Jack Aubrey

John "Jack" Aubrey, JP MP 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 .

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)
NicknameLucky Jack, Goldilocks
OccupationNaval Officer
FamilyGeneral Aubrey (father)
Philip Aubrey (half-brother)
SpouseSophia "Sophie" Williams
Sam Panda

Education and early life

Aubrey's mother died when he was a boy. 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 "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. Her family had occupied Damplow, a house adjoining General Aubrey's estate ("they were almost in our park").[5]

Queeney returns into Aubrey's life when she marries Lord Keith. Lord Keith gave him his promotion to master and commander and his first command. Queeney is the historic Hester Maria Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith, and in her mother the reader will recognize the historic Hester Thrale.[5]

Early career

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

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

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 Spanish vessel with vastly more guns, 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

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

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 calls Aubrey Sir John, nor has any other character or official correspondence 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.


Aubrey Arms
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

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.


  1. ^ Patrick O'Brian (1978). Desolation Island. United Kingdom: Collins. ISBN 9780393308129.
  2. ^ Patrick O'Brian (1991). "Chapter 10". The Nutmeg of Consolation.
  3. ^ a b c d David Cordingly (2007). Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. New York: Bloomsbury. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-58234-534-5.
  4. ^ a b Jan Harold Brunvand (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 Patrick O'Brian (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 Patrick O'Brian (2003). Master and Commander. New York: W. W. Norton. pp. 162–163. ISBN 0-393-32517-2.
  7. ^ Patrick O'Brian (1972). Post Captain. W. W. Norton. p. 250.
  8. ^ Paul Kennedy (18 October 1998). "Naval Gazing: Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are back in another tale of derring-do". New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  9. ^ Patrick O'Brian (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. ^ Patrick O’Brian (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. ^ Patrick O'Brian (1989). "Chapter 1". The Thirteen Gun Salute. p. 11. azure, 3 sheep's heads erased, proper...
  14. ^ Patrick O'Brian (1978). "Chapter 1". Desolation Island. p. 11.
Adam Wheater

Adam Jack Aubrey Wheater (born 13 February 1990) is an English first-class cricketer who plays for Essex. He is a right-handed batsman who also plays as a wicket-keeper.

Aubrey–Maturin series

The Aubrey–Maturin series is a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished—by Patrick O'Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centering on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, a physician, natural philosopher, and intelligence agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and the last finished novel in 1999. The 21st novel of the series, left unfinished at O'Brian's death in 2000, appeared in print in late 2004. The series received considerable international acclaim and most of the novels reached The New York Times Best Seller list. These novels comprise the heart of the canon of an author often compared to Jane Austen, C. S. Forester and other British authors central to the English literature canon.The 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World took material from books in this series, notably Master and Commander, HMS Surprise, The Letter of Marque, The Fortune of War, and particularly The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe played the role of Jack Aubrey, and Paul Bettany that of Stephen Maturin.

David Robb

David Robb (born 23 August 1947) is a Scottish actor.Robb has starred in various British films and television shows, including films such as Swing Kids and Hellbound. He is well known for playing Germanicus in the famous 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius, and as Robin Grant, one of the principal characters in Thames Television's 1981 series The Flame Trees of Thika. He has also performed as a voice actor for several Star Wars video games, and had a recurring role in the fantasy television series Highlander: The Series. He has worked extensively on BBC radio drama, including as Charles in the original radio series of Up the Garden Path opposite Imelda Staunton; as Captain Jack Aubrey in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the Patrick O'Brian "Aubrey" novels, and as Richard Hannay in several adaptations of the John Buchan novels, including The Thirty-Nine Steps in 2001 and Mr Standfast in 2007. He played Dr Clarkson in the television drama series Downton Abbey.

Robb was born in London, to David Robb and Elsie Tilley. He grew up in Edinburgh and was educated at the Royal High School. He married actress and activist Briony McRoberts in 1978. Beginning in 2004, he and his wife ran every year in the Edinburgh Marathon to raise money for leukaemia research. McRoberts died by suicide on 17 July 2013 (age 56), after a long illness with anorexia.

Desolation Island (novel)

Desolation Island is the fifth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. It was first published in 1978.

Jack Aubrey is in funds from his successful mission to take the islands of Mauritius and Reunion. His house has additions, but he is ready for another voyage. The story includes a voyage meant to reach Australia, and occurs prior to the War of 1812.

Critics have praised the novel's “literate, clear-eyed realism” at initial publication, and stirring naval action in the cold southern ocean in the chase of the Dutch ship, 20 years after initial publication at the re-issue.

Diana Villiers

Diana Villiers is a fictional character in the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. Described as beautiful, mercurial, and entirely unreliable, she is the great love and great sorrow of Stephen Maturin's life.

HMS Surprise (novel)

HMS Surprise is the third historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1973. The series follows the partnership of Captain Jack Aubrey and the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin during the wars against Napoleon's France.

Maturin is tortured gathering intelligence. On HMS Surprise, Aubrey and Maturin make a long voyage to bring an ambassador to Southeast Asia, rounding the southern tip of Africa.

Some reviewers found the novel with "superb depictions of life", yet too full of nautical detail, while others found that detail part of the author's erudition and not in the way of the plot. The author showed "capacity for creating another completely believable world", while another reviewer said the novel is "stretching its genre [naval adventure] but never escaping it."

Master and Commander

Master and Commander is a nautical historical novel by the English author Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1969 in the US and 1970 in UK. The book proved to be the start of the 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series, set largely in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, that O'Brian continued working on up until his death in 2000.

The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century. It follows the young Jack Aubrey who has just been promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and Stephen Maturin, a destitute physician and naturalist whom Aubrey appoints as his naval surgeon. They sail in HM Sloop of War Sophie with first lieutenant James Dillon, a wealthy and aristocratic Irishman. The naval action in the Mediterranean is closely based on the real-life exploits of Lord Cochrane, including a battle modelled after Cochrane's spectacular victory in the brig HMS Speedy over the vastly superior Spanish frigate El Gamo. The novel puts the reader into the times in every aspect, from the ways of the Royal Navy on sailing ships to the state of science and medicine and social status.

Master and Commander met with mixed early reviews on its first publication. Although UK sales were respectable enough for O'Brian to continue with his series, it was not initially a success in the US. In Britain and Ireland, however, voices of praise gradually became dominant. In 1990, the US publisher W W Norton re-issued the book and its sequels; this was an almost immediate success and drew O'Brian a new, large readership. O'Brian's biographer has placed the novel at the start of what he called the author's magnum opus, a series that has become perhaps the best-loved roman fleuve of the twentieth century.

Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian, CBE (12 December 1914 – 2 January 2000), born Richard Patrick Russ, was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of sea novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and centred on the friendship of the English naval captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series, the first of which is Master and Commander, is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th-century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language. A partially finished 21st novel in the series was published posthumously containing facing pages of handwriting and typescript.

O'Brian wrote a number of other novels and short stories, most of which were published before he achieved success with the Aubrey–Maturin series. He also translated works from French to English, and wrote two biographies.

His major success as a writer came late in life, when the Aubrey-Maturin series caught the eye of an American publisher. The series drew more readers and favourable reviews when the author was in his seventies. Near the end of his life, and in the same year he lost his beloved wife, British media revealed details of O'Brian's early life, first marriage, and post-war change of name, causing distress to the very private author and to many of his readers at that time.


A polacca (or polacre) is a type of seventeenth-century sailing vessel, similar to the xebec. The name is the feminine of "Polish" in the Italian language. The polacca was frequently seen in the Mediterranean. It had two or three single-pole masts, the three-masted vessels often with a lateen hoisted on the foremast (which was slanted forward to accommodate the large lateen yard) and a gaff or lateen on the mizzen mast. The mainmast was square-rigged after the European style. Special polaccas were used by Murat Reis, whose ships had lateen sails in front and fore-and-aft rig behind.

Some polacca pictures show what appears to be a ship-rigged vessel (sometimes with a lateen on the mizzen) with a galley-like hull and single-pole masts. Thus, the term "polacca" seems to refer primarily to the masting and possibly the hull type as opposed to the type of rig used for the sails. Two-masted polaccas were referred to as brig-polaccas with square sails on both masts. Three-masted polaccas were called ship-polaccas or polacca-settees.Capt. Jack Aubrey in HMS Sophie captures a French polacre heavily-laden with gunpowder in Patrick O'Brian's first Aubrey-Maturin novel, Master and Commander (1969).


Post-captain is an obsolete alternative form of the rank of captain in the Royal Navy.

The term served to distinguish those who were captains by rank from:

Officers in command of a naval vessel, who were (and still are) addressed as captain regardless of rank;

Commanders, who received the title of captain as a courtesy, whether they currently had a command or not (e.g. the fictional Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander or the fictional Captain Horatio Hornblower in Hornblower and the Hotspur); this custom is now defunct.In the Royal Navy of the time, an officer might be promoted from commander to captain, but not have a command. Until the officer obtained a command, he was "on the beach" and on half-pay. An officer "took post" or was "made post" when he was first commissioned to command a vessel. Usually this was a rated vessel – that is, a ship too important to be commanded by a mere commander – but was occasionally an unrated one. Once a captain was given a command, his name was "posted" in The London Gazette. Being "made post" is portrayed as the most crucial event in an officer's career in both Forester's Horatio Hornblower series and O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. Once an officer was promoted to post-captain, further promotion was strictly by seniority; if he could avoid death or disgrace, he would eventually become an admiral (even if only a yellow admiral).

A junior post-captain would usually command a frigate or a comparable ship, while more senior post-captains would command larger ships. An exception to this rule was that a very junior post-captain could be posted to command an admiral's flagship, which was almost always a large ship of the line. The admiral would usually do this to keep his most junior captain under close observation and subject to his direct supervision. Captains commanding an admiral's flagship were called "flag captains". One example of this is the appointment of Alexander Hood to the command of HMS Barfleur, flagship of his brother, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood.

Sometimes, a high-ranking admiral would have two post-captains on his flagship. The junior would serve as the flag captain and retain responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the vessel. The senior would be the fleet captain, or "captain of the fleet", and would serve as the admiral's chief-of-staff. These two captains would be listed in the ship's roll as the "second captain" and "first captain", respectively.

After 1795, when they were first introduced on Royal Navy uniforms, the number and position of epaulettes distinguished between commanders and post-captains of various seniorities. A commander wore a single epaulette on the left shoulder. A post-captain with less than three years seniority wore a single epaulette on the right shoulder, and a post-captain with three or more years seniority wore an epaulette on each shoulder. In the O'Brian series, Aubrey "wets the swab" – that is, he celebrates his promotion to commander and the acquisition of his "swab" or epaulette with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

Note that the term was descriptive only: no-one was ever styled "Post-Captain John Smith".

Post Captain (novel)

Post Captain is the second historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1972. It features the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin in the early 19th century and is set in the Napoleonic Wars.

During the brief Peace of Amiens, Aubrey and Maturin live in a country house allowing both of them to meet the women they love. The mores of courtship restrict both men as to making a proposal of marriage. Then their lives are turned upside down when Aubrey loses his money due to decisions of the prize court and a dishonest prize-agent. To avoid seizure for debt, they proceed through France to Maturin's property in Spain. When the war begins afresh, Aubrey has a command aboard HMS Polychrest, seeing action while gaining fewer prizes yet succeeding in his military goals. He gains his promotion and is captain of the frigate HMS Lively while its captain is ashore. The emotions of his love life interfere with his ways at sea, showing him sharply different in his decisiveness at sea compared to his clumsiness on land.

The novel was received well at its initial publishing, but received more and better notice after its re-issue in 1990. That much of the story is set on land drew some to consider it O'Brian's homage to Jane Austen, one of his favorite authors. Author Mary Renault gave this novel high praise, while Alison Sulentic commends the novel for the two different ways that Maturin and Aubrey "come to know wisdom" as a result of falling in love.

Stephen Maturin

Stephen Maturin, FRS () is a fictional character in the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. The series portrays his career as a physician, naturalist and spy in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and the long pursuit of his beloved Diana Villiers.

Maturin was played by Paul Bettany in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and by Richard Dillane in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the O'Brian novels.

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey is the unfinished twenty-first historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by English author Patrick O'Brian, first published in its incomplete form in 2004. It appeared in the United States of America under the title of 21.

Though this is the early part of an unfinished novel, reviewers examined it. Some took the opportunity to look back at the whole series of completed novels, 6,443 pages by one count. They are pleased to see that Sam Panda, Aubrey's son from his "long-legged youth" and now going by Sam Mputa, his mother's last name, is a papal nuncio, and that Maturin pursues Christine Wood and again sees his daughter Brigid, who is beginning to hold her own with her older cousins, the Aubrey twin girls. The sailors and the families of Maturin and Aubrey get as far as the island of Saint Helena, where Napoleon is firmly exiled, and there the writing stops, with no hint of what might have happened in South Africa, had the squadron arrived there. There is wide acclaim for the Afterword by Richard Snow, included in the book.

The Mauritius Command

The Mauritius Command is the fourth naval historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1977.

Aubrey is married and the father of twin girls, owner of a cottage with a fine observatory he built. He is more than ready to be back at sea. He and Stephen Maturin join a convoy charged with taking two well-located islands in the Indian Ocean from the French. The mission provides scope for each man to advance in his specialty.

A review written at first publication found the novel to be written in "language deep with detail and the poetry of fact", appreciating the period detail. A later review, written at the reissue, finds the author a graceful writer but sees a difficulty with the novel's structure, building to climaxes that do not occur. Others writing at that time saw the novel more as part of the long series, with humour, erudition and "impeccable period detail".

The Reverse of the Medal

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.

This novel was read by Starling Lawrence of American publisher W W Norton in 1989. By fall of 1990, W W Norton began publishing paperbacks of the prior novels, at the urging of Mr Lawrence, thus introducing the series to a new and larger audience.

The Surgeon's Mate

The Surgeon's Mate is the seventh historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series written by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1980. The story is set during the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars.

Buoyed by victory over an American ship, Aubrey, Maturin and Diana Villiers speed to England on a mail packet that is chased for the papers in Maturin's hands, and possibly for Diana herself. The papers, including a copy of the official report of victory over an American ship, thus arrive in England before the originals, as the packet sailed to outrun the American chasers. Aubrey then commands HMS Ariel for a mission on the Danish coast, which ultimately leads him and Maturin once again to being prisoners of war.

This novel was part of the reissue of the series, with copies not always available in the original order written. This was a challenge to readers and reviewers of that time (1990–92), who did not fit this novel into its place in the sequence, suggesting each novel can be read on its own. It was praised as part of "O'Brian's superb series on the early-19th-century adventures" of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and specifically marked as "Splendid escape. Literate and amusing.", providing a "look at the darker side of Maturin's life: his work in British intelligence."

The Unknown Shore

The Unknown Shore is a novel published in 1959 by Patrick O'Brian. It is the story of two friends, Jack Byron and Tobias Barrow, who sail aboard HMS Wager as part of the voyage around the world led by Anson in 1740. Their ship did not make it all the way around the world, unlike the flag ship. The novel is a fictionalised version of actual events which occurred during the Wager Mutiny.

Some reviewers feel that the midshipman Byron and the somewhat unworldly surgeon's mate Barrow are prototypes for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, who appear in O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series set in the Napoleonic Wars.

Treason's Harbour

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.

While with Captain Jack Aubrey awaiting repairs on his ship in Malta, Stephen Maturin discovers that the island is home to a ruthless network of French spies. An unwilling French informer needs help from Maturin, who discovers her predicament and helps her. Meanwhile, a new Admiral arrives at Malta. He sends Aubrey on three missions across the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, one on borrowed ships, and two of the missions are traps. Aubrey escapes the predicaments, but Admiral Harte dies when his ship of the line is destroyed in an ambush. The high level double agent whose existence Maturin begins to suspect does not succeed in undoing either Maturin or Aubrey, yet.

After the reissue of the novel in 1992, it received strong praise. In mentioning the dramatic fate of Mr Hairabedian, one reviewer wryly states that nothing happens in the novel, but the novels are "filled with real people doing real things, brilliantly imagined and conveyed in crisp, clear, strong writing." Another gives negative reviews to a particular narrator of an audio version by praising O'Brian's writing: "characters' voices lack consistency and sensitivity to the subtleties of O'Brian's pen"; and yet more strongly, "The narrative turns from nefarious intrigues in Malta to an amazing mission in the Red Sea and back again, but the drama is [not] conveyed . . .

Aubrey–Maturin series
Other novels
Short story collections


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