The Thirteen Gun Salute

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The Thirteen Gun Salute
Cover by Geoff Hunt for The Thirteen Gun Salute.
1st edition
Author Patrick O'Brian
Cover artist Geoff Hunt
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 320 (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-393-02974-3, (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-393-30907-X (paperback edition UK)
OCLC 23692637
823/.914 20
LC Class PR6029.B56 T45 1991
Preceded by The Letter of Marque
Followed by The Nutmeg of Consolation

The Thirteen Gun Salute is the thirteenth historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1989. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars. This first edition bears this title, whereas later issues have used The Thirteen-Gun Salute featuring a hyphenated title.

Plot summary[edit]

Immediately following The Letter of Marque, the narrative picks up with Jack Aubrey getting the Surprise underway for a mission to South America. Upon reaching Lisbon, however, Dr Maturin is intercepted by Sir Joseph Blaine and told that he and Aubrey will be required to first go on a mission to the Sultan of Pulo Prabang, a (fictictious) piratical Malay state in the South China Sea. They are to transport Fox, the envoy who will lead the mission to persuade the Sultan to become an English rather than French ally. The French are being openly assisted by the same English traitors - Wray and Ledward - who were responsible for Aubrey's former disgrace. With the Surprise now commanded by Captain Pullings, they return with Blaine to England where Jack Aubrey is reinstated with his former seniority as a Post-Captain in the Royal Navy by Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty. He is also given command of the recently captured French ship Diane for the mission ahead. Fatefully, the Diane is the very ship Jack Aubrey had just captured from the French and which had secured his reinstatement, along with appointment to Parliament as member from Milport. Captain Aubrey's orders to the Diane are mentioned as occurring in the "fifty-third year" of the reign of King George III, thus fixing the year at around 1813 which, due to the mental illness of the king, was the third year of the Regency. A recurring sub-plot is the hostility between the Regent (later George IV) and his brother, the Duke of Clarence (later William IV), a patient and ally of Stephen Maturin. This hostility was, in part, responsible for the delay in re-instating Captain Aubrey to the Navy List and it was appointment to Parliament that tipped the scales.

Stephen's work keeps him undercover as a naturalist as he engages in a political duel for influence at the Sultan's court. Although his activities are to go unknown, they prove to be invaluable in both undermining the French efforts and finally exacting his revenge on his enemies, the French agents, Ledward and Wray. Ledward is caught in bed with Abdul, a boy who is the Sultan's cupbearer and catamite, the Sultan having pederast tendencies, though married and fathering a son by his queen. Abdul is gruesomely executed in a bizarre sanctioned execution via "peppering," in which a bag of pepper is placed over the head. The executioners, often the victim's family, then beat the bag, resulting in inhalation of the pepper and painful asphyxiation. Wray and Ledward are banished from the court for their indiscretions, effectively ending the French mission. Wray tries to change sides in exchange for protection but he and Ledward are later assassinated. Maturin dissects their bodies with a fellow natural philosopher and intelligence agent, the Dutchman van Buren.

After a long drunken feast, at which Fox and his retinue behave grossly, the Diane makes for Batavia and to rendezvous with the Surprise off the False Natunas. Fox behaves with increasing arrogance during the return voyage, the success of the treaty having gone to his head. Jack has words with him, Stephen turns against him for his incivility, and the rest of crew of the Diane loathe him. One night the frigate strikes a hidden reef and her captain and crew are shipwrecked on a desert island. Fox and his colleagues decide to sail for Batavia in Diane's pinnace, but are caught in a typhoon and presumed killed. During the same typhoon, the marooned Diane is destroyed but Aubrey's crew are able to begin to build a fair-sized schooner from what remains of the frigate - her starboard bow and hull.

The title refers to the honour, a thirteen-gun salute, that is due to Fox as an official envoy and representative of the King.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey - captain of the Surprise and appointed captain of HMS Diane.
  • Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer.
  • Sophia Aubrey - Jack's wife
  • Diana Villiers Maturin - Stephen's wife who is now with child.
  • Captain Tom Pullings - a volunteer and First Lieutenant on the Surprise
  • Awkward Davies - able seaman; a brute of a man who is profoundly loyal to Captain Aubrey for having saved him from drowning.
  • Barret Bonden - Jack's coxswain
  • Preserved Killick - Jack's steward cum butler
  • Mr Nathaniel Martin - unbeneficed clergyman; surgeon's mate to Stephen
  • Mr Standish - short-term purser of the Surprise and Martin's friend from Cambridge University
  • Lord Melville - First Lord of the Admiralty
  • Sir Joseph Blaine - Head of Intelligence at the Admiralty
  • Edward Fox - Foreign Office envoy
  • Mr Edwards - Fox's secretary
  • Mr Fielding - Diane's First Lieutenant
  • Mr Elliott - Diane's Second Lieutenant
  • Dick Richardson - Diane's Third Lieutenant (formerly known as Spotted Dick in his youth)
  • Ledward (ex Treasury) and Wray (ex Admiralty)- two English traitors; part of the French delegation
  • Stamford Raffles - Governor of Java
  • Loder - a member of Fox's retinue
  • Johnstone - a Judge and a member of Fox's retinue
  • Welby - Lieutenant of the Marines
  • Hadley - Diane's carpenter
  • Duplessis - the French envoy
  • Dumesnil - Lieutenant of the Cornelie; nephew of Christy-Palliere


  • British
    • Surprise - a private man-of-war or letter of marque
    • HMS Diane (a 32-gun frigate daringly captured by the Surprise in The Letter of Marque and sold into British service)
    • HMS Briseis
    • HMS Nimble - a two-hundred ton cutter
  • French
    • The Cornelie
    • A snow (bearing Robert Gough, a United Irishman and former acquaintance of Stephen's)

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 seventh 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.

Allusions to science and history[edit]

On the voyage to Java, Jack has with him a chart showing Alexander von Humboldt's maximum and minimum sea-temperatures over a vast stretch of ocean. He sets out to carry on Humboldt's programme of measuring temperatures at various depths, salinity, atmospheric pressure etc. - as he says to Stephen, to have 'A chain right round to the Pacific'.

For instruments, he takes on board the Surprise:

Allusions to other literature[edit]

Lois Montbertrand published an article concerning O'Brian's use of A. E. Housman's poem "Bells in the Tower" in this novel.[2] She explains how O'Brian uses the fragment of the poem in the plot, as one character wants to get closer to Stephen Maturin, while Stephen Maturin would rather not.



  1. ^ Patrick O'Brian. The Thirteen-Gun Salute. Norton. p. 417. 
  2. ^ Lois Montbertrand (2005). "Bells in the Tower: Patrick O'Brian's unattributed use of Poem AP IX, in his novel The Thirteen-Gun Salute". Housman Society Journal 2002, Volume Twenty Eight, p. 106. The Gunroom of HMS Surprise. Retrieved 3 July 2014.