Hispaniola Stowaway!

The arrival of the Hispaniola in Scarborough during the summer of 1949 was preceded by a storm of excitement and anticipation. Children in particular were thrilled at the prospect of sailing on the famous pirate ship; star of Treasure Island. This quarter scale schooner was designed by a Mr B Lawrenson, and constructed by Charles Pearson Ltd – a company based in Hull.

Above: The Hispaniola sailing on the Mere (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

None more so than a little boy called George Colin Spurr. Aged only five years old, he eagerly travelled from his home at 6 Hinderwell Place to Scarborough Mere, every morning, at 6am, to await the arrival of the pirate ship. This early morning ritual was repeated daily across the fortnight preceding the launch of the boat. Scarborough Evening News, who reported the story, did not mention who (if anyone!) accompanied George on this ritualistic vigil.

Above: Scarborough Mere – where George waited (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Fortunately for him, the Hispaniola did finally arrive at the Mere, and made its first voyage on Saturday, June 18th, 1949. And George was there, waiting; his presence described by onlookers as follows:

…a forlorn little figure in a sailor’s hat, navy blue raincoat and long overalls.

(Scarborough Evening News, June 18th, 1949)

The small boy’s obsession with all things nautical was no coincidence. His elder brother had recently served in the navy, and had apparently bequeathed his cap – emblazoned with the ship name HMS Barham – to his younger sibling. George proudly wore this cap during his trips to the Mere, and apparently planned to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Perhaps his dutiful watch for Long John Silver’s boat was a demonstration of his commitment to a future career at sea?

However, there was a flaw in George’s plan to sneak aboard the brand new ship – invitations for the maiden voyages were by council (Scarborough Corporation) invite only.

Fortunately passengers and crew decided to take the young lad aboard on one of the first trips to Treasure Island – as an official stowaway! One can’t help but wonder if the Hispaniola lived up to his high expectations…

Sources

All information in this post was sourced from old editions of local newspapers held at the Scarborough Room in Scarborough Library.

 

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The Hispaniola: Did You Know…?

This is the fourth in a series of posts featuring short stories and facts about former Scarborough attractions. You can read the others here:

Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?

Gala Land: Did You Know…?

Scarborough Zoo: Did You Know…?

You can also read more about the Hispaniola, Scarborough’s very own pirate ship, by following the list of links on the Places page.

But for now it’s time to find out whether or not you knew that…

1) The Hispaniola was specifically built at the request of the Scarborough Corporation

As already mentioned in this post, the boat’s construction was painstakingly researched, under instruction from Scarborough Council’s predecessor – the Scarborough Corporation.

This enterprising group of local officials feature heavily in the history of many attractions researched within Stories From Scarborough. They purchased the Northstead Estate, back in the early 1900s, as well as overseeing the building of the bathing pools, parks and the rescue of Gala Land. You can see a picture of them here.

The resulting boat boasted two decks, 3 masts and 26 gun ports (minus actual guns), features that sought to emulate the miniature schooner’s namesake and inspiration in Treasure Island (the famous novel penned by Robert Louis Stevenson). Hispaniola actually refers to a Caribbean island (historically referred to by various names), and was appropriated by Stevenson as an exotic name for the starring vessel in his book.

1) A local pastor wanted to borrow it

The Hispaniola was a unique creation – its designers scrutinised three different editions of the Treasure Island book in their attempt to create an authentic copy. In spite of its small size (a quarter of a real schooner), it was popular with amateur filmmakers, who wanted an authentic prop for seafaring adventure stories. However, one of the more unusual requests came from a local parson, who wanted to recreate the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers for a church production.

Above: A painting depicts the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail in 1620 (source)

The Pilgrim Fathers were a group of English separatists who travelled first to the Netherlands and then to North America, in a bid to secure certain freedoms not available in Elizabethan (and later, Jacobean) times. England, during this historical period, required its citizens to attend Church of England services, following the 1559 Act of Uniformity. As a result, dissenters endured harsh penalties for absence and likewise for the attendance and arrangement of alternative ceremonies. The success of the Pilgrim Fathers (a name later bestowed on the settlers in the early nineteenth century) has become a celebrated narrative, particularly in the US – the Pilgrim Fathers established the first permanent colony in New England in 1620.

The Hispaniola could have played a starring role in the reconstruction of this story.

Whether it did or not was a mystery – there was no mention of whether or not the parson’s request was granted.

2) 1949 was a busy year

The Hispaniola took its first voyage at the start of the summer season in 1949, and approximately 46,000 children travelled aboard over the summer holidays. Between twenty and thirty passengers travelled at a time, and the steady flow of customers proved the attraction’s popularity.

Above: The Hispaniola on Scarborough Mere (source)

The ride initially cost one shilling, but the price went up to 1/6 in the 1970s, when children could also opt to buy a small packet of sweet cigarettes (not real ones!) with an island map on the reverse. The treasure then came in the form of metal doubloons, which were in later years replaced by plastic ones. You can see a picture here.

3) The Mere it sailed on was once part of a huge lake

The Mere is all that remains of the Great Pickering Lake – a massive body of water that filled the valley between Scarborough and Pickering.

Above: Diagram depicting the expanse of Lake Pickering (source)

Lake Pickering gradually drained away following the last glacial period of the current ice age; a process which began between 12,000 and 100,000 years ago, leaving behind considerably less water, and a considerable amount of marshy land.

The Mere represented one of the remaining vestiges of the great lake when it was drained in 1880. Although it was restored in 1896, old photographs depict a somewhat barren place, which contrasts with the leafy oasis that stands today. Long popular with anglers, the Mere enjoyed a heyday as a place for boating, picnics and of course Hispaniola trips from the 1940s until the 1990s, before returning to the quieter place of times gone by.

4) There were slides on Treasure Island

The destination for all Hispaniola travellers was Treasure Island – the small piece of land at the centre of the Mere. The slides arrived years after the boat’s first voyage in 1949, and replaced the lookout towers that characterised the early days of the attraction. The island itself was (and perhaps still is?) 200ft long, 30ft wide and covered in tons of sand – to make it fit for purpose. Other features included firing platforms, loop holes and a tree top sitting post. Entertainments manager George Horrocks, who ran the attraction initially, also ensured old muskets and cutlasses were on display. Reputedly there was even a goat on the island at one point, although the truth of this story is questionable.

Above: Jim Hawkins on Treasure Island (source)

As in Stevenson’s story, Scarborough’s Ben Gunn also ‘lived’ on the island, although unlike his fictional counterpart, the man who played him opted for daytime occupancy only. His time here occurred primarily over the summer months during which the Hispaniola sailed.

5) Jim Hawkins was a sea cadet

The first Hispaniola crew were carefully recruited to ensure relevant credentials were possessed. War veteran Tom Hunt had only one leg, which made him an ideal candidate to play Long John Silver, whereas sea cadet Harry Moore, aged fifteen, was evidently keen to gain seafaring experience as Jim Hawkins. For those that don’t know the book, the story is told by Hawkins, the young son of an innkeeper, for whom an encounter with a mysterious visitor leads to a swashbuckling adventure on a far away island. Here he becomes acquainted with the likes of Long John Silver and fellow character Ben Gunn.

Above: Geoffrey Wilkinson as Ben Gunn in the 1950 Treasure Island film (source)

Ben Gunn is the half-crazed former pirate Hawkins meets whilst on the island, whereas Long John Silver is the villain of the story, albeit a complex one. It is arguably difficult if not impossible to condense the subtle nuances of this story into a an affordable seaside attraction for children, nonetheless the Scarborough Hispaniola crew brought much enthusiasm to their roles. They simultaneously engaged visitors and maintained the pirate masquerade. They were incredulous when bosses suggested changing their names and the context of the attraction in 1958.

5) The wooden leg survived!

Sadly Scarborough’s one (and perhaps only – details are sketchy) truly one-legged Long John Silver died relatively soon after the attraction began. However, the wooden leg he wore whilst ‘in character’ was reputedly retained by the Scarborough Corporation until the 1970s, and was rumoured to make occasional appearances at office parties. Stories From Scarborough wonders what became of it.

Do you know? As always any memories, feedback and information would be gratefully received.

Most of the information in this post was found in old newspaper articles and the Doris and Cyril Prescott Collection at Scarborough Library.

Sailing Adventures On Scarborough Mere

This post is part of a series featuring a fantastic collection of photographs contributed by Leonie, which includes images of Marvel’s, Millennium and a video of Atlantis.

Next up is an old favourite – the Hispaniola, during its days on Scarborough Mere. You can read more about it on the following links:

Voyage of the Hispaniola (Brief summary and history)

A Tale of Two Ships (The ‘other’ Hispaniola in Scarborough)

Pirates in Scarborough (The Hispaniola crew)

All Aboard The Hispaniola! (The attraction today)

The following pictures come from the final years of the Hispaniola outings on Scarborough Mere during the early 1990s. Shortly after they were taken, the scaled down imitation schooner was temporarily held near Water Splash World (later Atlantis), before being repaired and relocated to Scarborough Harbour, where it now sails during the summer season.

As before, please be mindful that the following images are copyright protected – do not reproduce or use without permission (see the disclaimer for details)

Above: The Hispaniola, a Treasure Island inspired boat (source)

This photograph was taken in 1992 – the Hispaniola left the Mere for good the following year. However, there are still reminders to this day. The landing stage, down which excited children would dash to board to boat, still stands near the Mere entrance. In the background Treasure Island – a small isle fortified with tons of sand back in 1949 (when the Hispaniola outings first began) can be seen. The boarding point too is still visible, although there are no longer any pirates or treasure.

Above: The same boat in 1990 (source)

Viewed a little closer, it is possible to see the incredible attention to detail in the vessel’s construction. Indeed, when the boat was originally built, back in the 1940s, its creators aimed to emulate the literary Hispaniola as closely as possible, consulting three separate editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel. In spite of contradictory details in the various copies of Treasure Island (apparently), the quarter scale model was deemed a fitting tribute.

Above: A view from a distance (source)

Looking down from the side of Oliver’s Mount, the Mere is a picturesque place – not exactly somewhere one would expect to encounter pirates. Today the nearest equivalent would be a grumpy fisherman! Whilst water sports occasionally still take place there, the shores are more frequently lined with angling enthusiasts. During the days of the Hispaniola, the calm waters would be frequently disturbed by rowers and canoeists, taking advantage of the hire boats available there.

Above: Canoeing at the Mere (source)

There was also a cafe which has since been demolished and updated with a newer, log cabin style eatery. And who could forget, the pirates?

Above: When there were pirates…(source)

Back in 1949, the Hispaniola management team were desperate to recruit a genuine one-legged man to play Long John Silver. They found such a man in Tom Hunt, a war veteran who wore a real wooden leg during his command of the boat. Sadly he died not long after the attraction took its first season of passengers. Later incarnations did not share his one-legged credentials, but nonetheless, the staff across the decades maintained a lively pantomime of characters – no longer does the Hispaniola boast such a charismatic crew. Nor are there any doubloons for children to find.

leoniesdoubloon2

Above: One of the doubloons that was buried at Treasure Island (from Leonie’s personal collection)

Or even an island, adorned with a look-out tower, hut for Ben Gunn and his parrot, and an array of pirate accoutrements. Fortunately many visitors recorded this much loved attraction, and Stories From Scarborough would love to hear from more of you. Not only your pictures, but any stories you might have also. And opinions on the current reincarnation of the attraction.

Thanks again to Leonie for the images in this post, and please do get in touch if you’ve ever been aboard the Hispaniola – past or present.

Pirates in Scarborough

Treasure Island, an adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, was first published in 1883.

Above: An early edition of Treasure Island (source)

Ever since the seafaring exploits of Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver and the Hispaniola were first introduced to the public, the book has been inspiring plays, films, costumes and all manner of creative interpretations. More importantly, elements from the story, such as ‘X marks the spot’, schooners, treasure maps and parrots, have since come to characterise popular definitions of pirates.

Above: A stereotypical depiction of a pirate (source)

Indeed, when the Scarborough Hispaniola – a 1/4 replica of an 18th century schooner – was built in 1949, Treasure Island’s popularity showed little sign of abating. Consequently the idea of sailing with pirates and digging for treasure was a familiar concept for many children – by visiting Scarborough Mere to do just that, they could imagine themselves as the Treasure Island protagonist – Jim Hawkins.

Above: Illustration of Jim Hawkins, shown on the left with a dubious looking character! (source)

However, in 1958, the Hispaniola’s Treasure Island heritage was under threat, according to an article in the Manchester Guardian. The Scarborough Corporation, who then owned the attraction, decided to put the vessel up for sale, only one year after changing the names of the pirates from Stevenson’s characters to Scar, Bow and Raw. ScarBowRaw. Scarborough?

Neither decision went down well with the Hispaniola’s crew.

Its skipper really was a one-legged man – ideal for the role of famous one-legged pirate Long John Silver. However, he was less than happy about his name being changed from infamous literary rogue to the awkward alternative: Captain Scar. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?

Of course, Old Ben Gunn on the island came off worse. Artful Artie they call him now. Proper peeved he is.

(source)

Fortunately for these angry pirates, visiting children were similarly reluctant to use the new names – they preferred to sail with Long John Silver.

Above: Robert Newton as Long John Silver in the 1950 film, Treasure Island (source)

Once on Treasure Island, children were given black masks, pirate badges and the option to purchase sweet cigarettes. Maps on the back of the sweetie boxes were all part of the elaborate masquerade, and Ben Gunn, aka Artful Artie, describes the hunt for treasure as thus:

Lovely life it is. I show the children where to dig for buried treasure. We don’t give them spades because the sand is only six inches deep and underneath is black mud. It stinks something horrible if it is exposed. Makes my life on the island miserable when that happens, it does.

(source)

The Scarborough Corporation never did replace the Hispaniola – the attraction went on to enjoy nearly forty more years of success on the Mere. The pirates even got their name back, and Malcolm Waller, whose memories are featured in the Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society Community Archive, worked as Jim Hawkins on the boat:

Malcolm went to St Martins, Royal Avenue and Scalby school, leaving at 15 and spending his first summer working on the Hispaniola on the Mere dressed as Jim Hawkins

(source)

The archive also features an image of the crew on board the Hispaniola.

Above: The Hispaniola Crew; with kind permission from Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society (source)

The playful pirates of the Hispaniola were a far cry, however, from real pirates. Indeed, piracy originally denoted criminal violence or robbery at sea, and still occurs today, although perhaps with less frequency than in preceding centuries. From the Sea Peoples of antiquity to the Vikings, history holds many examples of pirates. Indeed, Scarborough’s status as a coastal town (there are records of settlements dating back to the Bronze Age) means that such seafaring exploits were never far away.

Above: An illustration of Blackbeard, one of the most famous ‘real life’ pirates (source)

Scarborough Maritime Heritage Website lists a number of pirate stories with links to Scarborough, and given the popularisation of pirate stereotypes, it is unsurprising that the town has capitalised on this murkier side of its history. Although the Hispaniola no longer sails along the Mere, it takes passengers along the South Bay during the summer. There is also a pirate-themed crazy golf course near to the Sea Life Centre on the North Bay. Amateur rugby team the Scarborough Pirates have adopted the name of seafaring bandits, and further local references are highly probable. The pirate stereotype is everywhere.

Above: The pirate-themed mini golf course near the Sea Life Centre (source)

And yet the friendly pirates who once sailed the Hispaniola on Scarborough Mere, in spite of their fierce pretensions, in no way resemble the horror that real-life pirates once evoked. And still do in some parts of the world. Scarborough’s pirates didn’t kill, maim and steal, and even Robert Louis Stevenson’s violent Long John Silver, is presented with ambiguity sufficient enough to make moral judgement perplexing.

Sources

Treasure Island

The Manchester Guardian Online Archive

Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society Community Archive

Scarborough Maritime Heritage