Gascoyne, the Sandal-Wood Trader
A Tale of the Pacific
Robert Michael Ballantyne

Review by Nicholas Wiseman

Set in the early 1800s. A mission settlement on a Pacific island, where lives the widow Mary Stuart and her tall, fair, and handsome son Henry, is alarmed by accounts of the pirate schooner Avenger, but looks to a British frigate, HMS Talisman, Captain Montague, for protection. Suspicion falls on the sandal-wood trader Gascoyne, the mysterious but apparently honest skipper of the schooner Foam. It soon becomes clear that Foam and Avenger are, indeed, the same, but that Gascoyne is a haunted man: he took to piracy to gain revenge for injustice suffered back home, but has never killed and now realises the error of his ways. With the exception of the comic seaman Bumpus who signed on only recently, at San Francisco, Gascoyne's crew are villains and cut-throats, and despise Gascoyne's wish to live an honest life. In an intricate series of adventures both Foam and Talisman are destroyed, along with the pirate crew. Gascoyne turns out to be Mary Stuart's husband and the father of Henry. They, Bumpus, and a few allies settle on another island as traders, and after many years of hard work repay the debt owing to the victims of Gascoyne's piracies.

One of Ballantyne's earlier books, this is a well-crafted novel, somewhat superior to the usual run of boys' books, but marred by the stagey diction of the characters.

Copyright © 1997 by Nicholas Wiseman
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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