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A BRIEF HISTORY OF NAUTICAL STORIES
by Rowland Smythe, May, 1994

Nautical stories are stories concerning ships, sailing, and the sea, and if the definition can be extended to include rivers it will enable the inclusion in this article of two well known stories about river boats. From the early 19th century to the late 20th century Britain, traditionally a seafaring nation, has produced a great many writers of sea stories and although many of these stories were for an adult readership there have been numerous stories for children too. Indeed, between 1850 and 1950 nautical stories for children appears to have been the largest of the genres. This is not so today. At the end of the 20th century there are hardly any nautical stories for children in print and interest in adult stories has likewise diminished, and this waning of interest appears to coincide with the diminishing role of the armed and merchant navies of Britain and other countries. By understanding something of the history of nautical stories, particularly the stories from the early 19th century, the reader or collector will have a useful reference point from which to work forward in time and form a better appreciation of the later writers; although this may not always be a positive appreciation. It should be noted that most of the authors listed here were sailors who served in the royal or merchant navies.

The first books written in the English language about the sea were the non-fictional accounts of the voyages of discovery of the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries and it may be useful to mention in brief a few books which have been reprinted in this present century. A VOYAGE TO GUINEA, BRAZIL, AND THE WEST INDIES was published in 1735 with the sub title "In His Majesty's Ships the Swallow and Weymouth, with remarks on gold, ivory, and the Slave trade". The author was John Atkins, a Royal Navy surgeon and his book was last published in 1970. From the same period there was an account of a shipwreck from Captain Anson's voyage, published in the form of A VOYAGE TO THE SOUTH SEAS 1743 by Bulkeley and Cummins. The authors were the ship's gunner and carpenter of HMS Wager, and the book related their shipwreck and subsequent return home. It was reprinted in 1927. And there were many more earlier works published in the form of journals. Daniel Defoe was said to have owned a library of nearly 50 books of voyages. Probably the most famous book about a voyage was Captain Bligh's account of THE MUTINY ON BOARD HMS BOUNTY published in 1790 and regularly reissued since. There have been many other books about the mutiny by modern authors which have helped, with the aid of films, to turn the incident into a legend and as long as readers are aware that Captain Bligh's book, based on his logbook, is a straightforward account of the voyage to Tahiti, descriptions of the natives and locale, and subsequent journey in an open boat, and that the actual mutiny is only mentioned in brief, there should be no disappointment. Readers who seek a fuller account of the mutiny and details of the fate of the mutineers will need to look for a book about the mutiny by one of the other writers.

As we are concerned mainly with fiction it appears that the first novelisation of navy life to get under way was by the Scottish writer TOBIAS SMOLLET (1721-1771), one time surgeon's mate in the Royal Navy and early English novelist. And here it useful to note that the development, or perhaps a more useful word would be invention, of the English novel (something new) occurred in the early 18th century. Only one quarter of THE ADVENTURES OF RODERICK RANDOM 1748 deals with Roderick's adventures in the service of the Royal Navy but it gives an accurate and at times rather harrowing picture of the hardships of 18th century naval life. Smollet's style of writing, called satire, went out of fashion during the Victorian period. The wicked humour, the biting sarcasm, and the tossing of the contents of a chamber pot over his enemies were all too much for them and his books were seldom read. He was re-discovered in the early 20th century and a revival began which continues today with a number of his books now available in mass market paperbacks. Unfortunately for us, Smollet did not write any pure sea stories.

Forging ahead through choppy seas into the early 19th century we come to the first specialist writers of nautical stories and Captain Marryat is the name which will immediately spring to mind but it is probable that he was pre-empted by the Glasgow writer MICHAEL SCOTT (1789-1835 Scottish) whose two books, TOM CRINGLE'S LOG and THE CRUISE OF THE MIDGE, were published in book form in 1836. TOM CRINGLE'S LOG was first serialised in Blackwoods Edinburgh magazine beginning in 1829, although some sources state that the work was actually written some years before during Scott's stay in the West Indies. Scott's books are quite unique. For those who familiar with the writers of the period with whom the satirical style was so popular, his books are a refreshing change. TOM CRINGLE'S LOG, about the adventures of a young royal navy midshipman, is packed with incident and first hand observations of life at sea and of Jamaica during the heyday of the plantation estates. The second story, THE CRUISE OF THE MIDGE, features Benjamin Brail as the hero and is all sailing with wonderful descriptions of the sea. The cruise kicks off on the West African coast with much hand to hand fighting with muskets, carronades, grapeshot and swords, against a Spanish slave ship. The Midge survives the encounter and then, acting in the role of a tender for a British warship, heads for the West Indies where Benjamin has many more adventures. With these two books, which are as sharp today as when they were first written, Scott must be considered as the father of the true sailing story. Both stories were based partly on his experiences in the West Indies where he worked for approximately 16 years and made frequent voyages in connection with a trading company. The books were published in book form the year after his death and there have been many reprinted editions including some slight abridgements for young adults. Tom Cringle's Log appears to have been slightly more popular with it's breezy start, "Clear away the larboard guns!" occurring on page 4 at a time when many books of the period had longwinded opening chapters. It was last published in 1969. The bad news is that both books are out of print at the moment. The other piece of bad news is that if you are able to obtain secondhand copies you will find the many historical stories from the 20th century period rather shallow by comparison.

Before we up stick and away with Captain Marryat we had better mention the American writer J. FENIMORE COOPER (1789-1851) who is remembered for The Last of the Mohicans but many consider his nautical stories superior with THE PILOT 1823, THE RED ROVER 1827, THE SEA LIONS 1849, and others. Cooper served in the early American navy and his sea stories are more authentic than his tales of frontier life even though they have been reprinted fewer times. It may be worth checking out public libraries for these books, especially the reserve stocks. Also from America there was RICHARD HENRY DANA (1815-1882) with his classic TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST 1840 which describes the author's two year voyage from Boston round the Horn to San Francisco in a sailing ship. Still in print today in paperback form and very easy to read. Old hardback editions are worth looking out for and there were numerous abridged editions for children too. And don't forget JOHN DAVIS 1774-1854, an Englishman abroad, once described as the father of American nautical fiction with THE POST CAPTAIN 1805.

There is not enough space for a biography of CAPTAIN MARRYAT (1792-1848 English) but it is sufficient to know that he joined the Navy at the age of 14 and spent 24 years in the service seeing much action (50 engagements) during the blockading of French ports and winning decorations for bravery. His first book was THE NAVAL OFFICER 1829 with a fictitious plot but including reminiscences which led many to think it near to an autobiography. THE KING'S OWN 1830 was more of a conventional sea adventure and was also popular. Today Marryat is probably best remembered for PETER SIMPLE 1834 and Mr. MIDSHIPMAN EASY 1836, both being adventure stories with comical situations reminiscent of Smollet but with humour not quite so caustic. Mr MIDSHIPMAN EASY was marketed more for the junior readers, often in abridged form, but most critics claim PETER SIMPLE as Marryat's masterpiece. Both are long stories dealing with initiation into naval life and probably including much of the author's youthful experiences of the navy. As with Smollet the stories recount adventures on both sea and land and so those who seek stories with plenty of sailing and technical descriptions of ships will have to look to the afore mentioned books by Scott. Mr MIDSHIPMAN EASY has been published in more editions although it is worth noting that in Germany, where most of Marryat's books were translated, the popularity is in the reverse with PETER SIMPLE being published in many more editions. THE PHANTOM SHIP 1839 was also popular being a retelling of the legend of the Flying Dutchman. Biographies of Marryat which are out of print but are worth looking out for from secondhand sources are LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARRYAT 1889 by D. Hannay. LIFE AND LETTERS OF CAPTAIN MARRYAT 1872 by Florence Marryat Church. CAPTAIN MARRYAT AND THE OLD NAVY 1939 by C. Lloyd. CAPTAIN MARRYAT: A REDISCOVERY 1953 by O. Warner.

Devotees of Captain Marryat will probably be aware of CAPTAIN FREDERICK CHANIER (1796-1870 English), another Royal Navy man who wrote several stories which many consider to be in imitation of Marryat. Captain Chanier's stories were also popular in the 19th century but he does not appear to be known today and his books are out of print.

Next we come to W.H.G. KINGSTON (1814-1880 English) who was notable for being the first specialist and prolific writer of children's stories. His first and most popular story for children was PETER THE WHALER 1851 concerning the action packed adventures of Peter Lefroy. Although other children's books from the same period were often in the form of a moral tale there is only a brief mention of this at the beginning of the story in which advice is offered the reader that should he fall foul of the law that he too could end up like Peter. The young Irish hero of the story makes friends with the wrong sort of people and is found guilty of poaching on an estate. He is freed on condition that he goes away to sea. He joins an emigration ship bound for America and begins a series of adventures which eventually take him to the arctic regions aboard a whaling ship. And tens of thousands of children must have read this book and yearned for a life at sea too. Also quite popular were 4 stories following the naval careers of 3 characters, Jack Rogers (English), Paddy Adair (Irish), and Alick Murray (Scottish), and perhaps this was how the joke "have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman" originated. Or perhaps not. It began with THE THREE MIDSHIPMEN 1873, and was followed by THE THREE LIEUTENANTS 1875, THE THREE COMMANDERS 1875, and THE THREE ADMIRALS 1878, but these stories, also action packed, do not seem to age quite so well and perhaps this is something to do with the fact that they are written in the third person narrative. Both PETER THE WHALER and MANCO THE PERUVIAN CHIEF, an action packed adventure in Peru, seem to work better and both stories are told in the first person. For an explanation I can only offer the possibility that the latter books incorporated some of the author's travelling experiences. Kingston sailed on many voyages and he wrote books about emigration and as for the story about Manco, Kingston's descriptions of Peru are authoritative and convincing.

From across the Atlantic, and published the same year as Peter the Whaler, there was MOBI DICK 1851 by HERMAN MELVILLE (1819-1891) a story about Captain Ahab's obsession with finding the white whale which had crippled him. And this book has been published in numerous abridged editions for children.

In line astern of Kingston were two Royal Navy men who both wrote children's stories. GORDON STABLES (1840-1910) yet another Scottish writer, served for 9 years in the RN as a ship's doctor, he was then invalided out of the service but transferred to the merchant navy. He produced around 100 books and of these 25 to 30 were children's nautical stories, his other books being mainly non sailing, non fiction, and several medical works. He was famous in his time and may still be so with the older generation. A little later in time HARRY COLLINGWOOD (1851-1922 English) was also invalided out of the Royal Navy, through poor eyesight, and he too dipped his bowsprit in the merchant service. Most of his 40 children's books had a nautical theme, with only a few exceptions such as THE LOG OF A FLYING FISH 1886 a story of a flying submarine. Books by these writers were kept in print until the 1930's but no later and are only occasionally found today. In tow with these famous Victorians was FRANK T. BULLEN (1857-1915) whose early life reads like a Charles Dickens novel. Born in London, the son of a drunk who was unable to look after him, he was sent to live with his aunt. He was aged 9 when she died and in order to support himself he took a job as an errand boy. At the age of 12 he obtained a position as cabin boy on a windjammer. He spent 15 years at sea and later he described the hardships of his early life thus,
I have been beaten by a negro lad as big again as myself, and only a Frenchman interfered on my behalf. Those were the days when boys in Geordie colliers or East Coast fishing smacks were often beaten to insanity and jumped overboard, or were done to death in truly savage fashion, and all that was necessary to account for their non returning was a line in the log to the effect that they had been washed or had fallen overboard.

Frank Bullen went on to write 38 books about the sea. His first book THE CRUISE OF THE CACHALOT 1898 became a classic and was reprinted every decade until the 1950's and again in a facsimile in 1976. He also wrote children's books. Many of the Victorian boy's story writers produced the odd sea story but the biggest disappointment of all was George Henty, famous for 80 adventure, war and historical stories. He was a keen yachtsman but he did not write any nautical stories.

During this period there was a brief and welcome invasion of British territorial waters by the French sailor/author PIERRE LOTI (1850-1923) who spent much of his life travelling the world. One of his books became a classic in English translation, THE ICELAND FISHERMAN 1888 was reprinted in 1924, 1928, 1931, 1935, and finally in 1961. Apart from Loti the French do not seem to have produced any big names on the nautical scene.

Now, changing from salt water to muddy water there was the American writer MARK TWAIN (1835-1910) a river boat pilot for 5 years who wrote an autobiography in the form of LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI 1883, a long and detailed account of his experiences on the Mississippi river during the heyday of the steamboat commerce, with descriptions of the art and science of river navigation, the characters he knew, and scenes from the thriving riverside towns. It can be safely recommended for all, and is still in print in paperback.

However, in Britain, the big name in the last quarter of the 19th century was W. CLARK RUSSELL (1844-1911) who proved to be a guiding light for many later writers. His name is mentioned with reverence in the autobiographies of early 20th century sailor/authors. William Clark Russell joined the mercantile marine at the young age of 13 but was forced to quit after 7 years of service through poor health. He suffered from severe rheumatism but this did not prevent him from writing some fine stories. AN OCEAN FREE-LANCE 1881 is a story about privateers set in 1812 during the Napoleonic wars. Although an historical novel it seems more authentic than the many later novels by the 20th Century writers. It has the right feel to it and this will be because Russell was in touch with the period. He may well have met old campaigners and seen old ships of the period. Stephen Crane achieved the same feat with his US civil war story beguiling readers into thinking he had seen the war when he was actually born a few years later. Also popular was THE FROZEN PIRATE 1887 which received the following review,
Mr Clark Russell has not secured a perfectly original idea for the basis of the plot but he works up a startling and entertaining story out of the hero's discovery of a frozen pirate, who comes to life again after a frost of many years...
Russell produced in the region of 40 novels plus numerous short stories and non fiction works. His novels appear to have been reprinted to the 1930's when 4 of his books were listed in the 1932 Guide to the Best Fiction. They were the 2 books mentioned above and JOHN HOLDSWORTH: CHIEF MATE 1875 and THE WRECK OF THE GROSVENOR 1877, a tale of mutiny. In his lifetime Russell was the best known writer of sea stories and today his books seem easier to read and even modern by comparison to other writers from the Victorian period. A revival of his books is long overdue.

As sailors cross the international date line so too many a sailor/author crossed the boundary between the 19th and 20th centuries. Well, it was something like that. And as travellers of the world suffer from jet lag and culture shock, many of these Victorian sailors would have suffered analogous symptoms during their transference from sail to steam. The next writer crossed another boundary, this time a literary one. Although his stories often had a Victorian doom and gloom ending he is usually described as one of the first of the modernist writers. But there is no need to be put off by literary labels, they don't mean much, and they often mean different things to different people. JOSEPH CONRAD (1857-1924) was Polish, but wrote all his stories in English. Conrad is the writer the critics rave about. The greatest writer of his generation, and, the greatest writer in the English language. This is what they say about him. They being the literati. They say his best books are NOSTROMO and LORD JIM but neither are sailing stories and Nostromo, despite being raved about, is not often read today. The local library edition sums it up nicely. It was in stock for 10 years and during that time it was borrowed on only 4 occasions, with several years spent in the reserve stock, which is where unpopular books are stored. Lord Jim is one of Conrad's many stories set in a Malaysian locality but apart from the opening chapters it is not a nautical story. Unfortunately, from our point of view, Conrad's books are something of an anti climax because he wrote so few pure sailing stories but the good news is that the books listed below are usually kept in print and are sometimes found in libraries.

Conrad was Polish by birth and he spent roughly 20 years at sea, first in the French merchant marine and later in the British merchant navy, eventually reaching the rank of captain. THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS 1897 is his best book. A story about a voyage from Bombay to London in an iron hulled sailing ship, Narcissus, at the end of the 19th Century. The last man aboard in Bombay is a huge West Indian gentleman with a personality to match his size. Shortly after departure it becomes apparent that he is too ill to work and the crew are unsure whether he is sick or shirking. They hurl abuse at him but James Wait slowly casts his spell over them. He becomes a hero to the crew and later during the voyage they almost mutiny in defence of him. It's all sailing with rough seas and Conrad himself sailed on the Narcissus as Mate. TYPHOON 1903 is a gem of a short story about a steamship in the Far East and contains wonderful descriptions of a ship in a storm. It is one of Conrad's more humorous stories and notable for having a happy ending. This is definitely the best one for Conrad beginners. It is usually published together with other non sailing stories. Not all of THE RESCUE 1920 takes place at sea but it is recommended too. A story in the form of a tragic romance concerning Captain Lingard, a rover of the eastern seas, who becomes indebted to a Malaysian prince and princess. His single handed attempt to restore them to their throne is thwarted by the untimely arrival of a couple of English aristocrats in a beached yacht. Lingard, from the lower classes, falls for the aristocratic Mrs Travers and she is slightly amused by him too. He is torn between his loyalty to his Malaysian friends and of saving her from the natives but he cannot do both. There is much vexing of consciences and a doom and gloom ending when all the nice people get blown to pieces. Nevertheless, it's one of those stories which having been read is never forgotten.

THE MIRROR OF THE SEA 1906 sub-titled as Memories and Impressions, is a series of reminiscences in which Conrad reveals the skill and love which the sailors had for their ships, with anecdotes about the captains and crew he served with, including much technical detail about sailing ships. A must for all fans of the era of sail. For those who have drifted into the habit of speed reading books HEART OF DARKNESS 1902 is the story to make you read properly again. Slowly is the only way, and perhaps even then it may not suit everyone, being even more wordy than usual. This is a novella and also another Marlow story (the narrator of Lord Jim) concerning a long and arduous journey in a steamboat up an African river; throughout which Marlow observes the exploitation of the natives and their land, the sickness and disease. He suffers from what is today called culture shock. There is no need to mention the name of that war film. Yes, you all know it, based on the story but transposed to a different time and place. That's all from Conrad.

And as he passed quietly over the horizon, there, coming up strongly off the port bow, and some claim even in his wake, was WILLIAM McFEE (1881-1966) who is best remembered for his Chief Engineer Fred Spenlove series. McFee himself was a chief engineer in the merchant navy. He was trained in London as a mechanical engineer and at the age of 25 took a position as a marine engineer with a merchant shipping line. During World War 1 he served in the Navy with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant. In 1922 he quit the sea and retired to a small farm in America but he appears to have popped back to sea occasionally to relieve the boredom of shore life. One writing technique he used is reminiscent of Conrad, with Spenlove relating his story to the ship's passengers as Marlow was prone to do. Mcfee's total output was in the region of 25 books, the first in 1908 and the last in 1951, but it is not known how many formed the Spenlove series. Titles listed in the 1932 Guide to the Best Fiction were, CASUALS OF THE SEA 1916. CAPTAIN MACEDOINE'S DAUGHTER 1920 (Fred Spenlove). PILGRIMS OF ADVERSITY 1928. NORTH OF SUEZ 1930. SAILORS OF FORTUNE 1929.

Of the books read, SPENLOVE IN ARCADY 1942 sees Chief Engineer Spenlove retiring from service after 30 years with the Afro/Iberian shipping line. His arcadian bachelor existence in a country shack in New England, America, is disturbed by curious locals and Spenlove embarks upon an affair with a married woman. It was an interesting story but with no sailing and it is obvious that this was one of the later books in the Spenlove series. McFee seems to write about characters and relationships rather than straight sea stories so it is difficult to categorise him but the review of CAPTAIN MACEDOINE'S DAUGHTER described it as a story which would please those who want to know everything about the inside of an engine room. NORTH OF SUEZ 1930 is a war story set in a Near East port during World War 1 concerning Lieutenant Stephan Rumford of the RNR, an English middle class bigot and racist who detests all foreigners. He slowly comes under the influence of his wife's friend, Mrs Callisthenes. Although Mrs Callisthenes is a Greek and "dago" Rumford gradually realises that she has many qualities which his nagging wife does not. She is beautiful and charming, but more to the point, she is of noble birth, which clinches it as far as Rumford is concerned. At least 3 of McFee's books were reprinted in 1969, possibly in large print editions, and I have no idea whether the original editions were distributed in Australia but if you happen to drop anchor on any you will have some idea of what to expect. Interestingly, they were written mainly for the American market with most books published there first and in Britain shortly afterwards. British writers were in vogue in the US at this time even though Mcfee made no concessions in his writing, describing the American nation as the riff raff of the world. And the following quote from The Harbourmaster reflects his views on the decline of the western society, which we can take to mean the English speaking world,
And the trouble lies in our western democracy which has loosened the fabric of our civilisation, so that the lightweights are coming to the top.

With faces smarting from icy spindrift we now come to the generation who learned their trade in the era of sail but were cajoled, coaxed, or even forced to move forward with the times into the era of steam and turbine. CAPTAIN FRANK SHAW (born 1878, date of death unknown) was possibly one of these, spending the first 7 years of his career sailing the windjammers and gaining his masters certificate at the young age of 23 only to find that his qualification did not cut much ice with owners of tramp steamers. With the trade in sail in decline he succumbed to the transition by taking a post as Mate on a steamer. A little later he served on an early transatlantic liner but quit the sea in the early 20th century to concentrate on writing. In World War 1 he changed ensigns and served with the Royal Navy when he was given command of a Q boat. According to his autobiography he also had a spell in the front line trenches in France and a hazardous episode in an observation balloon. It appears that he was one of the few authors, possibly only, to fight the Germans on land, sea, and air. Too old for naval service in World War 2 he wheedled himself into the convoys, ostensibly in the role of a war reporter, but saw action after he joined the disastrous PQ17 convoy when 24 ships were sunk. Aside from his prolific magazine and newspaper articles he produced at least 50 books including a number of children's stories in which the hero was full of pluck and worth 3 Germans any day of the week, and his heroes were not restricted to the middle classes. His adult novels appear to have been aimed at the popular market and the books of value to today's readers, if you can find them, are his autobiographies and reminiscences, WHITE SAILS AND SPINDRIFT 1946. LIFE OWES ME NOTHING 1948, SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS 1953, and SEAS OF MEMORY 1958. I don't know whether these were distributed in Australia, if not you will have to come to Britain to find them. Round the Horn is the quickest but most dangerous route.

DAVID BONE (1874-1959) was another Scottish sailor who began his career in the days of sail before moving on to more modern ships. His career was astonishing and not only in it's length. He was at sea from the age of 16 to the age of 73, at first on the windjammers, then moving on to tramp steamers, and finally gaining his masters certificate in his early forties. From 1922 to 1939 he was captain of a transatlantic liner carrying passengers to America, one of whom was a friend in the shape of the elderly Joseph Conrad, on his way to the states to become famous. And William Mcfee who, having swallowed the anchor, was anxious to get back to sea and volunteered for a job in the bookshop which Captain Bone had installed onboard his luxury liner. (He claimed it as the first bookshop on a ship). During World War 2 Captain Bone came under the command of the Royal Navy. He captained a troop ship and was still in command of a ship in 1946 at the age of 73. He received a knighthood for his services. (in the days when it meant something) His first and best known book was THE BRASSBOUNDER 1910, an account of a voyage in a large sailing ship from Glasgow round the Horn to San Francisco. It was a rougher trip than Henry Dana's voyage. Two young apprentices, known as brassbounders, are taken on at Glasgow but their initiation into life at sea is rather harsh and they are badly treated by the hardcase crew. It's all rather unpleasant and upon rounding the Horn one boy is killed after falling from the yard. Things don't get any better and they reach their destination only to begin fighting amongst themselves. The story is autobiographical and based on his early days onboard the City of Florence. The book does not appear to have been reprinted since around 1960 even though it is every inch a match for Two Years Before the Mast. There were many hardback editions and a couple of penguin paperbacks. It deserves to be in print. David Bone went on the write 6 other books with his last, The Queerfeller, published in 1952.

There are two more writers from this period who were well known during their lifetimes and may still be remembered by the older generation. They were born in the same decade, they both served in the Royal Navy, they were both trained aboard HMS Britannia, and they both used pen names; probably because they were writing during time of war while serving in the navy. But no, they were not twins. The most prolific writer of the two was CAPTAIN HENRY TAPRELL DORLING, another Scot born in 1883 who used the pen name of TAFFRAIL. He was in command of a destroyer during World War 1. He produced approximately 50 books including novels with a nautical flavour, non fiction, and a few children's stories. His best known book was CYPHER K 1932, an adult adventure story which was published in several abridged editions for children. It was last published in 1974. The other author was LEWIS DA COSTA RICCI, born in 1886, who used the pen name of BARTIMEUS. He is thought to have been English with some latin ancestry. As a midshipman he was blinded in one eye but stayed on in the navy in the secretarial branch and he served on Admiral Jellicoe's flagship during WW1. He achieved the rank of Paymaster Commander and later in his career served aboard the royal yacht. He produced in the region of 20 books and his most popular book was probably A TALL SHIP 1915 which consisted of witty sketches of navy life. It was published in many editions but does not seem to have been reprinted after the 1940's penguin editions. Nevertheless over the years I've seen quite a few copies knocking around secondhand bookshops. His only children's story UNDER SEALED ORDERS 1938 was also something of a classic and was last reprinted in the 50's.

Now for something closer to home waters. The Australian writer, ALAN VILLIERS (born 1903), grew up during the steam turbine period but was determined to work on sailing ships. Amongst those he sailed on was a ship owned by Gustav Erikson, the Finn who continued to keep a line of sailing ships afloat when most others had failed; and conditions onboard seem all sweetness and light in comparison to the old British windjammers. I am sure that many of you know more about this writer than I do. Only one book has been read, THE SET OF THE SAILS 1949 but Villiers produced around 40 books, most of which appear to be autobiographical. Sadly his books do not appear to be in print today but secondhand copies are definitely worth looking out for. A few were reprinted in paperbacks. If anyone can supply information about Villiers, (still alive possibly? or if not, date of death) it would be appreciated. And are there any more Australian sailor/authors or even Tasmanian? They also appear to have had a thriving time of it during the era of sail.

The period from 1910 to around 1950 was the peak period for the children's writers, but as there will be few children reading this it must be brief. And please note that the collecting of children's stories is not to be recommended. Please leave them for the people they were written for to find. The collecting of adult stories is ten times more interesting. It was spearheaded by PERCY F. WESTERMAN (1876-1959) an English author much underrated in the post 1960 period. The best known bibliography of 20th century children's authors effectively writes Westerman off as being of no interest to post war readers. Although comments about the outdatedness of his adventure and flying stories may well be true there is no mention made of his nautical stories. Westerman was a sailor and his first love was the sea with much of his spare time was spent yachting. Of his approximate total of 175 books about 60 were nautical stories. He was particularly good at writing about the merchant navy with stories about cadets joining the mercantile marine. Westerman deserves a revival more than any other pre-war children's writer and a few choice cuts from his nautical stories would do the trick. At his peak he was the best boy's story writer of the 20th century.

PERCY WOODCOCK (no dates known) was overshadowed by his namesake but he produced a classic with WRECKERS BAY in 1936 which was in print for over 30 years. He appears to have been an instructor of some sort with many books of instruction for novice sailors to his credit. VICE ADMIRAL GORDON CAMPBELL (1886-1953 sounds like a Scot) only managed to produce a few children's books as he was rather busy running the fleet. The children's writers were mainly merchantmen. FRANK CRISP (Born 1915) a Bosun/deep sea diver/rover of the eastern seas, produced 20 odd stories and was best known for his series of stories about Dirk Rogers, also a deep sea diver and rover of the eastern seas. PETER DAWLISH (1899-1963 Scottish) produced around 25 books and was best known for his series of stories about a yacht called the Dauntless, reprinted in the mid 1980's. ARTHUR CATHERALL (1906-1980 English) appears to have been the most prolific writer with 120 books but not all were of a nautical theme. He provided some more exotic eastern settings with his series about Jack Frodsham and his tugboat called the Bulldog, cruising in Malaysian waters; and he also wrote SHANGHAIED! which appears to be an interesting re-working of Rudyard Kipling's Captain's Courageous. DOUGLAS V. DUFF (Born 1901, English) was another prolific writer with over 90 books including a series about Lieutenant Adam Macadam. RICHARD ARMSTRONG (1903-1986 English) wrote a dozen nautical stories for children and a few stories for adults. CAPTAIN FRANK KNIGHT (Born 1905) produced nearly 50 books and GILBERT HACKFORTH JONES (Born 1900) a Royal Navy man produced the Green Sailor stories for children, but perhaps he is best known for his adult novels. And finally SHOWELL STYLES (Born 1908) with a series about Midshipman Quinn and adult stories too.

Back with the grown ups, ERNEST LAURIE LONG (no dates) fails to get a mention in any of the author listings even though he produced 70 nautical books, published between 1934 and 1963, of mainly fiction including a series about a character called Flynn. Long had a brisk style of writing which make his books very readable and he was good at describing ship's engine rooms. Was he a marine engineer?

The pre war slump in shipping did not cause a slump in demand for shipping stories. Here come the big names from the mid 20th century, and books by these authors tend to be either in print or found in public libraries. C.S. FORESTER 1899-1966 was best known for his series of historical stories about Hornblower. There seem to be about 15 in the series which were published from 1937 to the 1960's. But Forester's best book was his account of HMS Artemis, a destroyer on the Malta convoy run during WW2, describing all the nuts and bolts of life onboard ship including being under fire, and highly recommended too. NICHOLAS MONSARRAT 1910-1979 served with the RNVR and sailed on the atlantic convoys around which he based his classic THE CRUEL SEA 1951. And here the Scots were still in the thick of things with ALISTAIR MACLEAN 1922-1987 who served in the RN in WW2. His first book was a bestseller. HMS ULYSEES was the novelisation of his experiences in the convoys.

A mist of controversy surrounds the next two writers and arguments have been known to arise as to whether they are in fact the same person, but they are definitely not. Nevertheless, they were both born in 1924, they both served in the Royal Navy in World War 2, and they both achieved the rank of Lieutenant. DOUGLAS REEMAN has written so many books I've lost count of them. His first book was published in 1958 and he is still writing today with his 21st book in the Richard Bolitho series published in 1993 (under the pen name of Alexander Kent). According to publisher blurb he joined the Royal Navy in 1941 and saw action in the Arctic, Mediterranean, and Atlantic. So if I were you I would look for novels by Reeman which take place in the Arctic, Mediterranean or the Atlantic in World War 2. It is true that fiction which is likely to include much of the author's own experiences will be the best. Douglas Reeman also uses the pen name of ALEXANDER KENT to write 18th century sea stories about a character called Richard Bolitho. ALEXANDER FULLERTON first went to sea in 1941, the same year as the previous author, but Fullerton served on a submarine. Thankfully his first book was not published in 1958, that would have been completely unbelievable. His first book was published in 1953 and called SURFACE, and it sounds distinctly submarine like. Look for stories by this author set in World War 2 especially concerning submarines.

Other notables whose books were well known up until quite recent times, but may not be in print at present were HERMAN WOUK with THE CAINE MUTINY about the US navy in WW2, not read, but it seems to be well liked. Also JOHN CALDWELL who had a DESPERATE VOYAGE 1949 to get back to his wife in Australia at the end of WW2. And ERIC NEWBURY wrote THE LAST GRAIN RACE 1956 about the last merchants of sail, and this book may be in print.

Over the last 2 decades BRIAN CALLISON has written a number of popular merchant navy stories, and a little more recently SAM LLEWELLYN has specialised in yacht racing stories. There are bound to be authors I have missed, particularly the lesser known ones, whose books are sometimes found becalmed in the reserve stocks of public libraries. And I readily admit to being weak on books published in the last 20 years or so, which is due to my having a morbid fixation with writers from bygone eras, (I am the bane of the inter-loan library system). But there do not seem to be many current young writers apart from Llewellyn. And where are the great writers from the Supertanker period?

CONCLUSION
And what conclusion can we draw from all these sailors who became authors? Why did so many sailors become authors? And why were so many of them outstanding authors? Is it something to do with the sea? In the days of sail the life at sea was said to make a man of even a sickly apprentice, and there were many who sought a cure to poor health in a voyage on a windjammer. The sea could invigorate them physically, mentally, and even spiritually as Conrad stressed in his books. The introduction to John Caldwell's journal Desperate Voyage sums it up by explaining how Caldwell embarked upon a long sea voyage in a small yacht with no prior knowledge of sailing and as he learned how to do it by trial and error he also learned to know himself and acquire the means of expressing himself. And so these sailors who had writing ability would be improved by the life at sea. With the armed navies of the western countries now much smaller, and with the merchant navies minuscule in comparison to former days it is likely that the days of the nautical authors are not only numbered, but probably over, and never again will there be so many prolific writers of the sea. The post war period saw the departure of the British empire and with it went the system and the standards and values which helped to beget the strong characters necessary for the running of an empire. In his Hopalong Cassidy books the American writer Clarence Mulford occasionally included an English rancher, Henry Booth, describing him as "one of the stalwart breed of men who can be found in all the out of the way, far flung corners of the world, self reliant, courageous and dependable, the foundation stones of a mighty empire." Many of these empire characters where naval men, Englishmen by birth or adoption, Scots, Australians, and Yankees who shouted their Americanism but were English in thought, word, and deed. The great characters have gone and the English speaking world has changed to a mediocre politically correct system which does not produce such men, or such writers. So it's over. It's finished. There will be no more great nautical writers. Or is it over? There is Sam Llewellyn, and we need more writers like him. If circumstances arise that there are a thriving number of writers, all in competition with each other, it forces the best stories to the surface, like depth-charged classics,....oh, crikey, it's never been described quite like that before. There seems to be more scope for yacht racing stories and there are tremendous races round the world, for fun of course, which is not quite the same. And then when the oil runs out perhaps there will be a revival of sail, or of something resembling sail. But if there is to be a future for nautical stories it must lie with stories with a CONTEMPORARY SETTING. Historical stories, however good, are not the stuff from which classics are made. And to quickly sum up, the contemporary scene appears to lie with yacht racing and supertankers. Does anyone know any supertankers captains who can write? And just one more question to leave you to muse on. Is Alexander Fullerton the astrological twin of Douglas Reeman?

Rowland Smythe's specialist subject is Sea Fiction. He was also the author of The Maniac's Guide to the Biggles Books 1993.

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