American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

[BALLOU, MATURIN MURRAY], “LIEUT. MURRAY,” “FRANK FORESTER” (1820-1895). An influential publisher of American periodicals, Maturin Murray Ballou was born in Boston. He traveled extensively and entered the literary world by writing descriptive letters of his adventures for publication in local newspapers. The editor and/or publisher of ten periodicals, including the Boston Globe (1872-1874) and Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion (1854-1859), Ballou was a pioneer in producing the kind of popular genre material that would eventually flourish in dime novels. As the author of forty-two books, more than half of them under the pseudonym “Lieut. Murray,” Ballou specialized in exotic locales, dangerous situations, and broadly drawn characters. He circumnavigated the globe in 1882, and the trip provided much of his material.

Under his own name, Ballou’s work was mostly straightforward travel: Due West; or Round the World in Ten Months (1884) and Under the Southern Cross; or Travels in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Samoa and Other Pacific Islands (1888) are examples. Among the nautical romances he wrote as “Lieut. Murray” are Fanny Campbell; or, The Female Pirate Captain (1844); Red Rupert, the American Buccanier (1845); Roderick the Rover (1847); The Cabin Boy; or, Life on the Wing (1848); The Adventurer; or, The Wreck on the Indian Ocean (1848); The Naval Officer; or, The Pirate’s Cave: A Tale of the Last War (1849); The Sea-Witch; or, The African Quadroon: A Story of the Slave Coast (1855); The Pirate Smugglers; or, The Last Cruise of the Viper (1861); and Captain Lovell; or, The Pirate’s Cave; A Tale of the War of 1812 (1870). He also apparently wrote two books under the pseudonym “Frank Forester,” including Albert Simmons; or, The Midshipman’s Revenge: A Tale of Land & Sea (1845).

Ballou’s nautical romances are informed not only by his own extensive sea travel but also by knowledge he gained as a young man when he was employed as deputy navy-agent in the Boston Custom House. Ballou sometimes positioned the pseudonymous Murray as a historical personage, and the confusion he generated has continued for a century and a half. The heroine of Fanny Campbell, for instance, who could “row a boat, shoot a panther, ride the wildest horse in the province, or do almost any brave or useful act... and could write poetry too,” is still described by some scholars as a historical figure. The illustration of Fanny on the cover of the book was ideal in size and subject matter for transfer to a sperm whale’s tooth, consequently becoming one of the most popular subjects of nineteenth-century whalemen’s scrimshaw. [See also CIRCUMNAVIGATIONS AND BLUE-WATER PASSAGES; NINETEENTH-CENTURY PERIODICALS]

Mary Malloy