The Ships of Jack Aubrey

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Like any stout-hearted Royal Navy midshipman or lieutenant, Jack Aubrey hungered for glory and for command of a ship. Indeed, the two were vitally connected, for the first was a path to the second and the latter -- with luck -- could bring the former. In the very first chapter of the first volume in Patrick O'Brian's magnificent series of novels about Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin, Aubrey obtained his first real command on April 19, 1800. And glory followed.

This web page explores all of Jack Aubrey's vessels from the small sloop-of-war HMS Sophie of which he takes command at the beginning of Master and Commander through more than a dozen other sloops, frigates and ships-of-the-line until we leave him in 21: The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey on the ship-of-the-line Suffolk, having raised his flag as rear admiral. And for any who might protest at the imprecision in the title of this page, the Sophie being only a brig and thus not truly a ship by the definition of the sea, I must fall back upon the sage words of that eminent nautical authority, Stephen Maturin: "Let us not be pedantical, for all love!"

For more than a decade I have been an avid fan of the nautical novels of Patrick O'Brian, an enthusiasm growing out of my long-standing interest in naval warships of the "Age of Fighting Sail" perhaps first sparked by childhood visits to "Old Ironsides". Oftentimes while reading these marvelous books, I have reached for the reference volumes on my shelves to better understand exactly what kind of vessel Jack Aubrey was commanding in the book in hand. And often I thought how convenient it would be to have a single source available to quickly find the basic information about the vessels, to look at their plans, and to compare one ship with another. These web pages are my effort to provide such a source of information.

In many cases, Patrick O'Brian put Jack Aubrey aboard real Royal Navy vessels of the era of the Napoleonic Wars, although frequently the author altered the actual histories of those ships to fit the world of his fictional hero. At other times, ships commanded by Aubrey had clearly identifiable historical prototypes, but with names and circumstances changed for the novels. For these historical vessels, whether commanded by Aubrey under their actual name or one fictional, a description of that ship is given below, accompanied by basic technical data and an image of the actual ship plans. Occasionally O'Brian invented a warship without obvious specific precedent. In those cases, a genuine vessel of appropriate design has been selected for presentation, again with data and plans.

Bruce Trinque
Amston, CT
March, 2006


Ships' Technical Data

In general the information given for each vessel is that applicable at the time of the original commissioning in the Royal Navy. Although the hull dimensions generally remained essentially unchanged throughout a ship's career (except in cases of major rebuilds of a type not applicable to any of Aubrey's commands), crew size and armament sometimes did substantially alter over years and decades of service. Gun types and quantities especially shifted around the beginning of the 19th Century when short-ranged but powerful carronades replaced many of the smaller-caliber long guns carried on quarterdecks and forecastles. Thus, the weaponry information presented here is not necessarily correct in all details for the period of Jack's Aubrey's command of the ship in question, although usually the main battery of guns is the same (a notable exception is HMS Surprise which under Aubrey's command typically carried 12-pound long guns, not the 9-pounders of the original armament scheme nor their 32-pound carronade replacements). Nominal crew sizes were adjusted from time to time and, of course, ships frequently served with crews under authorized strength.

An Explanation of Dimensions

Four dimensions are given for each ship. These are
Length - The length of the Lower Deck (the "lower deck" on a ship-of-the-line was that deck upon which the heaviest guns were placed; for frigates it was the deck immediately below the deck holding the main battery of cannons). This is the rough equivalent of "length between perpendiculars" for modern ships.
Keel - Not the length of the actual keel, but an artificial number used for calculations of tonnage.
Breadth - The "moulded" breadth at the widest part of the hull, "moulded" meaning the measurement was made to the outside of the hull frame, but inside the external planking.
Hold - The "depth in hold" was another artificial number sometimes used in calculating tonnage.
The dimensions cited for ships built for the Royal Navy are "as built" figures, if available; otherwise they are from the design plans; those for foreign prizes are "as built" figures taken during a survey after capture.


An artificial figure indicating not "displacement" as with modern ships (in essence, the weight of the ship) but a theoretical carrying capacity or "burthen". By the late 18th Century the standard formula for calculating tonnage was known as the Builders Old Measurement in which the Length minus three-fifths of the Breadth was multiplied by the Breadth times one-half the Breadth and then divided by the number 94, yielding the calculated tonnage of burthen (and explaining why the tonnage of vessels of this era usually include an odd fraction with "94" as the divisor). An equivalent technique was to multiply the Keel times Breadth times one-half Breadth and then divide by 94. The significance of such tonnage figures is that they permit a standard for a comparison of the relative overall size of different ships.


All technical data are taken from the late David Lyon's The Sailing Navy List: All the Ships of the Royal Navy Built, Purchased and Captured, 1688-1860 (Conway Maritime Press, 1997) and Rif Winfield's British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates (Chatham Publishing, 2005), with the relevant pages cited in each section. The ship plans come from several sources designated hereafter with page citations as: Boudriot - Jean Boudriot's The History of the French Frigate, 1650-1850 (Jean Boudriot Publications, 1993)
Gardiner - Robert Gardiner's Warships of the Napoleonic Era (Chatham Publishing, 1999)
Goodwin - Peter Goodwin's Nelson's Ships: The History of the Vessels In Which He Served, 1771-1805 (Stackpole Books, 2002)
Lavery [74] - Brian Lavery's The 74-Gun Ship Bellona (Naval Institute Press, 1985)
Lavery [JAC] - Brian Lavery's Jack Aubrey Commands (Naval Institute Press, 2003)
Lyon - David Lyon's The Sailing Navy List (Chatham Publishing, 2005)
NAN - Robert Gardiner's (editor) Nelson Against Napoleon: From the Nile to Copenhagen, 1798-1801 (Naval Institute Press, 1997)

The Ships

HMS Sophie

"... 'she was a slow brig, an old brig and a brig that was very unlikely to make his fortune'."
1800 - 1801: Jack Aubrey's first command, described in Master and Commander is the brig-rigged "sloop" HMS Sophie, operating out of Port Mahon in the western Mediterranean. Towards the end of the novel, the first book in the series, the Sophie is captured on the Spanish coast by a French squadron led by Admiral Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand, Comte de Linois.
Although the activities of the Sophie and her dimensions and armament were modeled closely on those of real-life HMS Speedy, commanded by Thomas, Lord Cochrane, the quarterdeck - unusual for a small sloop - was taken from HMS Vincejo, captured from the Spanish navy in 1799. Indeed, In the novel the Sophie is pointed out by one naval officer as being the former "Vencejo" - an alternative spelling - although in fact the Vincejo kept its original name while serving in the Royal Navy until captured by the French at Quiberon Bay in 1804. The Speedy, like the fictional Sophie, was captured in 1801 by Linois.

The data below are for HMS Speedy (Winfield 275):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1782 78' 3" 59 25' 9" 10' 10" 208 8/94 90

Plans for HMS Speedy (NAN 94)

The data below are for HMS Vincejo (Lyon 253):
Armament: Upper Deck sixteen 18-pound carronades, Quarterdeck two 6-pound long guns

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1798? 91' 5 1/2" 82' 25' 2" 12' 8" 276 1/2 100

Plans for HMS Vincejo (Gardiner 124-25)

HMS Polychrest

"She was known as the Carpenter's Mistake, and no one in the service had ever imagined she would be launched."
1803 - 1804: The Peace of Amiens and an anxious journey through France and Spain after hostilities resumed delay Jack's assignment in Post Captain to a new command until he is given the very unconventional ship-sloop HMS Polychrest, an unusual vessel with sharp ends at both bow and stern, no tumblehome (inward curvature at the top of the hull), drop keels (similar to daggerboards on some modern sail boats), and the remnants of the launching system for an unsuccessful secret weapon (a giant rocket). After several months of service in the English Channel, the Polychrest is severely damaged in a raid on a French port and sinks soon thereafter.
The physical form of the Polychrest (except for the secret weapon) was taken from the Dart class of sloops. The sliding keels, originally designed by Captain John Schank, were employed upon a number of small Royal Navy vessels around this period, although problems with leaking centerboard cases perhaps discouraged wider experimentation. Unlike the Polychrest with its extraordinary leeway and a propensity for missing stays, the real HMS Dart and her sister ship Arrow performed satisfactorily during their Royal Navy service. The Dart was broken up in 1809. The poor sailing qualities of Polychrest and perhaps the notion of a new secret weapon were likely taken from HMS Project, a much smaller vessel than the Dart (and Polychrest) with a very shallow draft to carry a new design of howitzer into coastal waters. The Project was broken up in 1810 after only five years of service.

The data below are for HMS Dart (Lyon 132):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1796 128' 8" 80' 8" 30 7' 11" 386 16/94 140

Armament: Upper deck twenty-four 32-pound carronades, Quarterdeck four 32-pound carronades, Forecastle two 32-pound carronades
Plans for HMS Dart (Lyon 132)

The data below are for HMS Project (Lyon156):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1806 70' 60' 5 1/4" 17' 6" 6' 6 1/2" 98 42/94 Unknown

Armament: two howitzers-mortars
Plans for HMS Project (Gardiner 75)

HMS Lively

"No wonder they called her a crack frigate: her sailing qualities were quite out of the ordinary, and the smooth quiet discipline of her people was beyond anything he had seen."
1804 - 1805: Jack's success in raiding the French port, despite the loss of the Polychrest, bring him promotion in Post Captain to the rank of, naturally, post captain and the temporary command of the 38-gun frigate HMS Lively. With the Lively Jack takes part in the interception of a Spanish treasure squadron in the Atlantic. After participating in blockade operations in the western Mediterranean in HMS Surprise, Jack Aubrey relinquishes command of the frigate to her regular captain and returns home to England.
The Lively was a genuine Royal Navy ship. However, Patrick O'Brian did alter the ship's history for purposes of his fiction. In Post Captain the frigate is described as having served for a considerable period in the East Indies when in fact the Lively was launched and commissioned in 1804, the same year when Jack Aubrey takes command. The Lively was lost in a wreck near Valletta while escorting a convoy to Malta in 1810.

The data below are for HMS Lively (Winfield 166):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1804 154' 1" 129' 7 3/4" 39' 6" 13' 6" 1071 90/94 284

Armament: Upper Deck 28 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck 8 9-pound long guns and 6 32-pound carronades, Forecastle 2 9-pound long guns and 2 32-pound carronades
Plans for HMS Lively (Lyon 122)

HMS Surprise

"... he knew her through and through, as beautiful a piece of ship-building as any that had been launched from the French yards, a true thoroughbred, very fast in the right hands, weatherly, dry, a splendid sailor on a bowline, and a ship that almost steered herself once you understood her ways."
1805 - 1806: Through the intervention of Stephen Maturin at the Admiralty in H.M.S. Surprise, Jack Aubrey is given the small frigate HMS Surprise of 28 guns, aboard which he had served years before as a midshipman. His assignment is to carry a diplomat to the East Indies, where he uses his ship to support the China Fleet of East India Company merchantmen to successfully fight off Admiral Linois's squadron. Afterwards, Jack and the Surprise return across the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and head northwards towards home.
HMS Surprise is another genuine Royal Navy ship, although with a rather different history than that portrayed in O'Brian's novels. The historical Surprise was originally the French l'Unite, captured in 1796. Although this accords well with Jack's comment that she had been taken from the French "early in the last war" (evidently meaning the French Revolutionary War, beginning in 1793), Jack's other descriptions of her past do not so well match history. His mention of having served aboard her as a midshipman would require her service in the Royal Navy during the 1780's, and his frequent references to her great age are not appropriate for a ship launched in 1794. (In a later novel, however, by way of contrast Jack does refer to her capture by the Royal Navy in 1796.) In one important aspect the fictional description of the Surprise agrees with history: while Captain Edward Hamilton had been in command, he ordered the installation of a mainmast of a size usually specified for a 36-gun Fifth Rate frigate, giving her a unique appearance. The real Surprise was sold out of the service in 1802, three years before Jack Aubrey fictionally takes command. The action of Linois against the China Fleet was genuine, although the real Surprise did not take part, and it actually occurred in 1804 while the fictional Jack Aubrey was still in command of the Polychrest.

The data below are for HMS Surprise (Lyon 247):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1794 126' 108' 6 1/8" 31' 8" 10' 1/2" 578 73/94 200

Armament: Upper Deck twenty-four 9-pound long guns, Quarterdeck eight 4-pound long guns and four 12-pound carronades, Forecastle two 4-pound long guns and two 12-pound carronades. Apparent actual armament: Upper Deck twenty-four 32-pound carronades, Quarterdeck eight 18-pound carronades, Forecastle two 6-pound long guns.

Although records are complex, Rif Winfield's research indicates that when the Surprise was initially taken into the Royal Navy in 1796 in the Mediterranean, she was classified as a Sixth Rate of twenty-eight guns. The following year she was deployed to Jamaica and, while there, was converted into a Fifth Rate (although not re-registered as such) with twenty-four 32-pound carronades and eight 18-pound carronades, and a crew of 240. In 1798, probably during her refit at Plymouth, the Surprise was once again converted to a 28-gun Sixth Rate, armed and crewed as stated above. [Information from a private communication from Rif Winfield.]

For a longitudinal section and deckplans of Surprise, plus descriptions of her inner arrangements and portraits of her officers, go to my HMS Surprise pages. (Need a separate page for this - need a name!)

HMS Boadicea

"... the Boadicea proved she was a dry, wholesome ship."
1809 - 1810: At the opening of The Mauritius Campaign, Jack has been ashore for a lengthy period of time, very probably since he left the Surprise. Again through the action of Stephen Maturin at the Admiralty, Jack Aubrey is given command of the 38-gun frigate HMS Boadicea, with the prospects of being commodore of a squadron of ships to be directed against Mauritius and the nearby islands in the Indian Ocean. After the successful conclusion of the campaign, Jack is ordered home in his ship to carry the happy news.
Boadicea is another real Royal Navy ship, and there is nothing in O'Brian's description of her which conflicts with her genuine history. In fact, the Boadicea was Commodore Josias Rowley's ship in the Royal Navy's Mauritius campaign, in which Rowley actually performed the activities assigned in the novel to Jack Aubrey. She was eventually broken up in 1858.

The data below are for HMS Boadicea (Winfield 150):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1797 148' 6" 123' 10 1/2" 39' 11 1/2" 12' 8" 1052 5/94 284

Armament: Upper Deck twenty-eight 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck fourteen 32-pound carronades, Forecastle two 9-pound long guns and two 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Boadicea (Lyon 121)

HMS Raisonable

"... the Raisonable was built fifty years ago, and if she fired a full broadside she might fall to pieces."
1809: In The Mauritius Campaign Jack temporarily gives up command of the Boadicea during the early phases of the campaign in order to transfer aboard an elderly 64-gun ship-of-the-line, HMS Raisonable, but once the hurricane season nears he resumes his place on the frigate for the remainder of the campaign.
The Raisonable was another genuine Royal Navy vessel of the Ardent class of Third Rates, launched in 1768 and hulked in 1810. By the time of the Mauritius campaign, 64-gun ships were considered too small to normally take a place in a line of battle and were often relegated to such service as being the flagship of a squadron on foreign duty.

The data below are for HMS Raisonable (Winfield 94):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1768 160' 1" 131' 6" 44' 6" 19' 1386 500

Armament: Gun Deck twenty-six 24-pound long guns, Upper Deck twenty-six 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck ten 9-pound long guns, Forecastle two 9-pound long guns
Plans for HMS Raisonable (Goodwin 14-15)

HMS Leopard

"To be sure, she was something of a slug, and a ramshackle old slug, when Tom Andrews had her. But the Dockyard has taken her in hand ... and now she is the finest fifty-gun ship afloat, not excepting Grampus. Certainly the finest fourth-rate in the service!"
1811 - 1812: Although prospects for Jack's career looked bright at the end of the previous novel in the series, nothing in the way of a command - except for a land posting to the Sea Fencibles - materializes until in Desolation Island he is offered HMS Leopard, a 50-gun Fourth Rate ship, for a voyage to Australia. Jack gives up command of the Leopard at the start of the next novel, The Fortune of War, in order to return to England.
O'Brian used a genuine Royal Navy ship of the Portland class for his setting, but the experiences of the Leopard presented in this novel were not taken from history; the near loss of the ship after an encounter with an iceberg never happened to the actual vessel. By the era depicted in Patrick O'Brian's novels, 50-gun ships were becoming a rarity. The Leopard was converted to a troopship in 1811 and was wrecked in fog in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1814.

The data below are for HMS Leopard (Winfield 118):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1790 146' 5" 120' 3/4" 40' 8" 17' 6" 1055 75/94 350

Armament: Gun Deck twenty-two 24-pound long guns, Upper Deck twenty-two 12-pound long guns, Quarterdeck four 6-pound long guns, Forecastle two 6-pound long guns
Plans for HMS Leopard (Lyon 78)

HMS Ariel

"A trim little ship, a frigate in miniature, but with a purer unbroken line; a formidable little ship too, with her sixteen thirty-two pounder carronades and her two long nines."
1813: In The Fortune of War Jack Aubrey is captured by the Americans (the War of 1812 has started in his absence) while a passenger aboard another ship during his return, but he eventually escapes from Boston to the blockading Royal Navy Shannon in mid-1813. After his return to England, as described in The Surgeon's Mate, Jack is given command of a vessel normally considered too small for a post captain: the 16-gun ship-sloop HMS Ariel, which is rated as a post ship for a special mission in the Baltic. After completing the mission, the Ariel is wrecked on the coast of France, with Jack imprisoned before his eventual escape.
The Royal Navy had a genuine sloop Ariel. Although in The Surgeon's Mate the Ariel is described as being a French-built prize, the actual sloop came out of an English yard, part of the Royal Navy's Merlin class. In appearance, she did indeed appear to be "a frigate in miniature" as described in O'Brian's novel. She was sold out of the service in 1816.

The data below are for HMS Ariel (Winfield 2581):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1806 106' 1/2" 87' 7" 28' 1" 13' 9" 367 39/94 121

Armament: Upper Deck sixteen 6-pound long guns, Quarterdeck four 12-pound carronades, Forecastle 2 12-pound carronades
Plans for HMS Merlin (Gardiner 62-63)

The Long Year of 1813

Patrick O'Brian adopted a flexible attitude towards the timing of actual historical events while reflecting them in his novels. In general, his fictional world paralleled reality (with some exceptions) from Master and Commander up through The Fortune of War and even into The Surgeon's Mate. The Fortune of War presents two "real world" events from late-1812 and mid-1813: the capture of HMS Java by the USS Constitution and the capture of the USS Chesapeake by HMS Shannon. Jack's return to England early in The Surgeon's Mate also fits reasonably into a mid-1813 timeframe, but Patrick O'Brian as an author of a continuing series of novels faced a lack of historical time for future adventures. The Napoleonic Wars would cease in 1814 (to be followed by a brief re-emergence of Napoleon in 1815) and the American War would end in 1815, shrinking the stage for possible heroic action. Therefore, O'Brian introduced into his novels a world without reference to outside time - no particular years were to be specified, no events specific to a given year would be described. For novel after novel, everything seemed to be happening in an endless year of 1813, carrying the series from The Surgeon's Mate all the way across the next ten novels and into The Yellow Admiral before real world chronology is reintroduced. In this literary Long Year of 1813, however, the characters in the series age in general conformance to the time period over which O'Brian wrote his books.

HMS Worcester

"... one of the surviving Forty Thieves, that notorious set of line-of-battle ships built by contract with a degree of dishonesty in their scantlings, knees, fastenings - in their whole construction - that excited comment even in a time of widespread corruption."
1813: In The Ionian Mission Jack Aubrey is in the Mediterranean in command of HMS Worcester, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line.
The Worcester is described in the novel as being of the notorious "Forty Thieves" type (a designation bestowed for their poor workmanship, although the name actually dates from after the close of the Napoleonic Wars, as the fortieth ship was not completed until long after the fighting ended), more formally known as the "Surveyors' class" that began with the launch of HMS Armada in 1810, contrary to the impression given in the novel that the Worcester is an old ship. Although the ship class is genuine, the specific name "Worcester" is fictional. The poor reputation of this group of Third Rates was probably not entirely deserved, and in fact the design produced more ships-of-the-line than another other class. The Armada herself was not sold out of the service until 1863.

The data below are for HMS Armada (Winfield 80). The plans are those for HMS Blake of a similar class of Third Rate ships-of-the-line, with the plans slightly altered to reflect the length and breadth differences.

Header text Header text Header text Header text Header text Header text Header text
Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1810 176' 145' 47' 7 1/2" 21' 1749 34/94 590

Armament: Gun Deck twenty-eight 32-pound long guns, Upper Deck twenty-eight 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck four 12-pound long guns and ten 32-pound carronades, Forecastle two 12-pound long guns and two 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Blake (Lyon 112)

HMS Surprise

1813: Due to the poor physical condition of the Worcester, Jack transfers to his old favorite HMS Surprise for further operations in the eastern Mediterranean, a situation continuing on into Treason's Harbour.
Plans for HMS Surprise (Gardiner 110-11)

East India Company Ship Niobe

"The Niobe spread her wings, the water began to sing down her side again as she leant to the thrust of the not inconsiderable remaining wind, and with the tide helping she ran quite fast through the islands and into the open sea, a pretty sight with her topgallants and studdingsails aloft and alow."
1813: Temporarily in Treason's Harbour Jack assumes command of the East India Company sloop Niobe in the Red Sea after he crosses overland from the Mediterranean. Niobe is a fictional vessel, although the East India Company's Bombay Marine did include ship-sloops. She probably would have in general resembled a Royal Navy sloop of the Osprey class.

The data below are for HMS Osprey (Winfield 265):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1797 102' 80' 6" 30' 12' 9" 385 35/94 121

Armament: Two 6-pound longs guns and sixteen 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Osprey (Lyon 135)

HMS Surprise

1813: Jack Aubry returns from the Red Sea to the Surprise in the Mediterranean. At the beginning of The Far Side of the World he is to sail her to England where the ship is to be sold out of the service, but the Surprise is given a reprieve when Jack is suddenly ordered to the South Atlantic to intercept an American frigate and, if not successful, to follow her into the Pacific. Surprise indeed rounds Cape Horn in pursuit of the American, eventually returning to the Atlantic and England in The Reverse of the Medal. Ensnared in a Stock Exchange fraud, Aubrey is dismissed from the Navy, while at the same time the Surprise is sold out of the service, bought by Stephen Maturin for use as a private man of war with Jack Aubrey as its commander. Jack in the Surprise operates in Atlantic and Baltic in The Letter of Marque. At the beginning of The Thirteen-Gun Salute, he departs England en route to the Pacific coast of South America on a secret mission for the Admiralty.
Plans for HMS Surprise (Gardiner 110-11)

HMS Diane

"... she certainly proved a sound, dry, weatherly ship, carrying an easy helm, wearing and staying quick and lying to remarkably well under reefed maincourse and mizen staysail, she lacked that thoroughbred quality, that extraordinary manoeuvrability and turn of speed close-hauled."
1813: In The Thirteen Gun Salute, before reaching South America Jack Aubrey is recalled to England (although the Surprise continues its voyage to the Pacific under the command of Thomas Pullings) to be reinstated in the Navy and given the 32-gun frigate HMS Diane, formerly a new-built French ship he himself had captured with the Surprise in The Letter of Marque. After sailing to the East Indies the Diane is eventually lost in a wreck upon rocks.
The Diane appears to have no direct "real world" counterpart, being described as having been rated at 30 guns in the French navy with the main battery guns as 18-pounders. Jack mentions that she has "the scantlings of a 40-gun ship," indicating her unusually stout construction. By 1813, however, France was not building frigates that small with such heavy guns. A reasonable model may be provided by the Amphion class of 18-pounder 32-gun frigates built for the Royal Navy in the 1790's. Although the design was of English origin, a French influence is evident in the length of the vessel, substantially greater than that standard for earlier British 32-gun frigates. In 1826 the Amphion was utilized as a breakwater.

The data below are for HMS Amphion (Winfield 153):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1798 144' 1/2" 121' 6 7/8" 37' 7 1/4" 12' 6" 914 40/94 254

Armament: Upper Deck twenty-six 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck four 6-pound long guns and four 24-pound carronades, Forecastle two 6-pound long guns and two 24-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Amphion (Lyon 26)

Nutmeg of Consolation

"... a tight, sweet, newly-coppered, broad-buttocked little ship, a solace to any man's heart."
1813: After Jack and his crew are rescued early in The Nutmeg of Consolation from the site of the Diane's wreck, he assumes command of a captured Dutch 20-gun vessel that he renames as the Nutmeg of Consolation after one of the honorific names of a local sultan. After Jack's rendezvous with the Surprise later in the novel, he again takes command of his old favorite and returns the Nutmeg to the local British governor.
Patrick O'Brian's notes for writing the novel indicate that he had two Royal Navy vessels in mind as possible models for the Nutmeg, although neither was a Dutch prize. Given the description in the novel, it seems likely that the Sixth Rate Camilla of the Sphinx class was the basic prototype of the Nutmeg.

The data below are for HMS Camilla (Winfield 226):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1776 108' 1 1/4" 89' 10 3/8" 30' 1" 9' 8" 432 56/94 140

Armament: Twenty 9-pound long guns.
Plans for HMS Sphinx (Lyon 90)

HMHV Surprise

1813: Jack continues as captain of the Surprise throughout The Truelove (also known as Clarissa Oakes) and The Wine Dark Sea as he crosses the Pacific Ocean to the fictional island of Moahu and then to South America. The official status of the Surprise at this point is complex. She is a privately owned vessel ostensibly on a privateering cruise but, in fact, engaged in a secret Admiralty mission, commanded by a Royal Navy officer. Technically, she is operating as "His Majesty's Hired Vessel Surprise".
Plans for HMS Surprise (Gardiner 110-11)


"Long and low, a right privateer."
1813: In The Wine Dark Sea while cruising off the Pacific coast of Peru, Jack temporarily transfers to the captured 22-gun American-French privateer Franklin.
No direct model for the Franklin is obvious, although the description of her as "long and low" suggests that all her guns would have been carried on a single deck, perhaps like the captured French privateer Volage, a privateer captured by the Melampus in 1798 and taken into the Royal Navy as a Sixth Rate. She was broken up in 1804.

The data below are for HMS Volage (Lyon 248):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1797 118' 10 1/2" 99' 5 1/2" 31' 5 1/4" 8' 4" 522 79/94 155

Armament: Twenty-two 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Volage (Lyon 248)

HMS Bellona

"She was always an uncommonly weatherly ship ... rolls easy, makes nine and even ten knots close-hauled on a brisk topgallant breeze, steers easy, wears quick, lies to perfectly well under maincourse and mizzen staysail, fore-reaching prodigiously all the while - amazing great wash."
1813 - 1814: After his return to England aboard the Surprise, Jack Aubrey in The Commodore is appointed as commodore to command a squadron off the coast of West Africa, with secret orders to proceed to Ireland later to intercept a planned French invasion. As his flagship he is given the 74-gun line-of-battle ship HMS Bellona, with Thomas Pullings as his flag captain.
In The Yellow Admiral Jack, no longer acting as a commodore but still in the Bellona, is ordered on blockade duty on the Atlantic coast of France until the end of the war, when he and the Bellona return to England.
Bellona was an actual 74-gun ship, launched in 1760 and remaining in service until 1814. Bellona was the first of only three ships in her class, but the design was considered successful enough to give rise to two slightly modified classes that eventually included almost two dozen additional ships-of-the-line. Shewas broken up in 1814.

The data below are for HMS Bellona (Winfield 43):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1760 168' 138' 46' 11" 19' 9" 1615 70/94 550

Armament: Gun Deck twenty-eight 32-pound long guns, Upper Deck twenty-eight 18-pound long guns, Quarterdeck fourteen 9-pound long guns, Forecastle four 9-pound long guns.
Plans for HMS Bellona (Lavery (74 30-31)

HMS Pomone

"... he did notice the curious, bedraggled appearance of the usually trim and more than trim Pomone, with yards all uneven, sails drooping, sagging in the breeze, rope-ends here and there. He had never seen a man-of-war look so desolate."
1815: In The Hundred Days the Admiralty again attempts the secret mission aimed against the Pacific coast of South American and dispatches Jack Aubrey in the Surprise, but almost immediately unexpected events intervene. Napoleon has escaped from Elba and is back in France, and new orders are sent to Jack to divert to Gibraltar as a squadron commodore aboard HMS Pomone, a 38-gun frigate.
The Pomone was a genuine Royal Navy ship and one that was familiar to Jack Aubrey; she had been the French Astree, captured at the surrender of Mauritius in The Mauritius Campaign. She had been built at Genoa to the same specifications by Jacques Noël Sané that had earlier been used for the frigate Virginie that, like so many other French frigates, had also been taken prize by the Royal Navy. The Pomone was broken up in 1816.

The data below are for HMS Pomone (Winfield 181):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1809 152' 127' 6" 40' 2" 12' 9" 1093 42/94 300

Armament: Upper Deck twenty-eight 18-pound longs guns, Quarterdeck fourteen 32-pound carronades, Forecastle two 9-pound long guns and two 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Virginie (Boudriot 201-01)

HMHV Surprise

1815 - 1817: Upon arriving at Gibraltar at the beginning of The Hundred Days Jack transfers his pennant as commodore to the Surprise. Once Napoleon is defeated, Jack finds he must return to England to refit before continuing on to South America in Blue at the Mizzen. Finally in the Pacific, Jack supports revolutionary efforts against Spain and while still there receives word that he has been promoted to Rear Admiral. He departs on the Surprise to sail to the Atlantic to take up his new duties early in 21: The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey.
Plans for HMS Surprise (Gardiner 110-11)

HMS Suffolk

"Suffolk might not have been called a very taut ship, nor more than ordinarily crack, but she could never have been likened to the Margate hoy … "
1817: In 21: The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack AubreyBold text, the unfinished fragment of Patrick O'Brian's intended twenty-first novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series, Jack Aubrey has the 74-gun Suffolk as his flagship in his new capacity as a Rear Admiral of the Blue, and we have the pleasure of seeing him actually raise his flag. Ordinarily, of course, as an admiral Aubrey would not directly command his own flagship, but in the present case he was sailing without a flag captain and also with a badly under-strength crew, although he had somewhat alleviated this situation by transferring men from his beloved Surprise. Patrick O'Brian's revised typescript breaks off as Jack aboard the Suffolk is about to sail with his squadron for St. Helena (where the former-Emperor Buonaparte is a prisoner) and thence to the Cape. [In the handwritten extension to the manuscript, the Suffolk actually reaches the African shore.]
The Suffolk was launched in 1765 and served the Royal Navy until she was broken up in 1803. As in several other cases, O'Brian altered the history of a genuine vessel for fictional purposes. (The 74-gun Sultan, launched in 1775, was renamed Suffolk in 1805; however, all of her service subsequent to 1797 was as a prison ship.) The plans presented below are those of the Berwick, another ship-of-line of very similar dimensions to the 1765 Suffolk and launched in 1775.

The data below are for HMS Suffolk (Winfield 45):

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1765 168' 1-1/2" 138' 9" 46' 9 5/8" 20' 2-1/2" 1616 57/94 550

Armament: Upper Deck twenty-eight 18-pound longs guns, Quarterdeck fourteen 32-pound carronades, Forecastle two 9-pound long guns and two 32-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Berwick (Lyon 70)

Ringle [Tender]

"... the Ringle, an American schooner of the kind called a Baltimore clipper, Jack's private property, much coveted by the Admiral for her fast sailing and her outstanding weatherly qualities."
1813 and onwards [as tender]: The Ringle, although originally unnamed, is first encountered in the closing pages of The Wine-Dark Sea, serving as the privately-owned tender to Heneage Dundas's HMS Berenice; the Ringle, a "Baltimore clipper" employed as an American privateer, had been found abandoned at sea. Prior to the opening of The Commodore the Ringle had been won by Jack Aubrey in a game of cards; Aubrey thereafter used her as his tender, frequently commanded by Midshipman William Reade.
Serving as a possible model for the Ringle's lines is HMS Musquidobit, formerly the American privateer Lynx. The Musquidobit (Lynx) was launched in 1812, was captured by the Royal Navy early in 1813, and served the Royal Navy until she was sold in 1820. The size of the Ringle as envisioned by Patrick O'Brian is not certain, although she was large enough for transoceanic voyages not to be considered either extraordinary or unduly dangerous.

Launched Length Keel Breadth Hold Tonnage Crew
1812 94' 7" 73' 1" 24' 10' 3" 224 50

Armament: 2 6-pound long guns and 8 12-pound carronades.
Plans for HMS Musquidobit (Lavery [JAC 58)]

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