, about the unlikely pair, Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. ... O'Brian is a graceful writer, and the book is full of wonderful period details, such as the use of a sail to create a wading pool for non-swimmers in Aubrey's crew. Unfortunately, with Aubrey as commodore, too much of the action is seen from afar, as when batteries are taken on one of the islands. The book's peculiar narrative structure builds repeatedly towards anticipated climaxes that never happen. However, aficionados of C. S. Forester and Alexander Kent will delight in the almost excessive period nautical jargon.[6]

"Taken together, the novels are a brilliant achievement. They display staggering erudition on almost all aspects of early nineteenth century life, with impeccable period detail....[Compared to Forester's characters] Aubrey and Maturin are subtler, richer items; in addition Patrick O'Brian has a gift for the comic which Forester lacks.[7]

"O'Brian's sheer brilliance as a writer constantly dazzles, and his power over the reader is unique. No writer alive can move one as O'Brian can; no one can make you laugh so loud with hilarity, whiten your knuckles with unbearable tension or choke with emotion. He is the master." — Kevin Myers, Irish Times [8]

Adaptations[edit]

From 3 April 2011 the BBC broadcast Roger Danes' dramatization of the book, in three one-hour parts, in the Classic Serial strand on BBC Radio 4.[9] Produced and directed by Bruce Young, its cast was:

Publication history[edit]

References[edit]

  • Richard O'Neill (2003). Patrick O'Brian's Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey's World. Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-1540-1. 
  • Dean King (2001). A Sea of Words: Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O'Brian's Seafaring Tales. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6615-2. 
  • Dean King (2001). Harbors and High Seas: Map Book and Geographical Guide to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6614-4. 
  • Brian Lavery (2003). Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O'Brian. Conway Maritime. ISBN 0-85177-946-8. 
  • Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas (2000). Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which Is a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. W W Norton & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-393-32094-4. 
  • David Miller (2003). The World of Jack Aubrey: Twelve-Pounders, Frigates, Cutlasses, and Insignia of His Majesty's Royal Navy. Running Press Book Publishers. ISBN 0-7624-1652-1. 
  • A.E. Cunningham (Editor) (1994). Patrick O'Brian: A Bibliography and Critical Appreciation. British Library Publishing Division. ISBN 0-7123-1071-1. 
  • "maps for HMS Boadicea". The Patrick O'Brian Mapping Project. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  • "maps for HMS Raisonable". The Patrick O'Brian Mapping Project. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  • "maps for Dr. Maturin". The Patrick O'Brian Mapping Project. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Jo Walton (October 25, 2010). "Showing away: Patrick O’Brian’s The Mauritius Command". Re-reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Six quotes in The Mauritius Command". P'O'B's Quotations. The Gunroom of the HMS Surprise. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  3. ^ Elizabeth Peer. "The Mauritius Commant". quoted on WW Norton site. Newsweek. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Elizabeth Peer. "The Mauritius Command". Newsweek. 31 July 1978. 
  5. ^ "The Mauritius Command" (July 1, 1978 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. April 4, 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Mauritius Command". Fiction Book Review. Publishers Weekly. May 20, 1991. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  7. ^ T. J. Binyon (1977). "The Mauritius Command". quoted on W W Norton site. 24 June. London: Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  8. ^ Kevin Myers. "More Praise for O'Brian and his Work". quoted on WW Norton site. Irish Times. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Mauritius Command". BBC. Retrieved April 4, 2011. 

External links[edit]