Frank T. Bullen

(1857—1915) merchant seaman and writer

Quick Reference

(1857–1915) married (1878) Amelia Grimwood. A writer and public lecturer, Bullen was born at Paddington, north London, of working-class parents. He was abandoned on his parents' separation and looked after by an aunt. When she died Bullen had to learn to fend for himself. He did attend Westbourne School, Paddington, until 1866 but left to work as an errand boy at the age of 11. In 1869 he took up the position of cabin-boy on a ship, the Arabella, under his uncle's command. As a teenager Bullen signed on for the crew of the Cachalot while it was docked in Massachusetts; it was to be the setting for his best book, The Cruise of the Cachalot (1898), a tale of whale-fishing. Bullen worked his way up to the rank of chief mate before he left in 1883 to work as a clerk at the London Meteorological Office. In 1899 he took up a post at the Morning Leader. Encouraged by enthusiastic praise from the editor of the Spectator, Bullen decided to leave London and concentrate on his writing career. In 1908 his great popularity culminated in an invitation to York House to read some of his tales to the young princes; he was awarded a Civil List pension in 1912. A deeply religious man all his life, he claimed to have read the Bible from cover to cover twenty-five times. A warm obituary in the Times (2 Mar. 1915) observes that ‘few men have managed to get more of the salt spray of the sea suggested in their writings, and fewer still have combined with the ability to spin a good yarn a genuine and almost evangelical fervour of religious conviction’. Deep-Sea Plunderings: A Collection of Stories of the Sea (1901) is self-explanatory, and indeed characteristic in many ways of Bullen's output. Among the twenty-four stories collected are tales about crusty seafarers (comical cooks, in particular) and the perils of the seas (the South Seas, in particular), essays on whales and cuttlefish, and a passionate defence of the Royal Navy (‘the outposts of our Empire, the piquets of our power’). A Whaleman's Wife (1902) is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and concerns a strapping New England farmhand who ships on a whaler and gets to see the world. Beyond (1909) is also about whaling. There are pirates and the inevitable cuttlefish, and vivid descriptions of the factory-ship at work. ‘The last case, emptied of its contents, had been cut away, and the Titan wallowed amidst a sleek scum that smoothed the sea for a square mile around her, a monument of greasy affluence.’ In later life Bullen began to hold public lectures to supplement the income from his novels and articles. His Recollections relates his experiences during this phase of his life. Bullen's health became increasingly fragile as he grew older, and he died in Madeira.

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries