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The Ionian Mission

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The Ionian Mission

The Ionian Mission
First edition cover
Author Patrick O'Brian
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Aubrey-Maturin series
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Collins (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book (Cassette, CD)
Pages 368 first edition, hardback
ISBN first edition, hardback
OCLC 31728418
Preceded by The Surgeon's Mate
Followed by Treason's Harbour

The Ionian Mission is the eighth historical novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1981. The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.

The plot begins with the marriage of Dr Maturin and Diana Villiers. Soon after, Captain Aubrey takes HMS Worcester on blockade duty around Toulon, France, until the ship is sent for refitting. With these refitting, he is reassigned to HMS Surprise on which he, Maturin and Professor Graham seek a new ally among the pashas on the coast of the Ionian Sea.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Characters 2
  • Ships 3
  • Allusions to real events 4
  • Series chronology 5
  • Reviews 6
  • Publication history 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Plot summary

Maturin and Villiers are happily married. After a time together in their new house on Half Moon Street, Maturin settles in his rooms at The Grapes, where Diana comes often, and from which he walks to breakfast with her daily. He has missions to do, and Aubrey needs to get away from his financial problems. Aubrey gets a stint on HMS Worcester for Toulon blockade duty. Jagiello brings the Maturins to port in his own carriage, which upsets, making Stephen’s arrival rather last-minute.

While she is doing gunnery practice with gunpowder bought from a fireworks firm, Worcester encounters the French ship Jemmapes. Worcester engages immediately, not having changed to ordinary gunpowder. Jemmapes sees the bright colors as the sign of some new weapon, and sails away. Some of the crew practice an oratorio while the midshipmen practice Hamlet. Passengers are dropped off at Gibraltar and Port Mahon (Graham, professor of moral philosophy), though the parson Nathaniel Martin is aboard long enough for Maturin to discover their shared interest in birds, before Martin joins HMS Berwick. Worcester joins the squadron off Toulon. Babbington, master and commander, joins the squadron in the Mediterranean as captain of the Dryad. Babbington fell in love with Admiral Harte’s daughter Fanny. But her father wants the best husband for his daughter that money can buy, and that is Andrew Wray. Babbington figures that Wray and Harte combined got him assigned to blockade duty. Before Dryad, the Worcesters see HMS Surprise arrive with mail for this fleet, joining it.

Admiral Thornton’s desire is to engage the French in a fleet action. The second-in-command, Harte, has lesser goals. Harte sends Aubrey and Babbington on a mission to the north coast of Africa, with the notion that Babbington will be taken by the French ships in the neutral port Medina. Babbington sees the ships before he enters port and rejoins Worcester. Being told not to fire first at the French, Aubrey enters the neutral port in hopes the French ships will fire first, but they never do, so he returns, in the right but with Aubrey feeling his image is tarnished. Worcester brings Maturin to the coast of France, and waits to pick him up. Maturin's mission fails due to other British spies afoot. Waiting for the launch, Maturin finds the other British agent, Professor Graham, who has shot himself in the foot. Maturin hands him over to the Captain of the Fleet to act as a Turkish advisor. Later, the French fleet slips the blockade. Thornton is pleased, but the winds change, barring a successful engagement. The French do not want battle and return to port. A few shots were exchanged, killing the captain and first lieutenant of HMS Surprise. Further, Worcester, a poorly built ship, is strained beyond usefulness. Thornton tells Aubrey to take her to Malta to refit, then shift part of his crew to the Surprise for a mission to the Seven Islands on the Ionian coast. As they sail, a poetry contest is set up, with Mowett and Rowan splitting the prize. Then Surprise takes the blockade runner Bonhomme Richard, filled with spices, dyes, and heaps of silver. The silver is shared out at once, and Rowan takes the prize to Malta. Aubrey visits the three beys, Ismail, Mustapha and Sciahon, choosing the last as the best ally for Britain to take Corfu, if not more of the Seven Islands, from the French. Sciahon Bey holds Kutali, the preferred base for naval operations.

Surprise is long in port at Kutali being windbound. The Dryad and the gun-laden transports she fetched seem long in coming. Graham engages in a harsh argument with Aubrey. Rumor spreads that Ismail has permission to take charge of Kutali, causing the locals to beg Aubrey to protect them. Graham travels by land to Sultan of Turkey. Surprise is ready to sail on the instant, especially as the winds have changed. Aubrey will attack both ships, Kitabi sailing with Torgud. They meet at sea, with Surprise firing broadsides instantly and repeatedly. Torgud is cruelly damaged, with many dead. Young Williamson loses half his arm. Kitabi goes between Surprise and Torgud, crashing into Torgud’s side. Aubrey boards Kitabi, and takes her. Boarding crew proceeds to Torgud, jumping across like Nelson. Pullings falls, so Aubrey stands above him then fights fiercely in the close hand-to-hand combat. Aubrey reaches Mustapha, early wounded and sitting. His aide Ulusan says, we surrender. Bonden carries the swords and ensigns. Aubrey asks Mowett what happened to Pullings, to learn he survives. They return to the Surprise before the Torgud can sink.


See also Recurring characters in the Aubrey–Maturin series

  • Jack Aubrey: Captain of HMS Worcester on blockade duty at Toulon. Then he is captain of HMS Surprise, sent on a mission in the Ionian Sea.
  • Stephen Maturin: Ship's surgeon, friend to Aubrey and an intelligence officer.
  • Sophia Aubrey: Jack's wife and mother of their three children.
  • Mrs. Williams: Sophia's mother.
  • Diana Villiers Maturin: Cousin to Sophia and wife of Maturin.
  • Gedymin Jagiello: Young handsome Lithuanian cavalry officer, now in London attached to the Swedish embassy. He was prisoner of war with Aubrey and Maturin in Paris, and is now good friends with them in England. He is a frequent guest at the house on Half Moon Street, where Diana Villiers hosts social events.
  • General Aubrey: Father of Jack Aubrey, now holds two seats in Parliament, speaking often in the Radical interest, making his son's career more difficult.
  • Tom Pullings: First lieutenant of HMS Worcester, capable man. He was a master's mate under Aubrey in his first command.
  • William Mowett: Second lieutenant of HMS Worcester and a poet. He was master's mate under Aubrey in his first command.
  • Somers: Drunken aristocratic third lieutenant of HMS Worcester, a poor seaman who exchanged for Mr Rowan.
  • Rowan: Third lieutenant of HMS Worcester, and a poet in competing style to Mowett.
  • Preserved Killick: Steward for Aubrey, who also looks after Maturin, as to his dress.
  • Barret Bonden: Coxswain for Aubrey, who is usually sent when there is need to fetch Maturin from an unlikely coast or port.
  • Mr Peter Calamy: "Squeaker" midshipman, first time at sea, son of a late shipmate, taken on by Aubrey in Worcester and carried to Surprise.
  • Mr Williamson: "Squeaker" midshipman, first time at sea, son of Dick Williamson, and like Calamy, taken by Aubrey in Worcester and carried to Surprise, where he loses half an arm in the battle.
  • Davis: Man whose life Aubrey once saved from drowning, who presents himself aboard the Worcester, come from Niobe. He is rough but very strong and a good hand in boarding, which he does in the end, aboard HMS Surprise.
  • Joseph Plaice: Cousin to Bonden and forecastle-hand in Worcester and Surprise, long time shipmate to Aubrey and Maturin.
  • Thornton: Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral of the white, wearing out from the work, anxious for a fleet action. He is a skilled seaman, but also holds the threads of diplomacy with all the states and nations along the Mediterranean coast.
  • Harte: Second-in-Command, Rear Admiral of the red, who has a long history of disliking Aubrey, and is far less skilled than Thornton.
  • Mitchell: Rear Admiral of the blue and commander of the inshore squadron; reached his position from the ranks of the foredeck.
  • Heneage Dundas: Captain of HMS Excellent in the Toulon squadron and a close friend to Aubrey.
  • William Babbington: Commander who is Captain of HMS Dryad and a former midshipman under Aubrey in his first command, along with Pullings and Mowett.
  • Fanny Harte: Daughter of Admiral Harte, and the true love of Babbington. Her father chooses another husband for her, Andrew Wray.
  • Andrew Wray: Acting second secretary of the Navy, considered a "scrub" by Diana Villiers from social encounters, and called out as a cheat at cards with Aubrey, during the Peace
  • Ebenezer Graham: Professor of moral philosophy, a passenger out to Port Mahon, who proves to be a spy for Britain in a group conflicting with the one that includes Maturin. He is an expert on Turkish politics and language.
  • Mr Nathaniel Martin: Impoverished parson and lover of birds; he lost an eye to an owl. He is delighted to have the regular pay and meals of a parson in the Royal Navy, but shocked at the results of a court martial. He waits on Worcestor until HMS Berwick joins the squadron.
  • Dr Harrington: Physician of the Fleet who, along with Maturin, tends to Admiral Thornton.
  • Harry Bennet: Captain of HMS Berwick, delaying in Palermo on account of red-haired lady.
  • Mr Patterson: Lieutenant in charge of the transport Polyphemus, part of the squadron to Barka and Medina, carrying a rhinoceros among other gifts meant for the Pasha of Barka, and the consul Hamilton,.
  • Ismail: One of the three beys that Aubrey interviews, to select one as an ally to Britain in gaining a base and then at least one of the Seven Islands in the Ionian Sea. He is ruler of Mesenteron. The British embassy prefers him.
  • Mustapha: One of the three beys that Aubrey interviews. He is ruler of Karia and a Capitan-Bey, Turkish for leader of the navy in that area. The Commander-in-Chief knows him and leans toward him.
  • Father Andros: First emissary of Sciahan to Aubrey and the religious leader of the Christians in the Greek upper town of Kutali.
  • Sciahan Bey: One of the three beys that Aubrey interviews, to select one as an ally to Britain. He is in Kutali, the place Britain would like to use as a base. Aubrey supports him.


Allusions to real events

On the 5 and 6 July 1808 the British frigate HMS Seahorse (rated 38 guns), Captain John Stewart, fought an action against the much larger Turkish frigate Badere Zaffer (of 52 guns), Captain Scanderli Kichuc Alli, and an accompanying Turkish corvette, the Alis Fezzan. After a long and bloody action the Turkish frigate surrendered when her obstinate captain was overpowered by his remaining officers. The damaged Alis Fezzan escaped during the night. Of particular relevance to the plot of the Ionian Mission is that the Turkish frigate was armed with brass 24-pounder long guns and two immense 42-pounders (the nearest British gun equivalent for the French 36-pounder - French pounds were heavier than British pounds).[1][2]

In the engagement with the two Turkish ships, Aubrey first boarded the Kitabi, which surrendered, then jumped across to the nearby Torgud. One of his men said he had boarded like Nelson, referring to Horatio Nelson at the battle of St. Vincent, who took two Spanish ships, jumping from the San Nicolas to the San Josef. Jack Aubrey's model in his naval career has always been Lord Nelson.

Series chronology

This novel references actual events with accurate historical detail, like all in this series. In respect to the internal chronology of the series, it is the second of eleven novels (beginning with The Surgeon's Mate) that might take five or six years to happen but are all pegged to an extended 1812, or as Patrick O'Brian says it, 1812a and 1812b (introduction to The Far Side of the World, the tenth novel in this series). The events of The Yellow Admiral again match up with the historical years of the Napoleonic wars in sequence, as the first six novels did.


Kirkus Reviews finds this novel to have splendid adventures and the writing at a stately pace.

Aubrey and Maturin (The Thirteen Gun Salute, p. 496; The Surgeon's Mate--see below) sail again. This time it's to The Meal to blockade the French fleet in Toulon. Fickle westerlies, however, blow them to the Aegean, and political currents put them in the middle of Ottoman affairs. Sinking into debt (thanks to his idiotic investments) and out of favor with their Lords of the Admiralty (thanks to his politically rash father), Captain Jack Aubrey misses the chance for a top-rate new ship and has to settle for H.M.S. Worcester, an ancient, leaky man-of-war. Undignified as the assignment may be, Aubrey is quite pleased to be able to sail away from Britain. He can't get things right on shore, but he is quick enough to put Worcester to trim, taking slack out of the sails and the crew until Worcester is the ablest ship in the line bottling up Napoleon's navy in Toulon. Meanwhile, of course, Aubrey's old friend Stephen Maturin, at last married to the woman he has followed to numerous hemispheres, is with him. The French toy with the English, trying to sneak through the blockade, but there are no conclusive actions. Maturin is eventually assigned a little espionage duty, and there is a hair-raising infiltration of the enemy coast. When Worcester at last gives up the ghost after one too many skirmishes, Aubrey transfers his pennant to the smaller, swifter Surprise and follows orders to sail to the Greek islands to tinker with the balance of power at the fringes of the Turkish empire. Splendid adventures at a stately pace.[3]

Publishers Weekly finds Aubrey caught in a net of Turkish politics and rivalries:

This entry in the Aubrey/Maturin series (see above review of The Surgeon's Mate) finds Captain Jack Aubrey "shoved into a temporary command in that rotten old Worcester", a poorly built ship. Worse, he's off to the Mediterranean to join the Royal Navy's endless blockade of the French port of Toulon. Aside from a chance encounter with a French man-of-war that triggers a brief but extremely colorful battle, there is little excitement as HMS Worcester settles in with the other blockading ships, some with crews showing signs of strain from remaining constantly alert but inactive. Second in command at Toulon is Admiral Harte, no friend of Aubrey's (who cuckolded the admiral years ago). Harte dispatches Aubrey on a delicate mission to the politically volatile Ionian coast. Although he has the succor of Stephen Maturin, a seasoned intelligence agent, and Professor Graham, an expert on the region's customs, Aubrey is caught in a complex net of Turkish politics and rivalries. And while Harte seems to offer all reasonable backing for the mission, Aubrey knows that should he fail, the admiral would like nothing better than to throw him to the dogs.[4][5]

Publication history

  • 1981 William Collins hardback first edition ISBN 0-00-222365-1
  • 1982 Fontana paperback edition
  • 1992, January W. W. Norton USA paperback ISBN 978-0-393-30821-1
  • 1993 HarperCollins paperback edition
  • 1996 HarperCollins B-format paperback edition
  • 2003 HarperCollins paperback edition ISBN 0 00 649922 8
  • Recorded Books, LLC Audio edition narrated by Patrick Tull ISBN 1402591810
  • 2011 W. W. Norton & Company e-book edition USA

The books in this series by Patrick O'Brian were re-issued in the US by W. W. Norton & Co. in 1992, after a re-discovery of the author and this series by Norton, finding a new audience for the entire series. Norton issued The Ionian Mission eleven years after its initial publication, as a paperback in 1992. Ironically, it was a US publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., who asked O'Brian to write the first book in the series, Master and Commander published in 1969. Collins picked it up in the UK, and continued to publish each novel as O'Brian completed another story. Beginning with The Nutmeg of Consolation in 1991, the novels were released at about the same time in the USA (by W. W. Norton) and the UK (by HarperCollins, the name of Collins after a merger).

Novels prior to 1992 were published rapidly in the US for that new market.[6] Following novels were released at the same time by the UK and US publishers. Collins asked Geoff Hunt in 1988 to do the cover art for the twelve books published by then, with The Letter of Marque being the first book to have Hunt's work on the first edition. He continued to paint the covers for future books; the covers were used on both USA and UK editions.[7][8] Reissues of earlier novels used the Geoff Hunt covers.[9][10]


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 16194. pp. 1437–1438. 22 October 1808.
  2. ^ Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1998). The Victory of Sea Power. London: Chatham Publishing. pp. 148–149. 
  3. ^ "The Ionian Mission" (15 November 1991 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Ionian Mission Editorial Reviews". Barnes and Noble. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Ionian Mission". Publishers Weekly. 20 January 1992. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Ken Ringle (January 8, 2000). "Appreciation". Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 
  7. ^ Bob Frost (1993). "The Interview: Geoff Hunt". Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Patrick O'Brian: A Life (paperback ed.). Henry Holt, Owl Edition. 2001. pp. 285, 306.  
  9. ^ "HarperCollins Covers by Geoff Hunt". Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Bruce Trinque. "Pagination of Various Aubrey-Maturin Novel Editions". Retrieved 28 November 2014. The first three Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels were published in the US by Lippincott and the next two by Stein & Day. US publication of the novels was not resumed until 1990 until W.W. Norton began a reissue of the series, at first in trade paperback format but later in hardcover. In the UK all the novels until Clarissa Oakes (The Truelove) were published by Collins until the publishing house, through a merger, became HarperCollins. 

External links

  • The Ionian MissionMaps for
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