- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
MASTER AND COMMANDER
Mastering the Mediterranean
AS PATRICK O'BRIAN READILY confesses, he modeled many of the events of the novel Master and Commander on the remarkable Mediterranean cruise of Lord Cochrane (later, tenth earl of Dundonald) aboard the Speedy, a dwarfish brig that Cochrane once called "little more than a burlesque on a vessel of war." Consider Cochrane's account of his assignment to the Speedy: "The vessel originally intended for me by Lord Keith was the Bonne Citoyenne, a fine corvette of eighteen guns, but the brother of his lordship's secretary happening at the time to arrive from Gibraltar ... that functionary managed to place his brother in one of the finest sloops in the service, leaving to me the least efficient craft on the station." The similarity of this true event to the circumstances surrounding Aubrey's appointment to the Sophie in Master and Commander is no mistake.
Like the Speedy, the Sophie must return a pair of 12-pounders to the ordnance wharf because her timbers cannot bear the concussion, and she too can carry only ten tons of water. Both brigs ship the fore-topgallant yard of the Généreaux as a main yard and plane the yardarms to fool port officials. And like the Speedy, the pint-size Sophie, a mouse among elephants, begins her cruise at Port Mahon, on the island of Minorca, and goes on to wreak havoc in the western Mediterranean.
In 1800 Port Mahon is a town bustling with war. It is a place where men and women of varied backgrounds and allegiances have been thrust together. The stamp of England, nonetheless, has been firmly imprinted on the port, since the British have occupied Minorca throughout much of the eighteenth century. In fact, the hotel where Aubrey stays was built in 1750, when the British controlled the island, and is named after The Crown, an inn in Portsmouth.
It is in Port Mahon that Aubrey and Maturin meet. Their mutual love of music brings them together and, despite their very different natures, they do have more than a little in common: both are broke, both are out of work, and both are in need of an opportunity. It comes on April 1, 1800, when Aubrey is made captain of the Sophie and then induces Maturin to ship as his surgeon.
At first assigned the lowly duty of convoying merchant ships, the Sophie sails east from Minorca along the 39th parallel with a dozen merchant ships to Cagliari, a fortified seaport on the southern coast of Sardinia. From Cagliari she escorts another convoy of merchant ships north to Leghorn (Livorno), a major Tuscan seaport, which is neutral and open to ships of all nations. In the Genoa roads, Aubrey gets his break when Lord Keith, Admiral of the Blue and commander in chief in the Mediterranean, orders the Sophie to cruise the French and Spanish coasts down to Cape Nao to menace their commercial ports and vessels. In short order Aubrey, like Cochrane, takes full advantage of this command and makes his overachieving ship an infamous nuisance to the enemy.
Spanish merchants convince their government to send the 32-gun xebec-frigate Cacafuego after Aubrey. But he, like Cochrane, fools the bigger ship by pretending to be a Danish brig with a plague-ridden crew. In both instances the deception is so successful that the smaller ship might have seized the opportunity to attack her predator, but in both the captain refuses to take this perhaps morally unfair advantage, raising eyebrows as to his courage among his less conscientious crew.
Following a return to Port Mahon and an errand to Sir Sydney Smith's squadron off Alexandria, Egypt, the Sophie sails back to Minorca and then is allowed another cruise. She sails to Barcelona, Spain, once again playing cat and mouse with the merchant vessels on the busy Spanish coast, even brazenly taunting the gunboats protecting the Barcelona harbor. Early one morning the Sophie sails past the mouth of the Llobregat River, which flows southeast from the Pyrenees Mountains and enters the sea three miles south of Barcelona, when she again meets the Cacafuego.
Following an all-too-brief refit in Port Mahon, the Sophie is ordered away again, this time for Malta, to be refitted more fully, and then, regrettably, to Gibraltar with the mail. In his anger at having the Sophie's cruise cut short and for other abuses from Admiral Harte at Port Mahon, Aubrey gives this assignment a rather liberal interpretation. A nighttime shore attack against three Spanish coasting vessels off the coast of Spain results in an encounter with a formidable French squadron—including the ships Formidable, Indomptable, Desaix, and Muiron—under Rear Admiral Linois.
At the conclusion of Master and Commander, Aubrey witnesses two great battles from different sides of Algeciras Bay. In the first—when an English squadron under the nonfictional Admiral James Saumarez sails into the bay and attacks the French squadron and batteries—Aubrey views the encounter from a somewhat disadvantageous point of view on the west side of the bay—that is to say, in Algeciras. With Maturin, Aubrey watches the second action, which occurs in the Strait of Gibraltar, from the eastern side of the bay, high atop the Rock of Gibraltar.
HERE AND THERE
Also called the Bay of Gibraltar, a body of water at the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar that separates the Spanish-controlled seaport of Algeciras from the British-held Gibraltar by just six miles.
A peninsula on the southern coast of Spain at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, notable for its strategic rocky promontory, fourteen hundred feet high. Encompassing only about two and a quarter square miles, Gibraltar is, nonetheless, an ideal location for controlling the Strait of Gibraltar, the passage between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the occupation of Gibraltar was a costly prospect both financially and in terms of relations with Spain. As Vice Admiral Sir George Collier once declared in the House of Commons: "I have long looked upon Gibraltar as a military millstone about the neck of this country.... Sir, I suppose, if the many millions Gibraltar has cost Great Britain since it has been in our possession were to be changed into silver, it would go near to encrustate the whole rock" (The Naval Chronicle, Fall 1814, p. 400). During the Napoleonic wars, some favored relinquishing control of Gibraltar and maintaining a similar strategic presence by annexing Ceuta on the Barbary Coast.
Captured by Britain and her allies in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar was made a British colony by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During the American Revolution, it was continually under siege from the French and the Spanish.
Cruising the western Mediterranean in the Sophie, Captain Aubrey faces off against a number of enemy merchants and men-of-war and earns the nickname "Lucky Jack," not to mention a pretty penny in prizes.
One of the Balearic Islands, in the western Mediterranean off the coast of Spain. The Balearics—comprising the four main islands of Ibiza, Majorca, Minorca, and Formentera, and numerous smaller islands—are actually partially submerged peaks that are a continuation of the mountains of southeastern Spain.
For the English, Minorca offers some of the comforts of home but better weather. "In rough weather the spray of the sea is driven over the whole island," reports the fall edition of the 1799 Naval Chronicle. "The air ... is much more clear and pure than in Britain" (p. 125). A low-lying island, Minorca's rough, uneven topography is rilled by deep, narrow valleys, known locally as barancoes, that emanate from the island's interior and stretch down to the sea.
The same edition of The Naval Chronicle sketches the island's complicated history:
Minorca first fell under the power of the Romans, afterwards of the northern Barbarians; from them it was taken by the Arabs, who were subdued by the king of Majorca, who surrendered it to the King of Spain. The English subdued it in 1708, under General Stanhope; it came under the government of the French in June 1756; was restored to this country by the treaty of Paris in 1763; surrendered to the Due de Crillon, Commander in Chief of the combined armies of France and Spain, on the 5th of February 1782; and again came into the possession of the English on the 15th of November 1798, when attacked by the squadron under Commodore Duckworth, with troops commanded by the Honourable General Charles Stuart. (p. 125)
The Spanish regained Minorca in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens, but the British continued to use the island during the Napoleonic wars.
The chief town and port of Minorca, located on the island's southeastern coast. Port Mahon is not only strategically located (225 miles south of Toulon, 100 miles southeast of Barcelona, and 150 miles north of the main sea route between Gibraltar and Naples), but it also has one of the finest natural harbors in the Mediterranean. Indeed, a popular old saying proclaims, "The Mediterranean has three good harbors: June, July, and Port Mahon." The harbor's entrance was guarded by the powerful fortress of St. Philip. The town sits at the back of the harbor, some three miles from the fort.
The anxiety with which the public mind is at present directed towards the Mediterranean made us wish to gratify our readers with a correct view of this commodious and excellent harbor, which is now, when most wanted, in our possession. The design was made by Mr. Pocock from a most accurate drawing done at Mahon (usually pronounced Ma-on) in 1773 for the late General James Johnstone, then Governor.
This view of the harbor was taken from the north, opposite to Cale Figuiere. Among other things depicted here are the church and convent des Carmes, the Bureau de la Santé, the Port of Mahon, the magazine for victualling the Navy, the Admiral's house, the parish church, the convent, the town clock, the place to careen the ships, the Governor's house, and the Church of St. François.
Mahon harbor is full of little coves, similar to Cale Figuiere, which afford excellent anchorage; as indeed does in general the whole harbor, which is chiefly of an equal depth from shore to shore; the bottom is mostly covered with a thick grass, owing to which a light anchor will not take hold; a good scope of cable is therefore necessary to be given before you check the ship. Mahon harbor, allowed to be the finest in the Mediterranean, is about 90 fathoms wide at its entrance, but within very large and safe, stretching a league or more into the land.
Mahon, which derives its name from Mago, the Carthaginian General who founded the town, stands on an eminence on the west side of the harbor, the ascent pretty steep. It is large, but the streets are winding, narrow, and ill paved. There is a fine wharf at the foot of the hill, on which Mahon stands, the western end of which is set apart for careening and repairing his Majesty's ships. The depth of water is such, that ships of the largest size can come close to the quay. (Fall 1799 edition of The Naval Chronicle, p. 125.)
Whether Gibraltar, considered in a political light, is regarded as the key to Mediterranean commerce or—impregnable as it has been rendered by art and nature—a post from whence a British armament may issue to the terror of its foes or retire in perfect safety from the insults of a superior enemy, it has certainly become a place of considerable consequence to Britain. Though possessed of no trade or actual commerce that may return the expense of maintaining it, there can be no doubt that, contrary to the opinion of some, the secondary benefits arising from the possession of a post so situated would fully warrant a tenfold expenditure on its support. (Spring 1818 edition of The Naval Chronicle, p. 232.)
Strait of Gibraltar (the Gut)
The passage between Spain and Africa that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. At the western end of the thirty-six-mile strait, Cape Trafalgar stands to the north and Spartel to the south. At the eastern end, Gibraltar stands to the north and Ceuta to the south. The strait is about eight miles wide at its narrowest point and twenty-three miles wide at its widest. The two promontories at the eastern end of the strait, the Rock of Gibraltar and the Jebel Musa at Ceuta, form the mythical Pillars of Hercules.CHAPTER 2
England, the Continent, and a North Atlantic Showdown
HAVING BEEN CLEARED BY court-martial in Gibraltar for losing the Sophie at the end of book 1, Master and Commander, Aubrey sails as a passenger, with Maturin, for England on board the Charwell, a frigate just back from the West Indies. The two find themselves suddenly snatched from the jaws of yet another underdog confrontation with the enemy, this time in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of Brest, and thrust into the uncertainties of peace. The Treaty of Amiens has just been signed in March 1802.
Back in England, Aubrey and Maturin settle into Melbury Lodge on the South Downs in Sussex, fox-hunting country within a day's ride of London. Melbury Lodge is fortuitously within the social sphere of Grope, Admiral Haddock's house, and Mapes Court, home of the Williams family. Melbury is also not far north of Midshipman Babbington's family home in the town of Arundel, a seaport five miles from the mouth of the Arun River, which flows into the Channel at Littlehampton. In Arundel, Aubrey manages to get into a ruckus of a political nature that will hurt him at the Admiralty later. After further embroiling themselves in the foibles of shore life—in this case, primarily debt and female related—Aubrey and Maturin finally make their escape.
They sail to Toulon, a seaport on the southeastern coast of France, where they dine with the French captain Christy-Pallière, whom they had befriended when they were prisoners of his aboard the Desaix. While there, Maturin plans to study the flora and fauna of Porquerolles, one of the Hyères Islands off the coast. But in case hostilities with France resume, he is also gathering intelligence, particularly about Catalonia and about Port Mahon, Minorca, which had been returned to the Spanish by the Treaty of Amiens.
Caught in Toulon, France, in 1803 at the start of the Napoleonic War, Aubrey and Maturin don disguises and hike across France to the safety of the Maturin family castle in Catalonia.
War does in fact break out again, and in one of the most outlandish episodes of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, the pair escapes from France by traveling incognito around the Gulf of Lions and through the Pyrenees. They are headed for Maturin's family home, a somewhat dilapidated old castle in the Pyrenees Mountains behind Figueras, a fortified town in the northeast of Spain that was occupied by the French in 1794, 1808, and 1811. Aubrey barely survives the many rugged days of climbing in the Pyrenees, which reach altitudes of more than eleven thousand feet. Finally, after trudging hundreds of miles, they reach Maturin's castle and take in a vast view of Catalonia, Cape Creus, and the Bay of Rosas along the Mediterranean coast. For details of the route, see the map "Can He Dance, Mate?"
Excerpted from Harbors and High Seas by Dean King, John B. Hattendorf. Copyright © 2000 Dean King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.