Ships and Vessels of Captain Aubrey’s Navy. As related in Patrick O’Brian’s novel “Ionian Mission”, the Royal Navy devoted a colossal effort during the Napoleonic wars to the close blockade of the French coast, maintaining fleets of battleships on a permanent basis in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It was the first time in history that blockade on such a scale had been attempted. While the battleships endlessly patrolled their stations, smaller vessels ran to and fro with supplies and information.
In this Mediterranean scene we see the frigate HMS Surprise arriving with dispatches for Admiral Thornton, flying his flag in the massive 110-gun HMS Ocean. Both ships are hove-to, allowing boats to shuttle between them. The Mediterranean is sometimes far from being a peaceful sea, particularly in winter; and rain squalls are sweeping over the fleet.