The Nutmeg of Consolation is the fourteenth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. Its opening chapter continues directly from the ending of the previous novel in the series, The Thirteen-Gun Salute.
The Nutmeg of Consolation opens with Aubrey and his crew shipwrecked on a remote island in the South China Sea after surviving the destruction of HMS Diane in a typhoon. A cricket match is taking place between the sailors and marines - an attempt by the Captain to keep up the crew's spirits as they build the schooner needed for reaching Batavia. Stephen Maturin is also proving his worth by killing game for the pot, particularly wild boar and babirussas. The island is visited by two seafaring Dyaks who seem very interested in everything within the sailors' encampment, especially Jack's silver that Killick deliberately rescued from the Diane. The Dyaks promise to take a message to Batavia in exchange for twenty "joes" (Portuguese Johanna coins), but instead return in a seagoing proa. After killing and beheading the ship's carpenter and some other crew members, they attack the encampment and burn the schooner, but are routed after a bloody conflict and their proa sunk by the last remaining ball from the captain's "long nine" gun.
Whilst Stephen is out hunting, he chances upon four children collecting birds' nests from the surrounding cliffs, with the Chinese boy injured. They inform him their junk is on its way to Batavia to fetch a cargo of ore from Ketapan in Borneo. After patching the boy up, the children's father, Li Po, is persuaded to carry all the Dianes in the empty holds of his roomy junk back to Batavia. It is intercepted by a pirate canoe, but it belongs to Wan Da, whom Stephen knows well from Prabang. Upon arriving in Batavia, Aubrey is provided by Sir Stamford Raffles with a 20-gun ship which Aubrey renames Nutmeg of Consolation after one of the titles of the Sultan of Kampong. Back at sea, Aubrey hears from a Dutch merchantman that the Cornelie is watering at an island, Nil Desperandum. Aubrey attempts to disguise the Nutmeg as another Dutch merchantman and, on being smoked, engages in battle with the Cornelie but then has to turn tail. With the slower Cornelie in pursuit, Jack attempts to outwit her in the Salibabu Passage but is outmaneouvered and nearly out-gunned until, at the height of the chase, Nutmeg encounters the Surprise, under the temporary command of Commander Thomas Pullings, accompanied by the Triton. The Surprise and Nutmeg give chase but the Cornelie soon founders and the survivors, including Dumesnil and a Third Lieutenant, are taken on board.
Resuming command of Surprise, Aubrey and Maturin continue their interrupted journey to New South Wales. On their way to Australia, Maturin rescues two young Melanesian girls, the sole survivors of an outbreak of smallpox brought by a South Seas whaler to the remote Sweeting's Island. Once in New South Wales the book contains graphic descriptions of the hell-on-earth that was the life in the penal colony under Governor Lachlan Macquarie shortly after the "Rum Rebellion" of the New South Wales Corps and its coup against Governor William Bligh. Stephen attends at formal dinner, hosted by Mrs Macquarie and the Governor's deputy, Colonel MacPherson, at Government House. After hearing the name of Sir Joseph Banks insulted, and being insulted himself, he fights and wins a duel against a Captain Lowe.
Stephen and Martin tour the countryside examining the local flora and fauna and collecting specimens. They make their way to the Hunter Valley to stay with Paulton, and Maturin is reunited with Padeen Colman once again at Woolloo-Woolloo. The Irishman was convicted for stealing laudanum from an Edinburgh apothecary and, after being flogged with 200 lashes for absconding from the penal settlement, was transferred to Paulton's farm after Maturin bribed a local clerk. Stephen makes plans to have him transferred secretly to the Surprise but his plans are checked by Jack. Maturin also hears from an officer of the recently arrived Waverley that Diana has borne him a daughter.
Stephen and Martin, keen to have one more look for the elusive duck-billed platypus (Ornithorhynchus paradoxus) or 'water-mole', are taken on a final expedition in the Surprise's cutter by Bonden. Stephen has also secretly arranged to rendezvous with Colman at Bird Island but, as they arrive early, he and Martin search the local pools and spot two platypuses. Stephen manages to secure one - a male - in his net but his arm is pierced by its two poison-spurs. He, along with Padeen, are taken back to the frigate and to everyone's relief Stephen slowly regains consciousness once he is back on board.
Characters in this storyEdit
- Jack Aubrey - Captain of HMS ''Diane'', post-ship Nutmeg and HM Hired Vessel Surprise.
- Stephen Maturin - ship's surgeon, friend to Jack and an intelligence officer.
- Sophie Williams - Jack's wife
- Mr Edwards - the deceased Envoy's secretary
- Mr Welby - Captain of the Marines
- Mr Hadley - Diane's carpenter
- Mr Martin
- Mr Fielding - First Lieutenant on the Nutmeg
- "Spotted" Dick Richardson
- Preserved Killick
- Barret Bonden
- Mr Reade - Diane midshipman
- Ahmed - Stephen's Malay servant
- Mr Macmillan - surgeon's mate
- Li Po - Chinese junk owner
- Wan Da - powerful Malay pirate
- Sir Stamford Raffles - Lieutenant-Governor of Java
- Kesegaran - seafaring Dyak woman
- Green Headcloth - Dyak chieftain
- Mr Sowerby - a Cambridge-educated naturalist
- Mr Adams - purser on the Nutmeg
- Jean-Pierre Dumesnil - First Lieutenant on the Cornelie; nephew of Captain Christy-Palliere
- Horse-Flesh Goffin - a cashiered British Navy Post-Captain
- Miller and Seymour - two young gentlemen sailors taken on-board the Nutmeg as Able Seamen; Seymour is promoted to Third Lieutenant on the Nutmeg
- West and Davidge - two cashiered officers on board the Surprise
- Oakes - midshipman on the Surprise
New South Wales:
- Captain Lowe
- Colonel MacPherson
- John 'Anguish' Paulton - a writer and friend of Martin's
- Dr Redfern - a humanitarian doctor in the penal settlement
Ships in this storyEdit
- The Nutmeg of Consolation - a small post-ship (previously the Dutch 20-gun Gelijkheid)
- HM Hired Vessel Surprise
- Plover - a sloop
- The Triton - a letter of marque
- HMS Tromp - fifty-four, carrying dispatches
- HMS Waverly
- Alkmaar - a merchantman
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
In his Author's Note, O'Brian makes reference to Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore, a book that provided him with invaluable research information about the history of Australia and, in particular, the penal colony of New South Wales.
"Brings [O'Brian's] achievement to a new height....Such is O'Brian's power to possess the imagination that I found I was living in his world as much as my own, wanting to know what happens next. That is the real test. Any contemporary novelist should recognize in Patrick O'Brian a Master of the Art." — Alan Judd, Sunday Telegraph [London]