The Frigate Surprise


Surprise tells about its novel history

This coffee-table book is well-suited for fans of Patrick O’Brian’s novels. Oversized and featuring historical paintings and photos, “The Frigate Surprise” ($39.95, W. W. Norton & Company, May 2009) reveals the historical, as well as the fictional, roles of the HMS Surprise from voyage to mutiny.

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Written by acclaimed naval historian Brian Lavery, the book includes 35 original paintings Geoff Hunt, the illustrator of the Aubrey/Maturin series, as well as more than 50 specially commissioned lined plans by draughtsman Karl Heinz Marquardt. Hunt’s illustrations pour out onto the page, using research of the original plans of the Surprise as sketched during the ship’s refitting at Plymouth in 1798.

The frigate Surprise is revealed to be the real 28-gun Fifth-Rate frigate

L’Unite, which served its role in the French Navy before its capture by the British’s HMS Inconstant. Reclaimed, L’Unite became Surprise, crewed and manned by Captain Edward Hamilton.

Lavery, who has also written “The Ships,” and “Men and Organisation, 1793-1815,” is a curator at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Illustrator Geoff Hunt is the current president of the Royal Society of Marine Artists, author of “The Marine Art of Geoff Hunt,” and advisor on Peter Weir’s film “Master and Commander.”

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This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the August 2009 issue.