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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: H.M.S. Surprise (Book 3), Chapters 9-11 (pg. 1147-1248)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans

The Battle Of Pulo Aura
The Battle Of Pulo Aura
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


On February 14, 1804, the Battle of Pulo Aura, if you want to call it a battle, took place in the South China Sea, wherein a large convoy of merchant vessels, the so-called “China Fleet” of the East India Company drove off a squad of French naval warships led by Admiral Linois, who was tasked with harassing the profitable British shipping lines in the area. It was a brief engagement, with nary a gun fired or loss of life, before Linois tucked tail and ran, claiming to have faced eight ships of the line — a claim that put him under considerable ridicule at the time, as well as by future historians, and certainly adding to certain stereotypes of French bravery.

That engagement also inspired this chapter, but with a much (much!) more exciting narrative, a much (much!) more courageous battle, with much (much!) more cunning on either side — and one with plenty of shots fired, more tactical tinkering than you can shake a history book at. So much much! It’s got it all, feints, counterfeints, presses, counters, rushes, traps, disguises, surprises, well-laid plans, and like Thomas Tuchel likes to say, a good bit of luck to decide the outcome of most narrow margins.

In the end, Aubrey succeeds in defending the convoy of merchantmen with his lone frigate against the four French warships, nearly sinking Linois’ flagship, the Marengo, while also nearly sinking his own ship in the process. They all survive to limp away, but a grand victory to stand up there with Aubrey’s capture of the Cacafuego with the Sophie back in the first book.


The fleet pulls into Calcutta, where Aubrey’s celebrated as a hero, and the Surprise gets fixed and refitted with all the resources of the Company available to them. Mr. Canning (and Diana) just so happen to be there as well, and Canning personally rewards Aubrey with “freight” (i.e. some gemstones to take with him and sell like a prize), which Aubrey is certain will once and for all end his debt troubles. He sends a note to Sweet Sophie to celebrate their good fortune, asking her to come down and meet him in Madeira, Portugal in about six months’ time since, you know, ships are slow.

Meanwhile, Maturin visits Diana and proposes again. Mr. Canning takes great offense to this, and WillSmiths the good doctor. Maturin does not turn the other cheek, literally, and we’re once again set for pistols at dawn. And there’s no backing down from this one. Canning shoots to kill but misses any vital organs. Maturin thus has to switch hands, shoots to wound but also misses, nicking Canning’s aorta, a fatal wound.

You don’t want Maturin to be your huckleberry.


At long last, we’re on our way home. But first, a bit of self-surgery, as Maturin extracts the bullet from his own ribcage, a scene that also made it into the “Master and Commander” movie. And there’s even better news as Diana agrees to leave with the good doctor now that her current boy-toy’s dead, though she cannot sail on the Surprise, Navy rules and all. (Plus, Jack doesn’t like her dishonorable ways.) So she books a passage on a merchant vessel, which leaves for Europe shortly before the Surprise starts heading home as well.

The journey is long but fairly uneventful, minus the fever-induced ravings of Maturin as he recovers from his massively invasive surgical procedure. He eventually does get better (especially after he acquires a therapy-turtle from some island to keep as a pet) and the Surprise eventually reaches Madeira. But surprise, no Diana and no Sweet Sophie there to greet them! No surprise: Diana has absconded to the New World with some rich American dude, giving back the ring to Stephen in an envelope. That’s cold.

Aubrey’s almost equally despondent at his own situation, but as they set sail towards England, they run across a couple friendlies, one of whom is signaling to the Surprise. And there she is, Sweet Sophia! Awww, what a Hollywood ending!

And thus ends book 3: “H.M.S. Surprise”. Next up, book 4: “The Mauritius Command”.





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