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This article is about the book Secret Water. For the waterway of this name, see Secret Archipelago.

Secret Water is the eighth book in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of children's books. It was published in 1939.

This book is set in late August or early September 1932, towards the end of the summer holidays (immediately following We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea and located in and around Hamford Water in Essex, close to the resort town of Walton-on-the-Naze. It brings the Swallows and the Amazons together and introduces a new group of characters, the Eels.


Ransome used to sail to Hamford Water, an area of salt marshes and low lying islands in his yacht Nancy Blackett. He set the book in this tidal location which offered a new setting for his characters and opportunities to explore and map the area. (The names Hamford and Walton are not used in the text.)


  • Swallows (John, Susan, Titty, Roger [9 yrs. old], Bridget [4 yrs. old] Walker plus Sinbad the kitten)
  • Amazons (Nancy & Peggy Blackett)
  • Mastodon (Don)
  • remainder of the Eels (Daisy, Dum, Dee)
  • minor characters:
    • Cmdr Ted Walker, Mrs Mary Walker
    • Miss Powell
    • (Jim Brading, who is being nursed by an aunt: the medicinal aunt?).
    • Missionaries (parents of Daisy, Dum and Dee)
    • the young man in naval uniform who brings the message from the Admiralty. He is a sub-lieutenant as Daddy says Even sub-lieutenants are God's creatures ....  ; although Titty refers to him as a gloating lieutenant with a horrid grin.
    • farmer from the Native Kraal
    • the Witch
    • the cowman at the farmyard up the canal who sells them milk
    • the postman and the grocer in the town
    • the boatbuilder at the Yacht Club
    • the old fisherman putting tar on a boat
    • (the Mastodon's father and mother)
    • (Captain Flint, Mrs Blackett and Timothy)
    • George the seal


Plot summary[]

The Swallows intend to sail in the Goblin to Hamford Water and camp with their father Ted Walker, but he is called away on naval business. Instead he maroons them with a small dinghy on an island. Before he leaves he gives them an outline map of the area, which they decide to call Secret Water, and suggests they survey and chart the area before he returns to pick them up. For a surprise, he has arranged for the Amazons to come down from their home at the Lake and join them with another dinghy.

They see some mysterious footprints which turn out to belong to the Mastodon, a local boy. He mistakes them for the Eels, another family who camp in the area regularly. The Swallows and Amazons form an alliance with the Mastodon, becoming blood brothers and sisters with him. Later the Eels arrive and are initially hostile before they settle down for a friendly war.

There is tension between Nancy and John as John wants to finish the map for Daddy: "Oh but look here, Nancy" said John, who saw her turning savage before his eyes. "We’ve simply got to finish the map. The last two days we’ve done hardly anything." (SW19). When the Amazons arrive Nancy says "You’ll get a medal from the Royal Geographic Society .... The Walker Expedition." Both John and Titty noticed that she said "you" instead of "we." (SW11). So due to the distractions of war and to being cut off by the tides, it seems the chart will not be completed, but at the very last minute, it is (by Nancy & Peggy plus Titty & Roger).

Cross-references and chronology[]

References to other books in the Swallows and Amazons series place Secret Water after Pigeon Post (set at the very beginning of the summer holiday) and We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (set in August (WD3,14); therefore in late August or early September 1932:

  • The Amazons and the Ds now have Timothy to walk the plank (SW1)
  • Jim Brading has gone to be in the care of his aunt (SW1)
  • The Swallows came from Holland quite lately (SW9) and have Sinbad
  • The Swallows "...never set things on fire... We nearly got burnt once." (Roger, SW9; referring to PP)
  • John remembers something that happened long ago "Owl at midday" SW17; (referring to SD)


An unused sketch of Susan, published in CFT


Descriptions of things that happened in the 'Interregnum' between WD and SW point to the events described in Secret Water starting very shortly after, but at least a day or two after, the end of WD:

  • Jim Brading's Uncle Bob's planned arrival to join Jim on Goblin two days after the end of WD: I've got my uncle coming on Monday and we're going to have a try for Scotland (WD1)
  • Daddy had come home and had been looking forward to a week or so of freedom (SW1; assuming he was originally supposed to start work at Shotley on a Monday, this would give one week and one day after the Saturday on which he arrived at Pin Mill)
  • When they are marooned, Susan says What's the time, John? and John replies Haven't got a watch, Mine's still in Ipswich being mended. Evidently he broke it before they left (SW5). As Susan has left her alarm clock in Goblin John makes a meal-dial.
  • Jim Brading has been whisked off home by an aunt (SW1, this might have happened on the Monday of Uncle Bob's planned arrival, if the uncle and aunt arrived together)
  • Jim has lent Goblin to Daddy and the Walkers (SW1)
  • Goblin's lost anchor and chain have apparently been recovered or replaced (SW3, SW31; we can put this down to Captain Walker's access to naval resources for either recovering or replacing).
  • Daddy had sent to the north for their camping things (SW1; and the camping equipment had been delivered)

Secret Water[]

Numbers are days (but not actual dates) in late August or early September 1932, names are chapter titles tide times for some days given in (parentheses), with references.

  1. Farewell to Adventure
  2. (high tide at 2.15pm, SW2) Adventure Ahead, Into the Unknown, The Expedition Goes Ashore, Marooned
  3. First Hint of Savages, Hoofmarks in the Mud, The Mastadon's Lair, Making a Friend of a Savage, The Straits of Magellan, War or Exploration (On this day Daddy and Mother are scheduled to go up to London - SW1)
  4. (low tide about 10, high tide at 3.36, SW12; Mary Walker had just got back from London... going up there again tomorrow, SW14) Blood and Iodine, Mastodon Island, Witch's Quay, The Mastadon Wishes He Hadn't
  5. (high tide about 4.30pm, SW16; Mary Walker to go to London again this day, SW14) Enemy's Country
  6. (high tide conjected 5.30pmmight have been) A State of War, Eager Prisoner, Hot on the Trail, All's Well
  7. (high tide conjected 6.30pm might have been) Six Boats Explore, The Mastodon Gives a Party
  8. (high water before 8am, low water about 2pm (SW22), The Wade crossable 2 hours each side of low tide, SW23, high tide conjected 7.30pmmight have been) Red Sea Crossing: Israelites, Civilization, Sinbad's Creek, Red Sea Crossing: Egyptians, Rescue and After, Corroboree
  9. (high water slack before 9am): John said Close on nine. Where can those idiots be? .... Tide's slack already said the Mastadon (SW29), Molly Blackett waiting to meet Amazons in London, Packing Up, Northwest Passage, Farewell to the Eels (SW31).

After: The Walker family hope to meet the Lapwings next holidays and invite them to Shotley where the Walkers will now be living (SW31).


  • The Eels are based on the Busk family. Secret Water is dedicated To the Busk family.
  • Dum and Dee are bigger than Daisy, but she is in command; Dum is bigger than Dee, and they're not twins.
  • Don (Mastodon) is bigger than Roger but not as big as John (SW8)
  • The Lapwings came around from Colnsea (SW9)
  • the Ds have gone home from the Lake, called away to join parents (SW1); they had left just after the Swallows had gone south (that is, just before the events of WD) (SW11).
  • Timothy Stedding and Captain Flint are at the Lake (SW1)
  • Roger & Titty got their life saving certificates at school in summer term at school, John and Susan got theirs the year before (SW2)
  • Roger says to Don We nearly got burnt once ... (in Pigeon Post) but catches Titty's eye and stops (SW9).
  • The Amazons stayed with their Aunt Helen in London before travelling to the Secret Archipelago (SW11)
  • Peggy tells what happened at High Topps after Swallows had gone south: what they did to Timothy and the Ds departure to the south [to Norfolk perhaps?] (SW11).
  • Amazons referred to as two females by the Lapwings when they are regarded as enemies to be driven off (SW15)
  • Nancy makes an historical reference in suggesting the name Walker Expedition for the Secret Archipelago Expedition; see Walker Expedition to Quebec. When the Amazons arrive Nancy says You’ll get a medal from the Royal Geographic Society .... The Walker Expedition. Both John and Titty noticed that she said you instead of we .” (SW11).
  • Later there is tension between Nancy and John as John wants to finish the map for Daddy: Oh but look here, Nancy said John, who saw her turning savage before his eyes We’ve simply got to finish the map. The last two days we’ve done hardly anything. (SW19). They do finish it, with help from Nancy and Peggy.
  • Miss Powell's telephone number is Woolverstone 30.
  • Daddy and Mother shuttle back and forth between London and Pin Mill
  • Ted says Hullo the Pirates .... Your Mother's meeting you in London, to scrub and holystone you ready for school. (SW31)
  • Karabadangbaraka ~ Akarabgnadabarak (or if Daisy's saying it, akarabgandabarak) is the sign/countersign of the Eels

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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