The Mauritius Command is book #4 in Patrick O’Brian’s classic Master and Commander series.
When the book opens we find Jack Aubrey finally settled down with his cherished wife, Sophia with whom he has had twin girls. He is happy, but his heart pines for the sea, as does his wallet – sea pay is considerable more substantial than shore duty pay and he must provide for his growing family.
Through a fortunate series of events helped along by Jack’s dearest friend, Dr. Stephen Maurturin, Captain Aubrey finds himself becoming Commodore Aubrey, tasked with commanding a small fleet to harrass and reconquer the Mauritius Islands off the the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
Like always O’Brian’s mastery of prose makes these books a joy to read. There was more action in this book than the previous three that I had read, although ironically I felt that it made the book a slower read, as I wasn’t as concerned to the less developed characters as in earlier books.
That said, there was much to enjoy this time at sea with Lucky Jack and Dr Maurtin. There are always great leadership insights to be gleaned. This time the great perspectives on the difference between mid-level and senior level leadership was primary. Jack struggled with not being able to be in the thick of battle but instead commanding others to be on the front lines and trusting that he has judged their abilities and characters correctly. This insight is directly helpful to me as I often counsel senior leaders who are having difficulty transitioning from being a “doer” to a “commander”
O’Brian’s insight into naval politics is also painfully accurate and humorous. Not much has changed since the days of square rigged frigates when it comes to the pride of men jockeying for fame, glory, and power.
‘A capital notion,’ said Jack. ‘It has always seemed absurd to me, that islands should not be English – unnatural.’
With advancing years Jack had learnt the value of silence in a situation where he did not know what to say.
A conquering race, in the place of that conquest, is rarely amiable; the conquerors pay less obviously than the conquered, but perhaps in time they pay even more heavily, in the loss of the humane qualities.
Courage: here I am on the most shifting ground in the world. For what is it? Men put different values on their lives at different times: different men value approval at different rates – for some it is the prime mover. Two men go through the same motions for widely different reasons; their conduct bears the same name.
The coffee has a damned odd taste.’ ‘This I attribute to the excrement of rats. Rats have eaten our entire stock; and I take the present brew to be a mixture of the scrapings at the bottom of the sack.’ ‘I thought it had a familiar tang,’ said Jack.
Admiral Bertie expected it; he knew very well what he was doing, and he was fully armoured against all reaction except cheerfulness. From the outset he adopted an attitude of jovial bonhomie, with a good deal of laughter: he spoke as though it were the most natural thing in the world to find a ready and willing compliance, no trace of ill-feeling or resentment; and to his astonishment he did find it. The Naval Instructions clearly laid down that he must find it, and that anything less than total abnegation, total perfection of conduct, would render a subordinate liable to punishment; but his whole service life had proved that there was a world of difference between the Navy in print and the Navy in practice, and that although in theory a senior post-captain must be as submissive to an admiral as a newly-joined midshipman, in fact an oppressed commodore, growing froward under ill-usage, might make things extremely awkward for his oppressor and still keep the right side of the law: he had himself used obstruction in all its refinements often enough to know what it could accomplish.