February 2011 - R. M. Ballantyne
R. M. Ballantyne
Robert Michael Ballantyne was born in Edinburgh in 1825. He was from a family of publishers and printers and took up a position with Constable (the publishers) but later gave this up to pursue his career in fiction. Ballantyne is best known for his children’s adventure stories. His output was prolific, with upwards of 100 titles and his aim in every case was to write as much as possible from personal experience. After returning from Canada in 1847 he published his first book Hudson's Bay: or, Life in the Wilds of North America. One of his later children’s books Snowflakes and Sunbeams was also based on his experiences and adventures in Canada.
His obsessive attention to detail is said to stem from a mistake he made in The Coral Island, where he gave an incorrect thickness for coconut shells. Because of this error Ballantyne travelled all over the world in order to gain the necessary first-hand knowledge and experience for his stories. While he was researching Deep Down he spent some time with tin miners in Cornwall and while he was researching Fighting the Flames he even served as a fireman in London.
Ballantyne was a very religious man and as such many of his novels have a religious tone. Some people criticized him for too much religion in his stories but Ballantyne, knowing that he could not please everyone, always ensured that he satisfied his own conscience.
His works influenced other writers of juvenile fiction including Robert Louis Stevenson whose famous novel Treasure Island was based, in part, on the story and themes of Ballantyne’s first great work The Coral Island.
In 1866 Ballantyne married Jane Dickson Grant. They had four sons and two daughters. He died in Italy in 1894.