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 and the War of 1812.

Returning from the far side of the world, Aubrey meets his unknown son, and proceeds home to England, where he is embroiled in the most difficult challenge of his career, and all on dry land. Maturin is his close and valuable friend at every hard reverse.

Plot summary[edit]

Jack Aubrey and his crew make their way in a much knocked-about Surprise from the small island near the equator in the Pacific Ocean to the West Indies Squadron at Bridgetown with their American prisoners in a recaptured whaler. Aubrey learns that Sally Mputa, was pregnant when they parted over twenty years earlier, when his son, Samuel Panda, appears to meet him and seek his blessing. Samuel is on his way to the Brazils with Catholic missionaries. Aubrey and Maturin like the young man, and Maturin promises to aid him in his wish to become a priest, as his being illegitimate is a barrier to taking orders. After the court martial for the British among the prisoners, Aubrey leaves quickly for home. The voyage home is enlivened by a chase of the privateer Spartan, which slips away in fog to Brest.

Finally ashore in England, Aubrey hears a rumour from a stranger he meets in Dover that peace is coming soon, creating an opportunity to make money in the stock exchange. Mr Palmer claims familiarity with Maturin. Aubrey makes the transactions, and shares the advice with his father, General Aubrey. The General makes large stock transactions and spreads the rumour of peace farther. The stock transactions prove profitable in the short term, until the peace rumour is clearly false, when values fall again. Aubrey does not sell quickly and loses money, though others prosper. Aubrey is arrested for manipulating the market. He is taken to the Marshalsea prison to await trial. General Aubrey flees into obscurity leaving his son to fend for himself.

Maturin finds that Diana, his wife, no longer lives in their house as she went to Sweden with Jagiello, and The Grapes, where he kept rooms for years, has burnt down, not yet rebuilt. Maturin gives Sir Joseph Blaine the brass box full of valuable paper from Danaë; Blaine will watch to see who tries to cash any of it. Maturin learns that his godfather Ramon d'Ullastret has died, and left him sole heir to a great fortune. In the painful absence of his wife, Maturin returns to the use of laudanum.

Maturin and Blaine find an attorney and an investigator to defend Aubrey from these charges in a fast-moving, politically motivated trial held at the London Guildhall. Maturin advertises a large reward (the gambling debts paid back to him by Wray) for word of Mr Palmer. This backfires, as he is found murdered and mutilated, and useless to the defense. Aubrey has confidence in British justice, unfamiliar with this sort of trial. His career is at stake, but he remains calm, even stoic, accepting the help Maturin gives him, and his wife's support. The trial is completed in two days, one day going on without rest for fifteen hours. The judge, Lord Quinborough, and jury convict him. The punishment is a fine of £2,500 and one hour on the pillory. His name is stricken off the Navy List, not by law but by practice, the worst blow. The pillory is delayed a few days, so word spreads to all his mates. The public square is filled solid with seamen, who push away anyone come to throw stones. Instead it is a show of support for a beloved and respected captain.

On the day before the trial begins, the Surprise is up for auction. Maturin, with the aid of Tom Pullings, makes the successful bid. With Blaine's aid, Maturin obtains letters of marque so she can operate as a private man-of-war. Aubrey takes Surprise out immediately. Blaine tells Maturin that there is interest in a mission to Chile, and Maturin is the preferred agent. Maturin receives a message to meet someone who mentions the Blue Peter, the diamond that Diana gave up to gain Maturin's release in France. He again meets M. Duhamel, who returns the diamond as long ago agreed, and supplies Maturin with information on the double agents in London. Duhamel knew the late Palmer only by that alias, and the pair in government is Ledward and Andrew Wray, who also mounted the stock exchange fraud. Maturin is chagrined when he realizes what he did not understand in Malta, dealing with Wray. In return, Duhamel wants to leave Europe for Canada, as he is tired of the war. Maturin arranges for him to sail on HMS Eurydice under Captain Dundas, leaving in a few days. As proof, Maturin watches as Duhamel gives money in exchange for an information packet from Ledward and Wray. Maturin seeks Blaine to share this vital information.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey: Captain of HMS Surprise and now, the letter of marque 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, entomologist and confidant.
  • Sophia Aubrey: Wife of Jack Aubrey and mother of their three children, Charlotte, Fanny and George.
  • Mrs. Williams: Mother of Sophia and her two married sisters.
  • Diana Villiers: Wife of Stephen Maturin, not at home in London when he returns.
  • Gedymin Jagiello: Young handsome Lithuanian cavalry officer. He was prisoner of war with Aubrey and Maturin in Paris (The Surgeon's Mate), and is good friends with them in England. He returned to Sweden, and Diana Villiers is with him.
  • Sir William Pellew: Admiral of the West Indies Squadron.
  • Mr Waters: Surgeon on HMS Irresistible. Maturin operates on him to remove benign tumor, but Waters dies following the surgery, of infection.
  • William Richardson: Flag lieutenant on Irresistible, former midshipman under Aubrey, when he was called Spotted Dick.
  • Samuel Panda: Son of Jack Aubrey and Sally Mputa, from a liaison 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. He is headed to the Brazils with a group of priests. He looks like his father, except with black hair and dark skin.
  • Mr Martin: Royal Navy chaplain, friend of Maturin and natural philosopher, now engaged to marry Polly. He wrote a pamphlet ashore, critical of the Navy.
  • William Mowett: First lieutenant on HMS Surprise.
  • Tom Pullings: Commander needing a ship to captain after bringing the packet Danaë to England. He helps Maturin purchase the Surprise at auction, and keep her safe after the sale.
  • Padeen Colman: Irish-speaking 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: Sailmaker on the Irresistible and brother to Barret, who meets him at the West Indies station.
  • Awkward Davies: Able Seaman on the Surprise, who falls into the sea during the chase of the Spartan, and is once again rescued by Aubrey.
  • Ramon d'Ullastret i Casademon: Wealthy Catalan colonel and Stephen Maturin's godfather, who died while Maturin was at sea. He named Maturin as his sole heir.
  • Sir John Barrow: Second Secretary of the Admiralty, recuperated and returned to his position.
  • Mr Lewis: Functionary in the Admiralty who gains the full force of Maturin's wrath for condescension when Maturin attempts to return the brass box: hears a full flow of words and has his nose pulled.
  • Mr Ellis Palmer: Carriage passenger who gives Aubrey false information about purchasing shares, and is later killed by arrangement of Wray, his confederate. He was also a contact to M. Duhamel. Pseudonym of Paul Ogle.
  • General Aubrey: Father of Jack Aubrey and a Radical MP who speaks up too often and usually to his son's detriment.
  • Edward Ledward: High level double agent in British government, the mentor to Wray. Sometimes known as Smith in intelligence work.
  • Andrew Wray: High level Treasury staff involved in intelligence but a double agent, favoring Napoleon. Part of stock scam. He gambles and loses, so is in debt, a dangerous situation for an agent.
  • Fanny Harte Wray: Wife of Andrew Wray by marriage arranged by her late father, who prefers Babbington. Inherited her father's wealth, which is tied to her and her children, not under the control of her husband.
  • William Babbington: Commander who is Captain of the Tartarus. He wants to marry Fanny Wray. He and ship's crew played cricket against former Surprises at Ashgrove Cottage.
  • Mr Pratt: Private investigator ("thief taker") and former Bow Street Runner who traces Ellis Palmer.
  • Mr Bill Hemmings: Assistant taken on to aid Pratt in the search for Ellis Palmer, now known to be Paul Ogle (sought by his lady friend).
  • Mr Lawrence: Defence lawyer for Aubrey, and a fellow Trinity College man to Maturin.
  • Lord Quinborough: Judge at the trial for those charged with stock exchange fraud; he is also a Cabinet minister.
  • Monsieur Duhamel: Disillusioned French secret agent in London who first aided Maturin and Aubrey to escape France as prisoners of war in The Surgeon's Mate. He is in London, and quite tired of this long war and his role in it.
  • 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
    • William Enderby (recaptured whaler)
  • French
    • Diane
  • American
    • Spartan (a privateer, approximating a frigate in size)

Series chronology[edit]

This novel references actual events with accurate historical detail, like all in this series. In respect to the internal chronology of the series, it is the fifth 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 The Far Side of the World, the tenth novel in this series). The events of The 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 of the stock exchange fraud 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. Lord Cochrane was sentenced to prison, the pillory and fined £1,000. The pillory portion of Cochrane's sentence was rescinded, for fear of a public backlash.

By contrast, in the novel, the pillory sentence is carried out, but there is no prison time, so that Aubrey will be free to be a privateer, captain of a letter of marque, in a mission that government wants Maturin to carry out. The pillory scene is an opportunity for the seamen, including officers, to show their support of Aubrey, protecting him from Wray's never-ending wrath.

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. One of Lord Ellenborough's descendants (not named in the Author's Note) wrote again about the trial, asking Mr Attlay of Lincoln's Inn to address the legal issues. The title or year of the book is not mentioned in the Author's Note, but is the source to which Patrick O'Brian referred for describing "the structure and the curious timetable" of the original trial, for Jack Aubrey's trial in the novel.


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][3]

Publication history[edit]

The paperback reissue by W. W. Norton in the USA in 1992 marked a resurgence in interest in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Starling Lawrence of that publishing house discovered the novels in 1989, and proceeded to reissue all earlier novels, and then publish following novels in the US when HarperCollins published in the UK.


  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. ^ Artemis Webb (18 July 2009). "Crowe considering new Master & Commander movie". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "The Reverse of the Medal". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Reverse of the Medal". Blackstone Audiobooks: Libraries. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Bosman, Julie (20 November 2011). "O'Brian Novels Are Going Digital". New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 

External links[edit]