Master and Commander is the first book in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

Plot summary Edit

It is April 18, 1800, in Port Mahon, Minorca, at that time a base of the Royal Navy. Jack Aubrey, a lieutenant languishing in port without a ship, on half pay, depressed and indebt, and Stephen Maturin, a penniless half-Irish, half-Catalan physician and natural philosopher, meet for the first time at a soirée at the Govenor's House. Maturin elbows Aubrey in the side to quiet his humming while they are listening to the quartet and almost provokes a duel.

On his return to his lodgings, Aubrey finds that he has been given a command and promoted to the rank of commander. His joy overcomes his animosity towards Maturin and after coffee at 'Joselito's Coffee House' they become fast friends. As 'Master and Commander', and in charge of the tiny sloop-of-war HMS Sophie, Aubrey has to fill out his crew, including the post of ship's surgeon. He persuades Maturin to serve, at least on a temporary basis, although as a physician, he is overqualified for the job.

Also introduced are Master's Mates(Senior Midshipman) Tom Pullings, William Mowett and midshipman William Babbington, who become long-term fixtures in the series, and James Dillon, Sophie's first lieutenant, who is also a member of the United Irishmen along with Stephen.

Aubrey improves the Sophie's sailing qualities by adding a larger spar to her mainmast, enabling him to spread a larger mainsail. He makes her ready to sail in convoy with twelve merchant vessels. During their journey east, the new captain takes the opportunity to get to know his sailors and to weld them into a fighting unit. As he does, he and the crew explain many naval matters to Maturin, (and thus to the reader) since the doctor is a novice sailor.

After the convoy duties, Lord Keith allows Aubrey to cruise independently, looking for French merchants. After a number of prizes are taken, they meet and defeat the Cacafuego, a Spanish frigate, losing a number of crew, including Dillon, in the bloody action and gaining the respect of other naval officers. However, Captain Harte, the commandant at Mahon, has a grudge against Aubrey, who has been having an affair with his wife. His malevolence ensures the victory brings Aubrey and his crew no official recognition, promotion, or significant prize money.

On her following escort duty, Sophie is captured by a squadron of four large French warships after a pursuit and a brave but hopeless resistance. The Battle of Algeciras begins, and after a short period as prisoners of war, they are exchanged, missing the fighting. Back at Gibraltar, Aubrey must undergo a court-martial over the loss of his ship, but he is cleared of the charges.