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This article is about the book Peter Duck

Peter Duck is a metafictional book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. It was first published in 1932 and is about the Swallows and Amazons sailing to Crab Island with Captain Flint and Peter Duck to recover buried treasure. During the voyage the Wild Cat (Captain Flint's boat) is chased by another vessel, the Viper, whose piratical crew are also intending to recover the treasure.


The appearance, sailing background and many of the characteristics of Peter Duck are based on Captain Sehmel, an Estonian sailor who accompanied Ransome on a cruise aboard his yacht Racundra in the Baltic Sea, as documented in Ransome's sailing book, Racundra's First Cruise.

Ransome used as a major resource for Peter Duck a book by one of his favourite sailing authors, EF Knight, The cruise of the "Alerte". This describes a treasure seeking expedition on the volcanic island of Trindade, off Brazil (sometimes known as "Trinidad" but not to be confused with the larger Caribbean island of that name). Trindade has many features in common with Peter Duck's Crab Island, including mountains, landslides, jungles and loathsome land crabs.


  • Swallows (John, Susan, Titty, Roger [7 1/2 yrs. old] Walker)
  • Amazons (Nancy, Peggy Blackett)
  • Captain Flint
  • Mr Duck
    • (his daughter in Beccles)
    • characters in Mr Duck's yarn: First Mate Robert Charles Bowline (alias Capt Jonas Fielder), and Bowline's accomplice, and Peter Ducks Friend, Fredrick Chadwick (who showed him the shape of crab island)
  • Red-haired Bill
  • Black Jake
    • Viper's crew including Black Jake's brother George, Fighting Mogandy, Simeon Boon, and a character referred to as the chucker out or the the bruiser from an un-named Lowestoft inn, nicknamed 'Ketch as Ketch Can'
  • minor characters (those in parentheses are "offstage"):
    • porter who helps the Swallows with their luggage (PD1).
    • Confectioner in Cowes shop who sells them ices and two beach spades (PD9).
    • (telegraph boy on bicycle) (PD1).
    • (Sam Bideford), who telegraphs to say he can't come (PD1).
    • Lowestoft harbourmaster, who says that Peter Duck is the best seaman that's ever shipped out of Lowestoft, but doubts that Black Jake would push a boy into the harbour. He is described as the greatest man of the whole port, with gold on his cap and on his dark blue coat (PD1,2).


('offstage' boats listed in parentheses)

  • Wild Cat
  • Swallow
  • [The Amazon] the Swallows partner on the lake.
  • Viper
  • Wild Cat's dinghy,
  • (Peter Duck's wherry Arrow of Norwich)
  • (The young Peter Duck first goes to sea on a "coaster" from Lowestoft to Greenhithe, then on a "fine vessel" trading to the Brazils, which sinks in a hurricane near the island of Trinidade).
  • (The Thermopoylae, another vessel the young Peter Duck shipped in, which was a real clipper built in Aberdeen in 1868 and still holds the world sailing record of 63 days to Melbourne on her maiden voyage).
  • (Ships of the young Peter Duck's piratical rescuers, the Mary Cahoun, the Louisiana Belle, the French fishing trawler and the old packet)
  • the Cowes rowing boat that picked up the crew for ices
  • Also three (four?) dinghies of the Viper; the one sunk by the Wild Cat's anchor in Lowestoft, the one the crew of Wild Cat pick up Red-haired Bill from, and one (two?) that Viper's crew use at Crab Island.
  • The Trawler that the Wild Cat almost crashes with off the wolf rock

Plot summary[]

The Swallows and Amazons are in Lowestoft, preparing for a cruise aboard a schooner, Wild Cat, with Captain Flint. Unfortunately another adult crewmember (Sam Bideford) cannot come, and so the cruise is threatened until Peter Duck, an elderly seaman who wants to see 'blue water once again, offers to come along as an A.B. or able seaman. In the harbour a larger black schooner, the Viper is fitting out for a voyage and Peter Duck's presence aboard the Wild Cat interests Black Jake, the Viper’s captain. Peter Duck spins a yarn about a treasure that he saw being buried long ago, when marooned on a desert island in the Caribbean Sea, and which Black Jake wants to find. When the Wild Cat sails, the Viper is quick to follow and trails her down the English Channel, at one point threatening to board her in the night. In a fog off Land's End, the crew of the Wild Cat give the Viper the slip but pick up the Viper’s cabin boy, Bill, who has been set adrift to try and fool the Wild Cat’s crew with false signals. They continue across the Atlantic Ocean to Crab Island where they spend several days searching in vain for Peter Duck's treasure.

When a hurricane blows up, Peter Duck and Captain Flint take the Wild Cat out to sea to ride out the storm, leaving the Swallows and Amazons ashore. There is an earthquake during the storm and when the schooner returns, all the paths to the treasure-hunting area are blocked by landslides and fallen trees. However, a fallen palm tree exposes a small box, Peter Duck's treasure, which the children recover. They decide to sail round to the anchorage as the land route is blocked.

While Captain Flint attempts to cross the island to rescue the Swallows and Amazons, the Viper arrives and Peter Duck and Bill are captured. The crew of the Viper also go ashore look for the treasure. The children rescue Peter Duck and Bill and then the Wild Cat sails back to the other side and pick up Captain Flint just before Black Jake arrives. They attempt to sail away from the island but the wind dies and the Viper looks like catching them when they are saved by a waterspout which sinks the Viper. They return home safely without further incident. The treasure proves to be a collection of pearls.


(numbers are days, but not actual dates, names are chapter titles)

  • (A week before day 1: Amazons arrive)
  • (Three days ago day 1: Swallows arrive)
  1. Quayside
  2. Red-Haired Boy
  3. Trial Trip, Washing the Anchor, Peter Duck Spins His Yarn, And Wraps It Up
  4. Outward Bound, First Night at Sea
  5. Beachy Head to the Wight
  6. Captain Flint's Fidgets
  7. Blind Man's Buff, Decision, Quit of the Viper
  8. Bill Finds His Place
  9. Bill Finds His Place
  10. Bill Finds His Place
  11. (then a period of unknown length) The Madieras at Dusk, Trade Wind

  1. Land Ho!
  2. Island Morning, Blazed Trail, Duckhaven, Goodbye To the Wild Cat
  3. Goodbye To the Wild Cat, Swallow's Voyage, Digger's Camp
  4. Diggers at Work
  5. Diggers at Work
  6. Threatening Weather, Great Guns, Dirty Work
  7. The Finding of the Treasure, Spanish Galleon, Dirty Work, The Only Hope, Whose Steps In the Dark?, All Aboard Once More
  8. Waterspout, "Bonies" and "Mallies"
  9. (and onward) "Spanish Ladies"

Cross-references and chronology[]

By publication date, Peter Duck is the third book in the series, but the story was created by the Swallows and Amazons while staying on a Norfolk wherry with Captain Flint in the winter between the first two books. Two early chapters, called 'Their Own Story' describing this creation process taking place on board the Polly Ann were written by Arthur Ransome before he started Swallowdale. This opening was discarded from the final version of the book when it was published after Swallowdale. However, Peter Duck is mentioned in Swallowdale as Titty's imaginary friend.

References to and in other books in the Swallows and Amazons series place Peter Duck between Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, therefore in late 1929 or early 1930:

  • John was a little nervous at sailing "Swallow" in strange waters and for the first time for nearly a year (PD2).
  • Captain Flint had a grand new chapter to add to his book "Mixed Moss" ... as Nancy told him: Think of the chapter you can put in the next edition of "Mixed Moss" (PD35,36).
  • Roger is still the Ship's Boy; Hullo Roger, not yet tired of being a ship's boy says Captain Flint (PD1).
  • The most recent time the Swallows had sailed Swallow at the Lake was from Horseshoe Cove, an apparent reference to the end of SA: "And the last time we sailed her was in Lowestoft," she said. "And before that on the lake," said John. "We never thought when we were sailing home from Horseshoe Cove that this year we'd be landing her on a desert island."
  • John had taught Titty to sail the previous summer: "The only thing to remember in going about is not to change your mind half way." [said by Captain Flint] John grinned. He had said that himself to Titty last summer, when teaching her to sail. (PD23. Note: Daddy is said in SA1 to have taught Titty and Roger to sail, perhaps in Falmouth, in 1928)
  • During the storm on Crab Island, the storm on Wild Cat Island the previous summer is recalled: Remember what happened last summer? (PD24).
  • When they find gold (actually copper) Titty says We might make him (Captain Flint) a pair of gold earings .... Like Black Jake had in "Peter Duck" (PP21).

The writing of Peter Duck[]

Described in 'Their Own Story'. Also:

  • Peter Duck the old sailor who had voyaged with them to the Caribbees in the story (and) had grown up gradually to be one of the able-seaman’s most constant companions, shared now and then by the boy, but not taken seriously by the others, though nobody laughed at him. He had been the most important character in the story they had made up during those winter evenings in the cabin of the wherry with Nancy and Peggy and Captain Flint. .... Peter Duck was a great deal more useful than any doll could have been. .... He never got lost. He had no sawdust to run out. (SD4)
  • Captain Flint said And you've left old Peter Duck behind .... But has he been up to much since he steered us home from the Caribbees when the waterspout came just in time and licked up the pirate ship though Titty had replied You know he's only for a story (SD7).

Peter Duck's yarn[]

The events in Mr Duck's yarn occurred fifty, sixty or maybe seventy years ago; Mr Duck told them to his daughters thirty years after, and maybe more than that (PD5). He first tells Captain Flint that he has sixty years of (deep sea) experience, and maybe then a bit more (PD1). Later he says Sixty good years I'd have missed if he had drowned instead of being washed ashore on the island (PD21). Captain Flint says of the "Roses" .... maybe sixty years ago they had been fine pearls enough, but faded now beyond recovery (PD35);


  • Peter Duck is the first Peter Duck story told by the holidaying Swallows and Amazons with Captain Flint during winter evenings
  • Susan had gotten her first aid box that Christmas
  • Sam Bideford was the extra adult who was supposed to crew but could not make it
  • red-haired Bill is not as big as John but a good deal bigger than Roger, he is not as old as Nancy
  • The Amazons had been aboard a bit less than a week before the Swallows and the beginning of the book
  • Captain Flint had altered the Baltic trading schooner by decking over the hold and given it a long skylight so as to have a saloon with four cabins and as many lockers and store cupboards off the saloon and fo'c'sle as possible. He had got rid of the carpenters a month before (PD1).
  • Peter Duck had been shipwrecked fifty, sixty, or maybe seventy years ago (PD5). If it was 50 years ago, then about 1870.
  • Only Peter Duck has unacceptable Drinking as seen by Peter Duck; both on the Viper and on the Mary Cahoun the ship he was on sixty or so years ago.


  • Arthur Ransome and Capt. Flint's Trunk by Christina Hardyment, 1984, ISBN 0-224-02590-2 includes the two discarded chapters with the back story of the creation of Peter Duck by the Swallows and Amazons.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series

Swallows and Amazons | 'Their Own Story' | Swallowdale | Peter Duck | Winter Holiday | Coot Club | Pigeon Post | We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea | The Big Six | Secret Water | Missee Lee | The Picts and the Martyrs | 'Coots in the North' | Great Northern?

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