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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: Desolation Island (Book 5), Chapters 8-10 (pg. 1799-1884)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans

View of Christmas Harbor
View of Christmas Harbour, Kerguelen Islands, with the Resolution and Discovery, December 1776, engraving from a drawing by John Webber (1750-1793) from an account of the last voyage of James Cook (1728-1779), undertaken between 1776 and 1779. Indian Ocean, 18th century.
Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images


Aubrey’s wounded, physically and psychologically by the sinking of the 600-man Waakzaamheid, even though it was an “us or them” sort of situation. As Sherman said, “war is hell”. Maturin tends to his physical wounds — head gash, leg injury, etc — but the psychological ones cut deep and that’s affecting the ship as well (beyond just its damaged condition). The crew look upon the captain almost as infallible god, and he’s far from one at the moment, with some beginning to question his capacity for sound thought, even.

Meanwhile, Maturin delivers a baby for one of the women prisoners via C-section, whom they name Leopardina, and also plots to gain some US intelligence by way of Mrs Wogan and Herapath.

However, there’s trouble afoot as the Leopard drifts further south and into some ice. Aubrey’s not able to take active command for much of the time, with Lt. Grant guiding the ship instead and acting of his own volition at times. Which of course leads to the Leopard hitting an iceberg. The crew try furiously to save the ship, but it seems a losing battle. Aubrey refuses to abandon ship; most the crew jump into the boats and try to make 1300mi journey to the Cape in them. Aubrey stays, along with Maturin and a few loyalists...

Crew of HMS Guardian after a collision with an iceberg
Part of the crew of HMS Guardian, try to escape in boats after a collision with an iceberg circa 1780
Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


Those who remain on the Leopard work a miracle and manage to save the ship (and get lucky with the weather, too). The gash in the hull has been fixed with a sail, like when you stretch a garbage bag over the broken window of your hooptie. Still, the pumps barley manage to keep the ship afloat. The rudder’s broken, but they manage to repurpose a mast for a giant steering oar. MacGyver and his loyal crew try to reach the Crozet Islands but miss them. Just when all hope seems lost, Aubrey remembers being told of a “Desolation Island”, which they do in fact manage to reach and anchor safely just before a massive storm hits.

It’s just past December 25: a Christmas miracle!

(These probably correspond to the Kerguelen Islands rather than what is now called Desolation Island, which is in the South Shetlands. O’Brian’s description of the bay in which the Leopard anchors on a makeshift anchor matches Captain Cook’s description of Christmas Harbor from 1776.)


The island may be called Desolation, but it’s full of wildlife (seals, penguins, birds, etc) and greenery (some sort of cabbage) to keep the men well fed and scurvy-free. So after they regain their strength, they set about trying to fix the ship. They are able to patch up the hull, but the rudder’s broken and they can’t fix it without a forge, which they had tossed overboard in the process of lightening the iceberg-hit ship.

Luckily, an American whaling ship pulls into the harbor. Maturin’s doctoring skills diffuse the tension well enough and long enough for the Leopard (an infamous ship for firing upon the Chesapeake unprovoked some years earlier) to use the whaler’s forge to cast a new joint and control arms for the rudder.

Meanwhile, Maturin’s manipulation of Mrs Wogan and Herapath has them thinking that they’re escaping on the whaler, but are instead carrying planted intelligence from Maturin that will surely prove useful for the Royal Navy in the future when fighting against the USA or France.

The incident between HMS “Leopard” and USS “Chesapeake” that sparked the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.
Drawn by Fred S. Cozzens, Public domain | Wikimedia Commons

And thus, we come to the end of book 5: “Desolation Island”. Next up, book 6: “The Fortune of War”.





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