Deserted island

Treasure Island

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "pirates and buried gold". First published as a book in 1883, it was originally serialised in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881-82 under the title The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island.

Traditionally considered a coming of age story, it is an adventure tale known for its superb atmosphere, character and action, and also a wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality—as seen in Long John Silver—unusual for children's literature then and now. It is one of the most frequently dramatised of all novels. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perception of pirates is vast, including treasure maps with an 'X', schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders.


Stevenson was 30 years old when he started to write Treasure Island, and it would be his first success as a novelist. The first fifteen chapters were written at Braemar in the Scottish Highlands in 1881. It was a cold and rainy late-summer and Stevenson was with five family members on holiday in a cottage. Young Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson's stepson, passed the rainy days painting with watercolours. Remembering the time, Lloyd wrote:
... busy with a box of paints I happened to be tinting a map of an island I had drawn. Stevenson came in as I was finishing it, and with his affectionate interest in everything I was doing, leaned over my shoulder, and was soon elaborating the map and naming it. I shall never forget the thrill of Skeleton Island, Spyglass Hill, nor the heart-stirring climax of the three red crosses! And the greater climax still when he wrote down the words "Treasure Island" at the top right-hand corner! And he seemed to know so much about it too —— the pirates, the buried treasure, the man who had been marooned on the island ... . "Oh, for a story about it", I exclaimed, in a heaven of enchantment ... .

Within three days of drawing the map for Lloyd, Stevenson had written the first three chapters, reading each aloud to his family who added suggestions. Lloyd insisted there be no women in the story which was largely held to with the exception of Jim Hawkins' mother at the beginning of the book. Stevenson's father took a child-like delight in the story and spent a day writing out the exact contents of Billy Bones's sea-chest, which Stevenson adopted word-for-word; and his father suggested the scene where Jim Hawkins hides in the apple barrel. Two weeks later a friend, Dr. Alexander Japp, brought the early chapters to the editor of Young Folks magazine who agreed to publish each chapter weekly. Stevenson wrote at the rate of a chapter a day for fifteen days straight, then ran dry of words. His health was a non-factor in this. He was near despondency, having never earned his keep by age thirty-one, and fearing he would not finish this book either. He turned to the proofs, corrected them, took morning walks alone, and read other novels.

As autumn came to Scotland, the Stevensons left their summer holiday retreat for London, and Stevenson was troubled with a life-long chronic bronchial condition. Concerned about a deadline they travelled in October to Davos, Switzerland where the break from work and clean mountain air did him wonders, and he was able to continue at the rate of a chapter a day and soon finished the storylie.

During its initial run in Young Folks from October 1881 to January 1882, Treasure Island failed to attract any attention or even increase the sales of the magazine, but when sold as a book in 1883 it soon became very popular. Prime Minister Gladstone was reported to have stayed up until two in the morning to finish it. Critics widely praised it. American novelist Henry James praised it as "..perfect as a well-played boys game". Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote "I think Stevenson shows more genius in a page than Sir Walter Scott in a volume".

"The effect of Treasure Island on our perception of pirates cannot be overestimated. Stevenson linked pirates forever with maps, black schooners, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders. The treasure map with an X marking the location of the buried treasure is one of the most familiar pirate props", yet it is entirely a fictional invention which owes its origin to Stevenson's original map. The term "Treasure Island" has passed into the language as a common phrase, and is often used as a title for games, rides, places, etc.

Thanks to Stevenson's letters and essays, we know a great deal about his sources and inspirations. The initial catalyst was the island map, which was essentially the whole plot to him as author, he said. He mailed the map with his manuscript to the book publisher and was later told the map had been lost. He had no copy and was devastated. In the days before copy machines, he had to construct another map tediously from scratch, making sure it matched the storyline this time. The new map lacked the charm of the first and was never really Treasure Island to Stevenson, though. He also drew from memories of works by Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold-Bug", and Washington Irving's "Wolfert Webber", of which Stevenson said, "It is my debt to Washington Irving that exercises my conscience, and justly so, for I believe plagiarism was rarely carried farther.. the whole inner spirit and a good deal of the material detail of my first chapters.. were the property of Washington Irving. Stevenson says the novel At Last by Charles Kingsley was also a key inspiration. The idea for the character of Long John Silver was inspired by his real-life friend William Henley, a writer and editor, who had lost his lower leg to tuberculosis of the bone. Lloyd Osbourne described him as "..a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one's feet". In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote "I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver...the idea of the maimed man [ed. Henley was crippled], ruling and dreaded by the sound [ed. voice alone], was entirely taken from you". Other books that resemble Treasure Island include Robert Michael Ballantyne's Coral Island (1871) and Captain Marryat's The Pirate (1836). H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), the first of the "Lost World" literary genre, was the product of a bet between Rider Haggard and his brother that he could write a better novel than Treasure Island.

Stevenson had never encountered any real pirates in his life. However, his descriptions of sailing and seamen and sea life are very convincing. His father and grandfather were both lighthouse engineers and frequently voyaged around Scotland inspecting lighthouses, taking the young Robert along. Two years before writing Treasure Island he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean. So authentic were his descriptions that in 1890 William Butler Yeats told Stevenson that Treasure Island was the only book from which his seafaring grandfather had ever taken any pleasure.

Critically, the novel can be seen as a bildungsroman, dealing, as it does, with the development and coming-of-age of its narrator, Jim Hawkins.

Stevenson was paid 34 pounds seven shillings and sixpence for the serialization and 100 pounds for the book.

i love this book

Allusions and references

Actual geography

There are a number of islands which could be the real-life inspiration for Treasure Island. One story goes that a mariner uncle had told the young Stevenson tales of his travels to Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands, thus this could mean Norman Island was an indirect inspiration for the book. Nearby Norman Island is a Dead Man's Chest Island, which Stevenson found in a book by Charles Kingsley.

Stevenson said "Treasure Island came out of Kingsley's At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies (1871); where I got the 'Dead Man's Chest' - that was the seed". If it was "the seed" for Skeleton Island, the phrase "dead man's chest", the novel in general, or all, remains unclear. Other contenders are the small islands in Queen Street Gardens in Edinburgh, as "Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Heriot Row and it is thought that the wee pond he could see from his bedroom window in Queen Street Gardens provided the inspiration for Treasure Island".

There are a number of Inns which claim to have been the inspiration for places in the book. The Admiral Benbow pub is supposed to be based on the Llandoger Trow in Bristol, although it cannot be proven. The Pirate's House in Savannah, Georgia is where Captain Flint is supposed to have spent his last days, and his ghost still haunts the property.

In 1883 Stevenson had also published The Silverado Squatters, a travel narrative of his honeymoon in 1880 in Napa Valley, California. His experiences at Silverado were kept in a journal called "Silverado Sketches", and many of his notes of the scenery around him in Napa Valley provided much of the descriptive detail for Treasure Island.

In May 1888 Stevenson spent about a month in Brielle, New Jersey along the Manasquan River. On the river is a small wooded island, then commonly known as "Osborn Island". One day Stevenson visited the island and was so impressed he whimsically re-christened it "Treasure Island" and carved his initials into a bulkhead. This took place five years after he had completed the novel. To this day, many still refer to the island as such. It is now officially named Nienstedt Island, honoring the family who donated it to the borough.

The map of the island bears a close resemblance to that of the island of Unst in Shetland. It is thought that Stevenson may have drawn the map as a child when visiting his uncle David and father Thomas Stevenson who were building the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, off Unst.

Actual history

  • A pirate whistles "Lillibullero" (1689).
  • The Admiral Benbow inn where Jim and his mother live is named after the real life Admiral John Benbow (1653–1702).
  • Five real-life pirates mentioned are William Kidd (active 1696-1699), Howell Davis (1718–1719), Blackbeard (1716–1718), Edward England (1717–1720), and Bartholomew Roberts (1718–1722).
  • The unusual 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 a ship's surgeon from Roberts' crew who amputated his leg and was later hanged at Cape Corso Castle, a British fortification on the Gold Coast of Africa. The records of the trial of Roberts' men list one Peter Scudamore as the chief surgeon of Roberts' ship Royal Fortune, who 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.
  • Stevenson appears to refer to the "Viceroy of the Indies" as 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 deposed him for being insufficiently ruthless), captured the ship Nostra Senhora de Cabo near Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. This Portuguese ship was returning from Goa to Lisbon with the Conde da Ericeira, the recently retired Viceroy of Portuguese India, aboard; as the Viceroy had much of his treasure with him, this capture produced 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 entire time that Scudamore was surgeon on board the Royal Fortune, in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • Captain Flint dies in the town of Savannah, founded in 1733.
  • Doctor Livesey was at the Battle of Fontenoy (1745).
  • Squire Trelawney and Long John Silver both mention "Admiral Hawke", i.e. Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke 1747.
  • The novel refers to Bow Street Runners (1749).
  • A Joseph Livesey was a famous 19th-century temperance advocate, founder of the tee-total "Preston Pledge" -- and thus perhaps one inspiration for Stevenson's character, who warns the drunkard Billy Bones that "the name of rum for you is death."
  • An Edward Trelawney was Governor of Jamaica 1738-1752.
  • One actual pirate who buried treasure on an island was William Kidd on Gardiners Island. The booty was recovered by authorities soon afterwards.
  • The Swiss Walter Hurni believes he has proof that Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island himself, found the hidden Treasure of Lima on Upolu (today called Tafahi) around 1890. The inquiries of Hurni were published by the Swiss author Alex Capus in his Book Reisen im Licht der Sterne (2005).

Historical time frame

Stevenson deliberately leaves the exact date of the novel obscure, Hawkins writing that he takes up his pen "in the year of grace 17--." However, some of the action can be connected with dates, although it is unclear if Stevenson had an exact chronology in mind. The first date is 1745, as established both by Dr. Livesey's service at Fontenoy and a date appearing in Billy Bones's log. Admiral Hawke is a household name, implying a date later than 1747, when Hawke gained fame at the Battle of Cape Finisterre and was promoted to Admiral.

Another hint, though obscure, as to the date is provided by Squire Trelawney's letter from Bristol in Chapter VII, where he indicates his wish to acquire a sufficient number of sailors to deal with "natives, buccaneers, or the odious French". This expression suggests that Great Britain was, at that time, at war with France. Two wars between England and France took place within the potential time frame: the first was the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748, and the second was the Seven Years' War from 1756 to 1763.

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. As 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), it cannot take place earlier than 1757 and still be consistent with the map. The events of Treasure Island would therefore seem to have taken place no earlier than 1757 and not later than 1763.

This range of dates, however, at variance with Long John Silver's account of himself, as given to Dick while Jim Hawkins listened in the apple barrel. Silver claims to be fifty years old, which would place his birth no earlier than 1707; and both Silver and Israel Hands, who had been in Flint's crew together, claim to have had experience on the sea (presumably as pirates) for thirty years prior to their arrival at Treasure Island, i.e. since about 1727. However, Silver claims to have sailed "First with England, then with Flint", which pushes the beginning of his career to some time before 1720, the date of Captain Edward England's death, implying a longer career at sea than thirty years. Silver also says that the surgeon who amputated his leg was hanged with Roberts' crew at Corso Castle: this would mean he has been disabled at least since 1722, at an age no greater than 15 -- an age incompatible with his holding as significant an office as quartermaster under Captain Flint, or with being a crewman under England who was senior enough, and served long enough, to have "laid by nine hundred [pounds] safe".

As noted under Actual history, some of the people and events Silver claims to have witnessed were on opposite sides of Africa at the same time, and Silver's assignments of names and places are not entirely accurate. Silver's stories, then, may be no more reliable than his claim to have lost his leg while serving under Admiral Hawke, and containing inconsistencies which his audience were too ignorant to notice. Silver must either be closer to sixty than fifty, or his stories of the pirates England and Roberts are fabrications, retellings of stories he had heard from other pirates, into which he has inserted himself — which would account for their inconsistencies.

In other works

  • The fast food chain "Long John Silver's" was named after the main villain of the novel. It specializes in providing seafood.
  • In the novel Peter Pan (1911) by J. M. Barrie, it is said that Captain Hook is the only man the old Sea-Cook ever feared. Captain Flint and the Walrus are also referenced.
  • Author A. D. Howden Smith wrote a prequel, Porto Bello Gold (1924), 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.
  • Author H. A. Calahan wrote a sequel Back to Treasure Island in 1935. Calahan wrote an introduction in which he argued that Robert Lewis Stevenson wanted to write a continuation of the story.
  • Author R. F. Delderfield wrote The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1956) which follows Ben Gunn from Parson's Son to Pirate and is narrated by Jim Hawkins in Gunn's words.
  • Mr. Magoo's Treasure Island, a 2 part episode of the cartoon series Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964) was based on the novel, with Mr. Magoo in the role of Long John Silver.
  • Author Leonard Wibberley wrote a sequel, Flint's Island (1972).
  • Alan Coren wrote an article in Punch, entitled A Life on the Rolling Mane, parodying Treasure Island to adapt it to the National Hairdressers' Association's campaign to stamp out "pirate barbers". Notable lines are Bald Pew's "Remember the days of the old clippers?" and Hawkins' memories of the "boom of the scurf".
  • Author Denis Judd wrote a sequel, Return to Treasure Island (1978).
  • German metal band Running Wild, who are known for their lyrics on piracy, wrote an 11 minute epic on the story on their 1992 album Pile of Skulls.
  • Author Bjorn Larsson wrote a sequel, Long John Silver (1999).
  • Spike Milligan wrote a parody of the novel, Treasure Island According to Spike Milligan (2000).
  • Author Frank Delaney wrote a sequel, The Curse of Treasure Island (2001) using the pseudonym 'Francis Bryan'.
  • Author Roger L Johnson wrote a sequel, Dead Man's Chest:The Sequel to Treasure Island (2001).
  • According to the screenwriters' commentary on the DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the captain killed by an East India Trading Company official early in the movie is Jim Hawkins' lost father. This is, however, contrary to the original book: Jim Hawkins' father died at the Admiral Benbow Inn, in the company of Jim and his mother, in chapter three.
  • In LucasArts' The Curse of Monkey Island, the main character Guybrush Threepwood sings a commercial jingle about 'Silver's Long Johns' (they breathe!) in an attempt to be the fourth member of a barbershop quartet.
  • Avi, author of The 'True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,' wrote the foreword to the 2000 edition of Treasure Island from Alladin Classics.
  • Author John Drake wrote a prequel, 'Flint & Silver' (2008)
  • In Dutch author Reggie Naus' childrens novel 'De schat van Inktvis Eiland' ("The treasure of Squid Island") (2008), the main character's last name is Stevenson. Though the plot is unrelated to Stevenson's novel, the pirates in this book brush shoulders with characters from Treasure Island. Another character in the novel; the quartermaster Walter Gunn, is Ben Gunn's older brother. The song 'Fifteen men on the dead man's chest' features frequently in the book. The writer is a big fan of Stevenson's book and included these references in tribute.


Film and TV

There have been over 50 movie and TV versions made. Some of the notable ones include:



There are also a number of Return to Treasure Island sequels produced:a 1986 Disney mini-series, a 1992 animation version, and a 1996 and 1998 TV version.

Theatre and radio

There have been over 24 major stage and radio adaptations made. The number of minor adaptations remains countless.


  • 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.



  • Cordingly, David (1995). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates. ISBN 0-679-42560-8
  • Letley, Emma, ed. (1998). Treasure Island (Oxford World's Classics). ISBN 0-19-283380-4
  • Reed, Thomas L. (2006). The Transforming Draught: Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Victorian Alcohol Debate. ISBN 0-7864-2648-9
  • Watson, Harold (1969). Coasts of Treasure Island;: A study of the backgrounds and sources for Robert Louis Stevenson's romance of the sea. ISBN 0-8111-0282-3

External links



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