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Frederick Marryat

(1792—1848) naval officer and novelist

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British naval officer and novelist, born at Westminster, London. He was the son of Joseph Marryat, the agent for Grenada in the Windward Islands, and grandson of Thomas Marryat, a physician, author, and poet.

As a boy Marryat frequently ran away to sea and finally entered the Royal Navy in 1806. During his two-and-a-half years as a midshipman aboard his first ship, the frigate Imperieuse, he took part in more than 50 engagements, an introduction to naval life which stood him in good stead for his later career as a writer. For example, his novel Peter Simple (1834) was based on the exploits of Lord Cochrane, who commanded the Imperieuse when Marryat was serving aboard her.

Marryat was promoted commander in 1815 and four years later took command of the sloop Beaver, the guard-ship at St Helena until Napoleon's death there in 1821. Marryat was then given command of the Larne in the East Indies; was senior naval officer at Rangoon in 1824 during the Burmese War; and in 1825 commanded an expedition which ascended the Bassein River and captured the town of that name. He was, in fact, an officer with quite remarkable gifts. Apart from his distinguished naval career, he was awarded the medal of the Humane Society for ‘a dozen or more’ lifesaving rescues and was responsible for the compilation of a code of signals which became the basis of the International Code of Signals. For this latter achievement he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1819, and appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1833.

He was promoted captain in 1830 but then resigned to devote himself to writing novels. His first, Frank Mildmay, had been published while he was still serving, and his second, The King's Own, came out the year he retired. Frank Mildmay had not been well received but it was in such contrast to the general run of historical romance that discerning readers prophesied a bright future for him as its mixture of adventure, high-spirited fun, distress and hardship, heroic action, friendship, and hatred was like a breath of fresh air to the contemporary novel. With the publication of The King's Own, any lingering doubts about his talent were set at rest. It was a great success and was followed in quick succession by Newton Foster (1832), Peter Simple (1834), Jacob Faithful (1834), The Pacha of Many Tales (1835), Japhet in Search of a Father (1836), The Pirate of the Three Cutters (1836), and Mr Midshipman Easy (1836), the best known of his stories.

Much of the naval adventure with which these books were packed was based on his experiences in the Imperieuse, and to all of them he brought the authentic smell of the briny and an intimate knowledge of the way of a ship at sea. He had a gift for characterization that suited his adventurous heroes admirably, and in ‘Equality Jack’ in Mr Midshipman Easy he possibly created the perfect hero in the realms of naval adventure.


Subjects: Literature

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Works by Frederick Marryat