R.M. Ballantyne, in full
Robert Michael Ballantyne (born April 24, 1825, Edinburgh, Scot.—died
Feb. 8, 1894, Rome, Italy), Scottish author chiefly famous for his
adventure story The Coral Island (1858).
This and all of Ballantyne’s stories were written from personal
experience. The heroes of his books are models of self-reliance and
moral uprightness. Snowflakes and
Sunbeams; or, The Young Fur Traders (1856) is a boys’ adventure
story based on Ballantyne’s experiences with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Annoyed by a geography-related mistake he had made in The Coral Island,
he afterward traveled widely to research the backgrounds of his stories.
Here is a biography on
MICHAEL, fur trader and author; b. 24 April 1825 in Edinburgh, son
of Alexander Ballantyne and Anne Randall Scott Grant; m. 31 July 1866
Jane Dickson Grant, and they had six children; d. 8 Feb. 1894 in Rome.
Robert Michael Ballantyne’s father was a younger brother of James
Ballantyne, the printer of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. When Scott
unexpectedly went bankrupt in January 1826, Alexander Ballantyne, who
had invested in his brother’s firm, shared in its reverses; thereafter
his family lived in straitened circumstances. At age 16 Robert obtained
a post with the Hudson’s Bay Company through the influence of relatives:
Frances Ramsay Simpson*, wife of the company’s governor, Sir George
Simpson*, and her sister Isobel Graham Simpson*, wife of the governor of
Assiniboia, Duncan Finlayson*, were distant cousins. A contract dated 31
May 1841 appointed Ballantyne apprentice clerk for five years at a
salary of £20 per annum.
Ballantyne arrived at York Factory (Man.) on 21 August, and ten days
later left with a brigade for the Red River settlement. James Hargrave*,
in charge of York, thought that the Simpsons would like Ballantyne to be
near the Finlaysons, so the apprentice was posted to Upper Fort Garry
(Winnipeg) as an accounting clerk. In June 1842 he was sent to Norway
House and served there for a year. His third posting was to York
Factory, where he continued as clerk until June 1845.
The initial assessment of Ballantyne by Letitia Hargrave [Mactavish*],
James’s wife, in 1841 had been that he was “smart & very gentlemanlike &
diverting,” but during his four years in Rupert’s Land his ineptitude
sorely tried his superiors. In 1843 she wrote of him as “a useless
little apprentice who can scarcely copy,” while her husband noted that
he was as unfit to be an accountant “as to be an Archbishop of
Canterbury.” Ballantyne himself was more interested in wilderness
adventure than in accounts. The Hargraves could not know that his powers
of observation and expression would later enable him to depict with
accuracy life in the fur trade.
According to James Hargrave, during Ballantyne’s last winter at York he
experienced “indifferent health, his constitution not suiting this
inhospitable climate,” and he was therefore assigned to Lachine, Lower
Canada. Ballantyne was disappointed to learn that he was to be trained
as secretary to Governor Simpson, and requested a wilderness post. In
January 1846 he set off with George Barnston* on snowshoes for the
king’s posts along the north shore of the St Lawrence. The pair reached
Tadoussac on 7 February. A month later Ballantyne was ordered to
Îlets-Jérémie, and in April to Sept-Îles to relieve the incumbent. His
five-year contract was to end in June but, as he had not given
sufficient notice for a replacement to be found, he had to remain over
the winter of 1846–47. He left Tadoussac on 9 May 1847 and later that
month sailed from New York for Scotland.
Ballantyne’s literary career had its genesis in the boredom of isolated
trading posts where he whiled away time by writing long descriptive
letters to his mother. Later he recalled that at Sept-Îles there was no
game to shoot and there were no books with which to amuse himself, “but
I had pen and ink, and, by great good fortune, was in possession of a
blank paper book fully an inch thick”; and so he set down his
experiences in the trade. Following his return to Scotland, an elderly
lady who had enjoyed reading his letters offered to finance a private
printing of his recollections. In March 1848 Hudson’s Bay; or, every-day
life in the wilds of North America . . . appeared.
Although Ballantyne, who had found employment with Edinburgh publishers,
still had no intention of making a career of writing, his interest in
Arctic exploration led him to revise Patrick Fraser Tytler’s Historical
view of the progress of discovery on the more northern coasts of America
. . . (Edinburgh, 1832). The new edition, aimed at a young audience,
appeared in 1853 as The northern coasts of America, and the Hudson’s Bay
territories . . . (London and Edinburgh).
On reading Hudson’s Bay, William Nelson, a publisher in Edinburgh,
suggested to Ballantyne that he might write a book of juvenile
literature, perhaps featuring some of his earlier adventures. In
November 1856 Snowflakes and sunbeams; or, the young fur traders . . .
was published in London, and Ballantyne was launched as an author of
stories for boys. A year later he wrote another book with a Canadian
locale; Ungava; a tale of Esquimaux-land was dated 1858 but appeared in
November 1857, in time for the Christmas market. Ballantyne is believed
to have obtained material for this book from Nicol Finlayson*, the
founder of Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq, Que.), who had lately retired to
Scotland. The same Christmas saw the publication of The coral island; a
tale of the Pacific Ocean.
Over the next 30 years Ballantyne was credited with the authorship of 74
volumes containing 62 separate stories; if his illustrated nursery
stories and his handbooks are included, he wrote more than 90 books. In
the settings of his adventure stories, more than 20 of which deal with
the Prairies, the Rockies, and the Arctic, he strove for verisimilitude.
His plots are sometimes threadbare, the tone charged with Victorian
morality; nevertheless, because of their action, his books enjoyed wide
popularity with his juvenile audience. Many were illustrated by himself,
for he was a draftsman and water-colourist who frequently exhibited at
the Royal Scottish Academy.
Ballantyne’s books ran through many printings, several were issued in
new editions, and some remain in print. None of his later fictional
works were as popular as the first three; unfortunately he did not
benefit from their reprinting since he had sold the manuscripts outright
to his first publisher, Thomas Nelson. In 1863 he went over to James
Nisbet, a London publisher, who granted proper royalties. Ballantyne
supplemented his income as an author by giving public lectures
describing life in Rupert’s Land, using slides projected by a magic
lantern and displaying mementoes of the fur trade. ,
About 1890 Ballantyne began to suffer vertigo and nausea, the onset of
Ménière’s disease. He had increasing difficulty continuing his literary
output. In October 1893, accompanied by a daughter, he set out for Rome
to enter a medical clinic. Following his death four months later he was
buried in Rome’s English cemetery. Through public subscription in
Britain a tombstone was erected; much of the purse was received as
pennies and sixpences from schoolboys to whom Ballantyne’s annual
Christmas offerings of adventure had given such pleasure.
Note: I read the Coral Island book when I was in Kuwait in the
1950's and really enjoyed it so hope you do as well.
OR, Everyday Life in North America
PREFACE TO FOURTH
EDITION. Since this book was written, very considerable changes have
taken place in the affairs and management of the Hudson Bay Company. The
original charter of the Company is now extinct. Red River Settlement has
become a much more important colony than it was, and bids fair to become
still more important—for railway communication will doubtless, ere long,
connect it with Canada on the one hand and the Pacific seaboard on the
other, while the presence of gold in the Saskatchewan and elsewhere has
already made the country much more generally known than it was when the
Author sojourned there. Nevertheless, all these changes actual and
prospective—have only scratched the skirt of the vast wilderness
occupied by the fur-traders; and as these still continue their work at
the numerous and distant out-posts in much the same style as in days of
yore, it has been deemed advisable to reprint the book almost without
alteration, but with a few corrections.
Story of the Rock
Or Building on the Eddystone by R. M. Ballantyne (1888) (pdf)