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Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

This is a list of recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. References to page numbers, where they appear, are based upon the W. W. Norton & Company printing of the novels.

Recurring characters

Main characters and their families

  • Jack Aubrey is one of the heroes of the series. His rise from a young lieutenant in the Royal Navy, through the ranks of commander and post-captain to rear-admiral is chronicled thoroughly. A resourceful and powerful man, he is regarded as one of the best fighting captains in the Royal Navy. Part of Aubrey's success is the result of having been disrated from midshipman and turned before the mast as a common sailor, in part because of a love affair he has with a black girl named Sally Mputa (this occurs prior to Master and Commander, but is referred to in several novels). Though this experience is painful at the time, it gives him unique (among officers) insight into the life and beliefs of common sailors, enabling him to more effectively lead them as an officer. His own hero is Lord Nelson. His crew often follows him from ship to ship, not just because of his leadership but also due to his knack for capturing valuable prizes, for which he is nicknamed "Lucky Jack". Aubrey is also referred to by some as "Goldilocks" because of his long yellow hair. His physical characteristics, namely a large frame and scarred visage, often lead to an underestimation of his mental abilities, but he is also a renowned mathematician and amateur astronomer, a Fellow of the Royal Society. Aubrey's love of women has led to problems with the men he has cuckolded and with his wife, Sophie. His other great loves are the violin and puns, which he seems to enjoy creating as much as telling. Unfortunately, as masterful and lucky as Jack is at sea, he is somewhat inept and unlucky by land, and is often forced to hurriedly take ship in order to escape his troubles.
  • Stephen Maturin is the series' other hero. A former Irish radical, he is a ship's surgeon who has sailed with Aubrey since his first voyage as Commander. Unlike many surgeons in this era, Maturin is a physician, and is highly regarded for his intimate knowledge of anatomy and diseases. His skills have saved the lives of many of his shipmates. He is acknowledged as a man of high breeding (The Fortune of War, p.48), and while on land he is consulted by such prominent figures as the Duke of Clarence. Maturin is also well known in the scientific community as a naturalist, specializing in comparative anatomy of birds but also willing to examine (and sometimes dissect) any interesting animal that crosses his path. His qualities as a doctor are only outshone by his skills as an intelligence agent, a profession only suspected by those he sails with but one by which he has occasionally confounded Napoleon's attempts at European domination. Despite spending so much time aboard ships, Maturin has little knowledge of their qualities and terminology, which does not stop him from trying to explain various sailing terms and maneuvers to people even less informed. His appearance--small, pale, and usually dishevelled--does not make him very appealing to the opposite sex, but that does not deter him from trying to win the heart of the beautiful Diana Villiers. Unfortunately, Maturin is, from what he claims is a spirit of pure philosophical enquiry, also a regular dabbler in any intoxicating drug that comes his way. Though just barely not crossing the line that separates heavy use from addiction, he has dabbled in laudanum, a tincture of opium, coca leaves, from which cocaine is produced, and other local intoxicants ranging from bhang to khat, depending on where he happens to be at the moment. Maturin also has the sometimes distressing habit of bringing both live (wombats, a hive of bees, "a most discriminating" sloth) and dead animal (and human) specimens on board ship. Most are tolerated (even the bees) due to the crew's respect for Stephen's talents as a physician and natural philosopher, some, such as severed human hand and a narwhal's horn are seen as lucky talismans.
  • Sophia "Sophie" Aubrey (nee Williams) is Jack's wife. Her provincial and prudish upbringing ensures that she does not share his amorous tendencies, but they still have a happy marriage and three children (two twin girls, Charlotte and Fanny, and a boy, George). Sophie proves to be very competent at keeping accounts, in addition to successfully managing a household whose main provider (Jack) is often absent for months at a time. Sophie has two sisters, Cecilia and Frances, who appear in Post-Captain.
  • Mrs. Williams is Aubrey's mother-in-law. In HMS Surprise, Maturin describes her as "a deeply stupid, griping, illiberal, avid, tenacious, pinchfist, a sordid lickpenny and a shrew". Despite being stingy and obsessed with money, she is quite credulous and snobbish, which leads her to get involved in, for example, an illegal bookmaking operation, where she loses a great deal of her fortune and is threatened with arrest. Mrs. Williams dies in an accident when the coach she is riding in, driven by her niece Diana Villiers-Maturin, overturns.
  • Samuel Mputa (aka Sam Panda) is the illegitimate son born out of Aubrey's affair with Sally Mputa during his day as a midshipman. Samuel is described as identical to Aubrey in appearance except for his dark skin tone. He was raised by Catholic missionaries in Mozambique, and comes to seek his father's blessing, which he receives. Both Aubrey and Maturin find him to be a valuable and enjoyable companion, and thanks in part to Maturin's influence, Samuel becomes a priest and eventually Papal Nuncio to Argentina.
  • General Aubrey is Jack Aubrey's father. He has embarrassed his son on numerous occasions with his politics, which swing all the way from extreme right wing to extreme left wing, but always in opposition to the Government. The General remarries after Jack's mother dies, and eventually provides Jack with a half brother, Philip. In The Reverse of the Medal, the General and his associates buy heavily into stocks that Aubrey unwittingly recommends to them, causing Jack Aubrey to be tried for stock fraud and briefly stripped of his rank in the Navy. The General flees the country to avoid being arrested; his corpse is later discovered in a ditch (The Letter of Marque).
  • Diana Villiers is Sophie's beautiful cousin and her opposite in many respects. She has a great love of horses and riding and breeds Arabians. Her impetuous nature has led to more than one ill-conceived affair, but eventually Maturin wins her over. O'Brian perhaps took her name from Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, the notorious mistresses of the Prince Regent. During one of her many periods of disgrace, Diana is described as running about with "Lady Jersey's set." Diana temporarily flees her home after the birth of her daughter Brigid, unable to deal with the young girl's autism. Diana is killed, along with her aunt Mrs. Williams, when the carriage she is driving goes out of control and overturns. This event occurs totally "off camera", in between novels, and is believed to be a reflection of the passing of O'Brian's wife and soulmate Mary.
  • Brigid Maturin is Stephen and Diana's daughter, born while he was away at sea. Before her father met her she was severely introverted, showing signs of what a modern doctor would diagnose as autism. After Diana's grief-driven departure, Padeen's gentle and nurturing manner helps her to connect with the world, and gain a full recovery.

Shipmates

  • William Babbington is a midshipman in Aubrey's first command, HM Sloop Sophie. As a midshipman, Babbington has an almost insatiable lust for the fairer sex. Stephen notes that Babbington's stunted growth is likely the result of his frequent encounters, at an early age, with poxed ladies of the evening. Babbington later becomes a master and commander, and then a Post Captain (in The Letter of Marque), both because of his natural ability (augmented by having been trained by Aubrey), and because he has influential relations who control several seats in Parliament. As a master and commander of the ship in which Maturin and Diana travel back from Paris in The Surgeon's Mate, he solemnises their marriage (p. 382). Babbington himself later falls in love with Admiral Harte's daughter, inconveniently married to the traitorous Andrew Wray.
  • Barret Bonden is Aubrey's highly competent, highly valued coxswain. Bonden appears in the first book of the series, Master and Commander, as the coxswain and captain of the maintop in HM Sloop Sophie. He is described as "a fine open-looking creature, tough without brutality, cheerful, perfectly in his place and, of course, a prime seaman - bred to the sea from childhood." In this same novel, Aubrey asks Bonden to become a member of the quarter-deck, but Bonden declines, responding, "I ain't got the learning, sir." (p. 275). Nevertheless, Bonden's obvious abilities and trustworthiness enable Aubrey to entrust him with many missions of his own, several of which involve looking after Maturin during Maturin's activities as an intelligence agent. Bonden also proves to be valuable in always taking care to get the perpetually clumsy doctor safely on and off ship. Maturin returns the favor by teaching Bonden how to read and write. Bonden, along with his cousin, Joe Plaice, follows Aubrey from ship to ship, until an unfortunate twenty-four pound shot from a treasure-laden African galley strikes his gun, killing him (The Hundred Days, p. 263-64). In the 2003 film, Bonden was portrayed by Billy Boyd.
  • "Awkward" Davies has long followed Aubrey from ship to ship. As his nickname suggests, he is a clumsy sailor, known for dropping sharp edged tools from great heights, narrowly missing his shipmates. This, coupled with his immense strength and his hot temper, make him an undesirable crew mate. Despite this, he is valued as a powerful fighter useful for boarding and cutting out expeditions. He has the dubious distinction of being saved from drowning twice by Aubrey, which has earned Davies' undying gratitude. In the final Aubrey/Maturin adventure, Blue at the Mizzen, Aubrey describes Davies in a letter written to his wife Sophie:

*"Your favourite Awkward Davies can be positively dogged, if crossed by a new hand: but in a boarding-party, or storming a shore-position, he is worth his weight in gold, heavy though he is. His huge bulk, his terrifying strength and activity, the awful pallor of his face and his way of foaming at the mouth when he is stirred, all make him a most dreadful opponent. What Stephen calls his berserker rage fairly clears the enemy's decks before him. He also howls. But he has other sides: not only is he very useful when you must sway up the mast short-handed, but in sudden emergencies too." (p. 98-99). Davies was played in the 2003 film by Patrick Gallagher.

  • Faster Doudle is a seaman often found in ships under Jack Aubrey's command. In The Fortune of War he is described as the Leopard's wicket-keeper. His last name is pronounced like the word "dawdle", punning on the ironic connection of the two words.
  • Preserved Killick is Aubrey's shrewish steward, inherited from Captain Pallas when Aubrey assumes command of HM Sloop Sophie in Master and Commander. He also comes to unofficially care for Maturin (The Fortune of War, p.57), particularly his long-suffering uniforms and clothes, and never resists the opportunity to nag either of them (though mostly Maturin, his habits generally leaving him looking much shabbier than Aubrey) for their carelessness in appearance. He is also known to listen in on their private conversations, steal from the captain's private stores, and drain more than his fair share of wine from the captain's table. Despite all these shortcomings, he is a highly valued, fiercely loyal and well-respected member of Aubrey's crew. Killick follows Aubrey from ship to ship, and it is no surprise that larger dictionaries define killick as a small anchor. Killick's star does fade slightly in the nineteenth book, The Hundred Days, when an assistant at one of Aubrey's dinners "in a paroxysm of adolescent drunkenness, spewing improbable jets of Madeira," contrives to trip Killick and the poor steward cracks Stephen's sacrosanct narwhal horn (p.89). Eventually, the horn, which the superstitious crew believes will bring good fortune to the ship, is restored, as is Killick's standing among his fellows. In the 2003 film, Killick was portrayed by actor David Threlfall.
  • Nathaniel Martin is an Anglican priest and friend of Maturin who shares his love of nature and lack of maritime knowledge. Martin has an unfortunate tendency to buy his knowledge of living creatures at the expense of personal injury, including the loss of an eye to an owl, but his knowledge of anatomy and former experience in stuffing birds make him an obvious choice for surgeon's mate under Stephen. Martin serves in this capacity through several novels, eventually becoming known as an assistant surgeon when this title replaces surgeon's mate. Later, Martin serves as Surprise's surgeon during Stephen's absence (Thirteen-Gun Salute and The Nutmeg of Consolation). Sailors, who normally consider churchmen unlucky on board a ship, are often prepared to accept him in this medical capacity, further comforting themselves with the mistaken belief that he is only aboard because he was defrocked for having an affair with his Bishop's wife. Martin is introduced in The Ionian Mission as a parson, a thin and shabby literary gentleman. At this time he is a young man (younger than Stephen, at any rate) who is eager to please and to be pleased; these qualities, along with his interest in nature, slowly fade with time. Martin's career at sea ends when he inadvertently gives himself mercury poisoning during his attempt to cure himself of syphilis, a disease he does not have.
  • William Mowett - Originally a master's mate in HM Sloop Sophie, he became one of Aubrey's junior lieutenants in the Surprise, along with another lieutenant, Rowan. Both Mowett and Rowan are amateur poets of indifferent talent, who try to outdo each other in declaiming bombastic poetry, one in "the classical style" and another in "the modern style" - their poems all having to do with shipwrecks, lee shores and naval battles. In the 2003 film, Mowett was played by Edward Woodall.
  • Padeen (Patrick Colman) is Maturin's longtime servant and loblolly boy. Only Maturin is able to communicate with him, as Padeen has a cleft palate and can only speak in the Irish tongue. Addicted to opium after he was anaesthesized with laudanum following a shipboard accident, he broke into an apothecary shop to steal some. He was caught and transported to New South Wales. Padeen was later pardoned. His patient, gentle nature became instrumental in bringing Brigid, Maturin's differently abled (possibly autistic) daughter, out of her shell. In the 2003 film, Padeen was played by John DeSantis.
  • Joseph "Joe" Plaice is an able seaman and long-time follower of Aubrey, described as "deeply stupid" but an excellent hand in Post Captain. He is Barret Bonden's cousin. He was played in the 2003 film by George Innes. In the film, Stephen Maturin saves his life by performing brain surgery after he sustains a depressed skull fracture. (In the novel series, this procedure is performed upon Mr Day, the gunner of HM Sloop Sophie, in Master and Commander.)
  • Thomas Pullings is a long-time officer of Aubrey's, serving under him as a master's mate - a senior midshipman - in his first command HM Sloop Sophie. He is later promoted to commander and post captain for his bravery in various shipboard actions Aubrey leads him into. His being neither wealthy nor influential, besides having a face that is badly scarred by a Turkish saber cut, means that though promoted, he doesn't get offered a ship, so that in his earlier career he transferred to the British East India Company, commanded transport ships (so that he was attached to the British government's Transport Board, though still retaining his nominal rank in the navy). He later rejoins the navy, regularly serving as a volunteer aboard Aubrey's ships. When Aubrey is dismissed from the Navy after a false accusation of stock fraud, Pullings, who remains on "half pay" (Royal Navy officers get full pay only when they are posted to a ship) again ships as a volunteer on the Surprise in its new character as a letter of marque. When Aubrey is made a commodore, Pullings serves as his Flag-Captain. In the 2003 film, Pullings was portrayed by James D'Arcy.
  • William Reade is first seen as a midshipman, though he is eventually promoted to master's mate. In the events described in The Nutmeg of Consolation, he loses his entire arm due to injuries sustained in battle (p. 45), but later novels appear to indicate that he only lost his hand. Regardless of the full nature of this injury, it does not impair his abilities as a sailor or an officer; as a master's mate, he typically captains Aubrey's private tender, a fast Baltimore Clipper called the Ringle. Reade fills a vacancy that develops as Pullings, Babbington and Mowett mature, embark on independent naval careers, and start their own families, in that Reade is an eager young man (initially a boy) to whom Aubrey, and to a lesser extent Maturin serve as mentors.

Other recurring characters

  • Sir Joseph Blaine is Maturin's superior in British Naval Intelligence. He is a keen naturalist and, like Maturin, a fellow of the Royal Society, with a particular interest in beetles. The fictional character of Sir Joseph Blaine is to some degree (for the naturalist aspect of the character) based on the real life Sir Joseph Banks. A bit more character information is here and a fascinating essay about the actual historical context of British intelligence at the time in relation to the O'Brian novels, in the form of a book review of "Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson," by an authoritative reviewer is here
  • Mrs. Broad is the owner and keeper of The Grapes, a comfortable inn in the Liberties of the Savoy, where Stephen often stays when in London. Mrs. Broad looks after Stephen as best as she can, and tolerates his habitual untidiness, and his habit of dissecting dead animals and human corpses in the inn premises. She has a daughter, Lucy, who assists her in running The Grapes.
  • Capitaine de Vaisseau Christy-Palliere - A French post captain with English cousins, who speaks fluent English that is however slightly quaint from his habit of mangling quotations - "Let us gather rose pods while we may" as he says, for "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may". Aubrey surrenders to him after HMS Sophie is taken, but Christy-Palliere, impressed with the resistance of the Sophie, refuses to take his sword and insists that he continue to wear it. He is apparently promoted to Admiral, as we hear from his nephew Lt. Dumesnil (affectionately called Pierrot), lieutenant of the French frigate Cornelie in The Thirteen Gun Salute. When he appears again in The Hundred Days, he is again a post captain, who renounces Napoleon, declares his loyalty for King Louis XVIII and places his frigate at the disposal of the Royal Navy.
  • Heneage Dundas is a friend and former shipmate of Aubrey. He is a fellow post-captain, the son of one First Lord of the Admiralty and the brother of a later First Lord.
  • Professor Ebenezer Graham is a professor of Oriental languages, sent as an envoy to the Ottoman Empire navy on the Surprise in The Ionian Mission. He is stereotypical Scotsman: dour, humorless, and speaking with a broad Scots burr. He is also an inept secret agent, working for a branch of British intelligence service that is in conflict with Maturin's branch. Landing on the French coast on a secret mission, he literally shoots himself in the foot by accident, so that Stephen, on a secret mission of his own, has to drag him to safety, jeopardizing his own mission. He is initially offended by Maturin's attempts at levity, but eventually comes to respect Maturin's skills at espionage.
  • The Duke of Habachtsthal is a minor royal, a German nobleman and distant relation of the King, who is the homosexual lover of Wray and Ledward. After their death, he continues to pass secrets on to France, while trying to get Aubrey into royal disfavor, and also trying to get Maturin arrested for his mostly forgotten fringe role in the Irish rebellion of 1798, as well as for illegally bringing Padeen and Clarissa, both transported convicts, over from Australia. He is said to have cut his throat (in The Commodore), possibly due to the threat of trial for treason after being identified by Clarissa Oakes and following extensive investigation carried out by Parker, a Bow Street Runner employed by Maturin and Sir Joseph Blaine - this would be a traditional courtesy to noblemen, allowing them to commit suicide and save themselves the ignominy of a public trial and even more public execution.
  • Captain (later Admiral) Harte is Aubrey's nemesis and, later, also Babbington's father-in-law. His hatred of Aubrey stems from Aubrey's cuckolding of him. He is described as a little man, somewhat resembling Lord St. Vincent. Harte is killed when his ship is destroyed in battle (in Treason's Harbour).
  • Molly Harte is Captain Harte's wife, with whom Aubrey has an affair as a young Lieutenant and Commander.
  • Gedymin Jagiello is a Lithuanian officer in the Swedish army. He is described as a beautiful, blonde-haired young man, perpetually unaware of his effect on the fairer sex. He meets Aubrey and Maturin as part of a mission to the Baltic in The Surgeon's Mate, and is with them throughout their shipwreck, imprisonment in Paris and subsequent escape. Maturin receives letters from an anonymous source that suggested Jagiello was having an affair with Diana, but they were likely sent by French agents attempting to compromise Maturin. When Diana leaves Maturin and flees to Sweden in The Reverse of the Medal, she lives under Jagiello's protection; however, in The Letter of Marque it is revealed that theirs is not a sexual relationship, and that she has helped arrange Jagiello's own forthcoming marriage.
  • Harry Johnson is an American intelligence agent and spymaster in Boston, and at one time Diana Villiers' lover. Diana became pregnant with his child, but suffered a miscarriage later. Johnson's cultured exterior hides a violent temper. After he discovered that Maturin had fled America with Diana (in The Fortunes of War) Johnson doggedly pursues Maturin across the Atlantic, and later betrays Maturin to the French.
  • Lord Keith is an Admiral in the Royal Navy, and makes Aubrey his protege from the earliest stages of his career.
  • Edward Ledward - Homosexual lover of Andrew Wray, an official in the British Treasury department, and a French spy. He had been to Malaya in his youth and is fluent in the Malay language and with Malay court etiquette, so that he serves as the French envoy's official interpreter in The Thirteen Gun Salute. Wray and Ledward are shot, then dissected, by Maturin in The Thirteen Gun Salute.
  • Admiral Linois is a French admiral who Jack Aubrey first encounters when the Sophie is taken by his squadron in the Mediterranean. Later, after Aubrey has been paroled, Linois and his ships are involved in Sir James Saumarez's battle against a combined French and Spanish fleet in the Gut of Gibraltar. In HMS Surprise Jack, with the assistance of a fleet of armed merchant ships belonging to the British East India Company, fights against Linois' squadron, taking the Surprise into a yardarm to yardarm battle (a cannon duel at point blank range) against Linois' 74 gun ship of the line, the Marengo.
  • Clarissa Oakes was the eponymous character in the novel Clarissa Oakes (published as The Truelove in the US). Her early life was very difficult; she was sexually abused as a child, then left penniless after the death of her guardian. She took a job as a book-keeper in a brothel, where she was occasionally forced to work as a prostitute. These experiences left her with no emotional attachment to the act of love-making. She was sentenced to death for killing a man (she blew off his head with a fowling piece), but the sentence was commuted to transport to Sydney, New South Wales. When the Surprise leaves Sydney, Jack discovers that midshipman Oakes has smuggled the convict on board. While Jack quickly marries the two off in order to prevent problems with the authorities. Clarissa's presence causes friction among the crew, as she is somewhat free with her "favors" until Maturin convinces her to be faithful to her husband. Clarissa is able to provide Maturin with information that uncovers the source of intelligence leaks inside the British government. Stephen is able to set up Clarissa on his estate in England, where she resides after her husband's death at sea. Clarissa later acts as Stephen's daughter's guardian after Diana leaves home, unable to deal with Brigid's autism (in The Commodore). In Blue at the Mizzen she marries a scholarly clergyman.
  • Queenie or Queeney is a childhood friend of Jack Aubrey, about ten years older than him. Daughter of a neighbouring family, she became a mother figure to Jack after his own mother died, and also tutored him in mathematics (she is a scholar, mathematician and linguist). She later marries Lord Keith as his second wife in 1800. Queenie is a real person, actually married to Lord Keith in 1808; her true name is Hester Maria Thrale, but she is spoken of as "Queeney" in Boswell's Life of Johnson and Mme. D'Arblay's Diary.
  • Dr. Ramis is a French officer and ship's surgeon under Capitan de Vaisseau Christy-Palliere. He is a friend of Maturin's, as well as an agent for the British, assisting Maturin with Catalonian affairs.
  • Sarah and Emily Sweeting are first seen on their small Pacific island, where they are the sole survivors of a smallpox epidemic which has annihilated the other inhabitants. Stephen Maturin rescues them and brings them aboard the ship. Initially Sarah and Emily speak no English, but they soon master both styles spoken in the ship, quarterdeck and below-decks varieties (the latter including oaths and swearing). After they rebel against his attempt to place them in an Australian orphanage, he eventually asks the landlady of his London Inn, The Grapes in Savoy, to take them in. They reappear in subsequent books, developing into fine helpers to Mrs. Broad, the landlady, especially as market shoppers and cooks.
  • Amanda Smith: Aubrey's affair with Smith occurs during his brief stay in Halifax (Fortune of War). Even before he has left Halifax, he regrets this affair, but when her love letters, including notice of a coming child, follow him to England, Aubrey begins to worry that the obsessed Smith might follow him herself. Eventually, Smith marries someone else, and her pregnancy appears to be imagined. Many years later her letters to Jack are discovered by Mrs. Williams, who shows them to Sophie, providing her with proof of Jack's infidelity.
  • Christine Wood, née Hatherleigh, is the wife (later widow) of Governor Wood of Sierra Leone. She is a sister of Maturin's Royal Society colleague Edward Hatherleigh. Maturin finds her to be, like himself, a competent amateur naturalist and anatomist, and soon falls in love with her, especially after Diana's death. In 21, he finds himself fighting a duel with a rival suitor of hers.
  • Andrew Wray - Son-in-law of Admiral Harte, as well as Second Secretary at the Admiralty. He has a poisonous hatred for Jack Aubrey, who once accused him of cheating at cards, and tries to do everything possible to silently blight his career. He is responsible for causing dissension between Maturin and Diana by not passing on his letters to her. He is a double agent working for the French, and is responsible for passing naval secrets to French Intelligence, which pays him generously but is quite reluctant to cover the huge gambling debts he incurs. He is a homosexual, and has a lover, Edward Ledward, another highly placed official in the British government, who is also a spy for France. Wray and Ledward are shot, then dissected, by Maturin in The Thirteen Gun Salute.

Footnotes

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