by Don Seltzer
I have put together a comparison of actual historical events with the books in the POB series. Actual historical events are in italics. It is well to remember that POB's canon is fiction set across an historical backdrop. There are inconsistencies, and it is a matter of personal choice as to which events are accepted and which are rejected in establishing a timeline.
Master and Commander
August 1, 1798: Battle of the Nile. French GENEREUX escapes. A few weeks later, the British LEANDER(50) is captured by the GENEREUX(74).
February 18, 1800: Admiral Lord Keith is Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean, Rear Admiral Nelson under him. Nelson, in the FOUDROYANT, captures the GENEREUX. Lt. Lord Cochrane is the prizemaster who takes her into Port Mahon. He is then given command of the 14 gun brig SPEEDY.
The book begins in Port Mahon on April 18, 1800, according to dated entry in Sophie's muster book. Jack was previously a Lt. in the LEANDER during the Battle of the Nile. His ship is later taken by the GENEREUX, which was then taken by the British. From the comments of the dockyard official, we can infer that Jack commanded the prize crew that brought the GENEREUX to Port Mahon. No clue as to how long Jack was a prisoner, or of his role in the capture of the GENEREUX, but he must have distinguished himself so that Lord Keith would promote him to Commander in a letter dated April 1, from the FOUDROYANT at sea. Jack receives this letter on April 18 (actually after midnight on April 19) at the beginning of the book.
May 6, 1801: SPEEDY (14), Lord Cochrane, takes the Spanish frigate EL GAMO (32).
July 3, 1801: French squadron under Admiral Linois takes SPEEDY.
July 6 & 12, 1801: Saumarez's actions off Gibraltar against Linois. Capt. Keats in the SUPERB plays a major role.
SOPHIE captures Cacafuego. SOPHIE is captured by Admiral Linois, and Jack is an observer of the two battles off Gibraltar. POB observes that he has taken the liberty of delaying this battle until after the grape harvest. The book concludes with the court-martial shortly after the battle.
October 1801: Preliminary peace treaty and cease-fire.
March 27, 1802: Peace of Amiens between France and England.
The book begins a few days after the signing of the treaty, with Jack and Stephen enroute to England from Gibraltar. This is the Oct. 1801 preliminary agreement not the final March 1802 treaty. We don't know what Jack has been doing since his court-martial, but Stephen has apparently started his spying career. On Nov 6, 1801 (the 1802 in the text must be a typo), having established residence at Melbury Lodge, they are at Mr. Savile's fox hunt, where they first see Diana Villiers.
Lord St. Vincent (Jervis) is First Lord of the Admiralty until May 1804.
Jack's interview with Lord St. Vincent does not go well, and he remains unemployed and unpromoted.
May 1803, England and France declare war.
Jack and Stephen are in Toulon when war breaks out. A couple of months later, Jack meets with new First Lord Melville, who appoints him to the Polycrest. The following year, probably in May or June, he cuts out the Fanciulla. A letter at this time is dated Sept 20, 1804, but this is clearly contradicted by other events. Melville posts him, effective May 23, and Jack has temporary command of the Lively during the summer. At this time, Stephen is off spying in Spain, promising to return before Michaelmas (Sept. 29). He is back in England in very early autumn to receive Jack's letter dated Sept 12. He attends the opera, observing Diana with Canning (apparently Stephen considers this a key event in his private life, referring to it almost nine years later in The Fortune of War).
Oct 5, 1804 British squadron of 4 frigates, including LIVELY, Capt. Hammond, capture Spanish treasure fleet.
It is Stephen's intelligence that leads to the British action against the Spanish treasure fleet. Jack is, of course, substituting for Hammond, who is attending Parliment. Followers of H. Hornblower will note that he too was in the general vicinity.
Dec 24, 1804: Spain declares war on England. Nelson is blockading Toulon, but Villeneuve's fleet evades him in late March 1805, starting the chain of events that will lead to the battle of Trafalgar in October .
The book begins shortly after the capture of the Spanish treasure in late autumn of 1804 (last leaves on the trees). Lord Melville has been replaced (Melville actually served from May 1804 to April 30, 1805). Jack is on blockade duty off Toulon under Nelson. He leaves the blockade to go to Port Mahon to rescue Stephen. This must be before the end of March 1805 (Villeneuve escapes blockade).
Oct 21, 1805: Battle of Trafalgar
Jan. 1806: British retake Cape Town
The remainder of the book is not tied very strongly to any actual events. SURPRISE probably sails for East Indies in the spring of 1805. A reference to the position of the sun while off South America indicates that they are in the southern tropics somewhat before the spring equinox. They bypass Cape Town which is in Dutch hands at the time. The action between the East India convoy and Linois' squadron is apparently based upon a real event in February 1804. On the return voyage, SURPRISE appears to bypass Cape Town once again, implying that it is still in Dutch hands. Jack is back in England in 1806, where he visits his distant cousin Capt. Broke (mentioned in Fortune of War).
The Mauritius Command
July 8, 1810: Reunion surrenders to British force under Captain Rowley.
August 23: Beginning of the Battle of Grand Port.
September 17: CEYLON (32), Capt Gordon is taken by Venus (40), Commodore Hamelin, and Victor (18). BOADICEA (38) and Commodore Rowley arrive, retake CEYLON and capture Venus, killing Hamelin in the engagement.
6 December: Mauritius capitulates to Vice Admiral Bertie.
There are major inconsistencies regarding the passage of time, making it difficult to state whether the book begins in late 1808 or in 1809. It ends with the British conquest of the islands in late 1810, Admiral Bertie claiming the credit. Between 1806 and 1808, Jack has married Sophie, settled in Ashcroft Cottage with his now bankrupt mother-in-law, and had twin daughters. He has been unemployed for part of this period (perhaps all of it). We can speculate that Stephen has played a major role in instigating Spain's 1808 revolt against Napoleon during this period.
1805: Bligh appointed Governor in Botany Bay
1807: HMS Leopard fires on USS Chesapeake
1808: Bligh is deposed by colonists
Jack is given the Leopard and is ordered to Botany Bay to deal with uprising against Bligh. War with the Americans hasn't begun, but is expected at any time. The past history of the Leopard causes further problems when they encounter Americans. The setting would seem to be late 1811 and early 1812. O'Brian has apparently shifted the dates of Bligh's term in Australia. Jack's reference to an eclipse off the NE coast of Australia is apparently fictional. There was no solar eclipse, either total, annular or partial, in this region in the early 1800's.
The Fortune of War
June 1812: War breaks out between the US and Britain.
Dec 29, 1812: Battle between the USS CONSTITUTION and the HMS JAVA .
June 1, 1813: Battle between the USS CHESAPEAKE and HMS SHANNON.
The book begins in the East Indies with no word yet received of war with the US. By the time they reach Cape Town, they learn that war has been declared. After their ship burns, Jack and Stephen are rescued by JAVA off the coast of Brazil, a few days before Christmas. Several days later, they meet the CONSTITUTION. As POW's in Boston, Stephen is reunited with Diana on May 17. Shortly afterwards, they escape in a small boat to the SHANNON, which then meets the CHESAPEAKE in battle.
From The Surgeon's Mate to The Commodore
1808: British spy James Robertson persuades the Marquis de la Romana and 15,000 Spanish troops stationed in the Baltic to defect. Admiral Keats transports them back to Spain to fight against Napoleon.
1813 - 1814: Cruise of the USS Essex in the Pacific
1814: Lord Cochrane convicted of Stock Exchange fraud, and dismissed from the Royal Navy.
1817: HMS Alceste, carrying the diplomatic mission of Lord Amherst, runs aground in the Banka Strait.
These books all take place in the repeating year of 1813.
The Yellow Admiral
April 1814: Napoleon abdicates
March 1815: Napoleon escapes from Elba
Jack and BELLONA join the Brest blockade in the fall of 1813. He returns home the following spring after Napoleon's abdication and begins outfitting the SURPRISE. The SURPRISE sails for S. America in February 1815, but the voyage is interrupted by the news of Napoleon's escape.
The Hundred Days
June 18, 1815: Battle of Waterloo
All of the action somehow takes place between March and the end of June 1815.