Author: Patrick O’Brian
Genre: Historical fiction, British
This is the fourteenth book in Patrick O’Brian’s “Aubreyad”, a 21-story series about the adventures of Jack Aubrey, of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, and his ‘particular friend’ Stephen Maturin, a naval surgeon and natural philosopher.
At the beginning of this story, Jack, Stephen, and the crew of the H.M.S Diane are exactly where they were at the end of the previous book – The Thirteen-Gun Salute – which is shipwrecked somewhere in the South China Sea. How they get out of that predicament is, as the blurb on the Norton edition describes – “something that only Patrick O’Brian – or Stephen Maturin – could devise”.
Arriving in Batavia, Stephen’s plan is to buy another ship so that they can make a rendezvous with the H.M.S Surprise, something they were doing when the Diane struck a reef. However, some unfortunate financial problems seem to put a dent in that until the British governor of Java offers them a ship – the once-Dutch twenty-gun Gelijkheid, which was purposely sunk some months in the Java bay because of an infection aboard – and Jack gratefully accepts command of her. He renames the ship the Nutmeg of Consolation, after a title used by a Sultan he and Stephen had encountered in the previous book, where they journeyed to Indonesia.
He considered for a while, smiling, and then said, “Tell me, what was the title poor Fox tripped over during our first audience with the Sultan?”
“kesegaran mawar, bunga budi bahasa, hiburan buah pala.”
“I dare say. But it was your translation of it that I meant. What was the last piece?”
“Nutmeg of consolation.”
“That’s it – those were the very words hanging there in the back of my mind. Oh what a glorious name for a tight, sweet, newly-coppered, broad-buttocked little ship, a solace to any man’s heart. The Nutmeg for daily use: of Consolation for official papers. Dear Nutmeg! What a joy.”
They make for their rendezvous, which coincidentally put them on the same course as a French frigate named the Cornélie, which they had also met in Indonesia. In the chase, they finally (this after many unsuccessful previous attempts) meet up with the Surprise. Jack and Stephen transfer to the Surprise, leaving the Nutmeg to her delighted first lieutenant – and head for Australia for a refit.
However, after an official dinner in Port Jackson, Stephen becomes involved in a duel with an official who had been rude and provocative all through the dinner. He only injures him, but as the official was an army officer and a cousin of the Penal Secretary, it causes a great deal of inconvenience for Captain Aubrey, who is trying to get the ship refitted. This is only the beginning of Jack and Stephen’s Australian adventures.
Stephen in particular is witness to some of the horror of the place (particularly regarding the conditions and treatment of prisoners/captives). It’s not all bad for Stephen, however, as he meets a kindred spirit named John Paulton and manages to spend some time hunting for specimens in the bush – but by the end of the book he’s quite ready to go home. He wants to go home!
Jack, meanwhile, has to deal with all sorts of political and naval issues, and his worst days involve those two areas coming together, such as an incident when the local law enforcement board his practically-empty ship to look for convicts trying to escape – this despite the vehement protest of the officer of the watch.
I liked this book. It was nice to meet up with the crew of the Surprise again, after being so long with the Diane/Nutmeg crew. I love the talks that the naturalists – Stephen, Raffles (the governor in Java), and Martin (his assistant), have.
This series is still giving me a great deal of pleasure.