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Captains Courageous

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Captains Courageous
First edition cover
AuthorRudyard Kipling
Original title"Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks
IllustratorIsaac Walton Taber
GenreAdventure, nautical, juvenile
Set inGrand Banks, Gloucester, Gilded Age
PublisherDoubleday, Doran (US), Macmillan and Co. (UK)
Publication placeUnited States[1]
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages245 (hardcover, first edition)[2]
LC ClassPR4854
TextCaptains Courageous at Wikisource

Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks is an 1897 novel by Rudyard Kipling that follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne Jr., the spoiled son of a railroad tycoon, after he is saved from drowning by a Portuguese fisherman in the North Atlantic. The novel originally appeared as a serialisation in McClure's, beginning with the November 1896 edition with the last instalment appearing in May 1897. In that year, it was published in its entirety as a novel, first in the United States by Doubleday, and a month later in the United Kingdom by Macmillan.[1] It is Kipling's only novel set entirely in North America.[1] In 1900, Teddy Roosevelt extolled the book in his essay "What We Can Expect of the American Boy", praising Kipling for describing "in the liveliest way just what a boy should be and do".[3]

The book's title comes from the ballad "Mary Ambree", which starts, "Then captains courageous, whom death could not daunt". Kipling had previously used the same title for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times on 23 November 1892.[4]


Cover of the November 1896 edition of McClure's, which began the serialisation of the novel
The fishing schooner We're Here

Protagonist Harvey Cheyne Jr. is the spoiled son of a wealthy California railroad magnate. Washed overboard from a transatlantic steamship and rescued by the crew of the fishing schooner We're Here, off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Harvey can neither persuade of them to take him quickly to port, nor convince them of his wealth. Harvey accuses the captain, Disko Troop, of taking his money (which is revealed to be on the deck from which Harvey fell). Troop bloodies his nose, but takes him in as a boy on the crew until they return to port. Harvey comes to accept his situation.

Through a series of trials and adventures, Harvey, with the help of the captain's son, Dan Troop, becomes acclimated to the fishing lifestyle, and even skillful, such as becoming responsible for the ship's accounts of its catch. Great stories of the cod fishery with references to New England whaling and 19th-century steam and sailing are intertwined with the We're Here's adventures during a season at sea. Eventually, the We're Here returns to port and Harvey wires his parents, who immediately hasten to Boston, Massachusetts, and thence to the fishing town of Gloucester to recover him. The Cheynes are amazed by their son's newfound maturity, and reward the seaman Manuel, who initially rescued Harvey. Harvey's father hires Dan to work on his prestigious tea clipper fleet, and Harvey goes to Stanford to prepare for taking over his father's shipping lines.


The book was written during Kipling's time living in Brattleboro, Vermont. Kipling recalled in his autobiography:

Now our Dr. [James] Conland had served in [the Gloucester] fleet when he was young. One thing leading to another, as happens in this world, I embarked on a little book which was called Captains Courageous. My part was the writing; his the details. This book took us (he rejoicing to escape from the dread respectability of our little town) to the shore-front, and the old T-wharf of Boston Harbour, and to queer meals in sailors' eating-houses, where he renewed his youth among ex-shipmates or their kin. We assisted hospitable tug-masters to help haul three- and four-stick schooners of Pocahontas coal all round the harbour; we boarded every craft that looked as if she might be useful, and we delighted ourselves to the limit of delight. ... Old tales, too, he dug up, and the lists of dead and gone schooners whom he had loved, and I revelled in profligate abundance of detail—not necessarily for publication but for the joy of it. ...I wanted to see if I could catch and hold something of a rather beautiful localised American atmosphere that was already beginning to fade. Thanks to Conland I came near this.[5]

Kipling also recalled:

When, at the end of my tale, I desired that some of my characters should pass from San Francisco to New York in record time, and wrote to a railway magnate of my acquaintance asking what he himself would do, that most excellent man sent a fully worked-out time-table, with watering halts, changes of engine, mileage, track conditions and climates, so that a corpse could not have gone wrong in the schedule.[5]

The resulting account, in Chapter 9, of the Cheynes' journey from San Diego to Boston, is a classic of railway literature. The couple travel in the Cheynes' private rail car, the "Constance", and are taken from San Diego to Chicago as a special train, hauled by sixteen locomotives in succession. It takes precedence over 177 other trains. "Two and one-half minutes would be allowed for changing engines; three for watering and two for coaling". The "Constance" is attached to the scheduled express "New York Limited" to Buffalo, New York, and transferred to the New York Central for the trip across the state to Albany. Switched to the Boston and Albany Railroad, the Cheynes complete the trip to Boston in their private car, with the entire cross-country run taking 87 hours 35 minutes.

Kipling also recalled:

My characters arrived triumphantly; and, then, a real live railway magnate was so moved after reading the book that he called out his engines and called out his men, hitched up his own private car, and set himself to beat my time on paper over the identical route, and succeeded.[5]

Disko Troop claims to receive his given name for his birth on board his father's ship near Disko Island on the west coast of Greenland. His crewman, "Long Jack", once calls him "Discobolus".

A claim that Kipling used the United States Fish Commission fisheries research ship USFC Grampus as the model for We′re Here is unproven.[6]

Film, TV, theatrical, or other adaptations[edit]

Captains Courageous has been adapted for film three times:

Musical theatre:

  • Captains Courageous, The Musical was a 1999 Off Broadway production at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
  • Episode 89 of The Triplets is based on Captains Courageous and follows the plot very closely.

Other adaptations:

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Captains Courageous. - Peter Harrington Rare & First Edition Books". www.peterharrington.co.uk. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Captains Courageous". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  3. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore (May 1900). "What We Can Expect of the American Boy". St. Nicholas. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  4. ^ Captains Courageous title, Kipling.org
  5. ^ a b c Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself: for my friends known and unknown, London: MacMillan and Co., 1951 (first published 1937). Chapter 5, pp. 129–131
  6. ^ "U.S. Fish Commission Schooner Grampus, 1886 Report on the Construction and Equipment of the Schooner Grampus, taken from the Report of Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, 1886," noaa.gov, August 26, 2022 Accessed 18 March 2023

External links[edit]