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.

 

Naval Warfare And The Hispaniola: A Link?

As Scarborough prepared itself for a lucrative summer season in 1949, residents of the town witnessed a very strange sight indeed. An image in the Scarborough Library archive collection depicts the bottom half of a ship being transported through the streets of the seaside town – advertisements on the side mention Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver and the Hispaniola; all stars of the famous fictional novel – Treasure Island.

Due to copyright restrictions Stories From Scarborough is unable to show the image here.

This was of course the beginning of one of Scarborough’s most enduring attractions – the Hispaniola.

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Above: The Hispaniola on Scarborough Mere (from the author’s collection)

Meticulously built to match the descriptions in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, the quarter scale schooner was transported from Hull to Scarborough Mere, where it spent nearly fifty years taking children to dig for gold doubloons on Treasure Island. Now it sails on the South Bay.

But who, exactly, built this incredible vessel?

Hull-based company Charles Pearson Ltd was charged with constructing the boat during the 1940s. The company still exists today as Pearson & Curtis – an engineering outfit based in Hull. The city has a long history of ship building dating back several centuries, so it is perhaps no surprise that such an exquisite boat as the Hispaniola would be built here.

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Above: Hull’s shipbuilding industry was thriving in the early 1900s (from the author’s collection)

Back in the 1940s, the company was listed as ‘boat builders and ship riggers’ and it appears that Pearson trained as a sail or mast maker. Exactly how he got the job of building the Hispaniola is unclear, but this was not the only boat that Charles Pearson’s company gave to Scarborough – it also provided a number of the miniature ships used in the Naval Warfare displays at Peasholm Park. These vessels were much smaller than the Hispaniola, and evoked a much more recent period in history.

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Above: Miniature boats battle it out on Peasholm Park Lake (from the author’s collection)

Peasholm Park opened only a few years before the outbreak of WWI, but the naval displays did not actually begin until 1927. A small fleet of miniature boats; each with an operator inside, sailed across the park lake enacting battle scenes from the (then) recent conflict. Whilst earlier models emulated WWI battleships (such as Dreadnoughts) later boats enacted famous scenes from WWII, including the Battle of the River Plate. A submarine and cruisers were also added.

You can view a video of the display from 1960 by clicking here.

It is unclear whether or not Mr Pearson provided Peasholm’s warships from the outset, but it is certain that at least some (if not all) of the boats in the history of the Naval Battles were constructed by his company. The original fleet was all man-powered, although from 1929 onwards electricity gradually began to take over – to the point that most are now controlled remotely (with a few exceptions). The Hispaniola, on the other hand, was, until 1993, sailed by pirates.

Above: One of the miniature boats out on an early season test drive this year (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

All of the aforementioned vessels are characterised by a meticulous attention to detail, and an enduring presence within Scarborough’s entertainment history. Even today, passengers still ride the Hispaniola, and audiences flock to see the mock battle displays in Peasholm Park. One can’t help but wonder about the man or men who built these fantastic models. How involved was Charles Pearson himself? Who worked for him, and ostensibly helped build the boats in question? What brought him to the attention of the Scarborough Corporation? The corporation’s entertainments manager, George Horrocks, was responsible for bringing these attractions to Scarborough, so perhaps he had links with the Pearson company?

Either way, Charles Pearson Ltd was no ordinary shipbuilding company – its employees and owner still fostered a boyish delight in constructing miniature models – this love and craftsmanship continues to secure the lasting popularity of Scarborough’s miniature boats, including the Hispaniola.

Want to contribute a memory of the Hispaniola? Or the Naval Battle at Peasholm Park? Please comment below or get in touch.

Sources

Peasholm Naval Battle

Peasholm Park Website

Scarborough Heritage

Old newspaper articles held at the Scarborough Room 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.

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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.

All Aboard The Hispaniola!

Back in 1949, a 1/4 scale replica of an eighteenth century schooner first set sail in Scarborough. Named The Hispaniola, it would later spend almost fifty years taking excited passengers to Treasure Island – a small piece of land on Scarborough Mere – where gold doubloons were hidden. Visitors would probe the sand with sticks to uncover their share of the ‘treasure’, whilst sharing friendly banter with the ship crew – who masqueraded as pirates.

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Above: The Hispaniola of times gone by (from the author’s collection)

Fast forward to 2014, and the Hispaniola has not sailed on the Mere for over twenty years. However, following restoration and repairs it now travels along the South Bay, taking a short route from the harbour and back.

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Above: The Hispaniola sailing along the South Bay (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: Moored at the harbour (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

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Whilst on-board, passengers can take in glorious views of the South Bay, including the Spa, Grand Hotel, and seafront amusements, as can be seen below:

Above: Views of the South Bay from the Hispaniola (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The trip is affordable, at £3 a ride (for adults and children), and the ship’s pirate heritage is commemorated with a recorded ‘pirate’ introduction at the start of the trip, and a peg-legged figure who advertises the attraction on the harbourside.

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Above: The pirate(s) await (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

However, the current day Hispaniola is, in some ways, very different to its older incarnation.

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Above: The Hispaniola approaching the harbour (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

It boasts a shining coat of paint, new colours and decorations, and an up-to-date engine.

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Above: The boat is clean and brightly painted (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

But there is no longer a Treasure Island, nor are there doubloons, maps or certificates – although there are black Jolly Roger stickers for those who want them. Furthermore, most of the staff don’t seem to wear costumes, or assume pirate alter-egos, although the gentleman at the entrance wore a jaunty pirate-themed outfit, and seemed enthusiastic. The boat staff, on the other hand, were men of few words.

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Above: The pirate theme is now more subtle – small reminders decorate the boat (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The voyage is a calm, quiet one, with none of the rowdy jokes made by staff of old, who would tease the kids and truly played the part. Back then, the Hispaniola was only part of a larger story – a game of make-believe that could engage families for a good few hours. Now the Hispaniola alone is the story. The experience is 15 minutes, and the pirates are only hinted at briefly.

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Above: Holidaymakers watch the vessel on its brief voyage (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Arguably, it is great to see the schooner still in action, keeping Scarborough’s Hispaniola attraction alive; but for older travellers, who might remember the days of pirates on the Mere, there is a sense of something missing. Perhaps it’s the expectation of treasure, or the chance to meet the characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Treasure Island, on which the attraction is based. Maybe it’s the original staff, whose pirate antics made children truly believe that they were going on a swashbuckling adventure.

*This post is based on the author’s experience of riding the Hispaniola on the Mere and around the South Bay – these experiences are not necessarily representative of every voyage at either venue.

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