Synopsis

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island in 1881. It is set in the days of sailing ships and pirates and tells of the adventures of Jim Hawkins and his search for the buried treasure of an evil pirate, Captain Flint.

The story begins at ‘The Admiral Benbow’, the inn that belongs to Jim Hawkin’s parents. A mysterious stranger called Billy Bones, who rents a room at the inn, warns Jim to keep a look out for a ‘one legged man’. One day, Billy is visited by a beggar called ‘Blind Pew’ who gives him the ‘black spot’ which is the mark of imminent death among pirate crews. After Blind Pew leaves, Billy collapses and dies.

Jim finds a map in Billy’s sea chest just before Blind Pew returns with a band of evil pirates. Jim and his mother quickly hide before the pirates ransack the Inn looking for the map. Suddenly soldiers arrive and the pirates escape, except for Blind Pew who is accidentally trampled to death by the soldiers’ horses.

Jim takes the map to Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey who realise that it shows where Captain Flint, an evil and heartless pirate, has buried his stolen treasure.

Characters

Jim Hawkins

Narrator and hero, Jim leaves home on a fabulous adventure.

The Captain (Billy Bones)

First mate to captain Flint, Billy Bones receives the map of the treasure from Flint’s dying hands, and then guards it, unsuccessfully with his life.

Squire Trelawney

“Confoundedly hot headed and exclamatory” , the squire is benign but dangerously foolish.

Dr Livesey

“The neat, bright doctor… with bright eyes and pleasant manners” epitomizes decency and good sense.

Long John Silver

The most intelligent and cunning of the buccaneers, who is beguiling but also an “Abominable old rogue”

Captain Smollett

Captain of the Hispaniola, his shrewdness and sound judgement prove invaluable.

Ben Gunn

A member of Flint’s original crew, who has been living, as half-man, half-beast on the island.

Israel Hands

The coxswain, “a careful, wily, old, experienced seaman”, whose philosophy of life is “never seen good come o’goodness yet”.

Blind Pew

A “dreadful looking figure”, Pew delivers the “Black Spot” warning to captain Bill

Black Dog

A former shipmate of Captain Bill Whose appearance at the Admiral Benbow turns the captain “old and sick”.

Quotes

Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island opening line

“Sir, with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.”

Robert Louis Steven, Treasue Island

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“Dead men don’t bite”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“There’s never a man looked me between the eyes and seen a good day a’terward” – Long John Silver

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“We must go on, because we can’t turn back.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“Ah, said Silver, it were fortunate for me that I had Hawkins here. You would have let old john be cut to bits, and never given it a thought, doctor.
‘Not a thought,’ replied Dr. Livesey cheerily.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“One more step, Mr. Hands,” said I, “and I’ll blow your brains out! Dead men don’t bite, you know,” I added with a chuckle.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“But what is the black spot, captain?”

“The captain has said too much or he has said too little, and I’m bound to say that I require an explanation of his words.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“The workpeople, to be sure, were most annoyingly slow, but time cured that.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island Last Liner

About Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

Early life

Christened Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, was born to Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887), a lighthouse engineer and Margaret Isabella (born Balfour, 1829–1897) at Howard Place, Edinburgh, Scotland on 13 November 1850. However at about age 18, he changed the spelling of “Lewis” to “Louis”, and he dropped “Balfour” in 1873.

The stevensons family occupation was lighthouse design, however on his mother’s side Belfours were gentry, who could trace their family tree back to Alexander Balfour who held the lands of Inchyra in Fife in the 1400’s. With her father Lewis Balfour a minister in the Church of Scotland.

Robert inherited a weak chest from his mother side of the family, so they often stayed in warmer climes  and had a tendency towards coughs and fevers, which was made worse when his family moved to 1 Inverleith Terrace in 1851.

The family later moved to the sunnier 17 Heriot Row when Stevenson was six years old, he did continue having sickness in winter until the age of 11. Illness was a recurrent feature of his adult life and left him extraordinarily thin. At the time it was thought he had tuberculosis, but it is now thought to be bronchiectasis or even sarcoidosis.

Stevenson’s parents were Presbyterians, though they did not run a strict religious household. Robert’s nurse  Alison Cunningham (known as Cummy) with her fervently religious Calvinism and folk beliefs became a source of nightmares for him, which gave him a precocious concern about religion. 

Stevenson was an only child, who had difficulty fitting in at school when he started at the age of 6, which again happened at the age of 11 when he started at the Edinburgh Academy. Though he  mixed well in lively games with his cousins in summer holidays at Colinton. 

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Education

In 1867 after a disrupted education in his school years either being educated at home due to illness and going to a number of different schools including a boarding school in England orStevenson Entered the University of Edinburgh, to study engineering, with little enthusiasm.

In 1871 Stevenson stopped studying engineering to start a career in letters but it was agreed that Stevenson should read Law (again at Edinburgh University) and be called to the Scottish bar. 

Stevenson became part of London literary life, as he got  to know many of the writers of the time, including Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse and Leslie Stephen, the editor of The Cornhill Magazine who took an interest in Stevenson’s work.

Stephen took Stevenson to Edinburgh Infirmary to meet William Ernest Henley, an energetic and talkative man with a wooden leg. Henley became a close friend and occasional literary collaborator, the breakup in 1888, and he is often considered to be the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island.

Marriage

During a canoe voyage with Simpson brought Stevenson to Grez in September 1876, which is  where he met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne (1840–1914), from Indianapolis. She had married at age 17 and moved to Nevada to join her husband Samuel in the American Civil War. 

They had 3 children Isobel (or “Belle”), Lloyd and Hervey (who died in 1875). But due to her husband’s infidelity they were a number of separations. In 1875, she went with her children to France where she and Isobel studied art. By the time Stevenson met her, Fanny was herself a magazine short-story writer of recognized ability.

By Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez – https://archive.org/details/lifeofmrsrobertl00sancuoft The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson by Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez, London Chatto & Windus, Public Domain,

Stevenson returned to Britain shortly after this first meeting, but Fanny apparently remained in his thoughts, and he wrote the essay “On falling in love” for The Cornhill Magazine. They met again early in 1877 and became lovers. 

Fanny and Robert were married in May 1880, although he said that he was “a mere complication of cough and bones, much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom.” He travelled with his new wife and her son Lloyd, north of San Francisco to Napa Valley and spent a summer honeymoon at an abandoned mining camp on Mount Saint Helena (today designated Robert Louis Stevenson State Park).

He  met Charles Warren Stoddard, co-editor of the Overland Monthly and author of South Sea Idylls, who said that  Stevenson travel to travel the South Pacific, an idea which returned to him many years later. 

In August 1880, he sailed with Fanny and Lloyd from New York to Britain and found his parents and his friend Sidney Colvin on the wharf at Liverpool.

England and back to the United States

The Stevensons moved between Scotland and the Continent, finally settling in the Westbourne district of the English seaside town of Bournemouth in Dorset, during the 1880’s. They lived in a house Stevenson named ‘Skerryvore’ after a Scottish lighthouse built by his uncle Alan.

From April 1885 Henry James lived with the Stevens after they had met previously in London and had recently exchanged views in journal articles on the “art of fiction” and thereafter in a correspondence in which they expressed their admiration for each other’s work.

When James had moved to Bournemouth to help support his invalid sister, Alice, he took up the invitation to pay daily visits to Skerryvore for conversation at the Stevenson’s dinner table.

Largely bedridden, Stevenson described himself as living “like a weevil in a biscuit.” Yet, despite ill health, during his three years in Westbourne, Stevenson wrote the bulk of his most popular work: Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which established his wider reputation), The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses, A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods.

With his father dying in 1887 it left him free to follow the advice of his physician to try a complete change of climate. Stevenson headed for Colorado with his widowed mother and family. 

But after landing in New York, they decided to spend the winter in the Adirondacks at a cure cottage now known as Stevenson Cottage at Saranac Lake, New York.  where Stevenson wrote some of his best essays, including Pulvis et Umbra. He also began The Master of Ballantrae and lightheartedly planned a cruise to the southern Pacific Ocean for the following summer.

In January 1888, in response to American press coverage of the Land War in Ireland, Stevenson did pen a political essay (rejected by Scribner’s magazine and never published in his lifetime) that advanced a broadly conservative theme: the necessity of “staying internal violence by rigid law”. Notwithstanding his title, “Confessions of a Unionist”, Stevenson defends neither the union with England (she had “majestically demonstrated her incapacity to rule Ireland”) nor “landlordism” (scarcely more defensible in Ireland than, as he had witnessed it, in the gold fields of California). Rather he protests the readiness to pass “lightly” over crimes–“unmanly murders and the harshest extremes of boycotting”–where these are deemed “political”. This he argues is to “defeat law” (which is ever a “compromise”) and to invite “anarchy”: it is “the sentimentalist preparing the pathway for the brute”. It is only later, evoking the dispossession of the Irish (and the Scottish Highland Clearances) as a caution to South Sea islanders unprepared for confrontation with imperial powers, that Stevenson emerges–and then briefly–as a political writer and activist.

Final years in the Pacific

In June 1888, Stevenson chartered the yacht Casco and set sail with his family from San Francisco. The vessel “plowed her path of snow across the empty deep, far from all track of commerce, far from any hand of help.” 

The sea air and thrill of adventure for a time restored his health, and for nearly three years he wandered the eastern and central Pacific, stopping for extended stays at the Hawaiian Islands, where he became a good friend of King Kalākaua. 

He befriended the king’s niece Princess Victoria Kaiulani, who also had Scottish heritage. He spent time at the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. During this period, he completed The Master of Ballantrae, composed two ballads based on the legends of the islanders, and wrote The Bottle Imp. He preserved the experience of these years in his various letters and in his In the South Seas (which was published posthumously). 

He made a voyage in 1889 with Lloyd on the trading schooner Equator, visiting Butaritari, Mariki, Abaiang and Abemama in the Gilbert Islands. They spent several months on Abemama with tyrant-chief Tem Binoka, whom Stevenson described in In the South Seas.

Stevenson left Sydney, Australia, on the Janet Nicoll in April 1890 for his third and final voyage among the South Seas islands. He intended to produce another book of travel writing to follow his earlier book In the South Seas, but it was his wife who eventually published her journal of their third voyage.

 A fellow passenger was Jack Buckland, whose stories of life as an island trader became the inspiration for the character of Tommy Hadden in The Wrecker (1892), which Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne wrote together. Buckland visited the Stevensons at Vailima in 1894.

Samoa

On 3 December 1894, Stevenson was talking to his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine when he suddenly exclaimed, “What’s that?”, asked his wife “does my face look strange?”, and collapsed. He died within a few hours, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 44 years old. The Samoans insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night and on bearing him on their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where they buried him on a spot overlooking the sea on land donated by British Acting Vice Consul Thomas Trood. Stevenson had always wanted his Requiem inscribed on his tomb:

By Bartlett Tripp (1842-1911)Publisher: Cedar Rapids IA : Torch Press *uploaded by Teinesavaii – Image from 1909 published book My trip to Samoa (1911) ; (USA,1911)[1], Public Domain,

Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will.  This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea,  And the hunter home from the hill.

Stevenson was loved by the Samoans, and his tombstone epigraph was translated to a Samoan song of grief

Bibliography

Novels

TitleDateNotes
The Hair Trunk or The Ideal Commonwealth1877was not published until 2014
Treasure Island1883
Prince Otto1885
Strange Case Of Dr Jekyell And Mr Hyde1886
Kidnapped 1886
The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses1888
The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale1889
The Wrong Box1889co-written with Lloyd Osbourne
The Wrecker1892co-written with Lloyd Osbourne
Catriona1893also known as David Balfour, is a sequel to Kidnapped, telling of Balfour’s further adventures.
The Ebb-Tide1894co-written with Lloyd Osbourne
Weir of Hermiston1896unfinished at the time of Stevenson’s death, considered to have promised great artistic growth.
St Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England1897Unfinished at the time of Stevenson’s death, the novel was completed by Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Short Story Collections

TitleDate Notes
New Arabian Nights1882
More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter1885written with Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson
The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables1887
Island Nights’ Entertainments1893also known as South Sea Tales
Fables1896
Tales and Fantasies1905
Other Novels

Poetry

TitleDate Notes
A child’s Garden of Verses1885
Underwoods1887wrritten in both English and Scots
Ballads1891
Songs of Travel and Other Verses1896
Poems Hitherto Unpublished, 3 vol1916
1916
1921
Boston Bibliophile Society, republished in New Poems

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