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Landlocked123

Master and Commander- the Far Side of the World

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Hi All,

 

I'm sitting in my family room and have just started watching "Master and Comander- the Far Side of the World" for about the eighth time. I can't help myself, I love this movie. I'm curious, was the HMS Surprise a real ship? If so, what rank? Is the story even remotely true? Are there any kits for this type of ship? If I were to venture into scratch building are there plans and research materials for this ship? I'm 63 and I don't know how many years in have left and thus far I've decided to limit myself to US vessels from 1750 to 1890. But obviously this boat calls to me! Any suggestions? Thanks.

 

Best,

John

 

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Edited by Landlocked123

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The AL kit is supposedly the "licensed" version.   There was a Surprise but it was a captured French frigate... Unité, but it was armed with carronades as I recall when the Brits owned it. IIRC, it's a Mamoli kit.  If you'll go to the Kit Log area and search for Surprise, you should see some builds.

 

Actually there were quite a number of ships named HMS Surprise..  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Surprise

 

Minor footnote... the movie is set in 1805.  At that time, there was no HMS Surprise.

 

The story is a work of fiction set in the time period. :)

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The story is a work of fiction set in the time period. :)

And the vessel is a 3/4 size replica.  Were you to stand on deck in the waist, your head would stick up above the gangways.

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Yeah.. I didn't go into the "replica" which is the Rose....   :)

 

Much of the film is sound stage work, models, or CGI.  I think the replica was only used for exterior shots from a distance.  I remember there was post that gave a link to the film company and all the models, etc.  Pretty interesting as I recall.

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The star of the film was originally the replica frigate HMS Rose, designed (interestingly enough) by Philip Bolger, who is perhaps more famous for his unconventional backyard boat designs.

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Hi Guys,

 

If I understand everything you're saying, there is no HMS Surprise and the movie is completely fiction. Nevertheless, what rate was the type of ship in the movie? It had to be based on something? If so, if I'm crazy enough to try to build a model of the ship in the movie how should I proceed? Thanks.

 

Best,

John

 

Ps. I suppose I could just drink heavily and listen to the sound track and be happy.

Edited by Landlocked123

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Thanks Chris,

 

I knew somebody out there would know the answer. You mentioned the HMS Rose. Are there any kits of 6th rate vessels out there that you are aware of?

 

Thanks.

 

Best,

John

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While the books and movie are fictional, some of the events were actual in other contexts. They were based on Lord Cochrane's exploits of the time. Read his biography - you won't be disappointed!

 

The movie was extremely well researched and many leading experts consulted. I believe one order that was given was wrong, concerning 'upper topsails'. These were not invented until about 30 years later. There is also a book on the making of the movie by Tom McGregor; The Making of Master and Commander, The Far Side of The World, The Official Guide to the Major Motion Picture, HarperCollins 2003 ISBN 0 00 715771 1 and 0 00 716398 3

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John - I'm with you. Maybe my all time favorite movie. The whole thing is designed and produced so well - it's eye candy.

 

I was shocked to see the kids working the boat until I learned that there was such a shortage of naval manpower that the Brits had to get very creative coming up with more sailors.

 

Coincidentally, the book just arrived from Amazon yesterday. Going to give it to my dad for Christmas, but I imagine I will read it first. I had no idea there was a whole series.

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Thanks Chris,

 

I knew somebody out there would know the answer. You mentioned the HMS Rose. Are there any kits of 6th rate vessels out there that you are aware of?

 

Thanks.

 

Best,

John

 

As mentioned, there's the AL kit.  There's quite a few frigate kits but I'm not all that familiar with who is producing what.  You can check places like Ages of Sail, Model Expo, etc.

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FYI, if you would like to visit the HMS Surprise (The HMS Rose replica, which was rebuilt into the Surprise for the filming of the movie), you can visit her at the San Diego Maritime Museum, where she has a permanent home.

 

Photo by me, over Labor Day weekend a few months ago.

 

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There was a real HMS Surprise.

 

She was a French prize, taken early in the French Revolutionary War. I believe she was L'Unite. She was a standard nine-pounder french corvette of the period, rated as a 28-gun ship in RN service. She mounted 24 cannon on her main deck, with a small number of carronades on her upper deck, plus chase guns. Author Patrick O'Brien obtained the detailed Admiralty draughts of the ship, and referred to them when writing his novels. Most of O'Briens ships were real, such as HMS "the horrible old" Leopard in "Desolation Island", and he refered to their respective Admiralty draughts when writing about them. The real HMS Surprise was already famous for cutting out the captured British Ship Hermione, which had been taken by mutiny and sailed into an enemy spanish port by her crew, after murdering all their officers.

 

The film plot is an amalgam of two of O'Brien novels, "Master and Commander", the first of the series of about twenty books, and "The Far Side of the World", the 10th book. The plot of the film is closer to the latter, and was written about the Surprise stalking the fictitious American Frigate "Norfolk"during the War-of-1812. The book's plot closely paralleled the real 1813-14 chase of the USS Essex in the Pacific by HMS Phoebe. I recommend that you read the wonderful series, and that you read them in order. They are not easy reads.

 

Most, if not all, of the model plans are based on the plans of the "real" ship. The Rose was made to look like her, even though she was smaller, and had fewer gun ports of her main deck.

 

Professor Wikipedia says:

 

 

"Construction

 

Pierre-Alexandre Forfait designed Unité, the name ship for her class of corvette. Although the French initially rated Unité as a corvette, the ships of her class bridged a gap between smaller warships and frigates, and at various times were rated as frigates.

French service.

 

On 20 March 1794, lieutenant de vaisseau Jean le Drézénec, who was 41 years old and had entered the naval service soon after the revolution from a career in the merchant service, arrived to take command of Unité. He supervised the fitting out of the ship, and found the long guns were too large to be easily reloaded, and the lower sails were also too large. He notified the authorities, who urged him to finish fitting out the ship because a major naval operation was imminent. Soon afterwards, Unité took part in the battle of the Glorious First of June by escorting the dismasted Révolutionnaire as she was towed by the Audacieux.

 

In June 1794 Unité completed repairs in Saint-Malo and Brest to damage she had sustained in the battle. In the following months she escorted merchant vessels along the coasts of France. On 28 September, with the corvette Bergere and under the command of Lieutenant de Vaisseau Gouley, the two ships left Brest to sail northwest in between Ireland and the islands of the Hebrides and St Kilda to intercept enemy merchant ships. On 17 October, the ships captured a 200 ton merchant ship Dianne. The next day the weather turned foul and the two ships were separated. Unwilling or unable to continue the mission alone, Unité searched for Bergere fruitlessly for sixteen days before finally returning to Brest on 1 November.

 

Capture by the Royal Navy

 

After repairs, Unité was ordered to join the Mediterranean fleet at Toulon, and arrived there in March 1795. She spent the remainder of the year either blockaded in port or serving as a courier. In April 1796, she was ordered on one such courier mission to North Africa to deliver personnel and messages to the port of Bône. At the time, Le Drézénec, who had been recently promoted to capitaine de frégate, was suffering from smallpox and was incapacitated. Consequently, her first lieutenant, Lieutenant Le Breton, commanded Unité.

 

Captain Thomas Fremantle in command of the frigate HMS Inconstant had heard there was a French frigate in Bône, and sailed to intercept her. When Unité arrived in the afternoon of 20 April 1796, the watch aboard Unité identified Inconstant as a neutral vessel and Le Breton did not clear the ship for action. About an hour later, Inconstant sailed alongside, boarded and captured Unité intact.

 

About a year after capture, Unité was renamed HMS Surprise because another French ship also named Unité had already been taken into the navy. Surprise was re-classed by the British as a 28-gunsixth-rate frigate, though she carried twenty-four 32-pounder carronades on her main deck, eight 32-pounders on her quarter- and fore- decks and two (or four) long 6-pound cannons as chasers. As in the French Navy, this led to difficulty in her rating, considered a fifth rate from 1797-98 but a sixth rate the rest of her commission. Also, she bore the main-mast of a 36-gun ship, just as unusual as her large armament.

 

Recapture of HMS Hermione

 

Under Captain Edward HamiltonSurprise sailed in the Caribbean for several years, capturing several privateers. Surprise gained fame for the cutting-out expedition in 1799 of HMS HermioneHermione‍ '​s crew had mutinied, and had sailed her into theSpanish possession of Puerto Cabello. Captain Edward Hamilton of Surprise led a boarding party to retake Hermione and, after an exceptionally bloody action, sailed her out under Spanish gunfire. ] The Spanish casualties included 119 dead; 231 were taken prisoner, while another 15 jumped or fell overboard. Hamilton had 11 injured, four seriously, but none killed.

 

Fate

 

After the Treaty of Amiens, the Royal Navy sold Surprise out of the service at Deptford in February 1802 and she was broken up."

Edited by uss frolick

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Although the Surprise was much smaller, I'm struck by the similarity in appearance to the Constitution. I haven't place pics side by side but the general look is there. I keep wanting to build a Surprise but I'm already about 4 ships behind and I have a Constitution o the shelf about 1/3 complete. Plus I'm seventy one years old. I keep reminding myself "the future is NOT infinite". Still I find myself fascinated with archaic forms of transportation and industry. Bill

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Oh man, you got it bad, especially with the "Hold Fast" tattoo. Yep, Artesania Latina has the kit for sale and it is a huge model at about 55 inches long I believe. I also love this movie too.

 

 

mike 

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To the best of my knowledge, there are no kits available of British 28-gun frigates out there.  Bigger frigates, yes, and smaller men-of-war, too, but none of 28 guns.  If you want to build HMS Surprise, you have several options: 1) build one of the available kits, any of whose fidelity to the real Surprise, either the historical one or the fictional, is dubious;  2) research the original French Unite, which, as has been mentioned, was captured and renamed Surprise, but is not the ship of the movie;  3) research the replica HMS Rose and build her as depicted in the film; 4) research and build one of the vessels whose real-life exploits inspired the novels.

 

Decisions, decisions!

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I picked up this book at the Gift Shop when I visited the Surprise.  Its also on Amazon.  Its a great read and gives a parallel history between the actual Surprise and Aubrey's Surprise.  Also, it goes into detail how Geoff Hunt researched and prepared the art for the book covers and story boards for the movie.  Great read and reference for history and art geeks alike.  

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The movie was good; it was a compilation of the Maturin / Aubrey books by Patrick Obrien.  There are 20 (completed) books in the series - the original novel was named "Master and Commander" and Aubrey commanded the "Surprise" in only a few of the subsequent novel (it was always his favorite).  In the the book that the movie is named after "The Far Side of the World", the "phantom ship" was actually American - not French.  Also, throughout the series, the doctor was an English Spy.  The series can be considered historical fiction, and incorporated many actual events.  In one of the books, Aubrey's ship is captured by the USS Constitution.  

Great series if you love stories about the age of sail.

 

Stubby

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Edited by Stubby

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I know a lot of people are in love with this series, but I found the one I read to be a bit turgid after reading Forester, and not just the Hornblower series.  I often just read on and time passes without my being aware of it.

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