‘With some six hundred souls crammed into this insecure and mouldy wooden vessel, many verminous, many poxed, and some perhaps harbouring the seeds of the gaol-fever, I need some assistance…’
After his many dashing expeditions, Jack Aubrey is posted in the decrepit Worcester (more a floating coffin than a ship of the line) to blockade work. The French fleet lies in Toulon and the British squadrons patrol outside, longing for a full fleet action and a chance to prove themselves in battle. With Stephen Maturin aboard, there will always be intelligence missions which require Jack’s skills. Once more in the dear Surprise, they set out to expel the French from Marga, a key strategic port.
Read more about the life and work of Patrick O'Brian
When discussing past battles (as naval officers are very fond of doing) salt, pieces of bread and even the occasional passing weevil are often used to represent ships, headland and wind direction. Very useful adjuncts, no doubt, but for our readers, we thought perhaps some battle plans might be preferable. We commissioned author and naval historian Brian Lavery (formerly curator of Maritime History at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich) to draw up accurate battle plans of each of Aubrey’s major engagements. With a clear understanding of wearing, tacking, yawing, raking fire and rolling broadsides, let alone his expert knowledge of the ships and waters in which Aubrey campaigned, Lavery has been able to create plans which make manoeuvres plain even to the understanding of mere landsmen.
Brian Lavery has been a fan of Patrick O’Brian since he found Master and Commander in his local library, but over the years his association has become closer. He tells an endearingly self-deprecating anecdote of the time when Patrick O’Brian had written the foreword to his acclaimed history, Nelson’s Navy. A man in the British Library recognised Lavery, only to say: ‘Aren’t you the chap who’s just had a book published with a foreword by Patrick O’Brian?’ Lavery has sailed and travelled extensively in many of the areas best-known to Captain Aubrey – and has even organised tours to sites, including O’Brian’s home in Collioure.
Lavery’s plans begin with a careful reading of the book. Obviously if the battle is fictitious, this is the only source of information, but since most are based on real battles, Lavery normally goes back to printed sources, published not long after the events they describe. Where there are inconsistencies (as was the case with a particularly tricky encounter in Post Captain), Lavery looks up the original letters in the National Archives to clarify specific points. The battle is then broken up into stages with explanatory labels, before the sketches are handed to artist Neil Gower to be drawn up. We are very proud of the results – the spectacular engagement with the Jemmapes is splendidly realised in The Ionian Mission, while the stages of battle at Jedid Bay and Zambra in Treason’s Harbour, are laid out step by thrilling step.