Master and Commander

Plot summary

It is April 18, 1800, in Port Mahon, Minorca, at that time a base of the Royal Navy. Jack Aubrey, a lieutenant languishing in port without a ship, and Stephen Maturin, a penniless half-Irish, half-Catalan physician and natural philosopher, meet for the first time at the Governor's Ball. Maturin nudges Aubrey while they are listening to the quartet and almost provokes a challenge to a duel.

On his return to his lodgings, Aubrey finds that he has been given a command and promoted to the rank of commander. His joy overcomes his animosity towards Maturin and they become fast friends. As 'Master and Commander', and in charge of the tiny sloop-of-war HMS Sophie, Aubrey has to fill out his crew, including the post of ship's surgeon. He persuades Maturin to serve, at least on a temporary basis, although as a physician, he is overqualified for the job.

Also introduced are Master's Mates Thomas Pullings and William Mowett and midshipman William Babbington, who become long-term fixtures in the series, and James Dillon, Sophie's first lieutenant, whose secret background as a member of the United Irishmen intersects Stephen's own.

He changes the armament of the ship and improves her sailing by adding a larger spar. He makes her ready to sail in convoy with twelve merchant vessels. During their journey east, the new captain takes the opportunity to get to know his sailors and to weld them into a fighting unit. As he does, he and the crew explain many naval matters to Maturin, since the doctor is a novice sailor.

En route, they meet an Algerian quarter-galley who attacks their rearmost vessel, the Norwegian Dorthe Engelbrechtsdatter. The Sophie chases her off. Eventually, having retrieved the Norse ship, the convoy makes its destination off Cagliari. After a second convoy duty to Leghorn, Aubrey reports to Lord Keith in the Genoa roads.

Captain's Change of Heart

In The Far Side of the World, based on one of a series of novels by Patrick O'Brian, we see a powerful example of how change in attitude can bring an overwhelming response from life.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the British naval frigate HMS Surprise is pursuing the Acheron, a large and powerful French war vessel that is sailing off South America. The Surprise, commanded by Captain Jack Aubrey, is then attacked by the Acheron, and the ship is badly damaged, with many of its crew wounded. Even though the Acheron is a far more powerful ship with many more men aboard, the Captain still decides to try to capture it at all costs.

At various points, the Captain is torn between his own ambition and the views of his close friend, Stephen Maturin, who is the ship's doctor. Maturin thinks that the Captain is needlessly endangering the lives of the crew by perusing the Acheron.

At one point, Maturin wishes to stop at the Galapagos islands in order to gather some of the rarest animal and plant specimens on earth. The Captain insists there is no time, and they sail off. Thereafter, the doctor is accidentally wounded, and the ship is forced back to the Galapagos so he can heal. With Maturin near death, the Captain senses that he should have listened to his friend in the first place. After a while, the doctor recovers, and the Captain guardedly allows him to go on an outing to gather the specimens he so longed for. At one point, Maturin climbs a hill, looks out to sea, and then sees of all things, the Acheron, the French ship they are after, sailing nearby! The crew then immediately sets sail after the ship, and destroys it!

In other words, because the Captain saw the error of his way, and accepted the fact that he should have listened to his friend request in the first place, his friend suddenly finds the enemy for him. It is a wonderful example of how life responds in overwhelming fashion to a change in attitude.