When Philip Marsham leaves London, he knows that he may never return. He was asked to hold a gun while its owner had a pint of ale and thinking that it was not loaded, he aimed it a one of the treasured serving platters hanging on the wall and fired. The gun was loaded and caused a great deal of damage. A ruckus followed and Phil went running off into the night. He was not really sorry because he wanted to be at sea anyway. He had been bred for the sea by his father from a very young age. He had not wanted to leave, but his father had wanted him to get an education because his grandfather was a gentleman and should Philip inherit, he wanted him to have an education. Philip had run away after two years of school. His father had laughed and commented on how like him the boy was. His mother was dead, and Philip thought he would always be a sailor. Then he was taken ill with a fever and his father had left him to be cared for by Moll, the tavern owner, but then came word that he was lost at sea. Philip had no one to turn to that night as he ran, but he knew he had to get back to the sea.
He signed on with the Rose of Devon, a fine ship with a fine captain, but just a few days out to sea they came upon a floundering ship and were able to save a few of her men, including Tom Jordan, whom Philip had met on the road, but who was now telling the captain that he had been seven weeks at sea. Philip knew this was not true, but before he could speak the captain was dead, other crewmen had been killed and the newcomers had taken over the ship. Philip and a few others were given a choice: stay on as crew or be shoved overboard. Philip agreed to serve as boatswain to this crew unwillingly and his adventures are a story of constant difficulty, but he remained true to his upbringing and stood fast for the right cause when he was needed.
This book, “The Dark Frigate” by Charles Boardman Hawes, won the Newberry Award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1924. He begins with a note: “From curious old books, many of them forgotten save by students of archaic days at sea, I have taken words and phrases and incidents. The words and phrases I have put into the talk of the men of the Rose of Devon; the incidents I have shaped and fitted away to serve my purpose.” This makes the language of the novel read like the plays of Shakespeare and it would require a very determined child to follow the adventure of Philip Marsham all the way to the end. This story will capture the imagination however, if one can follow the tale despite the difficult language.