Jack Aubrey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John "Jack" Aubrey
First appearanceMaster and Commander
Last appearance21 or The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
Created byPatrick O'Brian
Portrayed byRussell Crowe (film)
David Robb (BBC Radio)
In-universe information
NicknameLucky Jack, Goldilocks
TitleRear Admiral
OccupationNaval Officer
FamilyGeneral Aubrey (father)
Philip Aubrey (half-brother)
SpouseSophia "Sophie" Williams
Sam Panda

John "Jack" Aubrey, CB MP JP FRS,[1][2] is a fictional character in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. The series portrays his rise from lieutenant to rear admiral in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The twenty (and one incomplete draft)-book series encompasses Aubrey's adventures and various commands along his course to flying a rear admiral's flag.

Some of his naval battles and adventures are drawn from Royal Navy history.[3] Several of his exploits and reverses, most importantly those in the plots of Master and Commander, The Reverse of the Medal and Blue at the Mizzen,[3] are directly based on the chequered career of Thomas Cochrane. Often in the other 17 novels in the series, Aubrey may witness an action or hear of one that is drawn from history, while the battles or other encounters with ships he captains are fictional.

Besides reaching the peak of naval skills and authority, Aubrey is presented as being interested in mathematics and astronomy, a great lover of music and player of the violin, a hearty singer and is generally accompanied by his friend and shipmate Stephen Maturin on the cello. He is noted for his mangling and mis-splicing of proverbs, sometimes with Maturin's involvement, such as “Never count the bear’s skin before it is hatched” and “There’s a good deal to be said for making hay while the iron is hot.” [4]

Aubrey is played by Russell Crowe in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and by David Robb in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the novels.

Education and early life[edit]

Aubrey's mother died when he was a boy; he is an only child. His father General Aubrey lives a longer life, and is a character in some of the novels, often working against the career interest of his son with clumsy politics. In Master and Commander, Aubrey describes the efforts of his slightly older neighbor "Queeney" to teach him some Latin and the mathematics associated with a sailing ship and its navigation so that he could pass his examination for lieutenant, an event that happened before the first novel. Queeney's family had occupied Damplow when Aubrey was a boy, a house adjoining General Aubrey's estate ("they were almost in our park").[5]

Queeney appears in Aubrey's life when she marries Lord Keith, who heads up the Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy. In the first novel, Lord Keith gave him his promotion to master and commander and his first command, and Lord Keith is married to Queeney at that time. Queeney is the historic Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith, and in Queeney's mother the reader will recognize the historic Hester Thrale.[5]

Early career[edit]

This section covers the career of Aubrey before the Aubrey-Maturin series, for more information on that period, see the individual books.

Like many officers in the British fleet, Aubrey spent much of his life raised on the sea, joining the navy very early: he was on the books at the age of nine and at sea when he was twelve. While a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution commanded by a friend of General Aubrey's, Captain Douglas, Jack was turned before the mast for hiding a girl aboard the ship.[6] He spent six months as a common seaman before being re-rated as a midshipman.[6] This was when Lord Keith was still Captain Elphinstone,[6] therefore pre-1797.

Aubrey also spent some time as fifth lieutenant aboard HMS Hannibal (in service 1786–1801), under Captain John Newman.[6] There, after insulting the first lieutenant, he was put in front of a board, with Lord Keith upon it, which reprimanded him for his "petulance," which led to Aubrey spending eight months ashore with half pay.[6]

While second lieutenant aboard HMS Foudroyant (1798), Aubrey was the leader of the prize crew for the Généreux after it was captured by Nelson's fleet in 1800.[7] He earned a silver Nile medal, having served as a lieutenant aboard HMS Leander during the battle of the Nile in 1798, mentioned in Master and Commander. The Nile Medal is mentioned whenever Aubrey wears his dress uniform. The Battle of the Nile was a major turning point in the long wars between the United Kingdom and Napoleon's France, when dominance on the sea went to the United Kingdom. Horatio Nelson became a hero for his role in that 1798 battle.

Career and characteristics depicted in the novels[edit]

Aubrey is between twenty and thirty years old when the first story opens, a lieutenant passing time on the island of Minorca, at a musical performance. When he returns to his inn, his letter of promotion to master and commander awaits him. He is given his first command: a fourteen-gun brig-rigged sloop, HMS Sophie. He rises to the rank of post captain, though he is once struck off the Navy List, reinstated, then suspends himself in 1814 as peace comes in spring. As was the practice in the Royal Navy, once on the list of post captains, he moved up the list for promotion to admiral by the end of the series of novels, set during the Napoleonic Wars.

In his early career, according to HMS Surprise, Aubrey was not a skilled mathematician. In that book, he is described as learning mathematics and "...he studied the mathematics, and like some other late-developers he advanced at a great pace." In later books, Aubrey is presented as interested and skilled in mathematics and astronomy. He is also a great lover of music and player of the violin; he is a hearty singer. He is a man of even temperament, generally cheerful, sociable and alert to the feelings of his shipmates. He knows every aspect of the ships he sails and how best to gain speed over the oceans from each one by use of the sails without putting too much stress on the masts or yards (which would then break), a complex and hard-earned knowledge. He has been described as "the bluff and ultracompetent Aubrey".[8] He feels the joy of battle; he is skilled in planning his attacks and in carrying them out, using cannon or hand-to-hand fighting. By contrast, he cannot watch his close friend, Dr Maturin, perform a surgery, and is offended at the sight of blood on Maturin, the natural result of performing surgeries. On board ship, Aubrey on his violin is generally accompanied by his friend and shipmate Stephen Maturin on the cello. Aubrey is particularly fond of the music of Corelli and Boccherini. He is noted for his mangling and mis-splicing of proverbs, sometimes with Maturin's involvement, such as “Never count the bear’s skin before it is hatched” and “There’s a good deal to be said for making hay while the iron is hot.” [4]

Maturin enters actively into the humor of fractured proverbs by the eighth novel, The Ionian Mission, as shown in this exchange between the two friends in Chapter 10: 'Why, as to that,' said Jack, blowing on his coffee-cup and staring out of the stern-window at the harbour, 'as to that ... if you do not choose to call him a pragmatical clinchpoop and kick his breech, which you might think ungenteel, perhaps you could tell him to judge the pudding by its fruit.' 'You mean, prove the tree by its eating.' 'No, no, Stephen, you are quite out: eating a tree would prove nothing. And then you might ask him, had he ever seen many poltroons in the Navy?' 'I am not quite sure what you mean by poltroons.'

Aubrey frequently mentions his respect of Lord Nelson, repeating a line he heard him say at a dinner in his early life in the navy, "Never mind manoeuvres, always go at them," in Chapter 3 of Master and Commander and in many of the subsequent novels, then quoted by Tom Pullings as "Never mind manoeuvres, always go straight at them." In one of his letters to his wife written from Boston, when Aubrey has a wounded right arm and can write to her only with his left hand, he couches this news of his injury to her as part of his desire to imitate Nelson in all things, except matrimonially, in Chapter 4 of The Fortune of War.

He enjoys the company of women. From the incident of keeping a girl aboard ship in his youth, unbeknownst to him, she was pregnant when he sailed away. Their son, Samuel Panda, appears in Aubrey's life fully grown and educated, a dark-skinned version of himself, but a Catholic priest. Before he knew of this young man, Aubrey married Sophia Williams, whom he met and courted in the peace of 1802, when he was on land. They married and had three children, twin daughters Fanny and Charlotte, and a son George. He loves his family, though most of the time he is away on a ship.

When his father dies, Jack Aubrey inherits the Aubrey family estate and the role of lord of the manor in The Letter of Marque. He displays extensive knowledge of the laws and practices surrounding that role in The Yellow Admiral, when he opposes enclosing the only commons left to the manor. His good connections with his neighbors in Woolcombe gain him a seat in Parliament from the pocket borough held by his neighbor Cousin Edward Norton; gaining that seat aided in his restoration to the Navy List. He sits as justice of the peace for certain local matters. This knowledge and well-tempered judgment seems to match with his skill in running a tight ship, a happy ship, and is a contrast to his financial faux pas. He can earn the money by taking rich prizes, but only with the help of his wife's good management and his lawyer's persistence at winning in lawsuits meant to take it from him, does the money stay in his hands for good uses.

Watches real battles, fights fictional battles[edit]

Aubrey is a prisoner of war with a perfect view of the naval battle in Algeciras Bay in Master and Commander. He is a passenger aboard HMS Java when she is captured by USS Constitution in The Fortune of War. Again a prisoner of war, Aubrey arrives in Boston aboard USS Constitution. He heals from a serious wound in Boston. He, Maturin and Diana Villiers escape aboard HMS Shannon, which defeats USS Chesapeake in Boston Harbor as part of the War of 1812, also in The Fortune of War. The battles in which Aubrey participates are inspired by real ship engagements, but not involving the same ships by name, or sometimes by exact date of the real encounter. An example of this is Aubrey's first command, HMS Sophie taking a far heavier Spanish frigate with 32 12-pound guns to the Sophie's 14 4-pounders and a crew of 319 compared to 56, which is very similar to an encounter of HMS Speedy under Cochrane in May 1801.

The taking of the two islands in The Mauritius Command is closely based on the actual Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811, and the encounter with the Spanish ships carrying gold from their South American colonies that closes the story in Post Captain, with Aubrey in temporary command of one of the British ships, closely matches the Battle of Cape Santa Maria, including the names of the British and Spanish ships in the encounter.

Most of his naval battles and adventures are drawn from actual Royal Navy history.[3] Several of his exploits and reverses, most importantly those in the plots of Master and Commander, The Reverse of the Medal and Blue at the Mizzen,[3] are directly based on the chequered career of Thomas Cochrane: as his friend the botanist and surgeon Stephen Maturin mused, "There was something of Cochrane in Jack, a restless impatience of authority, a strong persuasion of being in the right."[9]

Ships commanded by Jack Aubrey[edit]

During the series of novels, Jack Aubrey commands a succession of many different vessels. Most of them are warships of the Royal Navy, prefixed HMS (His Majesty's Ship). On one occasion he commands an Honourable East India Company ship, and for some time after she is sold out of the service, the Surprise is a hired vessel working for the Royal Navy (HMHV), having been purchased by Stephen Maturin. The Franklin is a privateer Jack Aubrey captures and uses for a brief time before he sells it. The status of the Nutmeg of Consolation is undefined, as she belongs to Stamford Raffles, the Governor of Batavia. Although the names and characteristics of real Royal Navy ships are used in the novels, the ships often do not take the same cruises or appear in the same battles as they did in history. In his first memorable success, he uses the smaller HM Sloop Sophie to take a larger Spanish vessel. The battle action is based on Cochrane's similar feat as captain of the HM Sloop Speedy in 1800.

Ship Rate Guns Main armament Book Notional year End of commission Fictional?
HM Sloop Sophie Brig-Sloop 14 4 lb Master and Commander 1800 Captured Yes
HM Sloop Polychrest Sloop 24 32 lb carronades Post Captain 1803 Sunk in battle (structural failure) Yes
HMS Lively 5th 38 18 lb Post Captain 1804 Temporary command No
HMS Surprise 6th 28 12 lb HMS Surprise 1805 Paid off No
HMS Boadicea 5th 38 18 lb The Mauritius Command 1809 Transferred to Raisonnable No
HMS Raisonnable 3rd 64 24 lb The Mauritius Command 1809 Monsoon season; transferred back to Boadicea No
HMS Leopard 4th 50 24 lb Desolation Island 1811 Converted to transport No
HM Sloop Ariel Sloop 16 6 lb The Surgeon's Mate 1813 Sunk after striking reef No
HMS Worcester 3rd 74 32 lb The Ionian Mission 1813 Converted to shear hulk following storm damage Yes
HMS Surprise 6th 28 12 lb The Ionian Mission 1813 Temporary command No
HEICS Niobe 9 lb Treason's Harbour 1813 Temporary command Yes
HMS Surprise 6th 28 12 lb The Far Side of the World 1813 Paid off, then sold out of service No
HMS Diane 5th 32 18 lb The Thirteen Gun Salute 1813 Grounded on a reef, then destroyed by storm Yes
Nutmeg of Consolation 6th 20 32 lb carronades The Nutmeg of Consolation 1813 Returned to governor, transferred to Surprise Yes
HMHV Surprise 6th 28 12 lb Clarissa Oakes 1813 Transferred himself to Franklin No
Privateer Franklin 22 24 lb carronades The Wine Dark Sea 1813 Transferred himself back to the Surprise Yes
HMS Bellona 3rd 74 32 lb The Commodore
The Yellow Admiral
1813 Paid off No
HMS Pomone 5th 38 18 lb The Hundred Days 1815 Transferred to HMS Surprise No
HMS Surprise 6th 28 12 lb The Hundred Days 1815 Damaged in collision, then sent in for repairs No
HMHV Surprise 6th 28 12 lb Blue at the Mizzen 1815 Promoted: raised Flag on HMS Suffolk No
HMS Suffolk 3rd 74 32 lb The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey 1817 Sold in 1816 No

Awards and rewards[edit]

Aubrey earned the silver Nile medal and wore it on his dress uniform always (mentioned in nearly every novel when the dress uniform is donned). He earned it as a lieutenant in an action before the series began, in the 1798 Battle of the Nile. His portrait was painted to hang at home, showing him wearing the red ribbon of the Order of the Bath, described at the start of Desolation Island, after he returned from great success in The Mauritius Command.[10] The Order of the Bath at that date was an order of knighthood and the recipient would invariably be titled "Sir" unless they had a higher title. However, O'Brian never refers to Aubrey as Sir John, nor does the author have any other character refer to him as Sir John, in any of the novels.

He also received an elaborate diamond chelengk, earned in The Ionian Mission from the Turks, and mentioned in Treason's Harbour as having been saved by Killick. He has a Lloyd's 100-guinea presentation sword, mentioned in the start of The Reverse of the Medal and in The Nutmeg of Consolation. The Order of the Bath ribbon is again mentioned in the unfinished novel The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey, when Aubrey is about to step aboard the ship flying his broad pennant as Rear Admiral of the Blue.[11]

Aubrey is described with his military awards at the start of The Reverse of the Medal.[12]

Grateful owners of merchant ships honored Aubrey with gifts of silver plate and cash when his efforts protected their ships and cargo. In HMS Surprise, the merchants in Calcutta pay to refit his ship. In The Letter of Marque, Aubrey receives a gift of silver plate from the merchants whose ships had been harried by a French-American privateer captured by the Surprise, herself a British letter of marque.


Arms of the Aubrey Family described in Desolation Island

The Aubreys were an old land holding family who owned various, though untitled, lordships of the manor. Their arms were azure, 3 sheep's heads erased, proper.[13] In addition, Jack was granted the augmentation of 2 Moors' heads, proper, on this arms in honour of his success in the Mauritius campaign.[14]

Portrayed in adaptations of the novels[edit]

Jack Aubrey is played by Russell Crowe in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He is played by David Robb in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the novels.[citation needed]


  1. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1978). Desolation Island. United Kingdom: Collins. ISBN 9780393308129.
  2. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1991). "Chapter 10". The Nutmeg of Consolation.
  3. ^ a b c d Cordingly, David (2007). Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-58234-534-5.
  4. ^ a b Brunvand, Jan Harold (2004). ""The Early Bird Is Worth Two in the Bush": Captain Jack Aubrey's Fractured Proverbs". In Kimberly J. Lau; Peter Tokofsky; Stephen D. Winick (eds.). What Goes Around Comes Around: The Circulation of Proverbs in Contemporary Life. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. pp. 152–170.
  5. ^ a b O'Brian, Patrick (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W W Norton. pp. 164–165. ISBN 0-393-32517-2. Dr Johnson - Dictionary Johnson was a great friend of theirs, until their mother ran off and married an Italian, a Papist. Queeney was wonderfully upset at having a Papist to her father-in-law, as you may imagine.
  6. ^ a b c d e O'Brian, Patrick (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W W Norton. pp. 162–163. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
  7. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1972). Post Captain. W W Norton. p. 250.
  8. ^ Kennedy, Paul (18 October 1998). "Naval Gazing: Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are back in another tale of derring-do". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  9. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1973). "Chapter 5". H.M.S. Surprise.
  10. ^ Desolation Island, Ch.1, "...of Captain Aubrey himself by Beechey in the full-dress uniform of a senior post-captain, with the red ribbon of the Bath across his broad chest,looking cheerfully at a bursting mortar-shell in which were to be seen the Aubrey arms with the honourable augementation of two Moors' heads, proper...".
  11. ^ 21, The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey, Ch.2, pg 52. "Just look out my ribbon of the Bath, will you? It sets off an old coat very well."
  12. ^ O’Brian, Patrick (1986). "Chapter 2". The Reverse of the Medal. Captain Aubrey was resplendent in blue and gold; a Lloyd’s presentation sword hung at his side and the Nile medal from the fourth buttonhole of his coat, while the chelengk, a Turkish decoration in the form of a diamond aigrette, sparkled in his best gold-laced hat, worn nobly athwartships like Nelson’s; he had washed and shaved (a daily custom with him, even in very heavy weather), and his hair, having been rigorously brushed, clubbed, and fastened with a broad black band behind, was now exactly powdered.
  13. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1989). "Chapter 1". The Thirteen Gun Salute. p. 11. azure, 3 sheep's heads erased, proper...
  14. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1978). "Chapter 1". Desolation Island. p. 11.