Dr. Livesey (character)

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Dr. Livesey
Treasure Island character
Created by Robert Louis Stevenson
Species Human
Gender Male
Occupation Doctor and magistrate
Nationality English

Dr. David Livesey /ˈlɪvsɪ/ is a fictional character in the novel Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. As well as doctor, he is a magistrate, an important man in the rural society of south-west England where the story begins; his social position is marked by his always wearing a white wig - even in the harsh conditions of the island where the story later takes place.

Some years previously, he had been in the British Army which fought (and lost) the 1745 Battle of Fontenoy.

The doctor's first appearance[1] in the book is when he comes to the "Admiral Benbow". There he demonstrates his courage and strength of character when the pirate Billy Bones attempts to bully him.[2] On Bones' subsequent death and the discovery of the treasure map, Dr. Livesey is soon in with Squire Trelawney's plans to recover Flint's hoard. Dr. Livesey is much the cooler-headed of the two and would have kept the purpose of the Hispaniola's voyage secret if he had had his way.[3]

When Jim Hawkins discovers the pirates' plot, it is to the doctor that he goes to see.[4] Livesey keeps his head in the crisis and lets none of the crew see that he has just been given dreadful news. Thanks to his cool temperament, he, Captain Alexander Smollett, and the squire are able to plan their escape with the few men they can trust. The doctor himself narrates their subsequent flight from the ship[5] and the establishing of their camp[6][7] in the old stockade on the island.[8]

Later, when Silver and the pirates attack, the doctor fights well (he is a battle-hardened veteran, having served at Fontenoy as a younger man[9]) and, with Captain Smollett wounded, takes responsibility for the safety of the expedition. Acting on Jim's account of his earlier adventures, he goes to find Ben Gunn and succeeds in winning the castaway's loyalty, no doubt helped by the fortunate circumstance of having a small Parmesan cheese in his possession (a foodstuff Gunn has been pining for through three years of living on goat meat). He negotiates a truce with Silver by surrendering the treasure map which he (but not Silver) now knows to be useless, and during the consequent fight at the site of the plundered cache, he arrives opportunely to orchestrate the rescue of Jim and, as it turns out, Silver.

Doctor Livesey, though at one point earning a merited rebuke from Captain Smollett for inattention to his post,[10] likely has the largest share of the credit for the expedition's success. He can very well be considered the hero of the story. Without him, the whole expedition would have been a disaster.

Devoted to his Hippocratic Oath, Dr. Livesey feels duty-bound to treat wounded and ill pirates, even though they are enemies who tried to kill him and might try again.

Robert Stevenson does not describe Dr. Livesey, he lets the Dr describe himself in actions. He is intelligent, brave and cool-headed; qualities which win the day against the cunning and ruthlessness of his formidable adversary Silver.


  1. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 1: The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow, "Dr. Livesey came late one afternoon to see the patient [...]"
  2. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 1: The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow, "The voices stopped at once, all but Dr. Livesey's; he went on as before speaking clear and kind and drawing briskly at his pipe between every word or two. The captain glared at him for a while, flapped his hand again, glared still harder, and at last broke out with a villainous, low oath, "Silence, there, between decks!" "Were you addressing me, sir?" says the doctor; and when the ruffian had told him, with another oath, that this was so, "I have only one thing to say to you, sir," replies the doctor, "that if you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!" The old fellow's fury was awful. He sprang to his feet, drew and opened a sailor's clasp-knife, and balancing it open on the palm of his hand, threatened to pin the doctor to the wall. The doctor never so much as moved. He spoke to him as before, over his shoulder and in the same tone of voice, rather high, so that all the room might hear, but perfectly calm and steady: "If you do not put that knife this instant in your pocket, I promise, upon my honour, you shall hang at the next assizes." Then followed a battle of looks between them, but the captain soon knuckled under, put up his weapon, and resumed his seat, grumbling like a beaten dog."
  3. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 6: The Captain's Papers
  4. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 12: Council of War, "Captain Smollett, the squire, and Dr. Livesey were talking together on the quarter-deck, and anxious as I was to tell them my story, I durst not interrupt them openly. While I was still casting about in my thoughts to find some probable excuse, Dr. Livesey called me to his side. He had left his pipe below, and being a slave to tobacco, had meant that I should fetch it; but as soon as I was near enough to speak and not to be overheard, I broke immediately, "Doctor, let me speak. Get the captain and squire down to the cabin, and then make some pretence to send for me. I have terrible news."
  5. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 16: Narrative Continued by the Doctor: How the Ship Was Abandoned
  6. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 17: Narrative Continued by the Doctor: The Jolly-boat's Last Trip
  7. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 18: Narrative Continued by the Doctor: End of the First Day's Fighting
  8. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 19: Narrative Resumed by Jim Hawkins: The Garrison in the Stockade
  9. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 16: "I was not new to violent death—I have served his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, and got a wound myself at Fontenoy—but I know my pulse went dot and carry one."
  10. ^ Stevenson, Chapter 17:"Doctor, I thought you had worn the king's coat! If that was how you served at Fontenoy, sir, you'd have been better in your berth."

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