Tag Archives: Robert Louis Stevenson

Official Spokesman for “Talk Like a Pirate Day”

The Club Women of Napa County placed this memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson on Mt. St. Helena near the site of a cabin where Stevenson honeymooned with his new bride, Fanny.  It's a two-mile round trip hike from the parking lot.

The Club Women of Napa County placed this memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson on Mt. St. Helena near the site of a cabin where Stevenson honeymooned with his new bride, Fanny. It’s a two-mile round trip hike from the parking lot.

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is a California state park, located in Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties. The park offers a 5-mile hike to the summit of Mount Saint Helena from which much of the Bay Area can be seen.  I didn't make it to the top. Not in my shoes.

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is a California state park, located in Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties. The park offers a 5-mile hike to the summit of Mount Saint Helena from which much of the Bay Area can be seen. I didn’t make it to the top. Not in my shoes.

Nineteenth century writer Robert Louis Stevenson has done as much as anyone for popularizing Pirate Lingo so, of course, he’s my choice for spokesman for “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19. There’s a lot of pirate talk and bravado in Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.”

Stevenson was from Scotland, but he traveled widely and spent some time in California.  He honeymooned in a cabin with bride Fanny, sleeping on hay, on Mt. Saint Helena in Napa County in the summer of 1880.

A year ago, I trekked to the site of the Stevenson honeymoon cabin, which is now gone but is marked with a granite book monument in a California state park named after Stevenson. My husband decided to read in the car, so here I was hiking alone, not a good idea, but it was a lovely late afternoon in a beautiful forest. I knew it was going to be a steep mile up the mountain, so I shouldn’t have worn flip flops, even though they were sport flip flops. I also worried about spotting mountain lions, or worse still, mountain lions spotting me first.  And on top of that, we didn’t leave any time during our visit to Napa (wedding!) to visit wineries, but I was determined to see this memorial — all for you, dear readers.

The Granite Book Memorial Says:

On the left side:

THIS TABLET PLACED BY
THE CLUB WOMEN OF NAPA
COUNTY MARKS THE SITE
OF THE CABIN OCCUPIED IN
1880 BY
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
AND BRIDE WHILE HE WROTE
THE SILVERADO SQUATTERS

On the right side:

DOOMED TO KNOW NOT WINTER
ONLY SPRING, A BEING TROD
THE FLOWERY APRIL
BLITHELY FOR AWHILE
TOOK HIS FILL OF MUSIC,
JOY OF THOUGHT AND SEEING,
CAME AND STAYED AND WENT
NOR EVER CEASED TO SMILE.

                                                R.S.L.

 To Stevenson Memorial is 2 miles round trip; to summit of Mt. Saint Helena The trail to the Stevenson Memorial is two miles round trip from the parking lot of the Robert L. Stevenson Memorial State Park.  The trail to the summit of Mt. Saint Helena is 10 miles round trip with 1,300-foot elevation gain.  I only made it to the memorial.


To Stevenson Memorial is 2 miles round trip; to summit of Mt. Saint Helena
The trail to the Stevenson Memorial is two miles round trip from the parking lot of the Robert L. Stevenson Memorial State Park. The trail to the summit of Mt. Saint Helena
is 10 miles round trip with 1,300-foot elevation gain. I only made it to the memorial.

The Club Women of Napa County placed this memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson on Mt. St. Helena near the site of a cabin where Stevenson honeymooned with his new bride, Fanny. I couldn't find any information about when this memorial was placed.

The Club Women of Napa County placed this memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson on Mt. St. Helena near the site of a cabin where Stevenson honeymooned with his new bride, Fanny. I couldn’t find any information about when this memorial was placed.

A bench is a welcome sight on the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Trail on Mt. Saint Helena in California. The first part of the hike is a series of steep switchbacks.

A bench is a welcome sight on the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Trail on Mt. Saint Helena in California. The first part of the hike is a series of steep switchbacks.

To read my 2012 post about “Talk Like a Pirate Day” click on “Robert Louis Stevenson Talks Like a Pirate.” In that post is a link to an earlier post I wrote about the origin of “Talk Like a Pirate Day.”

About Robert Louis Stevenson in California.

About Robert L. Stevenson Memorial State Park.

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Robert Louis Stevenson “Talks Like a Pirate”

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent.

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent.

Yes, it’s that time of year again — Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming soon.  Brush up on your sailor slang, pirate patois and buccaneer bravado.

My first thought when I saw the 1950 movie “Treasure Island” wasn’t “Hey, me hearties, I love how those pirates talk.”  I had a school girl crush on one of the actors — Bobby Driscoll, the boy who plays Jim Hawkins, and I swooned over his more upper crust accent. (By the way, I’m not that old. The 1950 movie was many years old when I saw it.)  I became smitten with the fantasy of finding treasure, of treasure maps, of being a stole-away.

I have Robert Louis Stevenson to thank for my adventure fantasies. Stevenson published “Treasure Island” in 1883. Since then, more than fifty movies and television shows have been made adapted from the book. No wonder there’s a “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” which is September 19. (See the link at the bottom to my post on “Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!”) A National Geographic story throws cold seawater on the concept of pirate speech, claiming that most of what we think of pirate speech came from the 1950 movie, as spoken by the Long John Silver actor who spoke in his native dialect from southwestern England, which is where Silver came from. So it’s not a stretch to think pirates, many from southwestern England, did speak that way. I’ve linked the NatGeo spoilsport article at the very bottom of this post. Argggh!

Sailboats anchor in Frank Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The dark sailboat looks a little like the fictional pirate sailboats that sailed the Caribbean Sea waters in the movies. Caribbean pirates are said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”

I didn’t make a plan to follow Stevenson’s literary footsteps, but I have stumbled onto a few “Treasure Island” locations. On a trip to Savannah, Georgia, my husband and I visited “The Pirates House,” now a restaurant. This charming old building is reported to be where some of the characters of “Treasure Island” got together to plan and plot, and where Captain Flint is claimed to have spent his last days.  Legend says that Captain Flint’s ghost haunts the property.  We didn’t see old Captain Flint, but we got out of the building before nightfall!

Pirates from long ago have achieved a romantic patina, but they were ruthless murderers and thieves.  We identify with the adventure and the hunt for treasure rather than the pirates themselves.

“The effect of Treasure Island on our perception of pirates cannot be overestimated,” wrote David Cordingly in his book Under a Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates: “Robert Louis 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.”  Stevenson popularized the nautical slang “Shiver My Timbers,” an oath that Stevenson’s archetypal pirate Long John Silver exclaimed.  Characters in other works, such as Popeye, changed the phrase to “Shiver me timbers.”

Robert Louis Stevenson visited northern California, the Hawaiian Islands and died in Samoa, but I haven’t found any evidence he visited Catalina Island. A 1918 “Treasure Island” movie was filmed on Catalina Island, which has its own history of a treasure map and hidden gold.

At a theater production I attended of “Treasure Island,” the playbill noted that “Shiver My Timbers” and other such oaths were child-friendly substitutions for more salty language.   Child-friendly or not, “Shiver My Timbers” was an actual nautical exclamation, describing the shivering or splintering of the ship’s boards, either from storms or battle.

On a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I found a history of Treasure Island in one of the tourist brochures, which led me to the story of Owen Lloyd. Treasure Island — The Untold Story Other areas have claimed to have inspired Stevenson, included Napa, California, where he honeymooned with Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, after their wedding in San Francisco.  A park there is named after him, which I’ll be visiting soon.

Stevenson was the son and grandson of lighthouse engineers, but he preferred to leave the safety of shore behind him when he became an adult.  He was a frail person, who spent much of his youth in the “land of the counterpane (bedspread)”  Despite his poor health, he traveled widely, spending a lot of time on sailing ships, saying “I wish to die in my boots…..”  He got his wish, dying too young at age 44 in Samoa where he had made his home.  Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of fellow Victorians Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe.

Savannah, Georgia, is mentioned several times in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.” Some of the book’s action was said to take place in “The Pirates House,” one of Georgia’s most historic buildings. The building is now a restaurant, where meals are served in a multitude of charmingly ramshackle rooms, and tales of ghosts and pirates add to the atmosphere. My husband and I ate lunch there on a cheerful sunny autumn afternoon, so it took a little more imagination to conjure up menacing pirate spirits.

About Robert Louis Stevenson.   About “Treasure Island.”

The history of “The Pirates House” in Savannah, Georgia.  Shiver My Timbers.

Here’s a card I designed in honor of “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I made a stab at a little Pirate Talk in the inside text.

Robert Louis Stevenson — Napa Valley’s First Tourist
A post I wrote in 2008: “Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

“Talk Like a Pirate Day” Busted: Not Even Pirates Spoke Pirate

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Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Arrgh!  Get ready to walk the plank if you don’t talk like a pirate on September 19 – the  annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

No one talked more like a pirate than Robert Newton in his role as Long John Silver in the Walt Disney production of “Treasure Island” (1950).  The scene in the video above is when Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver.  Of course, Robert Louis Stevenson put these words into Newton’s mouth.  (See “Shiver My Timbers” link at the bottom of this post.)

Newton created the theatrical Pirate patois and is considered the “patron saint” of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Because of Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, nearly every actor playing a pirate has adopted some version of the same faux Cornish accent that Newton invented.  Even the voice of Captain McAllister in the cartoon series “The Simpsons” is based on Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver.  Newton successfully used his pirate persona in several later movies, too, such “Blackbeard, the Pirate,” “Return to Treasure Island” and “Long John Silver.”  The Who drummer Keith Moon considered Newton a role model. (Not a very good role model, I’m afraid.  Both Newton and Moon died early.)

Walk the Plank!

“Walk the Plank!” if you don’t want to talk like a pirate.

Johnny Depp with his swishy pirate stylings as Captain Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” may be one actor who strayed from the Newton mold and fold.  Depp credited Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards as his muse, but you can see a little of Newton in Depp’s version of a comically genial pirate hiding a devious heart.

The Walt Disney version of “Treasure Island” was one of my favorite childhood movies.  It was one of the first Disney movies to be shown on television when it was first broadcast in 1955.  I saw the movie when “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” re-broadcast it in the 1960s.  I remember it best, though, when it was one of the free movies shown on Friday nights during the summer at our small town’s football stadium.  I fell in love with Bobby Driscoll, the young boy who played Jim Hawkins.  I think I was more in love with the idea of adventure and tropical islands and hidden treasure.

I’m a committed landlubber, but there’s something insanely exciting about jumping on a creaking, swaying little ship and heading off into the unknown on the vast and treacherous ocean.  I can live vicariously through the sailors’ adventures without the risks and claustrophia.   I’ve gone into a replica of The Mayflower and can’t even imagine being trapped below deck for months. I’m getting off topic here…..

Shiver My Timbers!  It's fun to play a pirate.

Shiver My Timbers! It’s fun to play a pirate!

I did get over my sailing ship phobia long enough to sail on the wooden sailing ship, Lavengro, off of Maui to watch humpback whales and snorkel near the sunken volcano Molokini.  I learned a little sailor lingo there, like “lowering the boom” and what that actually means. “Watch out or you’ll get knocked overboard!”

International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy) to be celebrated on September 19, the birthday of Summers’ ex-wife so it would be easier for him to remember.   To find out more go to International Talk Like A Pirate Day which has links to everywhere you could possible want to go in the Pirate realm, including the official site, Robert Newton’s sites, Treasure Island.

Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The link also provides some tongue-twisting Pirate jargon, some of which comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.”  Stevenson invented many so-called pirate sayings, such as “Shiver My Timbers,” so that they would sound menacing but wouldn’t actually be obscene to his young readers.

Other seafaring movies I liked were “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson (1984) and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003) starring Russell Crowe.  I also enjoyed the eight Horatio Hornblower made-for-television movies (1998-2003).

About “Shiver my timbers.”

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