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A Nautical Story Writer

The Life and Works of Matthew Henry Barker, ‘The Old Sailor’

Paul N. Marshall is a retired university professor and biomedical researcher, BSc and PhD from University of Sheffield. He has published extensively in the fields of histochemistry, biological micro-technique, and cytometry. In recent years his passion has been the life and works of Matthew Henry Barker, and his literary and political engagement during this period of increasing democracy and reform, which took place at a time when Charles Dickens first began to write.

The fictional nautical story was extremely popular in the period stretching from the mid 1820s to about 1850. The best known writer in this field was undoubtedly Frederick Marryat, but the stories of Matthew Henry Barker (1790–1846), ‘The Old Sailor’, rivalled those of his contemporary in popularity. Both authors are in the first rank of writers of nautical fiction, but it is generally acknowledged that Barker’s descriptions of the man-of-war’s man, the forecastle Jack Tar, are without equal. Although several biographies of Marryat have been published, very little relating to Barker’s life and works is readily available.

A Nautical Story Writer sets out the life and works of Barker, a journalist, novelist and Whig. Part One provides a detailed biography of his life, sea service, adventures and engagement with friends and politicians. Part Two details his published works, alerting to material erroneously credited to the author. Paul Marshall’s book is based, in part, on information collected from institutions in the UK and USA. An additional primary source has been a substantial archive of material related to the Barker family, which consists of correspondence between Barker and his friends and business associates (e.g. William Jerdan, Frederic Shoberl, Effingham Wilson, Edward Duncan), along with a variety of family documents. Although Barker is an author from the classic period, his written observations will be of interest to readers of the Horatio Hornblower novels of C. S. Forester, and the Aubrey-Maturin series of Patrick O’Brian. The extensive bibliographic information provided makes this work an essential acquisition for university libraries and antiquarian booksellers.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-839-8
Paperback Price: £40.00 / $59.95
Release Date: April 2017
Page Extent / Format: 480 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Introduction, Apologies, Notes and Acknowledgments

Part I: The Life of Matthew Henry Barker, together with information about his
immediate family, and circle of friends

1 Matthew Henry Barker’s parents, his siblings, and two nephews of note
2 Matthew Henry Barker’s early life, and his service in the Honourable East
India Company
3 Matthew Henry Barker’s service in the Royal Navy
4 Matthew Henry Barker’s physical appearance; his marriage, wife and children
5 Barker’s earliest published work, and his time spent as a journalist in Georgetown
and Nottingham
6 Matthew Henry Barker in Nottingham: Remembrances, friends and places
of residence
7 Return to London
8 Barker’s friends in the London area

Part II: The Works of Matthew Henry Barker, together with a concluding
chapter on some works erroneously credited to the author

9 An overview of Matthew Henry Barker’s prose
10 An overview of Matthew Henry Barker’s verse
11 Material from The United Service Journal/The United Service Magazine/Colburn’s
United Service Magazine
Part 1: Introduction, and stories by Jonathan Oldjunk
12 Material from The United Service Journal/The United Service Magazine/Colburn’s
United Service Magazine
Part 2: Stories by Flexible Grummett
13 Material from The United Service Journal/The United Service Magazine/Colburn’s
United Service Magazine
Part 3: Stories by ‘An Officer of the Navy’, ‘A Tar of
the Old School’, and the anonymously published series The United Services, etc.
14 Material from the London literary annuals
15 Miscellaneous other short works
16 [Book 1] Greenwich Hospital, A Series Of Naval Sketches, Descriptive Of A Man-
Of-War’s Man
(Cohn 1924, number 53) (together with sketches appearing in
The Literary Gazette under the title Greenwich Hospital, many of which were
included in the book)
17 [Book 2] The Log Book; Or, Nautical Miscellany (Cohn 1924, number 54)
18 [Book 3] Grummett’s Log. Leaves from My Log Book
19 [Book 4] Tough Yarns; A Series of Naval Tales and Sketches to Please All Hands,
From the Swabs on the Shoulders Down to the Swabs in the Head
(Cohn 1924,
number 55) 240
20 [Book 5] Walks Round Nottingham (and also the newspaper series of the same
name upon which the book was based)
21 [Book 6] Land and Sea Tales (Cohn 1924, number 56)
22 [Book 7] The Life of Nelson. Revised and Illustrated. With Original Anecdotes,
Notes, &c. 275
23 [Book 8] Nights at Sea; Or, Sketches of Naval Life During the War
24 [Book 9] Topsail Sheet Blocks; Or, The Naval Foundling (Cohn 1924,
number 57)
25 [Book 10] Hamilton King, Or, The Smuggler and the Dwarf
26 [Book 11] The Eglantine, A Collection of Original Tales and Poetry (together with
discussion of the almanac/pocket book The Eglantine; or, Annual Memorialist,
edited by Barker, a major contributor)
27 [Book 12] Jem Bunt, The Land, The Ocean
28 [Book 13] Frank Heartwell; Or, Fifty Years Ago
29 [Book 14] The Naval Club: Or, Reminiscences of Service
30 [Book 15] The Old Sailor’s Jolly Boat, Laden with Tales, Yarns, Scraps, Fragments,
etc. etc., To Please All Hands; Pulled by Wit, Fun, Humor, and Pathos, and Steered
by M. H. Barker
(Cohn, 1924, number 58)
31 [Book 16] The Victory; Or, The Ward-Room Mess
32 [Book 17] The Fortunes Of Frank Fairfield, A Tale of the Sea
33 [Book 18] The Ship: a Description of Different Kinds of Vessels, the Origin and
Progress of Ship Building, Steam Boats, &c. with the Distinctive Flags of Various
Nations, and Numerous Illustrative Engravings. Fifth edition. Revised and
corrected by M. H. Barker, Esq.

34 [Book 19] Floating Remembrances (and the series of the same name that
appeared in Dearden’s Miscellany)
35 [Book 20] Sea Stories
36 Four works often erroneously credited to Matthew Henry Barker: Sketches of a
Sea Life, Evenings at Sea, Sketches and The Quarter-Deck; Or Home and Abroad

1 Chronology of Matthew Henry Barker, together with some contemporary events
from British history
2 Books and other works of Matthew Henry Barker: first and later editions
3 Illustrations in the literary works of Matthew Henry Barker
4 Literary pieces in the books of Matthew Henry Barker (first editions only)
5 Verse of Matthew Henry Barker


Paul Marshall’s text fulfils the important role of documenting Barker’s life and works, and also examines the significance of his writings in their historical, political, and social contexts. Part One illuminates Barker’s maritime experience, and also explores the triumphs and tragedies in the personal and professional life of ‘The Old Sailor’. Part Two of this study … showcases Marshall’s meticulous research through the compilation of Barker’s prolific output, much of it anonymous. Throughout this text, Marshall puts forward persuasive arguments about the authenticity of Barker’s writing and its informed perspective of the ‘British Jack Tar’ during the Napoleonic Wars.
International Journal of Maritime History, Vol. 30(1) 2018, pp. 177–178

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