Arthur Ransome Wiki

Trivia, inconsistencies, plot holes in the Swallows and Amazons series

Swallows and Amazons[]


The stories of Ransome's grandfather (Edward Baker Boulton, or EBB) inspired him to make various references to Australia, principally through the voice of Mary Walker Swallows and Amazons; see (SA18),(SD2,8),(WD2). The following references may seem as challenging to some readers as the description of a platypus once did, but ...

  • She refers to opossums (SA18), rather than "possum", the term that scientists now use to refer exclusively to the Australian marsupial. BUT ... Until recently, Australians did refer to possums as opossums, as can be seen in Australian literature of the time (e.g. "The Bush" by Mary Fullerton, a 90-page booklet encouraging Australian migration written in 1928.) There is even an Opossum Bay in Tasmania. So that's what Mary would have called them then.
  • She refers to little brown bears that her father caught in the bush, and that used to lick her fingers for her when she dipped them in honey (SA18) in Australia. While there are technically no bears in Australia, the koala was called a koala or monkey bear at the time by Australians (see again the booklet on "The Bush" or one of the Mary Grant Bruce "Billabong" books). However, koalas are neither brown nor honey-eaters, so did he mean something else? I can't imagine a better way than this of describing (to a 9-year-old who has never heard of one) the lesser-known wombat. They look like small brown bears, are more likely to lick honey ... and EBB's sheep station was in wombat country.
  • She had spent her childhood both on a sheep station (SA18), AND close to Sydney Harbour. This was (and is still) a common experience for children raised on sheep stations, whether they were/are close to the capital cities or hundreds of miles away. Younger children on properties usually had tutors or governesses, but were sent away to boarding school for secondary school (as occurred in Seven Little Australians and the Mary Grant Bruce Billabong books). Families were large, and there were often relatives in useful places.
    • “I wonder whether the real Queen Elizabeth knew much about ships” said Titty. That Queen Elizabeth was not brought up close to Sydney Harbour” said mother (SA2).
    • sailing in Sydney Harbour when she was a little girl (SA16)
    • recalling when she capsized my cousin's dinghy in Sydney Harbour (SD8).

Some interesting "trivia": EBB (a successful artist and business man/sheep farmer) traveled at least 13 times between Australia and the UK, had land in both Sydney and rural NSW (the principal property was 260 miles north of Sydney), lived on Sydney Harbour while his children were very young, and the youngest one lived in Sydney in her late teens before moving to the property. He also had a brother in NZ. He had seven children by his Australian first wife, Mary, who died in Ireland. The first of the ten children of the second wife, Rachel, became Edith Ransome, Arthur's mother. While Rachel visited Australia, neither Edith nor Arthur did.

Tea Bay, Landing Island and Titty's Island[]

Occasionally AR invents a location and then appears to forget about it: in Chapter 10 of Swallows and Amazons the Amazons stop to have their breakfast (with tea!) at Tea Bay which is neither marked on the map nor mentioned in any of the other books. However, it does appear on Mike Field's Map of The Lake, in what Mike believes is the definitive location. And in Chapter 23 John names the island on the Lake where they had rested, swinging from the wooden pier in the darkness of the night as Landing Island on their sketch chart. Another island is added to their sketch chart called Titty's Island. It is the one she stays on to keep watch for the amazons whilst the other swallows go into Rio. This name does not appear on any maps or other books.

Latitude and Longitude[]

When the Swallows and Amazons conclude a Treaty of Offence and Defence in Swallows and Amazons, Titty says that they should put in the Latitude and Longitude: "They always put them in all over the place." Nancy (at times slapdash over technical matters) writes in 'Lat 7 Long. 200'. The latitude would place the explorers within the Tropics (appropriate for explorers), but the longitude can never be more than 180 (East or West of Greenwich) which is perhaps deliberately absurd to avoid having to give what could be considered the 'correct' figures, from which people might be tempted to deduce the 'correct' location of The Lake or indeed Wild Cat Island.


In Swallows and Amazons both the Swallows and the Amazons refer, independently, to grown-ups as 'Natives'. Just a coincidence?


July not August[]

On the summit they date their addition to the paper in the brass box as "Aug. 11, 1931". But the summit day is Day 15, so Days 1 to 4 are in July not August. On the first day (28 July) August had come again (SD1). On the fourth day (31 July) John found that the water was cold even in August (SD11).

Already loaded[]

The picture 'Loading Captain Flint' on page 177 of Swallowdale shows Roger and Titty (or is it Susan?) heaving a large load onto Captain Flint's back, while Nancy, hand on hip, stands bossily in the background. However a close reading of page 170 shows that Captain Flint was already loaded up when Nancy arrived on the scene.


The American expression Howdy appears in a couple of places:

  • "Titty always says `Howdy' to him, even if she's only been away ten minutes." says John, when telling Nancy to leave the note for the missing overland party of Titty and Roger on Polly's cage (SD33)
  • "Uncle Jim-Captain Flint may be back at any minute. He may be back now. He may be just strolling up here today to say howdy and us without an ingot to show him." says Nancy, talking about Captain Flint (PP28)

It is not at all surprising that James Turner, prospector and rolling stone, should have picked up the expression 'Howdy' in the course of his travels (in the Klondyke, perhaps, or in the dives of Valparaiso), nor that his niece should associate it with him. In that case, he might well have been in the habit of saying 'Howdy' to his parrot, particularly so if its previous owner had been an American, and it would have been natural for clever, sensitive Titty to continue to greet the parrot in a way that it would recognise.

Stretching a point[]

In the illustration 'Stretcher Party' in Swallowdale, not only are there not enough stretcher-bearers (see below), but it appears that Roger has the wrong foot bound up. In the text we are told that his left foot gets twisted, and towards the end of the book in 'The Charge' it is clearly his left foot that has the bracken poultice. However, in 'Stretcher Party' it is his right foot that has the poultice.

In addition to Roger on the stretcher, there should be five people on foot (John, Nancy, Susan, Peggy and Titty), but the picture shows only four.

Peter Duck[]

Pirate gold[]

In Swallowdale, Mr Duck is said to have come back from the Carribees with his pockets full of pirate gold. However, in Peter Duck the expedition's booty is no more than a few bags of not-very-valuable pearls. How can this discrepancy be explained?

  • Although Peter Duck appeared, and was written, after Swallowdale, it is supposed to have taken place, in the imagination of the children, before Swallowdale. By the time AR came to write Peter Duck he may well have decided that gold would over-emphasise the 'treasure-hunting' side of the book, and pearls would be more appropriate
  • 'Pirate gold' could have been used as a generic term for whatever objects of value the expedition recovered, and could therefore as well be applied to pearls as to genuine gold

Pelorus Jack[]

In the second paragraph of Chapter 17 of Peter Duck, Mr Duck describes Pelorus Jack, the fish that used to pilot vessels into Sydney harbour, and had a law made in his own protection.

Pelorus Jack was actually a Risso's dolphin, but Mr Duck was a whole country out in the location, as the dolphin accompanied steamers travelling between Nelson and Wellington across New Zealand's Cook Strait, more than 1000 miles from Sydney harbour. He was first seen in 1888, the Act of Parliament for his protection was passed on 26 Sept 1904, and he was last seen in 1912.

Coot Club[]

AR not a railway buff[]

In Chapter 18 of Coot Club, when Teasel passes through Breydon railway swing bridge, AR describes the noise of the signal changing and the bridge closing behind the boat. However this sequence of events is in the wrong order: first the bridge must close, and then the signal can change: otherwise a train might approach an open bridge, with disastrous consequences.

Three million cheers![]

We associate the expression Three Million Cheers with Nancy Blackett, but in fact the first time it occurs is in Chapter 22 of Coot Club, where it is a reaction to the arrival of Port and Starboard, and is spoken by Tom, Dick or Dorothea (if either of the latter, it could of course have been learned from Nancy or Peggy the previous winter).

Dick's fancy-dress[]

After falling in with the quant, Dick emerges from the cabin of Teasel dressed in flannel shorts and a pyjama jacket over a jersey much too big for him (CC14). Presumably he was wearing flannel shorts and a pyjama jacket under a jersey much too big for him.

The stray exclamation mark (!)[]

It must be rotten going through here in summer," said Tom! (sic) (CC23). This ungrammatical exclamation mark appears in the hardcover edition, and has been faithfully copied by the typographer of the Puffin paperback edition. It finally got expunged for the Red Fox paperbacks.

Pigeon Post[]

An Americanism?[]

Squashy Hat says of the fire: Prairie fire (PP22). Had he been to North America (the United States or Canada)?

Not typewritten?[]

The card neatly typewritten by Col Jolys which is by the telephone in the hall is in upper-case capitals apart from (Lt.-Col.), but the surname Jolys is in two sizes of capital letters (PP23). The card that Dick points out to Dot (PM2) has one size of capital letter, as would be produced by a typewriter.

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea[]

We didn't mean to print the cover backwards[]

All but ob

'All but OB': correct point of sail (broad reach on a starboard tack) shown.

Wd puffin cover

the Puffin cover of We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea showing Goblin broad-reaching on a port tack (even the sidelights are coloured to maintain the deception)

A colour version of the illustration 'All but OB' was used on the Puffin cover throughout the 1970s. This picture is run in mirror image (and incidentally extended upwards by four extra masthoops worth of mast and rigging): it seems the publishers needed some clear sky for the title text: this makes the sou'wester North Sea storm a nor'easter or else had the Swallows sailing from Holland to Harwich!

I'm Jim, or you might already know that[]

In WD1, the author takes care to describe Jim as "the young man" or "the skipper" until the scene where they all introduce themselves: "Look here. What are your names? Mine's Jim Brading." ...apart from when the author writer "Come along you," said Jim. on the previous page.


In the illustration 'AHOY! AHOY!' where Daddy is shown hailing John from the North Sea steamer, Goblin's staysail is shown lowered and bundled on the foredeck; the text describes John lowering the staysail and furling the jib a little after this incident, while the pilot is steering toward the mooring bouy.

Off the wire[]

There is an anachronism in WD24, the wireless masts at Bawdsey were part of the new secret British coastal radar system and were not installed until 1936 well after the book which is set in 1931.

Secret Water[]

The vanishing and reappearing sandwiches[]

In Secret Water, Susan refers to sandwiches: "Peggy's got one lot of sandwiches, and ours are in my knapsack" before the Walkers set off across the Red Sea with the rudder to be repaired. When they hurried off, a mere page later, we read that "Susan had an empty knapsack on her back" (SW23).

But en route Bridget and Roger race each other and then lay down in the hot sum on top of the dyke, while John takes bearings. "Susan dealt out sandwiches", and then said " ..... we've got to get back before the tide comes in. Finish the sandwiches on the march" (SW23).

Where had the sandwiches reappeared from? Out of Susan's empty knapsack?

Mangoes or Mangroves[]

Arthur Ransome confused the mango (common today but an exotic rarity in the 1930's and 40's) with the mangrove tree typically found in shallow estuaries on tropical and sub-tropical coasts:

  • in Secret Water the low marshy islands to the west of Mastodon Island are named (by Titty) the Mango Islands as they are "All swamp. Nowhere to land."
  • in Chapter 6 of Missee Lee John comments "Mangoes. Pretty nearly awash" when he reaches the queer huge-leaved trees with their roots in the water that fringe the Chinese coast.

The Sundial[]

Illustrating Arthur Ransome mentions that its first illustration in Secret Water shows a Sundial that would have worked only in the Southern Hemisphere. Later editions brought it into the Northern Hemisphere.

Where's that dinghy?[]

In Secret Water, the illustration 'On the way to the islands', used as the cover for the Penguin editions, shows Goblin with no evidence of any dinghy being towed. The text however makes it clear that she should be towing Wizard: The Goblin's wake lengthened, and the water creamed under the bows of Wizard, the sailing dinghy, towing astern.

Did he really make that?[]

In chapter 7 of Secret Water, the explorers find in their camp a stick, carved so that it looked like a snake, but in the illustration 'What Susan found in the camp', we see a smoothly-carved eel wound around a rough post. Was this very complex bit of sculpture made by a Mastodon who built a table of which John thought, though he did not say, that it might have been rather better made.

A good sense of direction[]

If only she had her compass to make sure of its (Sinbad's Creek's) direction ...... And then she noticed two things. First, that those anchored boats in the distance were all pointing north... (Titty, SW25)

Where's the totem?[]

The picture on p. 375 of Secret Water should show the Eels' totem at the cross-trees of Goblin as she sails away from the Secret Archipelago. However, the 1991 revised edition of the book re-used the picture of the cross-trees from p. 51 with the Blue Peter but no totem.

Missee Lee[]

Captain Flint's SOS[]

One of Ransome's best-known blunders: a brownie patrol spotted that Captain Flint's SOS message in semaphore hidden among the birdseed in Missee Lee contained eight mistakes that had to be corrected in later editions. Fry, frizzle and broil that fellow Flint. What's the use of my taking trouble when he lets me down like this? wrote AR in a letter to his publisher (see Christina Hardyment Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk, p. 176)

Come off it, Peggy![]

In Chapter 13 of Missee Lee, the children own up to desecrating the temple on Temple Island built in memory of Miss Lee's father. John apologises for sleeping in the temple, Susan for using the kettle and the Primus, and Titty for the husks that Polly left on the floor. The most surprising apology comes from Peggy: "We took some of your tea, too". However, when the Walkers were on the island, the Amazons were far away on the Chinese pirate ship. Had Peggy already forgotten? Or was it AR who had forgotten?

The Picts and the Martyrs[]

Only on the dust jacket[]


Launching Scarab as depicted on the cover of The Picts and the Martyrs

On the dust jacket of The Picts and the Martyrs there is a thumbnail version of a drawing which does not appear in the book, which shows Dick and Dorothea taking delivery of Scarab, with the boat builder looking on and Nancy being masterful (PM15).

Nancy or Ruth?[]

In The Picts and the Martyrs chapter 18, Nancy complains about the dreaded Great Aunt, who says while she is practising the piano: "Please Nancy, these two bars again ..... Nancy ..... Nancy ....." but the GA always calls Nancy and Peggy by their real names Ruth and Margaret. This was a slip up on AR's part, who corrected his personal copy of PM, now in Abbot Hall: by the 5th printing (1946) this was corrected in published copies also.

Blast! I forgot[]

In The Picts and the Martyrs Slater Bob explains to Dick how blasting requires the boring of a hole for a charge: ...the old man took Dick's finger and rubbed it along a narrow groove in the rock. "That's how," he said. "Yon's what's left of a boring. (PM24)

Dick is evidently forgetting that he himself already explained exactly the same point to Roger in Pigeon Post: "Look," said Dick. "They must have blasted with gunpowder. You can see one side of the hole they bored for their charge." "Where?" said Roger. "Oh, yes. I see it," and he ran his finger along a smooth and narrow furrow in the rock. (PP3)

Great Northern?[]

Who's the figure?[]

In the 1st edition of Great Northern? the illustration 'Dick goes off to the lochs' shows a figure in the left foreground that is clearly an Amazon pirate, though she seems to be too small to be Nancy. As both of the Amazons were at the time helping to scrub Sea Bear, the figure should have been Dorothea. The illustration was corrected in subseqent editions, but the earlier, incorrect, version is still used on the dust-wrapper of Great Northern?

Which Way's the Sun[]

After Sea Bear is beached John says "Her starboard side'll be dry first." The time is shortly before noon and Sea Bear is pointing west or, possibly, south, which would put her port side towards the sun.

Captain Flint's Amnesia[]

Great Northern? presumably takes place after We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, in which John loses Jim Brading's anchor by not ensuring that the end of the chain is secured. Captain Flint must have heard this story, yet in Chapter 2 of Great Northern? he asks John to check that the kedge warp is made fast, saying "Wouldn't help us to lose the lot. I did that once so I know." Is Captain Flint being uncharacteristically tactless, self-centered or forgetful? John can't like being reminded of his bitter experience but Ransome moves on without recording his response.


This page is based on Ransome Trivia on All Things Ransome. Thanks are due to the many contributors, whose names appear on that web page, and whose contributions reappear here by kind permission of All Things Ransome. The All Things Ransome editors would appreciate being advised when something new gets added here, so they can decide whether an equivalent entry should be made to their Trivia page, and vice versa.