Aubrey and Maturin

By Rob Morgan

I am, and always have been, a ‘Hornblower’ fan. But I’ve long intended to write a note about another Napoleonic Wars naval hero.

Jack Aubrey is a very different kettle of fish from Horatio Hornblower. His and his ship’s surgeon’s adventures cover some 20 novels, and are far more than the stirring adventures of a Royal Naval Officer fighting Boney. “Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian,” by Dean King with John B. Hattendorf, is a substantial 250+ page guide to the books, the historical background and events, and to the world map on which Aubrey’s voyages and the Napoleonic Wars at sea were played out. It has the feeling of Darwin’s voyages underpinning it all. It really is a very worthwhile book for any enthusiast of those wars, and is superbly illustrated. The maps and drawings are excellent and valuable for any wargamer, in my opinion, though the diagrams of the voyages of Aubrey’s ships are less useful, and unlike the maps in ‘The Hornblower Companion,’ don’t seem to have a direct wargame application. There are, however, a large number of plans and charts of harbours and ports which do have use on the wargame table, or the map campaign — Gibraltar, Cadiz, Plymouth, Valetta and Lisbon among them.

The book falls into 20 chapters, one for each novel, and the novels do range around the Seven Seas, from The East Indies to the Horn and the close blockade of Brest, even surveying and anti-slavery patrols. There’s more sailing detail than in Forrester and, while the Hornblower books and stories have a strong feeling of the Royal Navy as a fighting service, in the Aubrey novels the conflicts, tensions and problems of the navy are more apparent.

Jack Aubrey finds himself opposing a French invasion of Ireland, in ship-to-ship duels in the Mediterranean, and dabbling in revolutions in Spanish South America, then fighting American privateers. King’s book avoids the detail of war, it doesn’t back up the novels in the ‘rattling good yarn’ manner in which the Hornblower companion does, but as a guide to the sea in those turbulent times it is one of the best accounts I’ve come upon. The guide does however give some sound hints for the wargamer, pointing in the right direction, if you dip into the texts, but you will need to delve deep in many cases to find more than a simple ship-to-ship action.

However, one of the chapters, number 19, dealing with the title ‘The Hundred Days,’ provides background to what I think would be a tremendous small-scale solo wargame campaign. Aubrey is sent with a light squadron into the Adriatic to destroy French vessels building there, and a host of small actions ensue, including the capture of a treasure galley. My caveats aside, this is a book worth acquiring by the naval gamer. Highly recommended.

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