The Mauritius Command

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The Mauritius Command is the fourth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series. It starts a number of years after the events of the novel HMS Surprise. The book opens with scenes of Aubrey's domestic life at Ashgrove Cottage. Aubrey has been without a sea-going command since HMS Surprise and is obviously not completely satisfied with shore life.

The book is closely based on the actual campaign to capture the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and its surrounding islands from the French with O'Brian replacing some of the original participants with his fictional characters. Most of the events in the book are very closely based on historical ones.

For more details about the plot, which will contain spoilers, see Summary for The Mauritius Command

The Mauritius campaign in history

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for " The Mauritius Command"  follow.

O'Brian says truly in his foreword that he has adhered closely to the facts of history. No other book in the series retains nearly so much of the real-life course of events; even minor details such as the burning of the silk, the sacrifice of a transport-brig to provide a breakwater during the Réunion landings, Farquhar's propaganda activities and Captain Tomkinson's refusal of the command of the Windham are faithfully transcribed from the historical record. The principal changes he has allowed himself are as follows:

  • Jack Aubrey replaces Josiah Rowley as Commodore.
  • Lord Clonfert replaces Captain Nesbit Willoughby as commander of the Otter and subsequently captain of the Néréide. Willoughby was an altogether more robust figure, several of whose exploits are transferred to Jack himself in the book; he was wounded in the same way as Clonfert but recovered and lived to be 72.
  • Captain Robert Corbett's fate is uncertain. The historian William James mentions the theory that he was killed by his crew but rejects it, suggesting instead that the wounded Corbett threw away his life by tearing off his bandages, a motif which O'Brian transfers to Clonfert.
  • Hamelin, the French commodore, was not killed on board the Vénus but lived until 1839.

A curious detail is that HMS Leopard (50) was briefly (April-May 1810) included in the squadron. O'Brian mentions her several times in this book, using the description 'horrible old Leopard' at one point, although he had other and far more extensive plans for her.

The following chronology of the campaign is based on Vol. 5 of James's Naval History of Great Britain. Following James's convenient practice, the names of British ships are given in roman type and those of foreign vessels (French unless otherwise indicated) in italic.

  • 1808 Oct. 8 Modeste (36) captures Jéna (18), which becomes HM sloop Victor
  • 1809 Spring Rodrigues Island captured by Col. Keating's troops for use as base for operations against Réunion and Mauritius; Vénus, Manche, Bellone & Caroline reach Mauritius
  • May 31 Caroline captures Indiamen Streatham & Europe
  • Aug. 14 Otter (N. Willoughby) captures French brig at Rivière-Noire, Mauritius
  • Sept. 20-23 Raisonable, Nereide, Sirius & Boadicea, with smaller vessels (Commodore Rowley), working with Keating's forces, capture port of Saint-Paul, Réunion. Silk warehouse burned down (May 22). Caroline taken; Streatham & Europe recaptured. Suicide of Governor Desbrusleys. Willoughby made post and transferred to Nereide.
  • Nov. 2 Bellone recaptures Victor, which apparently retains her new name in French hands
  • Nov. 18 Vénus & Manche capture Indiamen Windham, United-Kingdom & Charlton
  • Nov. 22 Bellone captures Portuguese Minerva (henceforward Minerve)
  • Dec. 29 Magicienne (L. Curtis) recaptures Windham
  • 1810 Apr. 30 Nereide's boats successfully raid Jacolet, Mauritius
  • July 3 Bellone & Minerve capture Indiamen Windham (again) & Ceylon; Boadicea sets out from Rodrigues with Farquhar (Governor-designate) on board
  • July 6 Iphigenia (H. Lambert) joins squadron
  • July 7 Landings at Grande-Chaloupe & Rivière des Pluies, Réunion (at the latter, transport Ulney is sacrificed to provide breakwater against dangerous surf)
  • July 8 French forces on Réunion surrender. Farquhar installed as Governor
  • Aug. 13 Boats from Nereide & Iphigenia seize Ile de la Passe at entrance to Grand'Port (O'Brian's 'Port South-East'), Mauritius
  • Aug. 17-20 Willoughby leads series of assaults on forts around Mauritius & distributes propaganda leaflets
  • Aug. 20-25 Naval action at Grand'Port. Willoughby uses French signals to lure Bellone, Minerve & Victor into the harbour. Discarded French flag causes fire in Ile de la Passe battery, disrupting British gunnery. Victor strikes but then escapes. Boat party from Sirius (S. Pym) recaptures Windham once more (Aug. 21). Sirius & Magicienne run irretrievably aground. Nereide, left unsupported against Bellone & Victor, strikes after savage battle. Pym, as senior captain, rejects Lambert's plan to board Bellone. Magicienne & then Sirius abandoned & destroyed
  • Aug. 27 Survivors of the Grand'Port disaster bring the news to Rowley at Rodrigues
  • Aug. 27 Iphigenia captured by Astrée & Manche off Ile de la Passe; becomes Iphigénie
  • Sept. 9 Africaine (R.Corbett) arrives at Rodrigues
  • Sept. 12-13 Africaine, having become separated from Boadicea, engages Astrée & Iphigénie; strikes after heavy losses. Recaptured by Boadicea, Otter & Staunch
  • Sept. 17 HMS Ceylon (32; formerly Bombay [Indiaman] & not to be confused with the Ceylon captured by the French on 3 July) (C. Gordon) taken by Vénus & Victor
  • Sept. 18 Boadicea, her crew reinforced by survivors from Africaine, recovers HMS Ceylon & then captures Vénus
  • Oct. 19 Rowley's squadron blockades Port-Louis on W. coast of Mauritius
  • Nov. 22 Greatly enlarged squadron - Illustrious (74), 12 frigates & over 50 sloops & transports, now under Rear-Adm. Bertie - sets sail from Rodrigues
  • Nov. 29 Squadron anchors at Grande-Baie near Port-Louis
  • Dec. 3 Final surrender of French forces on Mauritius after series of land actions

Books in the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

Master and Commander | Post Captain | HMS Surprise | The Mauritius Command | Desolation Island | The Fortune of War | The Surgeon's Mate | The Ionian Mission | Treason's Harbour | The Far Side of the World | The Reverse of the Medal | The Letter of  Marque | The Thirteen-Gun Salute | The Nutmeg of Consolation | Clarissa Oakes/The Truelove | The Wine-Dark Sea | The Commodore | The Yellow Admiral | The Hundred Days | Blue at the Mizzen | 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

Other books by Patrick O'Brian
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