Nicholas Monsarrat
Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...

 Nicholas John Turney Monsarrat RNVR (22 March 19108 August 1979) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 novelist known today for his sea stories, particularly The Cruel Sea (1951) and Three Corvettes (1942–45), but perhaps best known internationally for his novels, The Tribe That Lost Its Head and its sequel, Richer Than All His Tribe.

Early life

Born on Rodney Street
Rodney Street, Liverpool
Rodney Street in Liverpool, England is noted for the number of doctors and its Georgian architecture. It is sometimes known as the "Harley Street of the North". Together with Hope Street and Gambier Terrace it forms the Rodney Street conservation area...

 in Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

, Monsarrat was educated at Winchester
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

 and Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

. He intended to practise law. The law failed to inspire him, however, and he turned instead to writing, moving to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and supporting himself as a freelance writer for newspapers while writing four novels and a play in the space of five years (1934–1939). He later commented in his autobiography that the 1931 Invergordon Naval Mutiny
Invergordon Mutiny
The Invergordon Mutiny was an industrial action by around 1,000 sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet, that took place on 15–16 September 1931...

 influenced his interest in politics and social and economic issues after college.

Though a pacifist
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

, Monsarrat served in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, first as a member of an ambulance brigade and then as a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). His lifelong love of sailing made him a capable naval officer, and he served with distinction in a series of small warships assigned to escort convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

s and protect them from enemy attack. Monsarrat ended the war as commander of a frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, and drew on his wartime experience in his postwar sea stories. During his wartime service, Monsarrat claimed to have seen the ghost ship
Ghost ship
A ghost ship is a supposedly haunted or ghostly vessel, such as the Flying Dutchman.The same term is also used to describe derelict ships found adrift with their entire crew either missing or dead, such as the Mary Celeste or the Baychimo....

 Flying Dutchman while sailing the Pacific, near the location where the young King George V had seen her in 1881.

Resigning his wartime commission in 1946, Monsarrat entered the diplomatic service. He was posted at first to Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and then, in 1953, to Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. He turned to writing full-time in 1959, settling first on Guernsey
Guernsey, officially the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a British Crown dependency in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy.The Bailiwick, as a governing entity, embraces not only all 10 parishes on the Island of Guernsey, but also the islands of Herm, Jethou, Burhou, and Lihou and their islet...

, in the Channel Islands
Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey...

, and later on the Mediterranean island of Gozo
Gozo is a small island of the Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is part of the Southern European country of Malta; after the island of Malta itself, it is the second-largest island in the archipelago...

Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...



Monsarrat's first three novels, published in 1934–1937 and now out of print, were realistic treatments of modern social problems informed by his leftist politics. The Visitor, his only play, fell into the same category. His fourth novel and first major work, This Is The Schoolroom, took a different approach. The story of a young, idealistic, aspiring writer coming to grips with the "real world" for the first time, it is at least partly autobiographical.

The Cruel Sea (1951), Monsarrat's first postwar novel, is widely regarded as his finest work, and is the only one of his novels that is still widely read. Based on his own wartime service, it followed the young naval officer Keith Lockhart through a series of postings in corvette
A corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft or fast attack craft , although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role...

s and frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

s. It was one of the first novels to depict life aboard the vital, but unglamorous, "small ships" of World War II—ships for which the sea was as much a threat as the Germans. Monsarrat's short-story collections H.M.S. Marlborough Will Enter Harbour (1949), and The Ship That Died of Shame (1959) mined the same literary vein, and gained popularity by association with The Cruel Sea.

The similar Three Corvettes (1945 and 1953) comprising H.M. Corvette (set aboard a Flower class corvette
Flower class corvette
The Flower-class corvette was a class of 267 corvettes used during World War II, specifically with the Allied navies as anti-submarine convoy escorts during the Battle of the Atlantic...

 in the North Atlantic), East Coast Corvette (as First Lieutenant of HMS Guillemot) and Corvette Command (as Commanding Officer of HMS Shearwater
HMS Shearwater (L39)
HMS Shearwater was a Kingfisher-class sloop of the Royal Navy.Shearwater was laid down at J. Samuel White, Cowes on 15 August 1938. She was launched on 18 April 1939 and commissioned on 7 September 1939. She served during the Second World War and survived to be sold for scrapping on 21 April 1947...

) is actually an anthology of three true-experience stories he published during the war years and shows appropriate care for what the Censor
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 might say. Thus Guillemot appears under the pseudonym Dipper and Shearwater under the pseudonym Winger in the book. H M Frigate is similar but deals with his time in command of two frigates. His use of the name Dipper could allude to his formative years when summer holidays were spent with his family at Trearddur Bay. They were members of the famous sailing club based there, and he recounted much of this part of his life in a book My brother Denys. Denys Monserrat was killed in Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 during the middle part of the war whilst his brother was serving with the Royal Navy. Another tale recounts his bringing his ship into Trearddur Bay during the war for old times' sake.

Monsarrat's more famous novels, notably The Tribe That Lost Its Head (1956) and its sequel Richer Than All His Tribe (1968), drew on his experience in the diplomatic service and make important reference to the colonial
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

 experience of Britain in Africa. Several have peripheral connections to the sea: The Nylon Pirates (1960) tells a story of piracy aboard a modern ocean liner, not pirates in the traditional meaning of the word, but card-sharps, and A Fair Day's Work (1964) deals with labour unrest in a shipyard. The Kappillan of Malta (1973) is as much a story of a place, the island of Malta, as it is of a priest on that island during the terrible days of World War II.


His book The Story of Esther Costello (1952), later made into a film
of the same name
The Story of Esther Costello
The Story of Esther Costello is a 1957 British drama film starring Joan Crawford, Rossano Brazzi, and Heather Sears . The film is an exposé of large-scale fundraising. The Story of Esther Costello was produced by David Miller and Jack Clayton with Miller directing...

, while perceived as an uncomplimentary take on the life of Helen Keller
Helen Keller
Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree....

 and her teachers and assistants, is really an exposé of sleazy practices and exploitation of real causes in the fundraising racket, similar to criticisms of televangelism
Televangelism is the use of television to communicate the Christian faith. The word is a portmanteau of television and evangelism and was coined by Time magazine. A “televangelist” is a Christian minister who devotes a large portion of his ministry to television broadcasting...

. It caused a minor public outcry when it first appeared, and Keller's staff considered suing him, then tried to keep the book off the shelves. His final work, unfinished at the time of his death but published in its incomplete form, was a two-volume historical novel titled The Master Mariner. Based on the legend of the Wandering Jew
Wandering Jew
The Wandering Jew is a figure from medieval Christian folklore whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original legend concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming...

, it told the story of an Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 English seaman who, as punishment for a terrible act of cowardice, is doomed to sail the world's seas until the end of time. His hero participates in critical moments in history; Monsarrat used him to illustrate the central role of seamen.


Two non-fiction books, Life is a Four Letter Word: Breaking In (London, 1966) and Life is a Four Letter Word: Breaking Out (London, 1970) comprise Monsarrat's autobiography.

Film adaptations

  • The Cruel Sea
    The Cruel Sea (film)
    The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British film from Ealing Studios starring Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden, with Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister...

    (1953), directed by Charles Frend
    Charles Frend
    Charles Frend was an English film director.Charles Frend started his career at British International Pictures in 1931 and after editing Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna moved to Gaumont British Pictures in 1933 where he worked as an editor on Alfred Hitchcock's movies Secret Agent , Sabotage and...

    , starring Jack Hawkins
    Jack Hawkins
    Colonel John Edward "Jack" Hawkins CBE was an English actor of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.-Career:Hawkins was born at Lyndhurst Road, Wood Green, Middlesex, the son of master builder Thomas George Hawkins and his wife, Phoebe née Goodman. The youngest of four children in a close-knit family,...

    , Donald Sinden
    Donald Sinden
    Sir Donald Alfred Sinden CBE is an English actor of theatre, film and television.-Personal life:Sinden was born in Plymouth, Devon, England, on 9 October 1923. The son of Alfred Edward Sinden and his wife Mabel Agnes , he grew up in the Sussex village of Ditchling, where their home doubled as the...

    , Denholm Elliott
    Denholm Elliott
    Denholm Mitchell Elliott, CBE was an English film, television and theatre actor with over 120 film and television credits...

    , Stanley Baker
    Stanley Baker
    Sir Stanley Baker was a Welsh actor and film producer.-Early career:William Stanley Baker was born in Ferndale, Rhondda Valley, Wales. In the mid-1930s his parents moved to London, where Baker spent most of his formative years...

    , John Stratton, Virginia McKenna
    Virginia McKenna
    Virginia A. McKenna OBE is a British stage and screen actress, author and wildlife campaigner.-Early career:McKenna trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama then worked on stage in London's West End theatres before making her motion picture debut in 1952...

    . Screenplay by Eric Ambler
    Eric Ambler
    Eric Clifford Ambler OBE was an influential British author of spy novels who introduced a new realism to the genre. Ambler also used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda.-Life:...

  • The Ship That Died of Shame
    The Ship That Died of Shame
    The Ship That Died of Shame released in the United States as PT Raiders is a black-and-white 1955 Ealing Studios crime film starring George Baker, Richard Attenborough and Bill Owen....

    (1955), directed by Basil Dearden
    Basil Dearden
    Basil Dearden was an English film director.-Life and career:Dearden was born at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. He graduated from theatre direction to film, working as an assistant to Basil Dean...

    , starring Richard Attenborough
    Richard Attenborough
    Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough , CBE is a British actor, director, producer and entrepreneur. As director and producer he won two Academy Awards for the 1982 film Gandhi...

    , George Baker
    George Baker (actor)
    George Baker, MBE was an English actor and writer. He was best-known for portraying Tiberius in I, Claudius, and Inspector Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.-Personal life:...

    , Bill Owen, Virginia McKenna
    Virginia McKenna
    Virginia A. McKenna OBE is a British stage and screen actress, author and wildlife campaigner.-Early career:McKenna trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama then worked on stage in London's West End theatres before making her motion picture debut in 1952...

    , Roland Culver
    Roland Culver
    Roland Culver OBE was a British stage, film, and television actor.-Life and career:...

    , screenplay by Basil Dearden, Michael Relph, John Whiting.
  • H.M.S. Marlborough Will Enter Port – TV film (1956), adapted from H.M.S. Marlborough Will Enter Harbour, narrated by Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

    , produced by Revue Studios. Teleplay by George Bruce.
  • The Story of Esther Costello
    The Story of Esther Costello
    The Story of Esther Costello is a 1957 British drama film starring Joan Crawford, Rossano Brazzi, and Heather Sears . The film is an exposé of large-scale fundraising. The Story of Esther Costello was produced by David Miller and Jack Clayton with Miller directing...

    (1957) (also known as The Golden Virgin), directed by David Miller, starring Joan Crawford
    Joan Crawford
    Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....

    , Rossano Brazzi
    Rossano Brazzi
    -Biography:Brazzi was born in Bologna to Adelmo and Maria Brazzi. He attended San Marco University in Florence, Italy, where he was raised from the age of four...

    , Heather Sears
    Heather Sears
    Heather Christine Sears: , was a British stage and screen actress.-Biography:Although not from an acting family , she was already acting in plays at the age of five and even writing them at the age of eight...

    , Lee Patterson
    Lee Patterson
    Lee Patterson was a Canadian film and television actor.After attending Ontario College of Art, Patterson moved to England, where he specialized in playing virile American types in British films...

    . Screenplay by Charles Kaufman.
  • Bait for the Tiger (1957) – television film, adapted from Castle Garac, directed by Paul Nickell, starring Anna Maria Alberghetti
    Anna Maria Alberghetti
    Anna Maria Alberghetti is an Italian-born operatic singer and actress.Born in Pesaro, Marche, she starred on Broadway and won a Tony Award in 1962 as Best Actress for Carnival! .Alberghetti was a child prodigy. Her father was an opera singer and concert master of the Rome Opera Company...

    , Corinne Calvet
    Corinne Calvet
    Corinne Calvet was a French actress who appeared mostly in American films.Born Corinne Dibos in Paris, Calvet studied criminal law at the Sorbonne and made her debut in French radio, stage plays and cinema in the 1940s before being brought to Hollywood in the 1940s by producer Hal B. Wallis...

    , Carl Esmond
    Carl Esmond
    Carl Esmond was an Austrian stage actor, born in Vienna, Austria. His birth name was Willy Eichberger which he later changed to Charles Esmond and finally to Carl Esmond. Like many of his fellow actors, Esmond fled Nazi Germany to England during World War II. Esmond continued to appear on the...

    , Peter Lawford
    Peter Lawford
    Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen , better known as Peter Lawford, was an English-American actor.He was a member of the "Rat Pack", and brother-in-law to US President John F. Kennedy, perhaps more noted in later years for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting...

    . Adaptation by Whitfield Cook.
  • Something to Hide
    Something to Hide
    Something to Hide , is a 1972 British thriller film, written and directed by Alastair Reid, based on a 1963 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat. The film stars Peter Finch, Shelley Winters, Colin Blakely, Linda Hayden and Graham Crowden...

    (1972) (also known as Shattered), produced by Avton Films, directed by Alastair Reid
    Alastair Reid (director)
    Alastair Reid was a British television director whose credits include the TV series Traffik and Tales of the City....

    , starring Peter Finch
    Peter Finch
    Peter Finch was a British-born Australian actor. He is best remembered for his role as "crazed" television anchorman Howard Beale in the film Network, which earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor, his fifth Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and a...

    , Shelley Winters
    Shelley Winters
    Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

    , Colin Blakely
    Colin Blakely
    Colin George Blakely was a Northern Irish character actor. He was considered an actor of great range.-Early life:...

    , John Stride
    John Stride
    John Stride is an English actor best known for his television work during the 1970s. Stride was born in London, the son of Margaret and Alfred Teneriffe Stride...

    , Linda Hayden
    Linda Hayden
    Linda Hayden is an English film and television actress, best known for her roles in 1970s British horror films and sex comedies.-Career:...

    . Screenplay by Alastair Reid.
  • The Reconciliation (1984) – TV film, directed by John Jacobs, starring Roger Rees
    Roger Rees
    Roger Rees is a Welsh actor. He is best known to American audiences for playing the characters Robin Colcord on the American television sitcom show Cheers and Lord John Marbury on the American television drama The West Wing...

    , John Castle
    John Castle
    John Castle is an English actor. Castle has acted in theatre, film and television. He is well known for his role as Postumus in the 1976 BBC television adaptation of I, Claudius and for playing Geoffrey in the 1968 film, The Lion in Winter. He also played Dr...

    , Jim Norton
    Jim Norton (actor)
    Jim Norton is an Irish character actor.-Performances:Jim Norton has been acting for over forty years in theatre, television, and movies, and frequently plays clergymen, most notably Bishop Brennan in the sitcom Father Ted, as well as in The Sweeney , Peak Practice , Sunset Heights , A Love Divided...

    , Meg Davies, teleplay by Roy Russell.

External links

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