A Flag of Distress

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This long and at times very amusing story starts off with the sighting of a barque under full sail in mid-Pacific, and wearing the Chilian flag upside down. For a vessel to wear its ensign inverted is a known sign of distress, so that the British naval vessel that sights her has to try to board her, to render assistance. But the barque is a good sailer, and does not reduce her sail or heave-to. She appears to have only two men on board, rather strangely dressed in reddish fur clothing.

How this strange state of affairs arose takes the whole book to tell. The captain of the barque and his passenger have been tied so securely that they cannot move; the crew are no longer on board; the two men in reddish fur turn out to be orang-outangs.

Reid was an excellent writer, credited with being the first to write in the Wild-West genre. This book, with its background of the sea, is out of his usual line, but it is nevertheless a quite brilliant book. You will enjoy the part of the story that takes place on the sea-front of San Francisco of 1849.

It makes an excellent audiobook, if you can cope with the numerous words of unusual spelling, to represent the speech of illiterate seamen, and the Spanish words. The latter are also to be found in Reid's Wild-West novels. For some reason Reid often uses a few French phrases, but that was not unusual at the time he wrote.

REID, Thomas Mayne (1818-83).

Irish writer of boys' stories, born in Ballyroney, County Down. In 1840 he emigrated to New Orleans, settled as a journalist in Philadelphia (1843), and served in the US army during the Mexican war (1847), where he was severely wounded. Returning to Britain in 1849, he settled down to a literary life in London. His vigorous style and hairbreadth escapes delighted his readers. Among his books, many of which were popular in translation in Poland and Russia, were The Rifle Rangers (1850), Scalp Hunters (1851), Boy Hunters (1853), War Trail (1851), Boy Tar (1859), and Headless Horseman (1866). He went back to New York in 1867 and founded the Onward Magazine, but returned to England in 1870.

(With acknowledgements to Chambers Biographical Dictionary)

The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature mentions that he was the son of a Presbyterian Minister, and that the first two books mentioned above were for a general readership. When he returned to England the publisher Davis Bogue suggested that he should write books specifically for boys, catering for the Christmas market each year. He was a naturalist, and wrote about the creations of Nature, where many other Victorian authors would have been all moralising and pious. He was a great admirer of Byron, and some of his heroes are Byronic in temperament.

A PDF of scans and an HTML version of this book are provided. We also provide a plain TEXT version and full instructions for using this to make your own audiobook. To find these click on the PDF, HTML or TXT links on the left.

These transcriptions of books by various nineteenth century authors of instructive books for teenagers, were made during the period 1997 to the present day by Athelstane e-Books. Most of the books are concerned with the sea, but in any case all will give a good idea of life in the nineteenth century. This of course includes attitudes prevalent at the time, but frowned upon nowadays.

We used a Plustek OpticBook 3600 scanner to scan the pages. We then made a pdf which we used to assist with editing the OCRed text.

To make a text version we used ABBYY Finereader 8 to produce a first draft of the text, and Athelstane software to find misreads and improve the text. We proof-read the chapters, and then made a CD with the book read aloud by either Fonix ISpeak or TextAloud MP3. The last step enables us to hear and correct most of the errors that may have been missed by the other steps, as well as entertaining us during the work of transcription.

The resulting text can be read at www.athelstane.co.uk

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