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Monday, August 27, 2012

Stand up, the real Jack Aubrey

For a couple of reasons, I always thought that Patrick O'Brian's hero, Jack Aubrey, was based on Captain Thomas Cochrane.

Like Aubrey, Cochrane captured a Spanish frigate and was disgraced in a Stock Exchange scandal.

However, Stephen Taylor, on the Daily Mail Online, reckons Captain Edward Pellew was the model. Cochrane, he says, was too Scottish, and too socially inept.

Pellew, like Aubrey, he says, "Enjoyed spectacular success in single-ship actions," and was a gunnery expert "who drilled the crew hard for speed and accuracy of fire.

"Both were strong swimmers who would dive overboard to rescue drunken hands.
"Both formed long friendships with enemy captains, and were fiercely loyal to the crew who followed them devotedly from ship to ship.

"While utterly single-minded in battle, both men were genial hosts in the captain’s great cabin, fond of claret and company, yet unworldly fellows who made a terrible hash of dealing with superiors. Big men who tended to bulk in later years, they were loving fathers and husbands, yet with an eye that might roam."

Taylor's thesis is well worth reading.  However, O'Brian himself staunchly denied that any Nelsonian figure was the prototype of his bluff, likeable hero.  Personally, I think Aubrey is made up a hints and ideas from a whole range of real life characters, including both Pellew and Cochrane.  Just as reading about the awkward and slightly repellent Dr. Stephen Maturin reminds one of a whole range of medical men and naturalists of the time, including Joseph Banks. 

In fact, a large part of the fun of reading Patrick O'Brian is trying to second-guess what books he was reading at the time.

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