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Publisher's Note:

In seventeenth century England, a terrible accident forces orphaned Philip Marsham to flee London in fear for his life. Bred to the sea, he signs on with the "Rose of Devon," a dark frigate bound for the quiet shores of Newfoundland. Philip's bold spirit and knowledge of the sea soon win him his captain's regard. But when the "Rose of Devon" is seized in midocean by a devious group of men plucked from a floating wreck, Philip is forced to accompany these "gentlemen of fortune" on their murderous expeditions. Like it or not, Philip Marsham is now a pirate--with only the hangman awaiting his return to England.…

The Dark Frigate

by Charles Boardman Hawes

Overall Book Review:

When nineteen-year-old Philip Marsham’s father is lost at sea, Phil turns to the only skill he has—sailing. He signs up as a seaman on the frigate the Rose of Sharon, but when pirates take over the ship, Phil is forced to join the murderous band as they head for the rich Spanish holdings in the Americas.

How will Phil ever make it back to England, and if he does, how will he ever prove his innocence?

In his introduction to the book, Lloyd Alexander notes that Hawes portrays pirates as they really were—”no jolly crew of colorful . . . brawlers with . . . the milk of human kindness in their hearts. . . . [but] braggarts, killers, and ultimately cowards.”

This award-winning novel, published in 1923, is a challenging read: it’s written in archaic language, it assumes a knowledge of ships and sailing that few in our day possess, and its pace is often leisurely. On page 110, the story picks up as the pirates take over the ship and begin seeking treasure. The last three chapters wrap things up and are quieter even though Phil fights in the English Civil War.

Reading Level: 10.1, range 6.4-13.4.

Of interest to boys.

Newbery Award, 1924.

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

17 G*d, J*s*s; d*mned; rakeh*ll; 2 *ss

Hero discharges gun he’s told wasn’t primed, hits owner in face and ear, breaks barrel of sack; blacksmith wants to stab hero for offering to pay for dirk smith made for him; one drunk accidently slaps another, one pulls knife, presses it against other’s side, chest, draws blood; maid cuffs drunk on ear; innkeeper threatens boy with “stick laid to thy bum”; innkeeper sticks knife into hay to find hero and companion, hero holds hay to take knife thrust and disarms innkeeper, threatens others with knife, so they can get away; hero grabs companion’s cudgel to use on gamekeeper, he and gamekeeper wrestle, drop each other to the ground, lengthy description; landowner thrashes hero’s companion “till . . . his shirt was bloody and his head was broken and his legs were all welts and bruises,” threatens to see that hero is hanged if he hears of any more poaching; companion amazed that someone hasn’t slit old woman’s throat yet; boatswain falls to his death; mate throws rope at companion, knocks wind out of him, draws knife; hero almost knocked off yardarm in storm, mate almost swept off ship; companion washed overboard; pirate captain knocks sailor into ocean because he’s endangering them, won’t let others save him; ship has to let seven sailors drown because they can’t rescue them without endangering themselves; pirates take over ship, run mate through, knife helmsman, attack captain, captain kills pirate, another knifes captain in throat, graphic; three crew members killed, some pirates injured, two killed, not graphic; hero will be killed if he doesn’t join pirates, other crew members frightened into joining also; pirate captain repeatedly threatens people with hanging, with slitting their throats; other ship fires cannons and muskets at pirates, hits ship, crew begins trying to board ship, they realize she’s another pirate ship, hero slashes pirate from other ship in thigh, another pirate killed; complaining crew member killed by another, not graphic; cook grabs boy by hair, puts knife to chest; pirate captain threatens cook that he’ll be “butchered and boiled,” tells crew members to force salty fish down him, one forces knife between cook’s teeth, after fish eaten, captain won’t let cook drink for night and day, cook shackled with fish beside him, so people can “pelt him with it”; pirate captain threatens cook that he’ll pay with his blood if his story isn’t valuable, says he’s thinking of skinning and salting cook; pirates arm themselves to attack town; pirate mentions he’d wring someone’s neck, pirate captain plans to catch traitor in his own web and then kill him; pirate captain holds knife against pirate’s chest, threatens pirate that he’ll “rip [him] open” next time; when attacking town, pirate captain says, “Kill, plunder, and burn,” “burn them in their beds”; townspeople armed and fight back, one pirate run through, another shot, pirates chased with pikes and swords, ten pirates “dead, wounded or captured”; pirate captain clubs pirate for complaining, pirates ready to fight each other; pirate captain threatens crew with musket; crew member of another ship shot and killed; hero hears friend being tortured by pirate captain, friend shackled to mast, pirate captain says others might have “slit [friend’s] throat,” “burned him at the stake, or flayed him alive,” friend bound hand and foot and taken to shore, tries to throw himself over side, knocked on chin with butt of gun, falls into water and drowns, other man hit with coffin, forced off boat, abandoned on island, threatened with musket, fired at, apparently hit; story of man captured by Indians and Spanish, imprisoned, starved, tortured by Inquisition, companions beaten and killed, sent to galleys, sold as slave, runs away, recaptured, shackled, runs away again; hero fears he’ll be hanged, or caught by his old pirate comrades, will be lucky if they knock him out and throw him over side of ship, shackled by those on merchant ship; hero hears battle of pirates and merchant ship sailors; pirate captain cut on cheek, arm broken; shackled pirate tries to kill shackled hero, guard kills pirate; report of ship sunk by pirates, man wounded, another beaten and robbed; old woman condemned to be hanged, all pirates condemned; mention of hanging; hero and mentor fight in civil war, mentor killed in civil war, not graphic.

Mention of an affair—meaning a courtship; hero notices “full bosom” of maid, kisses her, she kisses him, decides he wants to marry her, they kiss twice more—not graphic or sexual; pirate captain mentions each of them having “all the wives a king could wish for,” mentions “taking wives and women” from Spanish ships; hero realizes that though maid is married, “she would philander still.”

Mature Subject Matter:

Piracy, war, death

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Hero cared for by owner of alehouse; adults, including hero, drink all kinds of alcohol, accepted; hero thinks farmers have plenty of liquor to drink; two drunks drink from  jug they’re carrying, portrayed as foolish, lengthy portrayal; smoking tobacco mentioned several times; mention that some sailors drunk; captain wants to drink a toast to the crew, give them all a drink, other times offers crew members drink; pirates look for alcohol on board captured ship, find and drink it; cook and mate get drunk, mentioned more than once; pirate captain sees that all at table have plenty to drink, pirates get drunk; pirate captain says they’ll steal wine from the Spanish ships; townspeople invite pirates to drink with them; pirate imagines them building a town for their wine, pirate captain says there’s a town already built with “great cellars of wine”; pirates remember getting drunk on wine they stole.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

On May 15, 2014 Compass Book Ratings acquired Many reviews were acquired from and these reviews were not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist. Nevertheless, the reviews contain useful content information which is included.