How did a boy who lived in Bolton, England, almost 30 miles inland, develop a longing to go to sea? His family was in the cotton-bleaching business. Bolton was known for its bleach works and had little connection with the sea. Yet, Arthur Rostron knew by the age of six that he wanted to go to sea. We can only guess because Rostron did not mention how his interest developed when he wrote his memoires.
Non-Fictional Sea Stories
For over 300 years before Rostron’s birth, English ships had been embarking voyages of discovery and emigration. England still held Canada and other colonies in the Americas. Captain James Cook, had made several voyages to discover the eastern coast of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. HMS Beagle had carried the young Charles Darwin on a voyage that gave him world-changing ideas.
All of these stories appeared in newspapers and books and general conversation. Young Arthur would probably have heard of or even read many of these stories of the sea.
Fictional Sea Stories
There is always the Odyssey and the adventures of Odysseus to inspire a young boy learning Latin. Swift’s Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver, better known as Gulliver’s Travels, was published in 1726 and was popular from the start. Arthur probably did not read any of the stories of Sinbad the Sailor because they did not reach a wide English-reading audience until the late nineteenth century.
To really inspire a young man in the mid-nineteenth century there were the books of Frederick Marryat who invented the nautical fiction genre. Marryat was born in London in 1792. He tried to run off to join the Navy several times and finally, at fourteen, did so. His father, a member of Parliament, obtained a place for Frederick as a midshipman on board HMS Imperieuse.
Marryat had a distinguished naval career. Promoted to commander in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, he was assigned to take news of Napoleon’s death to England in 1821. Marryat also developed a flag signaling system known as Marryat’s Code.
He began writing novels while still in the navy, and the modest success of his first, The Naval Officer, lead him to resign his commission in November 1830. Marryat eventually published 26 books, most of them novels involving seafaring.
His novels were very successful and influenced writers such as C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, and Earnest Hemingway also admired his books. Set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars Marryat’s fiction involved young men working their way up into command.
We don’t know which stories inspired Rostron, but many possibilities could have inspired a land-bound boy to want a career at sea.