February 6th, 2017
|06:32 pm - Treasure Island (1883)|
I can’t remember the technical term I’m looking for. Is it aporia, a deliberate hole in the argument? Or paralipsis, where an idea is suggested but most points omitted? Or is there another term for what Stevenson does in *Treasure Island* where he completely ignores race while making the entire book about slavery?
When the explorers arrive at Treasure Island they see an animalistic brown figure, running parallel to the ground. Based on readings of *Coral Island* or *Boys Own Adventures* one might expect this to be a native of the island – but it is Ben Gunn. His skin is so burnt by the sun that “even his lips were black; and his fair eyes looked quite startling in so dark a face”.
The whole story is about a group of white men battling it out on the island, competing for the pirate treasure trove. Not a black person in sight.
And yet it is the story of Jim Hawkins leaving Bristol on the Hispaniola to make his forture.
Jim Hawkins - Jim Hawkins name points to the historical figure of Sir John Hawkins. In 1562, sponsored by a “syndicate of London merchants and investors”, Hawkins sailed to Sierra Leone, where he “stayed some good time, and got into his possession, partly by the sword and partly by other meanes, to the nomber of 300. negroes at the least, besides other marchandises, which that country yeeldeth”. With this human cargo in the holds of his ships, Hawkins sailed to Española—Hispaniola—in the West Indies. The profits were so huge that after loading his own three ships with gold, silver, pearls, ginger, sugar, hides, and other goods he collected in trade, Hawkins found that he had “more than he could conveniently carry home”.
Hawkins’s voyage the first English slave-trading expedition, and its success prompted Elizabeth I to invest in others; in effect, Hawkins and his investors inaugurated the British slave trade. (Incidentally, a biography of Hawkins came out the year before *Treasure Island* was written).
Bristol – The port owed its wealth to the slave trade. Bristol was one of the three major slave ports in England, along with Liverpool and London, and moved perhaps 500,000 people in the eighteenth century.
Hispaniola – Ground zero of the slave trade, the first place reached by Columbus (1492), the first place where the modern slave trade was implemented (1493), site of the first slave uprising (1522) and the first successful slave uprising (1804).
The novel invites further consideration of the slave trade – the pivotal moment when Hawkins finds out that Silver is a pirate is linked back to slavery.
“It was a master surgeon, him that ampytated me, out of college and all—Latin by the bucket, and what not; but he was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that was…”
Corso Castle was a purpose-built ‘slave emporium’, a British fort on the Gold Coast with underground cells for 1,500 slaves (kept underground to prevent uprisings). It was the administrative centre towards which the surrounding slave forts reported.
The pirate Roberts to whom Silver refers is Bartholomew Roberts, who started out as a slaver and became one of the major pirates of the eighteenth century. Stevenson’s immediate source was *A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates*, from which he also borrowed the names Israel Hands and Ben Gunn. Roberts and his crew were captured and hung at Corso Castle and their bodies displayed at various forts.
The Master surgeon he references was a real person, with a connection to the slave trade and mutiny. Captured and on the way to his trial at Corso Castle, Scudamore attempted to organize an uprising among the prisoners. He “endeavoured to bring over the Negroes to his Design of murdering the People, and running away with the Ship”. Scudamore justified the prospective mutiny to his fellow pirates by saying that “it was better venturing to do this, run down the Coast, and raise a new Company, than to proceed to Cape Corso, and be hang’d like Dogs, and Sun dry’d”.
I am fascinated. There’s not a single direct reference to slavery in the book and yet it feels like it underpins everything, lurking beneath the pages like a whole other novel trying to get out.
Wow. I'm not going to be able to read it again in the same way. Fascinating, thank you.
My mind was totally blown by an article I read@