Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "buccaneers and buried gold". First published as a book on 23 May 1883, it was originally serialized in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881 and 1882 under the title Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola with Stevenson adopting the pseudonym Captain George North.
Jim Hawkins sitting in the apple-barrel, listening to the pirates
An old sailor, calling himself "the captain" but really called Billy Bones, comes to lodge at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast during the mid 1700s, paying the innkeeper's son, Jim Hawkins, a few pennies to keep a lookout for "seafaring men." One of these shows up, frightening Billy (who drinks far too much rum) into a stroke, and Billy tells Jim that his former shipmates covet the contents of his sea chest. After a visit from another man, Billy has another stroke and dies; Jim and his mother (his father has died only a few days before) unlock the sea chest, finding some money, a journal, and a map. The local physician, Dr. Livesey, deduces that the map is of an island where the pirate Flint buried a vast treasure. The district squire, Trelawney, proposes buying a ship and going after the treasure, taking Livesey as ship's doctor and Jim as cabin boy.
Several weeks later, Trelawney sends for Jim and Livesey and introduces them to Long John Silver, a Bristol tavern-keeper whom he has hired as ship's cook. They also meet Captain Smollett, who tells them that he does not like the crew or the voyage, which it seems everyone in Bristol knows is a search for treasure. After taking a few precautions, however, they set sail for the distant island. During the voyage the first mate, a drunkard, disappears overboard. And just before the island is sighted, Jim overhears Silver talking with two other crewmen and realizes that he and most of the others are pirates and have planned a mutiny. Jim tells the captain, Trelawney, and Livesey, and they calculate that they will be seven to nineteen against the mutineers and must pretend not to suspect anything until the treasure is found, when they can surprise their adversaries.
But after the ship is anchored, Silver and some of the others go ashore, and two men who refuse to join the mutiny are killed – one with so loud a scream that everyone realizes there can be no more pretense. Jim has impulsively joined the shore party, and now in running away from them he encounters a half-crazy Englishman, Ben Gunn, who tells him he was marooned here and can help against the mutineers in return for passage home and part of the treasure.
Meanwhile Smollett, Trelawney, and Livesey, along with Trelawney's three servants and one of the other hands, Abraham Gray, abandon the ship and come ashore to occupy a stockade. The men still on the ship, led by the coxswain Israel Hands, run up the pirate flag. One of Trelawney's servants and one of the pirates are killed in the fight to reach the stockade, and the ship's gun keeps up a barrage upon them, to no effect, until dark, when Jim finds the stockade and joins them. The next morning Silver appears under a flag of truce, offering terms that Captain Smollett refuses, and revealing that another pirate has been killed in the night (by Ben Gunn, Jim realizes, although Silver does not). At Smollett's refusal to surrender the map, Silver threatens an attack, and, within a short while, the attack on the stockade is launched. After a battle, the surviving mutineers retreat, having lost six men, but two more of the captain's group have been killed and Smollett himself is badly wounded.
When Livesey leaves in search of Ben Gunn, Jim runs away without permission and finds Gunn's homemade boat. After dark, he goes out and cuts the ship adrift. The two pirates on board, Hands and O'Brien, interrupt their drunken quarrel to run on deck, but the ship – with Jim's boat in her wake – is swept out to sea on the ebb tide. Exhausted, Jim falls asleep in the boat and wakens the next morning, bobbing along on the west coast of the island, carried by a northerly current. Eventually, he encounters the ship, which seems deserted, but getting on board, he finds O'Brien dead and Hands badly wounded. He and Hands agree that they will beach the ship at an inlet on the northern coast of the island. But as the ship is finally beached, Hands attempts to kill Jim, and Jim shoots and kills him. Then, after securing the ship as well as he can, he goes back ashore and heads for the stockade. Once there, in utter darkness, he enters the blockhouse – to be greeted by Silver and the remaining five mutineers, who have somehow taken over the stockade in his absence.
Silver and the others argue about whether to kill Jim, and Silver talks them down. He tells Jim that, when everyone found the ship was gone, the captain's party agreed to a treaty whereby they gave up the stockade and the map. In the morning Dr. Livesey arrives to treat the wounded and sick pirates, and tells Silver to look out for trouble when they find the site of the treasure. After he leaves, Silver and the others set out with the map, taking Jim along. Eventually they find the treasure cache – empty. Two of the pirates charge at Silver and Jim, but are shot down by Livesey, Gray, and Ben Gunn, from ambush. The other three run away, and Livesey explains that Gunn has long ago found the treasure and taken it to his cave.
In the next few days they load the treasure onto the ship, abandon the three remaining mutineers (with supplies and ammunition) and sail away. At their first port, where they will sign on more crew, Silver steals a bag of money and escapes. The rest sail back to Bristol and divide up the treasure. Jim says there is more left on the island, but he for one will not undertake another voyage to recover it.
Stevenson conceived of the idea of Treasure Island (originally titled, "The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys") from a map of an imaginary, romantic island idly drawn by Stevenson and his stepson on a rainy day in Breamar, Scotland. Stevenson had just returned from his first stay in America, with memories of poverty, illness and adventure (including his recent marriage), and a warm reconciliation between his parents had been established. Stevenson himself said in designing the idea of the story that, "It was to be a story for boys; no need of psychology or fine writing; and I had a boy at hand to be a touchstone. Women were excluded... and then I had an idea for Long John Silver from which I promised myself funds of entertainment; to take an admired friend of mine... to deprive him of all his finer qualities and higher graces of temperament, and to leave him with nothing but his strength, his courage, his quickness, and his magnificent geniality, and to try to express these in terms of the culture of a raw tarpaulin." Completing 15 chapters in as many days, Stevenson was interrupted by illness and, after leaving Scotland, continued working on the first draft outside London. While there, his father provided additional impetus, as the two discussed points of the tale, and Stevenson's father was the one who suggested the scene of Jim in the apple barrel and the name of Walrus for Captain Flint's ship. Two general types of sea novels were popular during the nineteenth century: the navy yarn, which places a capable officer in adventurous situations amid realistic settings and historical events; and the desert island romance, which features shipwrecked or marooned characters confronted by treasure-seeking pirates or angry natives. Around 1815 the latter genre became one of the most popular fictional styles in Great Britain, perhaps because of the philosophical interest in Rousseau and Chateaubriand's "noble savage." It is obvious that Treasure Island was a climax of this development. The growth of the desert island genre can be traced back to 1719, when Daniel Defoe's legendary Robinson Crusoe was published. A century later, novels such as S. H. Burney's The Shipwreck (1816), and Sir Walter Scott's The Pirate (1822) continued to expand upon the strong influence of Defoe's classic. Other authors, however, in the mid 19th century continued this work, including James Fenimore Coopers' The Pilot (1823). During the same period, Edgar Allan Poe wrote "MS Found in a Bottle"(1833) and the intriguing tale of buried treasure, "The Gold-Bug" (1843). All of these works influenced Stevenson's end product. Specifically, however, Stevenson consciously borrowed material from previous authors. In a July 1884 letter to Sidney Colvin, he writes "'Treasure Island' came out of Kingsley's 'At Last,' where I got the Dead Man's Chest - and that was the seed - and out of the great Captain Johnson's 'History of the Notorious Pirates.'" Stevenson also admits that he took the idea of Captain Flint's skeleton point from Poe's "The Gold-Bug," and he constructed Billy Bones' history from the pages of Washington Irving, one of his favorite writers. One month after he conceived of "The Sea Cook," chapters began to appear in the pages of Young Folks magazine. Eventually, the entire novel ran in 17 weekly installments from October 1, 1881, through January 28, 1882. Later the book was republished as the novel Treasure Island and the book proved to be Stevenson's first financial and critical success. William Gladstone (1809-1898), the zealous Liberal politician who served four terms as British prime minister between 1868 and 1894, was one of the book's biggest fans. Treasure Island is arguably one of the greatest works of storytelling in the English language. Stevenson created other novels, with greater depth and insight, but the highlight of Treasure Island is the combination of colorful and poetic prose that distinguishes his tale of piracy and boyhood adventure from the rest of the field of other adventure books.
Billy Bones: The old seaman who resides at Jim’s parents’ inn. Billy, who used to be a member of Silver’s crew, is surly and rude. He hires Jim to be on the lookout for a one-legged man, thus involving the young Jim in the pirate life. Billy’s sea chest and treasure map set the whole adventure in motion. His gruff refusal to pay his hotel bills symbolizes the pirates’ general opposition to law, order, and civilization. His illness and his fondness for rum symbolize the weak and self-destructive aspects of the pirate lifestyle.
Jim Hawkins:The first-person narrator of almost the entire novel. Jim is the son of an innkeeper near Bristol, England, and is probably in his early teens. He is eager and enthusiastic to go to sea and hunt for treasure. He is a modest narrator, never boasting of the remarkable courage and heroism he consistently displays. Jim is often impulsive and impetuous, but he exhibits increasing sensitivity and wisdom.
Dr. Livesey: The local doctor. Dr. Livesey is wise and practical, and Jim respects but is not inspired by him. Livesey exhibits common sense and rational thought while on the island, and his idea to send Ben to spook the pirates reveals a deep understanding of human nature. He is fair-minded, magnanimously agreeing to treat the pirates with just as much care as his own wounded men. As his name suggests, Livesey represents the steady, modest virtues of everyday life rather than fantasy, dream, or adventure.
Long John Silver: The cook on the voyage to Treasure Island. Silver is the secret ringleader of the pirate band. His physical and emotional strength is impressive. Silver is deceitful and disloyal, greedy and visceral, and does not care about human relations. Yet he is always kind toward Jim and genuinely fond of the boy. Silver is a powerful mixture of charisma and self-destructiveness, individualism and recklessness.
Captain Smollett: The captain of the voyage to Treasure Island. Captain Smollett is savvy and is rightly suspicious of the crew Trelawney has hired. Smollett is a real professional, taking his job seriously and displaying significant skill as a negotiator. Like Livesey, Smollett is too competent and reliable to be an inspirational figure for Jim’s teenage mind. Smollett believes in rules and does not like Jim’s disobedience; he even tells Jim that he never wishes to sail with him again.
Squire Trelawney: A local Bristol nobleman. Trelawney arranges the voyage to the island to find the treasure. He is associated with civic authority and social power, as well as with the comforts of civilized country life (his name suggests both “trees” and “lawn”). Trelawney’s street smarts, however, are limited, as the ease with which the pirates trick him into hiring them as his crew demonstrates.
Alan: A sailor who does not mutiny. He is killed by the mutineers for his loyalty and his dying scream is heard by several.
Allardyce: One of the six members of Flint's Crew who, after burying the treasure and silver and building the blockhouse on Treasure Island, are all killed by Flint. His body is lined up by Flint as a compass marker to the cache. According to The Adventures of Ben Gunn, his first name was Nick, he was surgeon on Flint's crew, and Ben Gunn was his servant and friend from back home.
Job Anderson: The ship's boatswain and one of the leaders of the mutiny who is killed while trying to storm the blockhouse; possibly one of Flint's old pirate hands (though this is never stated). Along with Hands and Merry tipped a "black spot" on Silver and forced Silver to start the mutiny before the treasure was found.
Mr. Arrow: The first mate of the Hispaniola. He drinks despite there being a rule about no alcohol on board and is useless as a first mate. He mysteriously disappears before they get to the island and his position is filled by Job Anderson. (Silver had secretly given him access to alcohol and he fell drunkenly overboard on a stormy night.)
Black Dog: Formerly a member of Flint's pirate crew, later one of Pew's companions who visits the Admiral Benbow. Spotted by Jim and chased by two of Silver's men, but disappears from sight. Two fingers are missing from his left hand.
Captain Flint: John Flint, the fictional pirate Captain of the Walrus. After robbing and looting towns and ships among the Spanish Main, in August 1750 he took six of his own crew onto Treasure Island. After building a stockade and burying the bulk of his looted treasure, he killed all six men. In July 1754 he died at Savannah, Georgia, of Cyanosis, caused by drinking too much rum. While dying he gives his treasure map to Billy Bones. Long John Silver's parrot is named after Captain Flint. Several members of his crew figure in the story: William "Billy" Bones, the ship's first mate; Long John Silver, the ship's quartermaster; Israel Hands, the ship's chief gunner; Allardyce, used as Flint's "pointer" to the treasure; Job Anderson, the Hispaniola boatswain and mutineer; Dirk, one of Pew's henchmen in the assault on the Admiral Benbow inn; Black Dog, another of Pew's henchmen in the assault on the Admiral Benbow inn; Benjamin Gunn, the island maroon; John, a Hispaniola mutineer, possibly one of Pew's henchmen on the assault on the Admirial Benbow inn; Tom Morgan, a Hispaniola mutineer; Blind Pew, the blind murderous beggar; and an unnamed mutineer of the Hispaniola marooned with Morgan and Johnson on Treasure Island.
Abraham Gray: A ship's carpenter on the Hispaniola. He is almost incited to mutiny, but remains loyal to the Squire's side when asked to do so by Captain Smollett. He saves Hawkins' life by killing Job Anderson during an attack on the stockade, and he helps shoot the mutineers at the rifled treasure cache. He later escapes the island together with Jim Hawkins, Dr. Livesey, Squire Trelawney, Captain Smollett, Long John Silver, and Ben Gunn. He spends his part of the treasure on his education, marries, and becomes part owner of a full-rigged ship.
Benjamin "Ben" Gunn: A former member of Flint's crew who became half insane after being marooned for three years on Treasure Island, having convinced another ship's crew that he was capable of finding Flint's treasure. Helps Jim by giving him the location of his homemade boat and kills two of the mutineers. After Dr. Livesey gives him what he most craves (cheese), Gunn reveals that he has found the treasure. In Spanish America he lets Silver escape, and in England spends his share of the treasure (£ 1,000) in 19 days, becoming a beggar until he becomes keeper at a lodge and a church singer "on Sundays and holy days".
Mr. Dance: Chief revenue officer (titled: Supervisor) who ascends with his men upon the Admiral Benbow, driving out the pirates, and saving Jim Hawkins and his mother. He then takes Hawkins to see the squire and the doctor.
Dogger: One of Mr Dance's associates, who doubles Hawkins on his horse to the squire's house.
Israel Hands: The ship's coxswain and Flint's old gunner. Killed on Hispaniola by Jim after he tries to murder Hawkins.
John: A mutineer who is injured while trying to storm the blockhouse. He is later shown with a bandaged head and ends up being killed at the rifled treasure cache.
Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins: The parents of Jim Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins dies shortly after the beginning of the story.
John Hunter: The other manservant of Squire Trelawney. He also accompanies him to the island, but is later knocked unconscious at an attack on the stockade. He dies of his injuries while unconscious.
Dick Johnson: A mutineer who has a Bible. The pirates use one of its pages to make a Black Spot. Mortally ill with malaria, Dick ends up being marooned on the island after the deaths of George Merry and John.
Richard Joyce: One of the manservants of Squire Trelawney, he accompanies him to the island. He is shot through the head and killed by a mutineer during an attack on the stockade.
George Merry: With Anderson and Hands he forces Silver to attack the blockhouse instead of waiting for the treasure to be found. Later killed at the empty cache just as he is about to kill both Silver and Hawkins.
Tom Morgan: An ex-pirate from Flint's old crew. He ends up marooned on the island.
O'Brien: A mutineer who survives the attack on the boathouse and escapes. He is later killed by Israel Hands in a drunken fight on the Hispaniola.
Pew: An evil and deadly blind beggar who is accidentally trampled to death by the horses of revenue officers riding to assist Jim Hawkins. Silver claims Pew spent his share of Flint's treasure (£ 1,200) in an entire year and that for two years until his accident at the "Admiral Benbow" he begged, stole, and murdered. Stevenson avoided predictability by making the two most fearsome characters a blind man and an amputee. In the play Admiral Guinea (1892), Stevenson gives him the full name "David Pew". Some film adaptations call him "Blind Pew". Stevenson's novel Kidnapped (1886) also features a dangerous blind man.
Tom Redruth: The gamekeeper of Squire Trelawney, he accompanies the Squire to the island but is shot and killed by the mutineers during an attack on the stockade.
Tom: An honest sailor. He starts to walk away from Silver who throws his crutch at him, breaking Tom's back. Silver kills Tom by stabbing him twice in the back.
Among other minor characters whose names are not revealed are the four pirates who were killed in an attack on the stockade along with Job Anderson; the pirate killed by the honest men minus Jim Hawkins before the attack on the stockade; the pirate shot by Squire Trelawney when aiming at Israel Hands, who later died of his injuries; and the pirate marooned on the island along with Tom Morgan and Dick.
Stevenson deliberately leaves the exact date of the novel obscure, Hawkins writing that he takes up his pen "in the year of grace 17—." Stevenson's map of Treasure Island includes the annotations Treasure Island Aug 1 1750 J.F. and Given by above J.F. to Mr W. Bones Maste of ye Walrus Savannah this twenty July 1754 W B. The first of these two dates is likely the date at which Flint left his treasure at the island; the second, just prior to Flint's death. Flint is reliably reported to have died at least three years before the events of the novel (the length of time that Ben Gunn was marooned). Other dates mentioned include 1745, the date Dr. Livesey's served as a soldier at Fontenoy and also a date appearing in Billy Bones's log.
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'sGeneral 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.
Treasure Island was in part inspired by R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island, which Stevenson admired for its "better qualities." 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..."
Squire Trelawney may have been named for Edward Trelawney, Governor of Jamaica 1738–52.
Dr. Livesey may have been named for Joseph Livesey (1794–1884), a famous 19th-century temperance advocate, founder of the tee-total "Preston Pledge". In the novel, Dr. Livesey warns the drunkard Billy Bones that "the name of rum for you is death."
Dead Chest Island, a barren rock in the British Virgin Islands, which Stevenson found mentioned in Charles Kingsley's At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies; and which he said "was the seed" for the phrase "Dead Man's Chest".
Osborn (now Nienstedt) Island, an island in the Manasquan River in Brielle, New Jersey. Stevenson supposedly visited the island in May 1888 (five years after writing Treasure Island) and christened it "Treasure Island"
Unst, one of the Shetland Islands, to which the map of Treasure Island bears a very vague resemblance.
La Isla De La Juventud in Cuba is also associated by some with the book, and is supposed to have similarities with the map drawn by Stevenson, as well as historical connections with pirates. The island in the book is described as having pine trees running down to the shore and the Cuban island used to be called La Isla de Pinos, the Island of Pines.
In The Adventures of Ben Gunn, Gunn gives its real name as Kidd's Island, and identifies it as an outlying island of the Leeward and Windward Islands, south-south-west of Tobago (p. 119-120).
The Llandoger Trow in Bristol is claimed to be the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow, though the inn in the book is not supposed to be in Bristol.
Stevenson's play Admiral Guinea (published 1892), written with W. E. Henley, features the blind ex-pirate Pew as a character under the name of "David Pew".
In his collection Fables (1896), Stevenson wrote a vignette called "The Persons of the Tale", in which puppets Captain Smollet and Long John Silver discuss authorship.
A. D. Howden Smith (1924) wrote a prequel, Porto Bello Gold, that tells the origin of the buried treasure, recasts many of Stevenson's pirates in their younger years, and gives the hidden treasure some Jacobite antecedents not mentioned in the original.
Heinrich Rosemann (1963) wrote a sequel Der Piratenkapitän (The Pirate Captain) published by Göttinger Jugendbücher W. Fischer in Göttingen, Germany and available only in the German language.
In the novel Peter and Wendy (1911) by J. M. Barrie, it is said that Captain Hook is the only man ever feared by the Old Sea Cook (Long John Silver); Captain Flint and the Walrus are also referenced. There are a few other references.
In the animated series Fox's Peter Pan and the Pirates (based in part on the original Peter Pan stories) Captain Flint is referenced in the episode "Peter on Trial", as Captain Hook is stated as being the only man that a pirate named Barbecue is stated to fear, with the following statement being that 'Even Flint feared Barbecue', referring to Captain Flint from Treasure Island. In the same episode, Flint is referenced as being the pirate who supposedly conceived of the idea of pirates putting members of their crew, or their prisoners as the case might be, on trial in an event called 'Captain's Mast'.
Film and TV
There have been over 50 movie and TV versions made. Some of the notable ones include:
Poster for the 1934 film Treasure Island, the first talkie adaptation of the novel
Treasure Planet (2002), a Disney animated version set in space, with Long John Silver as a cyborg and many of the original characters re-imagined as aliens and robots, except for Jim and his mother, who are human.
From October 2013 to 2014 Mind the Gap Theatre Company, the UK's leading theatre company working with actors with learning disabilities embarks on a national tour of Treasure Island, retold with a twist by Olivier award-winning writer Mike Kenny.
In 2013, YouthPlays published Long Joan Silver by Arthur M. Jolly, an adaptation where all of the pirates are women.
Charles Sheffield's 1993 novel Godspeed was a science-fictional retelling of Treasure Island, recasting the search for pirate treasure as the search for lost faster-than-light drive technology.
The Ben Gunn Society album released in 2003 presents the story centered around the character of Ben Gunn, based primarily on Chapter XV "Man of the Island" and other relevant parts of the book.
A computer game based loosely on the novel was issued by Commodore in the mid-1980s for the Plus/4 home computer, written by Greg Duddley. A graphical adventure game, the player takes the part of Jim Hawkins travelling around the island dispatching pirates with cutlasses before getting the treasure and being chased back to the ship by Long John Silver.
A game based on the book is also available for the ZX Spectrum. It was released in 1984 by Mr. Micro Ltd.
In 1985 another adventure game was named Treasure Island and based upon the novel. It was published by Windham Classics.
Half of Stevenson's original manuscripts are lost, including those of Treasure Island, The Black Arrow and The Master of Ballantrae. Stevenson's heirs sold Stevenson's papers during World War I; many of Stevenson's documents were auctioned off in 1918.
^Cordingly, David (1995) Under the Black Flag: the romance and reality of life among the pirates; p. 7