Captain Smollett in Treasure Island: Character & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history.

This lesson examines the role of Alexander Smollett, Captain of the Hispaniola in Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate adventure novel ''Treasure Island''. We learn about his traits and explore the role he plays through quotes from the novel.

The Pirate Captains

There's more than one character in Treasure Island who can lay claim to the title of captain. The captain is the head of the ship, the highest authority, and the final word. Even pirates respect their captain.

So, let's not get the captains confused. There are four of them in the book:

  • Captain Flint exists in the backstory. He died years before the story begins, but his spirit lives on in the parrot that perches on the shoulder of Long John Silver.
  • Billy Bones inherits the title of captain after Flint dies but doesn't live long enough to really take advantage of it.
  • Long John Silver rallies the crew of the Hispaniola to mutiny, becoming a pirate captain.
  • Last but not least, there's Captain Smollett. At times he seems like the only character in the novel who retains a sense of honor and dignity. He's an upright, experienced sea master, and he runs a tight ship.

The Voyage

On his first appearance, Captain Smollett is described as ''a sharp-looking man who seemed angry with everything on board and was soon to tell us why, for we had hardly got down into the cabin when a sailor followed us.'' Trelawney, who hired the crew, put too much trust in Silver. Silver managed to wrangle a team of pirates onto the ship who would be loyal to the him and not Smollett.

When Smollett expresses disdain that the rest of the crew knows more about the mission than he, it's revealed that the captain doesn't like being in the dark. Smollett reveals to Trelawney that the crew already knows the exact lat and long of the island, and the squire is shocked and appalled.: '''Well, sir,' said the captain, 'better speak plain, I believe, even at the risk of offense. I don't like this cruise; I don't like the men; and I don't like my officer. That's short and sweet.''' Smollett fears that the crew will mutiny.

Smollett aboard the Hispaniola
smollett

Under the captain's tutelage, the Hispaniola is ship-shape. However Smollett dislikes his first mate Arrow's loose command of the crew. He also doesn't get along with Squire Trelawney. It's a matter of power and authority. Trelawney hired the crew, and Smollett doesn't agree with his choices, so the captain holds a grudge.

When they finally reach the island, Smollett expresses his pleasure and gratitude to the crew. Their hard work paid off, and he changes his mind about their trustworthiness and competence:

''This land that we have sighted is the place we have been sailing for. Mr. Trelawney, being a very open-handed gentleman, as we all know, has just asked me a word or two, and as I was able to tell him that every man on board had done his duty, alow and aloft, as I never ask to see it done better, why, he and I and the doctor are going below to the cabin to drink your health and luck, and you'll have grog served out for you to drink our health and luck. I'll tell you what I think of this: I think it handsome. And if you think as I do, you'll give a good sea-cheer for the gentleman that does it.''

Silver leads the crew in three cheers for the captain.
cheers

The Mutiny

On the island, it becomes clear to Captain Smollett, Trelawney, the Doctor, and Jim that a mutiny is imminent. The captain estimates that there are seven trustworthy men out of a crew of 26!

Smollett, Dr. Livesey, Gray, Trelawney, Hunter, Joyce, Redruth, and Jim find refuge in an old blockhouse, a small military fortification on the island. Even as the mutineers continue to fire at them from the ship, the captain insists upon flying the British flag. It's a firing target, but it's a sign of the noble men's resolve.

'''Strike my colours!' cried the captain. 'No, sir, not I'; and as soon as he had said the words, I think we all agreed with him. For it was not only a piece of stout, seamanly, good feeling; it was good policy besides and showed our enemies that we despised their cannonade.''

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