The Traitor of Treasure Island
An Author’s Inspiration
By John Drake
‘The Traitor of Treasure Island’ is my latest book. It’s a re-telling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story, and it’s the fourth in a series because my previously published ‘Flint and Silver’ trilogy explains what happened before ‘Treasure Island’.
I wrote the trilogy because ‘Treasure Island’ left many questions unanswered. First of all, why did the pirates bury their treasure? Pirates lived short and dangerous lives. They didn’t plan for a nice little retirement flat in Eastbourne with a sea view and private medicine. They didn’t plan for the future because they didn’t have a future. So: why wasn’t the treasure instantly spent in the grog-shops and bawdy houses? And who exactly was the terrifying Captain Flint who is constantly mentioned but never appears in ‘Treasure Island’? And how did Long John Silver lose his leg, and where did he get the parrot that sat on his shoulder as his constant companion?
Having answered these questions in the trilogy, especially regarding Captain Flint (stunningly handsome, but murderously psychopathic) I wanted to complete the cycle by explaining what happened on the island, by which I mean what really happened, because in my book Jim Hawkins who supposedly wrote ‘Treasure Island’, is a nasty little swine who twisted the facts to cover his own villainy. Thus I claim to have discovered the truth in the long-lost journal of Dr Livesey, surgeon to the treasure island expedition, who never published in his lifetime partly because he never wanted to go on the island expedition in the first place, but mainly because he was in love with Jim Hawkins’s mother Charlotte, and he couldn’t bear to wound her with the reality of her son’s behaviour. Livesey is a thoroughly decent man who was once guards officer but gave up soldiering because he was sick of killing. So now he wants only to practise medicine and live happily with his lady, perhaps having their portrait painted by the artist Gainsborough, as any successful gentleman might hope to do.
So I wrote ‘The Traitor’ to complete a series, but also because I have always been fascinated by sail-and-timber seafaring since reading ‘Treasure Island’ as a boy. ‘Treasure Island’ is a work of genius and I love it still and I recommend it to all the world. Then later I read the Hornblower books by C.S. Forester and was gripped not only by the splendid stories but by the exotic vocabulary: t’gallants and tops’ls! Beat to quarters! Engage the enemy more closely! Two bells of the forenoon watch! Fine words they are too, and to me they read like poetry.
The more I researched Georgian seafaring, the more I respected the men who sailed the great oceans sea in wooden ships that were pitifully small by our standards. An eighteenth century merchant ship might displace only a few hundred tons as compared with our hundred thousand ton cruise liners. But brave men sailed them everywhere: off perilous, rocky coasts or across the North Sea in winter, in the cold and the grey and the sleet, and the waves heaving up like mountains. They even sailed right round the world to find tiny islands in the vast pacific, and they did this without radio, radar, satnav, diesel engines or any other power than human muscle, hauling on lines to catch the wind.
That’s assuming of course, that the wind blew, because if it didn’t then the sails hung like wet washing and the ship didn’t move at all. Then you were stuck. You were becalmed. You were helpless. There was nothing you could do, and if you were becalmed far out at sea, then you prayed for a wind to come before ship’s stores ran out and all hands died of hunger or thirst.
Finally, since ‘The Traitor’ is very much about pirates it’s important to remember that despite the merry modern image of pretend pirates, real pirates weren’t very nice. No merchant ship ever wanted a pirate to come alongside, because it isn’t very nice to be robbed with extreme violence. To prove this, I give the example of two pirate flags.
The first is the familiar skull and crossbones, which real pirates did genuinely use, though in many forms including full skeletons, multiple skulls, crossed blades or whatever variant a ship’s crew fancied. But yes they really used it. They used it as a frightener and for swagger, but this black and white flag wasn’t the Jolly Roger. The Jolly Roger was something else. It was a plain red flag that the French buccaneers called ‘le Jolie Rouge’ meaning ‘the pretty red one’ and English speakers mangled the words into Jolly Roger.
The Jolly Roger had a special meaning. When it was hoist and fluttered on the wind, the pirate ship was saying to its intended victim: ‘If all of you surrender, then we will spare your lives, but if any one of you fights back, then we will kill you all.’ And that really isn’t very nice, you must agree. But these are the kind of pirates you’ll find in ‘The Traitor of Treasure Island’ so by all means read the book and immerse yourself in the pirate life. But don’t wish you could be pirate, or even meet one: not if he’s Captain Flint.
So thanks for reading this all the way to the end, but now mind how you go, especially in your dreams.
Traitor of Treasure Island
By John Drake
The truth at last because the ‘Treasure Island’ story was a pack of lies written by Jim Hawkins, a dissolute lad who spent his Sundays not in church, but in the bawdy houses of Polmouth.
All is revealed in the newly-discovered journal of Dr Livesey - surgeon to the island expedition – explaining the map, the gold, and the hatred between Long John Silver and the psychopathic Captain Flint: bitter rivals for the love of Selena, once a plantation slave-girl but (for the moment) Silver’s wife.
Thus Livesey’s friend Squire Trelawney plans the sea-faring adventure but foolishly picks a crew full of pirates under Silver. Meanwhile Flint has kidnapped Selena and is sailing to the island with his own pirate crew.
Once ashore, fighting begins with musket, cutlass and cannon, but events are turned by Jim Hawkins, and by the wild man Ben Gunn: long since marooned but not as mad as he seems.
So who does Selena chose? Who gets the gold? Or is there any gold at all? And Livesey knows that if sadistic Flint wins the fight, then “them as die will be the lucky ones.”
I wrote this book because of the following words in a letter of March 18th 1790, sent by the Captain of an outbound convict ship to his wife:
“The boy Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island, has grown to become the notorious Sir James ‘Slippery Jim’ Hawkins, perpetual Member of Parliament for Trelawney West, who - following his recent trial - is to be transported to Australia for crimes too depraved to be named.”
I wrote the book because of those words and because of an uncanny experience that I had in summer 2017, when I felt that one of the un-dead was out of its grave and knocking at my door. I felt this because a certain object was delivered to my home by FedEx: a seaman’s chest, very old, and much like any other seaman’s chest, except that it had the initial ‘B’ burned on the top of it with a hot iron, and the corners were smashed and broken by rough usage. But it shocked me with amazement because I knew whose chest it must be, and I could barely believe it.
The chest was sent on spec by a dealer, familiar with my books on Long John Silver and the asking price was not cheap. But once I had seen the documents inside, I paid up without question. Indeed, the very first paper I handled was the letter mentioned above, and it seemed uncanny in itself, that I should glance at this document before all the rest, because there were plenty of them.
It and all the other papers were collected by Dr David Livesey, ship’s doctor on the Treasure Island expedition, and placed in the sea chest with Livesey’s Journal of the expedition. Finally, in 1758, Livesey instructed Lucey and Lucey, solicitors of Polmouth in Cornwall, to safeguard the chest for one hundred years, before publishing its contents using money left by Livesey for the purpose. Livesey added more papers to the chest in later years, including a copy of the Treasure Island map commissioned by Squire Trelawney who gave the original to Jim Hawkins, and Flint’s map of perils to navigation, north of the Treasure Island.
But Lucey & Lucey went out of business in 1847 when Livesey’s instructions were lost, so the chest sat in a vault for two hundred and fifty-nine years until it came to me.
What follows is therefore Livesey’s own story, taken from his Journal, and interspersed with chapters written by me describing wider events based on sources in the sea chest. These chapters are merely my own efforts, but they are as accurate as I can make them, and I have placed one such chapter right at the beginning of the book to give details of Jim Hawkins’s parentage, unknown to modern readers.
One last point before I stand aside: inflation has done such ghastly work that one golden Guinea of George II’s time was worth - in theory - over one thousand 21st century pounds. But gold was scarce, with much business done on credit at high prices, so ready money was worth even more. Thus Jim Hawkins’s ‘silver fourpenny’ (see Chapter 4) sounds miniscule but was worth over twenty modern pounds, while Flint’s treasure which was in gold, silver and precious stones, had colossal buying power, which must be valued, in modern terms, in billions.
John Drake, Cheshire, England, May 2018.
*Giveaway is now closed.
*Giveaway is now closed.
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The Traitor of Treasure Island
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The Traitor of Treasure Island
I trained originally as a biochemist, to graduate, doctorate then post-doctorate research level pushing myself to my limits, before finally realising that I thoroughly disliked scientific research. I disliked it because the focus is too narrow: you are trying to discover almost everything about almost nothing, and you can’t talk about it to your friends because you don’t inflict that level of boredom on people you like.
So, from 1975 I worked for ICI Pharmaceuticals and after some managerial jobs, I had a wonderful time in the TV production unit making documentary videos, and they were genuine documentaries too, and full of scientific novelty, so I was proud of them. Also, the job involved travelling the world: Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Los Angeles and beyond, flying first-class, and staying at top hotels, to interview medical opinion-leaders in their home bases. I loved it. Later still I was anchor-man for ‘PharmaVision’ the ICI Pharmaceuticals live-TV broadcast service. Yes, a pharmaceutical company really did have a live-TV broadcast service. We had our own studio too, and it was state of the art. Don’t ask why, and it didn’t last long, but it was terrific fun.
In 1999 the fun ended, and I left ICI Pharmaceuticals (which by then had become AstraZeneca) and I have been a full-time writer ever since.
Second only to my family (I am married with a son and two grandchildren) writing is the most important thing in my life. It is total compulsion and total satisfaction. After that, my leisure interests are ballroom dancing, target shooting with muzzle-loaders, and a fascination with history and with British politics (the latter strictly as a spectator). I also study online news, TV news and newspapers, because truth is better than fiction and a writer has to get his ideas from somewhere.