Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian

Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian

We are now at the fifth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series of books about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I first read this book in August 2001, and read it again in December, 2006; and as I am reading all of the novels again, in order, I have in the fullness of time come to this one. I enjoyed this entry in the series, although it definitely ends on a note that indicates that it is Part I (or more) of a particular story.

At some point in the late oughts or very early teens of the 19th Century (later on in the series the author makes a point that the year of 1812 seems to last forever), Stephen Maturin rescues his friend Captain Jack Aubrey from a card game with a party including Andrew Wray, of the Treasury and Patronage Office; Maturin can see what Aubrey cannot, which is that Wray and the others playing Aubrey are cheating (and winning rather large sums of money from Aubrey, who is now tolerably rich). Upon realising the truth, Aubrey challenges Wray, but a duel does not take place. Indeed, one cannot, because Captain Aubrey is soon to sail in the horrible old Leopard (since it is now his ship, it’s the noble Leopard) to New South Wales in Australia to rescue Governor Bligh (who earlier in his career was Captain Bligh, of the Bounty), who is being held in irons as a result of a mutiny of the settlers under his governance. Meanwhile, the Crown has captured an American spy, Mrs. Louisa Wogan, who has ties to Mrs. Diana Villiers (who has once again broken Stephen Maturin’s heart by heading off to America with her Mr. Johnson (again), leaving poor Stephen to pay her outstanding bills. Mrs. Wogan is sentenced to be transported to Australia on the Leopard, so that Stephen can, in his public pose as the ship’s doctor, converse with her to find out (in his most private pose of spy) the details of the American spy operation. To aid this deception, some thirty other convicts are sentenced to be transported with her, so that there are thirty some male convicts and four women. Jack Aubrey only knows that his ship will be used to transport convicts, male and female, a state of affairs that nearly causes him to throw up his commission.

In due time the Leopard sails, with Aubrey’s usual officers and men (and a stowaway); his second lieutenant, James Grant, wrote a book about a voyage he took to New South Wales, and it is hoped that he will be an asset to the crew. However, the Leopard is rumored (by the Gypsy woman among the convicts) to be a ship with a Jonah on board, and it is not a happy ship. And part of their mission, as always, is to attack the enemy, and they have heard that the Dutch ship Waakzaamheid, with twice the men and half again as many guns, is also heading for the Cape of Good Hope, where all ships heading for Australia must pass.

I can say that by the end of this book they have not gotten to Australia yet; that will be for the next book (or two) in the series.

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