Feb

28

 The Golden Ocean, O'Brian's first novel of the sea and first of two about Commodore George Anson's incredible 1740 expedition to harass the Spanish off the South American coast. 

Of the five ships that set out on the voyage, only one completed the it, Anson's flagship Centurion. Of the 1,854 men who left England, only 188 returned. The squadron met with horrific weather off Cape Horn and men died by the score from Scurvy and injury. At one point Centurion was burying six men a day. It is a tale of unmitigated disasters, unlooked for deliverance and unbelievable, almost incalculable success.

The book is a prelude to the Aubrey - Maturin series, of which so much has been said on this list, and you can see O'Brian here developing the methods that he used in that wonderful series. In his second book about this expedition, The Unknown Shore, which is about the Wager Mutiny , and which I have yet to read, O'Brian sews the seeds for the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as midshipman Jack Byron (a real person) and surgeon's mate Tobias Barrow serve as prototypes for that pair.

The Golden Ocean
begins with young Peter Palafox, son of a poor Irish parson, leaving home to join Centurion as midshipman, never before having seen a ship. Peter and his traveling companions are on their way to Cork so he can take passage to Portsmouth. Along the way they stop in Derrynacaol to attend a horse fair. I thought this piece fitting as a jaunt to the Meadowlands approaches:

Derrynacaol: it was two full days' journey from Ballynasaggart to Derrynacaol, far out of the country of Peter's knowledge, but they were to try to reach it in a day and a half, for the great horse-fair was held at that time of the year and it would have been the world's pity to pass by without seeing anything of it. They would arrive in the afternoon of Wednesday if they travelled by moonlight, and they would be in time for the races. 'It is the race they call the Town Race that we must see,' said Liam as they went up the white road of Slieve Alan, 'for that is the great race and the town gives a silver bell to the winner.' 'Are they very fine horses, Liam?' 'Are they very fine horses? They are the best in the world, my dear, fit for Julius Caesar or the Lord Lieutenant, and there is half Ireland lining the course and cheering the winner. Why, even the worst and the last creatures that run there would be like a comet in Ballynasaggart and it would put the mock on Cormac O'Neil's brown gelding, the ill shaped thief.'

'I wish I could ride in a race like that,' sad Sean, who was up behind his uncle for a rest from the road.

'Pooh,' said Liam. 'A great long-boned, tick-bellied slob of a thing like you? Those tall and stately magnificent horses would bend to the earth. No indeed: unless the gentry who own them are as light as may be they have little jockey-boys who weigh no more than an owl. For they are mad to win this race, do you see? And not an ounce will they carry that they can spare. It is not only the honour of bearing the bell away, but each gentleman pays five guineas to enter and each lord ten, and the winner takes all — and there are side stakes too, and the betting: but I'll say nor more of that.'

'And why will you not?'

'Because it's there is the evil side of racing. Did his Reverance never tell you how wicked it is to gamble? And do I not tell you it is foolish as well, and I the best judge of a horse in the County Galway, if not in the whole of Connaught, whatever Cormac O'Neil may say. No: it is a fine and laudable sight, the glorious creatures, and then there is the piping and the dancing; but the betting and the wickedness–there's folly for you, and under his Reverance's command there will be none of it; nor any truck with the thimble-riggers and the common coney-catchers. And while I have it in my mind I will warn you against the pick-pockets, or they will certainly steal the teeth out of your head. Indeed, they may do so even then, for there was a man from Dungannon who had the wig snatched from his poll in the hurly-burly by the winning post, and he holding his pockets with might and main; which I had from his aunt in Dungannon itself: so if you have any money or valuable thing upon you at all, give it to me and I will carry it in the purse, God shield us from harm. For you cannot conceive of their wickedness.'

Now I will not ruin the story entirely for you, but if you know anything about O'Brian's writing, well, you can guess what it is coming.

I highly recommend the book, it is easily as exciting as any of the Aubrey-Maturin books, just as well written and filled with period and geographical detail. The Audible version is not narrated by Patrick Tull and so is diminished in that regard, however, the story is so compelling that one soon get's over the fact and is swept up into the action.
 


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