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Frederick Marryat
Portrait by John Simpson, 1826
Born (1792-07-10)10 July 1792
Westminster, London, England
Died 9 August 1848(1848-08-09) (aged 56)
Langham, Norfolk, England
Nationality English
Occupation Navy officer, Writer (novelist)

Captain Frederick Marryat (10 July 1792 – 9 August 1848) was an English Royal Navy officer, novelist, and a contemporary and acquaintance of Charles Dickens, noted today as an early pioneer of the sea story. He is now known particularly for the semi-autobiographical novel Mr Midshipman Easy and his children's novel The Children of the New Forest, and for a widely used system of maritime flag signalling, known as Marryat's Code.

Early life and naval career[edit | edit source]

Marryat was born in London, the son of Joseph Marryat, a "merchant prince" and member of Parliament and his German wife Charlotte, née von Geyer. After trying to run away to sea several times, he was permitted to enter the Royal Navy in 1806, as a midshipman on board HMS Imperieuse, a frigate commanded by Lord Cochrane (who would later serve as inspiration for both Marryat and other authors).

Marryat's time aboard the Imperieuse included action off the Gironde, the rescue of a fellow midshipman who had fallen overboard, captures of many ships off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, and the capture of the castle of Montgat. When the Imperieuse shifted to operations in the Scheldt, in 1809, Marryat contracted malaria, and returned to England on the 74-gun HMS Victorious.

After recuperating, Marryat returned to the Mediterranean in the 74-gun HMS Centaur, and again saved a shipmate by leaping into the sea after him. He then sailed as a passenger to Bermuda in the 64-gun HMS Atlas, and from thence to Halifax, Nova Scotia on the schooner HMS Chubb. Once there he joined the 32-gun frigate HMS Aeolus, on 27 April 1811.

A few months later, Marryat again earned distinction by leading the effort to cut away the Aeolus' mainyard to save the ship during a storm, and, continuing a pattern, he also saved one of the men from the sea. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the frigate HMS Spartan, participating in the capture of a number of American ships (the War of 1812 having begun by then), and on 26 December 1812 was promoted to lieutenant.

As lieutenant, Marryat served in the sloop HMS Espiegle and in HMS Newcastle, and was promoted to commander on 13 June 1815, just in time for peace to break out. He then pursued scientific studies, invented a lifeboat (thus earning both a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society and the nickname 'Lifeboat'). Based on his experience in the Napoleonic Wars escorting merchant ships in convoys, he developed a practical and widely used system of maritime flag signalling known as Marryat's Code.

During his scientific studies he described in 1818 a new gastropod genus Cyclostrema with the type species Cyclostrema cancellatum Marryat, 1818.

In 1819 he married Catherine Shairp, with whom he had four sons (of whom only the youngest, Frank, outlived him) and seven daughters (including Florence, a prolific novelist and his biographer; Emilia, a writer of moralist adventure novels in her father's vein; and Augusta, also a writer of adventure fiction). Around this time Marryat collaborated with George Cruikshank the caricaturist to produce The New Union Club, an extravagant satire against abolitionism.[1]

In 1820 he commanded the sloop HMS Beaver and temporarily commanded HMS Rosario for the purpose of bringing back to England the despatches announcing the death of Napoleon on Saint Helena. He also took the opportunity to make a sketch of Napoleon's body on his deathbed, which was later published as a lithograph. Marryat's artistic skills were modest, but his sketches of shipboard life above and below deck have considerable charm that overcomes their crudities.[2]

In 1823 he was appointed to HMS Larne, 20, and took part in an expedition against Burma in 1824. During this expedition, which resulted in large losses due to disease, he was promoted to command the 28-gun HMS Tees, and this gave him the rank of post captain. He was back in England in 1826. In 1829 he was commanding the frigate HMS Ariadne on a mission to search for shoals around the Madeira and Canary Islands. This was an uninspiring exercise, and between that and the recent publication of his first novel, The Naval Officer, he decided to resign his commission in November 1830 and take up writing full-time.

Literary career[edit | edit source]

From 1832 to 1835 Marryat edited The Metropolitan Magazine.[3] He kept producing novels, with his biggest success, Mr Midshipman Easy, coming in 1836. He lived in Brussels for a year, travelled in Canada and the United States, then moved to London in 1839, where he was in the literary circle of Charles Dickens and others. He was in North America in 1837 when the Rebellion of that year in Lower Canada broke out, and served with the British forces in suppressing it.

He was named a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his invention and other achievements. In 1843 he moved to a small farm at Manor Cottage in Norfolk, where he died in 1848. His daughter Florence Marryat later became well known as a writer and actress. His son Francis Samuel Marryat completed his late novel The Little Savage.[4]

Marryat's novels are characteristic of their time, with the concerns of family connections and social status often overshadowing the naval action, but they are interesting as fictional renditions of the author's 25 years of real-life experience at sea. These novels, much admired by men like Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway, were among the first sea novels. They were models for later works by C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian that were also set in the time of Nelson and told the stories of young men rising through the ranks through successes as naval officers. Along with his novels, Marryat was also known for his short writings on nautical subjects. These short stories, plays, pieces of travel journalism and essays appeared in The Metropolitan Magazine too, and were later published in book form as Olla Podrida. Marryat's 1839 Gothic novel The Phantom Ship contained The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains, which includes the first female werewolf in a short story.[5]

Controversy existed amongst the readers of Marryat's work; as some criticized that he wrote with carelessness. However, others admired the way he wrote about his real life experiences at sea with vivacity.[6]

His later novels were generally for the children's market, including his most famous novel for contemporary readers, The Children of the New Forest, which was published in 1847 and set in the countryside surrounding the village of Sway, Hampshire.

Works[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. See Temi Odumosu's article in The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem, ed Elizabeth McGrath and Jean Michel Massing, London (The Warburg Institute) and Turin 2012.
  2. National Maritime Museum (UK), Capt. Marryat's framed and original sketch of Napoleon Bonaparte after his death at St Helena
  3. J. K. Laughton, ‘Marryat, Frederick (1792–1848)’, rev. Andrew Lambert, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006, accessed 4 Jan 2008
  4. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/fmarryat.htm
  5. Barger, Andrew (2010). Shifters: The Best Werewolf Short Stories 1800–1849. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-1933747255. 
  6. Lang, Kathrin. "Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism". http://c19index.chadwyck.com/fullrec/fullrec.do?id=925&resultNum=4&entries=7&area=dncj&forward=search&queryId=../session/1344883830_4583. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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