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  • Writer's pictureHabranthus

Adventures of Captain Kettle

Updated: Jan 31

Cutcliffe Hyne


Doubleday and McClure Company

306 Swashbuckling pages


Fun, adventurous tales of a sea captain in the era of steam ships.


Captain Kettle is a down-on-his-luck English sea captain forced to take berths that are often risky and occasionally illegal. He’s a prideful and honest man and an excellent captain who knows how to handle a ship and its crew, but he has ‘other failings’ that keep him oftentimes unemployed and scrambling to support his wife and children.

Amid an international crew and a myriad of characters along the way, his work takes him from a Cuban revolution, to an Argentine heiress, to restricted Japanese waters, and more places between.

Captain Kettle frequently faces a mutinous crew and often imminent death, but he always manages to survive. A few times he almost strikes a fortune, but invariably gets foiled and goes home empty-handed. And to relieve stress, the Captain writes poetry.


On the surface, Adventures of Captain Kettle seems rather juvenile with the gun-wielding, tough-as-nails sea captain getting into trouble and having to fight his way out. But it contains a certain level of sophistication with both vocabulary and knowledge, and it takes some experience to understand the geography, the politics, and some of the dealings that support the story.

The book contains twelve adventures that become loosely connected through returning characters. The writing is straightforward, delightfully descriptive, and well-balanced between narration and dialogue. The author uses real places and a handful of true events that give the story a natural and realistic feel. However, I can’t say how realistic the story actually is, as I know nothing about the steam shipping industry of the late 1800’s. Maybe a captain did have to shoot two or three crew members to keep the rest in line. Maybe mutiny was a regular occurrence in the late 1800's, I don’t know. But it’s fun, engaging and an interesting look at the times.

The writing feels somewhat antiquated, which makes it even better. For example, ‘terrific’ to mean ‘terrible’, or the Captain often telling someone to “keep a civil tongue”. Occasionally sentences lend themselves difficult to grasp, especially in reference to the workings of a steamship. And although the Captain's affinity for poetry is oft mentioned, we are, regrettably, never given a sample of it.

The last chapter of the book includes a one-sentence reveal that "some considerable time after" things work out well for the Captain and his family. Just enough to provide the reader with some closure, and at the same time leave a little room for more adventures.

Adventures of Captain Kettle - It's still a good read if you are looking for playful entertainment.

To the Author's Credit:

The writing is tip-top. The author gives his descriptions just enough to be interesting or amusing, but not too much that you want to speed-read through. His main character is a first-class hero – honorable, fierce, loveable, and brave. I’m surprised Captain Kettle never got his own movie – he’s a real swashbuckler.

To the Author's Discredit, on two points:

Point minor: Although each ‘adventure’ is different, the formula is essentially the same: The captain is desperate for work, he takes a sketchy job that is quite risky, gets into serious trouble, escapes from said trouble. Mind you, the author does it well, but by the twelfth adventure, the reader is ready to put Captain Kettle to bed.

Point major: On page six, “other failings” are mentioned as the reason for the Captain’s lack of professional success. And over and over again in the story his stewardship and skill at his position is proven to be excellent, even emphasized. Yet never is it revealed, nor even hinted at, what these “other failings” are. Drinking comes to mind, and would be easy to incorporate into the story, but as it is, the Captain seems to drink no more than expected. So there's a little incongruence there that leaves the reader wondering.

Best Line:

...his throat tickled with apprehension, and he caressed with affectionate fingers the region of his carotids. (carotids=main arteries in the neck)

Honorable Mentions:

The bullets whispered through the air, and pelted on the plating like a hailstorm, and one of them flicked out the brains of the Danish quarter-master on the bridge;

"...give me the States for nice comfortable law, where a man can buy it by the yard for paper money down, and straight pistol shooting is always remembered in his favor."

As a white man he would have been a genius; as a black he would have been a star; but as a mulatto he was merely a suave and brilliant savage, thirsting for vengeance against the whole human race.

"We aren't shot yet," said Kettle grimly, "and I'm wanting to do a lot of damage before they get me. "

...he trod the streets in utter pecuniary destitution;

...and then, with the cognac and cigarettes, a spasm of politics shook the diners like an ague.

His conversation was full of unnecessary adjectives, and he was inclined to take a cantankerous view of the universe.

so far as the French of Cayenne were concerned, he was a "recognized belligerent", and so all maneuvers of war were candidly open to him.

"The police of this city know which side their bread's margarined." (I had always assumed margarine was a 20th century invention.)

And then for a moment his thoughts went elsewhere, and he got out paper and a stump of pencil, and busily scribbled an elegy to some poppies in a cornfield.

...he possessed in a high degree the art of being courteously offensive.

All opinions in the Captains' room were expressed strongly, and with due maritime force of language.

It is an excellent academic rule to entirely disregard anonymous letters,...

...having a wholesome awe of the law of the land, and a large distaste for penal servitude.

Mr. Meddle Murgatroyd

"By James, if you don't carry a civil tongue, you drunken Geordie, I'll knock you some teeth down to cover it."

Side Note:

The book is written in third person, except for a handful of references in the first person. The first occurrence is at the beginning of chapter 3 where the text begins with "I think", as if there were a narrator. It confused me, and I had to go back to the beginning of the book to see if I had missed something. But no, the author just interjects a first person narrator into the story about five times without consistency or reason. It's weird.

See those tears at the top? My cat attacked the book several times with teeth and claw while I was reading it in bed. That stinker!

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1 Comment

Jun 19, 2023

Your description gives the impression of a likable sense of fun. Makes want to read the book.


a shout out to writers long gone

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