Christina Hardyment

Author and Journalist

Arthur Ransome & Captain Flint’s Trunk

Generations of Arthur Ransome readers have asked the same questions after finishing his Swallows and Amazons books. Are the places true? Are the people real? In 1984, the centenary of Arthur Ransome’s birth, Christina Hardyment decided to find out. Among the boxes of papers left to Leeds University n Arthur Ransome’s death she found a large cabin trunk. Its tattered steamship labels at once betrayed its true identity. It was Captain Flint’s trunk from Swallows and Amazons, which had been stolen by burglars from the houseboat and discovered by Titty on Cormorant Island. Inside there was no Mixed Moss, the book that made Captain Flint’s fortune, but instead a wealth of old logs, diaries, photographs and sketchbooks which signposted the trail towards the reality behind the stories. Following up clues found in the Leeds archives, Hardyment has sailed to Wild Cat Island and climbed Ransome’s Kanchenjunga near Coniston. She has prospected among the old High Topps copper mines, setting of Pigeon Post, and signalled from the Winter Holiday observatory. Aided and abetted by her own four children, she went in search of Swallowdale, explored Coot Club haunts on the Norfolk Broads, and camped in the muddy wilderness of the real Secret Water.

Incidents in Ransome’s own life are matched to those he wove into his books; the children he knew and who sailed with him shared their memories of him. She has talked to Titty, Roger and Bridget Altounyan, untangled the mystery of Nancy Blackett, met Squashy Hat’s daughter, examined the Mastodon’s splatchers at his home on Skipper Island and tracked down the real Daisy, Dum and Dee.

Ransome’s own boats, most of which are still being sailed with pride by their present owners, contributed greatly to the authenticity of his writing, though nothing reveals more about his inventive imagination than the secrets that emerge from his working notebooks – the origins of Peter Duck on a Norfolk wherry in winter, the Clay family’s contribution to We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, or the ornithologist Myles North’s part in the writing of Great Northern?

Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint’s Trunk is the story of a quest that will add magic to reality for readers of all ages tempted to follow Christina Hardyment’s trail of adventures. The cover shown is that of the second edition of the book, with added information and more photographs. It was published by Frances Lincoln in 2007.

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