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  Frederick Marryat (1792–1848), by John Simpson, in or before 1826 Frederick Marryat (1792–1848), by John Simpson, in or before 1826
Marryat, Frederick (1792–1848), naval officer and novelist, was born at Catherine Court, Tower Hill, London, on 10 July 1792. Of Huguenot descent, he was the second son of Joseph Marryat (1757–1824) of Wimbledon, who was MP for Horsham and later for Sandwich, chairman of Lloyd's, and colonial agent for the island of Grenada, and grandson of . Frederick's mother, Charlotte (d. 1854), daughter of Frederick Geyer of Boston, Massachusetts, was of German origin; one of the first women to be admitted a fellow of the Horticultural Society of London, Charlotte Marryat had a notable garden at Wimbledon House.

Marryat received his early education at private schools, one of which was at Ponder's End, Middlesex. His boisterous temperament brought him into repeated trouble and several times he ran away, always with the intention of escaping to sea. At last, in September 1806, his father got him entered on board the frigate Impérieuse, commanded by Lord Cochrane. The service of the Impérieuse was exceptionally active and brilliant, not only in its almost daily episodes of cutting out coasting vessels or privateers, storming batteries, and destroying telegraph stations, but also in the defence of the castle of Trinidad, near Rosas on the east coast of Spain, in November 1808, and in the attack on the French fleet in Basque Roads in April 1809. The daring and judgement of Cochrane were subsequently reproduced in Captain Savage of the Diomede in Peter Simple and Captain M—— in The King's Own. In June the Impérieuse sailed with the fleet on the Walcheren expedition, from which, in October, Marryat was invalided with fever. Before leaving the vessel he had formed friendships with William Napier and Houston Stewart which lasted life long. In 1810 he served in the Centaur, flagship of Sir Samuel Hood in the Mediterranean, and in 1811 was in the Aeolus in the West Indies and on the coast of North America. He was afterwards in the Spartan (Captain E. P. Brenton) on the same station, and was sent home in the sloop Indian in September 1812.

On 26 December 1812 Marryat was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and in January 1813 was again sent out to the West Indies in the sloop Espiègle. From her he was invalided in April, and though in 1814 he returned to the coast of North America as lieutenant of the frigate Newcastle, and assisted in the capture of several enemy merchant ships and privateers, his health gave way, and he went home in the spring of 1815. On 13 June he was made commander.

In January 1819 Marryat married Catherine (1791?–1883), second daughter of Sir Stephen Shairp of Houston, Linlithgowshire, for many years consul-general in Russia. They had four sons and seven daughters before they separated in 1843. Marryat outlived all of his sons except the youngest, Frank, favourably known as the author of Borneo and the Indian Archipelago (1848) and Mountains and Molehills, or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal (1855), who died aged twenty-eight in 1855. Three of his daughters—most successfully —were novelists.

In June 1820 Marryat was appointed to the sloop Beaver, which was employed on the St Helena station until the death of Napoleon, when he came home in the Rosario with dispatches. The Rosario was afterwards employed in the channel for the prevention of smuggling, and was paid off in February 1822. Marryat's pamphlet published in 1822 attacking impressment injured his career and earned him the hostility of the duke of Clarence (later William IV).

In March 1823 Marryat commissioned the Larne for service in the East Indies, where he took an active part in the First Anglo-Burmese War. From May to September 1824 he was senior naval officer at Rangoon, and was officially thanked for his able and gallant co-operation with the troops. He was the first Royal Navy officer to use a steamship in wartime. The very sickly state of his ship obliged him to go to Penang, but by the end of December he was back at Rangoon, and in February 1825 he had the naval command of an expedition up the Bassein River, which occupied Bassein and seized the enemy magazines. In April 1825 he was appointed captain of the Tees, in which in early 1826 he returned to England, and on 26 December 1826 he was nominated a CB. In November 1828 he was appointed to the Ariadne, which he commanded at the Azores or at Madeira until November 1830, when he hot-headedly resigned on the nominal grounds of ‘private affairs’.

Marryat was known hitherto as a distinguished naval officer. He was made a CB because of his conduct in Burma. Having in 1818 sought recognition from the Royal Humane Society, Marryat was awarded the society's honorary medallion in 1821 for his design for a lifeboat and for his gallantry in saving life at sea. In addition he held certificates of having saved upwards of a dozen people by jumping overboard to help them, often endangering his own life. He was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1819, having been proposed by his schoolfriend Charles Babbage, mainly in recognition of his adaptation of Sir Home Popham's signalling system to a code for the mercantile marine (1817). This earned him a large and regular income and, some years later (19 June 1833), membership of the Légion d'honneur.

In the meantime, while still in the Ariadne, Marryat wrote and in 1829 published a three-volume novel, The Naval Officer, or, Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay, for which he received immediate payment of £400. The vivid and lifelike narrative of naval adventure, much of which he had experienced, took the public by storm: the book was a literary and financial success. He had already written The King's Own (published in 1830), and, having settled down to his new profession of literature, he rapidly produced Newton Forster (1832); Peter Simple and Jacob Faithful (both 1834); The Pacha of many Tales (1835); Mr. Midshipman Easy, Japhet in Search of a Father, The Pirate and the Three Cutters (all 1836); Snarleyyow, or, The Dog Fiend (1837); The Phantom Ship (1839); Poor Jack (1840); Joseph Rushbrook, or, The Poacher (1841); Percival Keene (1842); The Privateer's Man (1846); and Valerie, published, after his death, in 1849.

But novel-writing was not Marryat's only literary work. From 1832 to 1835 he edited the liberal/radical journal the Metropolitan Magazine, and kept up a close connection with it for a year longer. In it most of his best novels first appeared: Newton Forster, Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful, Midshipman Easy, and Japhet, and, besides these, many miscellaneous articles afterwards published collectively as Olla Podrida (1840). In 1836 he lived abroad, principally at Brussels, where he was popular as he spoke French fluently and was full of humorous stories. He spent 1837 and 1838 in Canada and the United States, his impressions of which he published as A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions (1839).

After his return from America at the beginning of 1839 Marryat lived mainly in London or Wimbledon until his marriage broke down in 1843; he finally settled at Langham, in Norfolk, on a small farm that had been his for thirteen years but had brought in little rent. Notwithstanding a patrimony in excess of half a million pounds and the large sums he made by his novels, he seems to have been permanently short of money, owing partly to the ruin of his West Indian property, and partly to his own extravagance and carelessness. When in need of ready cash he drew cartoons, which were made into etchings by his friend George Cruikshank. When the readiness with which he had poured out novels of sea life at the rate of as many as three a year began to fail, he found a new source of profit in his popular books for children. He devoted himself chiefly to these during his last eight years. The series opened with Masterman Ready, or, The Wreck of the Pacific (1841) and continued with Narrative of the travels and adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonora, and western Texas (1843), The Settlers in Canada (1844), The Mission, or, Scenes in Africa (1845), The Children of the New Forest (1847), and The Little Savage (1848–9, probably finished by Frank Marryat).

The work told on Marryat's health, which was never very strong. He imagined that a change of occupation and scene might re-establish it, and in July 1847 applied for service afloat. The Admiralty's refusal to entertain his application so angered him that he broke a blood-vessel of the lungs. For six months he was seriously ill, and was barely recovering when the news of the death of his eldest son, Frederick, lost on the Avenger on 20 December 1847, gave him a shock that proved fatal. He died at Langham on 9 August 1848.

As a writer Marryat has been variously judged. He wrote quickly and often carelessly and was complained at by the critics, but his position as a story-teller was assured. He drew the material of his stories from his professional experience and knowledge: the terrible shipwreck, for instance, in The King's Own is a coloured version of the loss of the Droits de l'homme, while Frank Mildmay was avowedly autobiographical. Marryat made his sailors live, and in this and his robust sense of fun and humour lay the secret of his success, for, with the exception perhaps of The King's Own, his plots were poor, relying on lost heirs and other artificial narrative devices. His children's stories have held their place and several have been filmed. He also published several caricatures, both political and social.

J. K. Laughton, rev. Andrew Lambert

Sources  

C. Lloyd, Captain Marryat and ‘The Old Navy’ (1939) · O. Warner, Captain Marryat (1953) · A. D. Lambert, The last sailing battlefleet: maintaining naval mastery, 1815–1850 (1991) · HoP, Commons, 1790–1820 [Joseph Marryat] · private information (2005) [Royal Humane Society]

Archives  

BL, letters, RP2340 · NMM, corresp. and papers · Norfolk RO, farming and household accounts |  BL, letters to Edward Howard, RP1299 [copies] · BL, letters to Royal Literary Fund, loan 96


Likenesses  

J. Simpson, oils, in or before 1826, NPG [see illus.] · line engraving, pubd 1826, BM · E. Dixon, oils, exh. RA 1839, NMM · Count D'Orsay, portrait, 1841, repro. in Lloyd, Captain Marryat · Count D'Orsay, portrait, 1841, repro. in Warner, Captain Marryat · H. Cook, stipple (after W. Behnes), BM, NPG · R. J. Lane, lithograph (after Count D'Orsay), NPG · F. Marryat, self-portrait, repro. in Lloyd, Captain Marryat · F. Marryat, self-portrait, repro. in Warner, Captain Marryat