There were many adventurers who came to Borneo during the 19th century.
While most of them jotted down their experiences in writing, only a few talented ones managed to capture it in drawings.
One of them was Frank Marryat (1826-1855), an English sailor, author and artist. His father, Captain Frederick Marryat was a Royal Navy officer and a novelist.
Captain Marryat is widely known today as an early pioneer of the sea story.
Life of Frank Marryat
Following in his father’s footsteps, Marryat joined the Royal Navy at the young age of 14.
During Marryat’s service on board of HMS Samarang, he drew the places he visited and the people he met.
At first, he planned to publish his drawings without any writing. Eventually, he added some text of his own and from his colleagues’ journals, publishing his first book in 1848.
The book was entitled Borneo and the Indian Archipelago. In the book, Marryat described his life as a sailor from witnessing a piece of history such as the Treaty of Labuan and collecting turtle’s eggs at Talang-talang islands.
Here are some of his notable drawings of Borneo and Marryatt’s description of it:
James Brooke’s house
Frank Marryat’s Life After Borneo
He returned to England after his adventure in Borneo then proceeded to California in 1850.
Then in 1853, Marryat returned to England and got married. In the same year, he wanted to return to California with his new wife.
Unfortunately, he had contracted yellow fever on board ship.
This forced him to cut the trip short and return to England.
He died shortly before his book Mountains and Molehills or Memoirs of a Burnt Journal (1855). Marryat was just 29 years old.
The notice of Frank Marryat’s death
An unnamed writer wrote Marryat’s obituary and it was published in Life and Letters of Captain Marryatt (1872), a book about his father. The notice summarised his life perfectly.
“It is with the most sincere regret that we announce of the decease Mr Marryat, author of ‘Borneo and the Eastern Archipelago’ and of ‘Mountains and Molehills’, the latter of a work published at the commencement of this year, which has been most favourably received by the reading public.
Mr Marryat died at his residence, Mercer Lodge, Kensington on Thursday, the 12th instant, at noon, after a severe illness of more than six months’ duration.
He was the fourth son of the late Captain Marryat, the eminent novelist, and was born on the 3rd of April, 1826.
Like his elder brother he early displayed an invincible longing for the sea, and was consequently entered a midshipman at the age of fourteen.
Previously to this, he had received as large education as possible- first at Paris, afterwards in a school at Wimbledon.
Happily, in these days, the young midshipman’s education is still carried on, even in matters not strictly professional, and this was the case with young Marryat on board the Vanguard, Captain Sir David Dunn.
In the Vanguard he cruised principally in the Mediterranean, and was afterwards entered in the Samarang, Captain Sir Edward Belcher, ordered on a surveying expedition in the Indian Archipelago.
In his work on Borneo, Mr Marryat has given a very agreeable and instructive account of his four years’ cruise in the Samarang, 1843-1847.
On his return home, he resided for some time at Langham, in Norfolk, with his father, who lost his eldest son in the Avenger.
Captain Marryatt himself died in August, 1848 and his son, by no means tried of a roving life, now resolved to seek fresh adventures.
The field he chose was California, with reference to which he penned his work ‘Mountains and Molehills’, to our mind one of the most delightful books of travel ever written.
He was described as “his manners were most agreeable, and his conversation showed that delicate kind of humour as well as keen observation of mankind.”
Thanks to Marryat’s observation, we roughly have a glimpse of how Borneo looked like in the 1840s.
You can read Borneo and the Indian Archipelago online for free thanks to The Project Gutenberg.