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Five fictional ships that have sailed across the page (and the stage)

Frederick Wentworth’s ships, the Laconia and the Asp, aren’t the only vessels in a sea of fiction. Check out these five vessels from novels and plays.

HMS Pinafore


Kind: British warship

Where you’ve seen it: Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1878 two-act comic opera “HMS Pinafore” about the captain’s daughter, who falls for a lowly sailor on board the ship.

Read all about it: Sailors: We sail the ocean blue, / And our saucy ship’s a beauty; / We’re sober men and true, / And attentive to our duty. /  When the balls whistle free / O’er the bright blue sea, / We stand to our guns all day; / When at anchor we ride / On the Portsmouth tide, / We have plenty of time for play.


Thunder Child

Kind: Ironclad torpedo ram

Where you’ve seen it: In H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” (first published in book form in 1898), the Thunder Child was destroyed by Martian fighting-machines.

Read all about it: “TheThunder Child fired no gun, but simply drove full speed towards them. It was probably her not firing that enabled her to get so near the enemy as she did. They did not know what to make of her. One shell, and they would have sent her to the bottom forthwith with the Heat-Ray.”

The Fuwalda

Kind: Small sailing vessel


Where you’ve seen it: It’s the ill-fated ship that carried Tarzan’s parents to the deserted island in Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan of the Apes” (1912).

Read all about it: “The Fuwalda, a barkentine of about one hundred tons, was a vessel of the type often seen in coastwise trade in the far southern Atlantic, their crews composed of the offscourings of the sea—unhanged murderers and cutthroats of every race and every nation.

The Fuwalda was no exception to the rule. Her officers were swarthy bullies, hating and hated by their crew. The captain, while a competent seaman, was a brute in his treatment of his men. He knew, or at least he used, but two arguments in his dealings with them—a belaying pin and a revolver—nor is it likely that the motley aggregation he signed would have understood aught else.”


The Duncan

Kind: A “newly constructed” yacht

Where you’ve seen it: In Jules Verne’s 1867-68 adventure tale “In Search of the Castaways,” Lord and Lady Glenarvan embark on a search for a missing sea captain.

Read all about it: “The Duncan was constructed, and was designed to convey Lord and Lady Glenarvan to the most beautiful countries of the world, along the waves of the Mediterranean, and to the isles of the Archipelago. Imagine the joy of Lady Helena when her husband placed the Duncan at her disposal! Indeed, can there be a greater happiness than to lead your love towards those charming “isles where Sappho sung,” and behold the enchanting scenes of the Orient, with all their spirit-stirring memories?”


Kind: Russian schooner


Where you’ve seen it: In Bram Stoker’s 1897 “Dracula,” the Demeter transports silver sand and boxes of earth from Transylvania. Eventually the entire crew, save the captain, disappears.

Read all about it:  “On 17 July, yesterday, one of the men, Olgaren, came to my cabin, and in an awestruck way confided to me that he thought there was a strange man aboard the ship. He said that in his watch he had been sheltering behind the deck-house, as there was a rain-storm, when he saw a tall, thin man, who was not like any of the crew, come up the companion-way, and go along the deck forward, and disappear. He followed cautiously, but when he got to bows found no one, and the hatchways were all closed. He was in a panic of superstitious fear, and I am afraid the panic may spread. To allay it, I shall to-day search entire ship carefully from stem to stern.”

Photos: “HMS Pinafore” poster illustration from original 1878 production; Thunder Child illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa from a 1906 edition of the book (Wikipedia); Fuwalda via Disney; Duncan via Wikiwand; Demeter via Gold Delivery.


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