Treason's Harbour

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Treason's Harbour
Treason's Harbour cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Patrick O'Brian
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) & 408 pages (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-393-03709-6, (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-393-30863-4 (paperback edition UK)
OCLC 31989694
Preceded by The Ionian Mission
Followed by The Far Side of the World

Treason's Harbour is the ninth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by British author Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1983. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Plot summary[edit]

Jack and Stephen are at Malta waiting on the repair of the much-battered HMS Surprise, Jack's command. Both men befriend a pretty young lieutenant's wife, Mrs Fielding, whose husband is a prisoner-of-war in France. French intelligence agents use Lieutenant Fielding's plight to manipulate Mrs Fielding into spying for them. They eventually compel her to make advances upon Maturin in order to obtain information from him. Jack, who is taking Italian lessons from Mrs Fielding, cannot resist making advances towards her, which she rebuffs directly. However, her Illyrian mastiff, Ponto, becomes publicly affectionate toward Aubrey after Aubrey rescues the dog from a well one evening. This leads to the rumour that Aubrey is sleeping with her. Maturin and Aubrey also meet Andrew Wray again - Second Secretary to the Admiralty, who has been sent to Malta to sort out dockyard corruption. Jack had an unpleasant previous meeting with him at a gambling house in Portsmouth when he indirectly accused Wray of cheating. As Jack formally introduces Captain Pullings to him, Wray tells Pullings he had insisted on Captain Aubrey's recommendation, adding: '... at one time Captain Aubrey seemed to do me an injustice, and by promoting his lieutenant I could, as the sea-phrase goes, the better wipe his eye.'

Maturin suspects the French are active in Malta. His suspicions are confirmed when Mrs Fielding awkwardly tries to seduce him and then reveals her predicament to him when he rebuffs her. To keep her safe and to work intelligence in the other direction Stephen, with her cooperation, makes a pretense of being romantically involved with her while feeding her false information.

Jack and the Surprises are dispatched on a secret mission by the new Commander-in-Chief, the highly competent Admiral Ives, to capture a Turkish galley laden with French silver in the Red Sea. From the Mediterranean, the Surprise's crew has to traverse the Sinai Peninsula and eventually meet the HEI ship Niobe in Suez. Jack takes command of the Niobe and sails her down the Red Sea with a troop of Turkish troops to intercept the galley. They eventually spot the galley and give chase, but Jack notices that the galley is using a drag sail to artificially slow their speed. Upon realizing that he is being tricked, Jack orders his gunner to sink the galley in order to deny the French its silver.

Stephen, who at the beginning of the novel bought a diving bell, is persuaded by moral pressure from the crew and officers to recover the treasure. After he and Mr Martin bring up the first sealed chest, they find it only contains heavy lead bars and a taunting note, Merde a celui qui le lit. They meet a fishing boat and find out that the galley had been rowing up and down the sea for a month, waiting to lure them under the French fortification's cannon. At this point, it is apparent that their mission has been compromised. They return on the Niobe to Suez and offload the bitterly disappointed Turkish troops. They have to retrace their steps across the desert but this time their camels are stolen by Bedouin horsemen and they reach Tina almost dead from thirst. Fortunately, the Dromedaries are there to revive them and they return to Malta.

Here Jack learns from Admiral Ives that the Surprise is to return to England and be scrapped. Stephen, meanwhile, renews his acquaintance with Mrs Fielding and plants some false information for her to give Lesueur. He also thrashes Wray at piquet for high stakes, leaving Wray very indebted. Jack is given a mission with the re-fitted Surprise to take the Adriatic convoy up the Ionian. While there he meets an old friend, Captain Cotton of the Nymphe, who has just rescued an escaped French prisoner-of-war, Lieutenant Charles Fielding. Fielding, having heard the rumour of Jack's liaison with his wife, not only refuses his offer to return him to Malta but also requests a "meeting" (a duel).

On the return journey Captain Dundas, commanding the massive seventy-four gun Edinburgh, tells Jack of a small French privateer that Jack eventually captures. Unfortunately the chase brings the Surprise in late to port behind Babbington's sloop, the Dryad, and the news of Lt. Fielding's escape has already circulated. Stephen overhears a conversation at Mrs Fielding's house between Lesueur and Boulay, placed high up in the Governor's staff, to assassinate her but manages to take her aboard the Surprise. Sir Francis Ives instructs Aubrey to sail for Zambra to forcefully persuade the Dey of Mascara not to molest British ships, accompanied by the Pollux returning Admiral Harte back to England (Zambra and Mascara are a fictitious city and state on the Barbary Coast).

While the Pollux is exiting the Bay of Zambra, a French squadron consisting of a two-decker eighty gun man-of-war and two frigates with French colours fire on her. The old sixty-four gun Pollux eventually blows up but severely damages the French newly built third rate. The two frigates chase the Surprise deep into the bay and nearly cut her off until the heavier frigate runs aground on a reef called The Brothers. Her smaller consort deserts the fight and Jack, on the political advice of Maturin, sets sail for Gibraltar. Realizing that they have been ambushed, Maturin deduces that someone highly placed in the British command betrayed them to the French.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey - Captain of HMS Surprise
  • Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer
  • Sophia Aubrey - Jack's wife
  • Diana Villiers Maturin - Stephen's wife
  • Captain Pullings - promoted to a commander in the Royal Navy
  • Mrs Laura Fielding - a young, pretty Lieutenant's wife, spying for the French
  • Andrew Wray - Second Secretary of the Admiralty
  • Andre Lesueur - a French intelligence agent posing as a wealthy merchant on Malta
  • Giuseppe - Lesueur's assistant
  • Admiral Sir Francis Ives KB - Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet
  • Admiral Harte - Second-in-Command of the Mediterranean Fleet
  • Admiral Hartley - Jack's former Admiral in the West Indies
  • Professor Ebenezer Graham - assigned from his university; an expert on Turkish affairs
  • Lieutenant Charles Fielding - a prisoner-of-war of the French
  • Captain Henry Cotton - once a midshipman with Jack, and youngsters together on the Resolution
  • Mr Hairabedian - a Turkish dragoman
  • Ponto - Mrs Fielding's Illyrian mastiff

Ships in "Treason's Harbour"[edit]

  • British
    • HMS Surprise
    • HMS Worcester (condemned to be a sheer hulk)
    • HMS Dromedary
    • HMS Edinburgh
    • HMS Pollux
    • HMS Nymphe
    • HMS Dryad
    • Store-ship Tortoise
    • HEI sloop Niobe
  • French
    • Mars

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 third 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.

Publication history[edit]


External sources[edit]