" Master and Commander" Comments/Questions

I saw it last night-a pretty enjoyable flick! Good acting, and a very realistic look at life aboard a 19th century British navy ship. What a difficult life a common sailor had! Weeevils in the biscuits, and danger everywhere. Anyway, that midshipman who lost his arm-how young were boys allowed to go to sea (as midshipmen)? Would this kid have continued his naval career? or would he have been inavilded out of the navy? How common was it to have SURVIVED amputation in 1805? Would the surgeon have cleaned his instruments before an operation?
One scene i wondered about-when the captain is training the gunnerey crew to speed up-would a captain actually USED live shot for practice? Seems like gunpowder would be too valuable to waste on practice!

Just on your last point – it’s sometimes mentioned in the books that the Admiralty discouraged live gunnery practice because of the expense. Jack, who believed that only actually firing the guns would actually be useful practice, would sometimes buy his own powder, or use powder from ships he had captured.

Midshipmen generally joined the service at 12 or 13, so the lad who lost his arm was probably in the first year of his service.

As for the gunnery, the Admiralty had an allowance of powder for use in gunnery practice, but this was a pitifully small amount. So as was previously mentioned, many Captains who could afford it would use their own powder for practice, that is, if they were of the school of thought that gunnery needed to be practiced. Many Captains considered gunnery practice to be “running the guns in and out”.

As for the amputation, the boy would most likely have continued his career. Case in point, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson lost not only an arm in battle, but also an eye.

12 or 13 would have been an average age for a midshipman joining the navy. Some joined as young as nine. However, in some cases records were unreliable; midshipmen had to accumulate so many years of experience to be eligible for promotion and it was not unknown for young boys to be serving “on paper” while actually remaining back in England.

Fairly common, even expected, though obviously conditions during surgery and the skill of the doctor had something to do with it. A lot of those who died during surgery prior to anesthesia did so not as an immediate effect of the surgery but as a result of shock. Those who survived the surgery would then have to contend with the likelihood of infection, but in the case of an amputee obviously any such infection would be of a limb rather than of the internal organs; indeed, gangrene was probably the reason for many, if not most, amputations in the first place. The intent of the surgeon in amputating a limb was generally to cut well above the point at which gangrenous tissue began, to ensure that all the infection was cut off. Assuming that was accomplished, and no new infection developed, the prognosis was generally positive for amputees. Sailors who lost legs were frequently given warrants as ships’ cooks; I don’t recall to have seen any specific mention of the fate of a seaman who lost an arm, though I suspect most such left the sea. As a potential future officer, however, Calamy’s case is different; the loss of his arm does not inherently prevent him from carrying out his duties as a midshipman, as it would for a topman or forecastleman.

Most probably would have, though the methods wouldn’t have been all that effective, nor would the surgeon generally have been as scrupulous about it as modern doctors are. Stephen Maturin is mentioned as cleaning his operating instruments occasionally, though by no means in every instance, prior to battles in the books, but he seems more concerned with sharpening than with cleaning them in most cases. Sailing vessels, at the mercy of the wind and tide, sometimes found themselves too short of fresh water to expend any on cleaning or cooking; I don’t recall in any of the twenty novels any instance of Stephen Maturin refusing to operate for lack of water to wash up, even though he does occasionally insist on waiting for better light, or the stationary platform of dry land instead of a heaving deck, for particularly delicate operations.

As for the expense of gunpowder for live-fire gunnery practice, it was indeed expensive, and generally only captains who both valued rapid, accurate gunnery and who were more or less wealthy would indulge themselves in this way. By this point in the Aubrey-Maturin series, Jack’s reasonably well off financially, but even earlier when he’s impoverished or deeply in debt, he still makes every effort to exercise the guns with live charges and shot as often as possible. In one book, he considers it a great stroke of luck that he’s able to buy a large quantity of powder from the widow of a fireworks maker, only to find later that the brightly colored flashes and smoke don’t exactly please the tradition-minded gunner.

Boys as young as 10 or 11 sometimes went to sea on those ships too.

Great movie. Saw it twice and am working my way through the novels.

I really enjoyed this movie. I went in expecting it to be good, and it exceeded my expectations.

Was the doctor the same guy who was the “imaginary friend” in A Beautiful Mind? I’m not too good and recognizing that sort of thing, and it bugged me thru the first half of the movie trying to figure out where I’d seen the guy before.

Yup. That’d be Paul Bettany. He was also Geoffrey Chaucer in Knight’s Tale earlier that year.


Yes, the actor who played the friend also played the doctor.

Not too uncommon. Where do you think all those peg-legged pirates came from?

While Maturin was an actual physician (a point of pride among the crew), that was fairly unusual. Many ship’s surgeons got all their training on the job, starting as a loblolly boy helping to hold down patients and disposing of leftover limbs. Those who could cut fast and tie off blood vessels securely could end up in a career.

While Maturin was an actual physician (a point of pride among the crew), that was fairly unusual. Many ship’s surgeons got all their training on the job, starting as a loblolly boy helping to hold down patients and disposing of leftover limbs. Those who could cut fast and tie off blood vessels securely could end up in a career.

I was disappointed with the film. I felt it would have been better if they had extended the film and inserted a battle halfway through.

I’m not familiar with the books, but I was kind of annoyed with how very predictable the movie was.

For example, I thought the whole “camouflage” thing was apparent the first time the docotr mentioned this ability in insects.

On the other hand, as someone who couldn’t stand Gladiator, I really warmed to Mr. Crowe in this film.