Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dick Dauntless

Dick Dauntless The Boy Privateer. London : Hogarth House, Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, E.C. 12 Nos., c. 1885.

Dick Dauntless is a short, bloody, brutal boys sea adventure. No indication of author or illustrator, possibly Harry Maguire and one of the Emmett’s. The story is not terribly original, it was used with many variations in almost every sea tale I have read, from Money Marks to Handsome Harry to Black Rollo. What is different is the surprisingly good writing of the author, not only does he have a thorough knowledge of ships and the sea, he can write literate lines, and has a strong power of description. The action moves along like a freight train.

Its 1788 and England is at war with France and Spain. The heroes are two boys, Harry Seymour and Dick Dauntless, the villains are Dick’s cousin Jack Dauntless and his uncle Richard Dauntless, in reality Black Beard, scourge of the Caribbean, known as the Demon of the Seas. Cousin Jack is cheeky enough to try using a blade in a roughhouse with other boys. He is disarmed by Dick and hates him with a savage fury. Two boats set out, one under Captain Richard, one under Captain Robert, Dick’s father. Richard (Black Beard) takes over the ship and a bloody slaughter takes place, two young girls Katie Percival and May Clifton catch the eye of the lusty pirate.

“I’ve had twenty-seven wives in six years, and they all die for love of me - sooner or later, you know, generally sooner.”

The ship is burned and sunk along with captain Robert, women and children. Then its join or die as eighteen men walk the plank. The boys accept service under Black Beard and his odious son Jack in order to save the girls. As in most tales of this type the girls are mindless ciphers used as a foil to keep the action moving.

The pirate’s island in the Caribbean is approached through a whirlpool, only Jack and Black Beard can find the way through. Once there the pirates get drunk and have a shindig whereat they dance the “Bolavolta,” with topless women. A pirate grabs a woman around the waist and spins her in circles, the woman slaps the backs and shoulders of anyone she can reach.

“It was a wild and exciting scene - lithe bodies swaying, either to give or avoid a blow; plump shoulders shrugging, stricken flesh quivering, white flesh reddening or black paling ‘neath the slaps, with cheeks crimsoning and eyes flashing, as in many instances angry passions rose with the smarting.”

“Dimpled backs that had gone into the contest as white as snow, blushed finger marks, creamy shoulders ditto, hair became disheveled, chests panted, bosoms throbbed, female hearts thumped against manly ribs...some fainted, others lost their tempers, and began to double their fists and even use their nails...”

The "dance" ends and the “merry” women load up on champagne.

The girls are kept in a castle overlooking a village of huts. The only way in is by ladders, which are pulled up overnight to keep intruders out. When another pirate ship appears in the harbour Dick and Harry follow an underground passage that leads inside the castle, rescue the girls, capture the ship and with a squirming Jack in tow to get them by the whirlpool find their own island and set up as privateers preying on the French.

The island is the only one in the Caribbean inhabited by large stone-throwing apes. The boys find Captain Kidd’s treasure, chase Black Beard and even kill a cephalopod (“It’s head rose above the water as large as the buoy at the Nore, with eyes as big as the buffer lights of an express engine..,”) and drag it on board where it takes up the entire length of the main deck.

“Dick would gladly have carried the monster’s body ashore somewhere and presented it to some museum or scientific institution; but, after it had been dead a couple of hours, it began to stink so atrociously that he was fain to order it to be cast overboard, which (so rapidly had decomposition had set in) was done by spadefuls at a took six hours to get rid of him.”

Dick Dauntless and Harry Seymour end up killing the villain and become the heroes of the hour. There is the hint of a sequel in the final paragraphs;

“If our readers have been pleased with our narrative, we may perhaps at some future date, tell them another tale of this family of Crusoes.

How they were invaded by savages, and about a wonderful ape, who haunted their isle, and committed robbery, arson and murder, defying every effort at capture, and even the discovery of his retreat, until he was looked upon as supernatural, and everyone dreaded to go abroad; with many another strange peril and adventure, and whether or no Jack Dauntless was ever discovered and forced to pilot the “Rattlesnake” away from the island.

For the present however, we will write - Finis.”


  1. Wow! That "dance" was pretty steamy. Was it typical of these "boys'" adventures to feature this sort of heavy breathing stuff? The dime novels I've read (American) have been distressingly pure.

  2. Not exactly typical, but where something like this would never have been allowed in a dime novel, penny dreadfuls had no rules on sex and violence. Most typical was the stripping and whipping of the heroine, usually by demon nuns, a favourite with the illustrators.Other pd's featured heroes as pure as the hero of a dime novel western.