Treasure Island

Historical allusions

Real pirates and piracies

  • Five real-life pirates mentioned are William Kidd (active 1696–99), Blackbeard (1716–18), Edward England (1717–20), Howell Davis (1718–19), and Bartholomew Roberts (1718–22). Kidd buried treasure on Gardiners Island, though the booty was recovered by authorities soon afterwards.[2]
  • The name "Israel Hands" was taken from that of a real pirate in Blackbeard's crew, whom Blackbeard maimed (by shooting him in the knee) simply to assure that his crew remained in terror of him. Allegedly Hands was taken ashore to be treated for his injury and was not at Blackbeard's last fight (the incident is depicted in Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides); this alone saved him from the gallows; supposedly he later became a beggar in England.
  • Silver refers to "three hundred and fifty thousand" pieces of eight at the "fishing up of the wrecked plate ships". This remark conflates two related events; first, the salvage of the treasure of the hurricane-wrecked 1715 Treasure Fleet off the coast of Florida, and second the seizure the following year of 350,000 salvaged pieces of eight (out of several million) by privateer Henry Jennings. This event is mentioned in the introduction to Johnson's General History of the Pyrates.
  • Silver refers to a ship's surgeon from Roberts' crew who amputated his leg and was later hanged at Cape Coast Castle, a British fortification on the Gold Coast of Africa. The records of the trial of Roberts' men list Peter Scudamore as the chief surgeon of Roberts' ship Royal Fortune. Scudamore was found guilty of willingly serving with Roberts' pirates and various related criminal acts, as well as attempting to lead a rebellion to escape once he had been apprehended. He was, as Silver relates, hanged, in 1722.
  • Stevenson refers to the Viceroy of the Indies, a ship sailing from Goa, India (then a Portuguese colony), which was taken by Edward England off Malabar while John Silver was serving aboard England's ship the Cassandra. No such exploit of England's is known, nor any ship by the name of the Viceroy of the Indies. However, in April 1721 the captain of the Cassandra, John Taylor (originally England's second in command who had marooned him for being insufficiently ruthless), together with his pirate partner, Olivier Levasseur, captured the vessel Nostra Senhora do Cabo near Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese galleon was returning from Goa to Lisbon with the Conde da Ericeira, the recently retired Viceroy of Portuguese India, aboard. The viceroy had much of his treasure with him, making this capture one of the richest pirate hauls ever. This is likely the event that Stevenson referred to, though his (or Silver's) memory of the event seems to be slightly confused. The Cassandra is last heard of in 1723 at Portobelo, Panama, a place that also briefly figures in Treasure Island as "Portobello".
  • The preceding two references are inconsistent, as the Cassandra (and presumably Silver) was in the Indian Ocean during the time that Scudamore was surgeon on board the Royal Fortune, in the Gulf of Guinea.

Other allusions

  • 1689: A pirate whistles "Lillibullero" (1689).
  • 1702: The Admiral Benbow Inn where Jim and his mother live is named after the real life Admiral John Benbow (1653–1702).
  • 1733: Captain Flint died in the town of Savannah, Georgia, founded in 1733.
  • 1745: Doctor Livesey was at the Battle of Fontenoy (1745).
  • 1747: Squire Trelawney and Long John Silver both mention "Admiral Hawke", i.e. Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke (1705–81), promoted to Rear Admiral in 1747.
  • 1749: The novel refers to the Bow Street Runners (1749).
  • Treasure Island was in part inspired by R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island,[3] which Stevenson admired for its "better qualities."[4] Stevenson alludes to Ballantyne in the epigraph at the beginning of Treasure Island, “To the Hesitating Purchaser", "...If studious youth no longer crave, His ancient appetites forgot, Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave, Or Cooper of the wood and wave..."

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