The Reverse of the Medal

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The Reverse of the Medal
The Reverse of the Medal 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 256 p
ISBN 0-00-222733-9
OCLC 31728307
Preceded by The Far Side of the World
Followed by The Letter of Marque

The Reverse of the Medal is the eleventh historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1986. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Plot summary[edit]

Jack Aubrey and his crew have made their way in a much knocked-about Surprise from the South Seas to the West Indies Squadron lying off Bridgetown. Here Jack meets his bastard black son, Samuel Panda, a student Catholic priest. His mother was Sally Mputa for whom Jack, as a youngster on HMS Resolution, was turned before the mast by his Captain for having stored her secretly in the cable-tiers.

Whilst returning to England, the Surprise gives chase to the Spartan, an American privateer, which manages to escape in a squall for Brest. Aubrey — whose financial circumstances remain unsatisfactorily complicated — hears a rumour from a stranger he meets in the "Ship Inn" that Britain will soon sign a peace with France. The stranger, ostensibly a diplomatic agent named Palmer, indicates to Aubrey how he can make money on the stock exchange by buying stocks sure to go up as soon as the news becomes public. Aubrey makes the transactions as advised, and also gives the advice to his father, the widely disliked Radical MP General Aubrey, who makes much larger stock transactions based on this information and spreads the rumour much farther. The rumour of a peace-treaty gets out, and the stock transactions prove highly profitable — more so to the General and his stock-jobbing friends than to Aubrey. But the peace-rumour proves false, Palmer had no government links (it later emerges that two highly placed English agents in the service of the French controlled him). The authorities arrest Aubrey, imprison him in the Marshalsea, and subject him to a Guildhall trial for fraud. General Aubrey flees into obscurity leaving his son to fend for himself.

Maturin receives two pieces of unwelcome news on his return. A political coup has sidelined his chief of intelligence, Sir Joseph Blaine, thus leaving Maturin in an exposed and dangerous position; he also becomes certain that his and Blaine's suspicions about treachery in high places have concrete substance. He also discovers that his wife, Diana, has left him because of rumours of brazen infidelity with a red-head in the Mediterranean: rumours that Stephen started, and indeed encouraged, as a means of uncovering the intelligence network in Malta. The rumours are entirely unfounded as Stephen was unwilling to take advantage of the redhead, who was being cruelly used by French intelligence agents. Diana has removed to Sweden under the protection of Jagiello, a mutual friend (introduced in The Surgeon's Mate), and with all the appearance of carrying on an affair with him. Stephen realizes how deeply he has offended her, resigns himself to her loss and returns to the use of the alcoholic tincture of laudanum. On the positive side, Stephen has inherited a vast sum from his Spanish godfather and become a very wealthy man.

Maturin tries everything he can to help Aubrey, using his colleagues in the government and hiring an investigator, but cannot secure enough proof to win an acquittal. Palmer, the key figure, has been found murdered and mutilated, and it is supposed largely due to the excessive bounty Maturin had placed on his capture. Despite Aubrey's touching and naive belief in British justice, his is a political trial given that the Government want to attack and totally discredit the now missing General Aubrey and his Radical friends. The court - headed by a Judge and Cabinet Minister, Lord Quinborough, convicts him after a two-day trial, fining him £2,500 and sentencing him to one hour on the pillory. However, protecting him from the London crowds wishing to lampoon him, hordes of Royal Navy seaman, including the physically imposing Barrett Bonden and the even more brutal Awkward Davis, arrive to surround Aubrey and keep the jeering crowds at bay. The authorities also strike Aubrey's name off the Navy List, something he regards as a far more devastating punishment.

Maturin utilises a small part of his new-found wealth to buy the old HMS Surprise at auction, and obtains letters of marque and reprisal so she can operate as a private man-of-war as well as hoping to someday use the ship as a private vessel for exploring natural history. In part he does this because he remains deeply implicated in the intelligence game and would not sail with anyone other than Jack; he also understands that Aubrey's dismissal from the Navy has wounded his friend dreadfully, and that life ashore as a disgraced officer would probably destroy him. A disgruntled French agent, Duhamel, also makes contact once again with Maturin in London and asks him for assistance in escaping to Quebec. In return, he gives Stephen details of the plot against Aubrey and exposes the British traitors - Wray and Ledward - motivated by profit and by spite against Aubrey.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey: Captain of HMS Surprise.
  • Stephen Maturin: Ship's surgeon, physician, natural philosopher, intelligence officer and good friend to Aubrey.
  • Sir Joseph Blaine: Maturin's associate in the intelligence service, and confidant.
  • Sophia Aubrey: Wife of Jack Aubrey and mother of their three children, Charlotte, Fanny and George.
  • Mrs. Williams: Sophia's mother.
  • Sir William Pellow: Admiral of the West Indies Squadron.
  • Samuel Panda: Son of Jack Aubrey and Sally Mputa, from a liason in their youth. He is black and educated, a Roman Catholic raised by Irish missionaries in Lourenço Marques, who is now in minor orders, wants to be a priest and is headed to the Brazils with a group of priests.
  • Mr Martin: Royal Navy chaplain, friend of Maturin and natural philosopher.
  • William Mowett: First lieutenant on HMS Surprise.
  • Padeen Colman: Servant to Stephen Maturin.
  • Joe Plaice: Elderly able seaman on the Surprise and cousin to Barret Bonden.
  • Barret Bonden: Coxswain to Jack Aubrey since his first command.
  • Bob Bonden: Brother to Barret, who meets him at the West Indies station.
  • Mr Palmer: gives Aubrey false information about purchasing shares.
  • General Aubrey: Father of Jack Aubrey and a Radical MP.
  • Andrew Wray: Acting second secretary of the Royal Navy, involved in intelligence but a double agent, favoring Napoleon.
  • Fanny Harte Wray: Wife of Andrew Wray by marriage arranged by her late father, who prefers Babbington.
  • William Babbington: Captain of the Tartarus.
  • Mr Pratt: Private investigator and former Bow Street Runner.
  • Mr Lawrence: Defence lawyer for Aubrey, and a fellow Trinity College man to Maturin.
  • Parker: a Bow Street Runner hired by Blaine and Maturin to investigate Aubrey's case and find Palmer.
  • Davies: Able Seaman on the Surprise.
  • Duhamel: Disillusioned French secret agent.
  • Heneage Dundas: Captain of the Eurydice and a close friend of Aubrey; also younger brother of Lord Melville, Head of the Admiralty.


  • British
    • HMS Surprise (a frigate)
    • HMS Irresistible (Admiral's Flag; possibly the third rate ship of the line of 74 guns, launched in 1782 and broken up in 1806)
    • HMS Eurydice
  • French
    • Diane
  • American
    • Spartan (a privateer, approximating a frigate in size)

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 fifth 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.

Allusion to real events and persons[edit]

O'Brian bases the story and many of the details of Captain Aubrey's trial on the experiences of Thomas Cochrane, Lord Cochrane.[1] In the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814, Lord Cochrane was tried before Lord Ellenborough at the Guildhall and similarly convicted and sentenced to the pillory and fined £1,000.

According to O'Brian's Author's Note, Lord Cochrane and his defendants always passionately maintained that he was not guilty and that Lord Ellenborough's conduct of the trial was grossly unfair. Lord Ellenborough and his descendants, however, took the opposite view. The whole affair was described in a long, fully documented and closely reasoned book written by Mr Attlay of Lincoln's Inn, and which Patrick O'Brian referred to for documenting the proceedings of Jack Aubrey's trial.

The public reaction to Aubrey's conviction and sentencing in the book is quite similar to those recorded in history.[citation needed]


In July 2009, Russell Crowe told the Associated Press that this book would make up the bulk of a second Master and Commander film. As of July 2014, no second film has been produced. At the time of Crowe's comment, there was no word on a director or cast.[2]

Publication history[edit]


  1. ^ David Cordingly (2007). Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-58234-534-5. 
  2. ^ Simon Haydon (17 July 2009). "Crowe considering new 'Master & Commander' movie". USA Today. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  3. ^

External links[edit]