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    Re: Master & Commander
    From: Fred Hebard
    Date: 2003 Dec 6, 08:32 -0500

    My understanding, from O'Brian's books, is that the middies were
    required to purchase a sextant or octant, so it would not be an expense
    borne by the Royal Navy.  I also believe the sextant started to be made
    and sold soon after the introduction of the Nautical Almanac around
    1763 (the date may be off, but I'm sure somebody will correct that if
    so).  Quadrants, made of wood and more inexpensive, continued to be
    sold well into the 1800s.  Ironically, when sextants came to dominate
    completely, around 1850 or thereabouts, lunars also started to fade
    from practice as chronometers dropped in price and monitoring of the
    temperature allowed precise determination of clock error.
    On Dec 5, 2003, at 9:21 PM, Kieran Kelly wrote:
    > Last night I watched the Peter Weir/Russel Crowe epic Master and
    > Commander:
    > Far Side of the World and thought I would share some observations as
    > they
    > pertain to navigating and ships. I am an out and out Patrick O'Brian
    > fan and
    > have read the entire Aubrey/Maturin  series twice - all 20 or so books
    > - so
    > be warned of bias.
    > In the books O'Brian portrays the sacred rite of the noon sight thus:
    > The
    > first officer or navigator on a British warship, often with the aid of
    > practicing midshipmen, would daily observe the sun for meridian
    > passage. At
    > the point when the sun finally begins to sink after culmination the
    > officer
    > turns to the Captain and says:
    > "He's away. Noon Sir?" Note that the officer is asking the captain a
    > question.
    > The captain would reply:
    > "Thank you Mr Smith. Make it so."
    > The ships bell would then be rung signifying noon and the nautical day
    > would
    > begin.
    > This sequence was repeated in virtually all O'Brian's books and was
    > hinted
    > at in the film. I love O'Brian's suggestion that the officer has to
    > ask the
    > Captain whether it is, in fact, noon. The passage of the sun across the
    > meridian was not enough to presume that noon had occurred. On an
    > English Man
    > O' War it was noon when the captain said so and not a minute before or
    > after. However I have a question: Why was noon regarded as being at the
    > point when the sun began to fall. This technically was well past noon
    > although it would have but a negligible impact on the calculation of
    > latitude. Was this just a flight of fancy on O'Brian's part or did this
    > actually happen? Possibly our English contributors could assist here.
    > At the point in the movie where the noon site is being taken, Aubrey is
    > instructing the ship's gentlemen - its young midshipmen - on the art of
    > taking noon sights. There are about 9/10 of them all armed with a
    > sextant or
    > quadrant. About four of them are wielding sextants. Since the film is
    > set in
    > 1805 I find this a bit difficult to believe. At that point the sextant
    > was
    > only coming into common use and would I believe have been a fairly
    > rare and
    > expensive item. I doubt if any English  warship would have carried
    > four of
    > them and certainly they would not have been entrusted to the tender
    > care of
    > a midshipman, who was only one rung up the totem pole from a common
    > seaman.
    > Am I right in this hypothesis?
    > Furthermore, I read recently that until well into the 1800's, the noon
    > sight - requiring less exactitude - was taken with the cheaper and more
    > robust quadrant. The sextant was preserved almost exclusively for the
    > more
    > demanding lunar Distance where precision was vital.   If this is so
    > then the
    > foredeck scene on Lucky Jack Aubrey's ship was well adrift.
    > My understanding of how Napoleonic era naval actions involving
    > Frigates or
    > Men o' War were fought is that the action, once joined, was only
    > terminated
    > when one side "struck its colours" i.e. hauled down its flag to
    > indicate
    > surrender. Hostilities  immediately ceased and etiquette required that
    > once
    > struck, the colours could not be hauled up again and fighting
    > recommenced by
    > the losing side. Capitulation, by striking the colours was a constant
    > theme
    > in O'Brian's books, where he showed it occurring in the American and
    > French
    > as well as the British navy.
    > In the critical scene after the English ship "Surprise" had taken the
    > larger
    > French Man o' War, "Archeron", Jack Aubrey the English captain asks an
    > officer "Have they struck yet?"
    > The officer replies "Yes Sir, they have hauled  their colours."
    > "Good" says Russel Crowe/Aubrey"
    > However, in a long shot of the two ships supposedly on the day
    > following the
    > battle, the captured French ship is shown with the French naval ensign
    > still
    > hauled aloft with the British ensign flying beneath. I suggest that
    > this is
    > factually incorrect for a couple of reasons. Once colours were hauled
    > they
    > were only run up again in the defeated ship if the defeated captain
    > wished
    > to recommence the contest. Also I do not believe that an English naval
    > captain would ever have allowed the English  ensign to fly on  the
    > same pole
    > as the French ensign with the French flag ascendant, especially in a
    > captured warship.
    > I am not a naval historian but would appreciate any light the list
    > could
    > throw on any of these matters.
    > It's a good flim go and see it. However be warned. An American film
    > directed
    > by an Australian with an Australian leading man trying to play the
    > part of
    > an Englishman will not please everyone.
    > Kieran Kelly
    > Sydney
    > Australia

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