Major James Brooks

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Major James Brooks of Minden Cottage on the River Lyner in south-east Cornwall is a character from the previous novel Harry Revel, which is set in the Plymouth-Rame area in 1811-12. Although there are chapters in Harry Revel set at Minden Cottage, Harry Brooks is not mentioned, nor is Harry Revel in Poison Island, which is set in 1813-14. In both novels, Major James Brooks is described as a veteran of Sir John Moore's Galicia campaign of 1808. Brooks was a major, under Lord William Bentinck, in the 4th (King's Own) Regiment, serving with distinction in the evacuation of Corunna. He returns blind on the Londonderry transport and contracts rheumatic fever on the storm-bound trip (see the short story 'Roll Call on the Reef' in the collection of the same name). On landing at Plymouth he is taken to Minden Cottage and nursed by his daughter Isabel, but never regains his sight. Released from the army on a service pension, he spends his time translating the Aeneid with the help of Harry Revel and then Harry Brooks. In Harry Revel we hear nothing of Captain Branscome of the Londonderry and nothing about a second marriage.

Major Brooks' first wife died in 1792 during the birth of Isabel, with the Major never fully recovering from the loss. In 1811, without properly informing her father, Isabel weds Lieutenant Archibald Plinlimmon, who is promptly despatched to the Tagus. During the battle of Cuidad Rodrigo, in January 1812, Archibald learns of the death of Isabel during childbirth, and himself dies at the battle of Badajoz a few months later.

Between the death of his wife and the marriage of Isabel, James Brooks marries for a second time. It is presented as a marriage of convenience, with the woman looking after Isabel while Brooks is soldiering. They have one son, Harry Brooks, who must have been born about the time of the Peace of Amiens. Otherwise, they live apart, with Amelia Plinlimmon subsequently taking on the role of foster mother for Harry. Amelia Plinlimmon is aunt to Archibald Plinlimmon. With her move from an orphanage she becomes housekeeper to James Brooks following the death of Isabel.

James Brooks appears to own Minden Cottage. The cottage is placed three miles to the west of St Germans, on the Torpoint to Liskeard road. In Harry Revel it seems to be closer to the village of Antony.

The Major is a student of the Aeneid, one of the classical references in the novel. He is translating it into English. With the death of Isabel his reading tends to the Bible.

Major Brooks spends much of his time in a summerhouse in the grounds, accessible from three directions. There he receives Branscome and Coffin, who both make their entries from a lane off the main road. He keeps his cashbox in his bedroom. On May 12, 1813, he makes a gift of ten guineas to the penurious Captain Branscome, whom he had known as the captain of the Londonderry, carrying the cashbox from the bedroom to the summerhouse. Later, Coffin arrives with the treasure map of Mortallone, which he hides in the summerhouse and which is subsequently discovered by Harry Brooks. After the departure of Coffin he is murdered by Aaron Glass who is seeking the treasure map. The nobility of Brook's character makes his murder by Glass a particularly heinous act.

Brooks is a soldier who appears never to have adjusted fully to civilian life and hankers after his former trade. The loss of his first wife is something he never recovers from. There remains a mystery regarding the second marriage and the indifference of Brooks to his son which the novel never resolves. Brooks, therefore, is not without his flaws.

Lydia Belcher

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We learn in the previous novel, Harry Revel, that Lydia Belcher had been left her estate by a local landowner who appears to have seduced her mother and then had the woman married off to his gamekeeper. This percentage of aristocratic blood, along with the estate, enables her to mix with the local gentry on equal terms. She adds to her status by running a smuggling syndicate from her house, attracting money for the purpose of making money. It also shows her position in regard to the working people who ran such ventures (such as the Quillers of Polperro). She also has the advantage of being physically attractive, something she inherited from her mother, and the confidence to use it to advantage. Jack Rogers, the local JP, is said to be in love with her. So was the fraudulent clergyman John Whitmore, from whose clutches she was fortunate to have escaped.

Her run-in with Whitmore does not seem to have dented her confidence. She is there to command, even on the cricket field, with male and female grist to her mill. This Captain Branscome deduces when he is proposed as leader of the expedition, making it a condition that all accept his judgements. He has to have the position restated when the island his reached. Branscome does not doubt her intelligence or her powers of decision, but, as with the Whitmore case, she is not without a certain naivety, especially where men are concerned. Beauregard has no trouble in talking himself aboard the Espriella.

Lydia Belcher is a peripheral character through most of the novel, more so than in Harry Revel where she is at the centre of smuggling operations. She comes centre-stage in the last chapter when she and Dr Beauregard are left together in the dining-room  while the rest of the party examine the treasure. Dr Beauregard makes his 'confession' to Lydia Belcher as to a priest; only he does not believe in religion but he does believe in redemption of a different kind, a 'secret' lying at the centre of a woman, with Lydia Belcher as the woman. He explains his own bastardy, imagining Lydia Belcher to be of pure heredity, oblivious to the fact that she was probably conceived out of wedlock. Lydia turns her back on him as corrupt, although she has some insight into his meaning, which the circumstances of her own birth provides. However, the reader can only grasp this if Harry Revel has previously been read. Whatever the reason, it is possible that Beauregard's attraction to Lydia Belcher saves the whole party from being poisoned.


Rev Philip Stimcoe

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We learn that Rev Philip Stimcoe was a 'querister' at Winchester College and a 'servitor' at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was ordained in the Church of England.

He lives at The Copenhagen Academy, 7 Delamere Terrace, Falmouth and he is married to the niece of the Hon Sir Alexander O'Brien, Admiral of the White, KCB, of Roscommon in Ireland.

Philip Stimcoe appears to have started life with every advantage, but through drink has been reduced to teaching and almost to penury. By the time Harry Brooks arrives he is virtually a passenger, with Captain Branscome doing the real teaching and Mrs Stimcoe running the establishment, largely on the basis of credit. With the eventual absence of Branscome, it must have quickly failed.

The academy maintains itself through the efforts of Mrs Stimcoe who browbeats local shops, tradesmen and doctor into providing goods and services in the vain hope of future payment, even with the knowledge that no future payment will arrive. Her character, strong in the face of endless humiliations, gives her a certain standing in the town. It is greatly to her credit that the boarders are well fed and have a certain regard for her. The Revd and Mrs Stimcoe are comic-tragic figures.

Harry Revel and Poison Island show us wealthy people and people who know poverty; and poverty is hardest for those who were not born to it, as with the Stimcoes and Captain Branscome.



George Goodfellow

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George Goodfellow of Falmouth is a good fellow, who will turn his hand to anything to make a living, although this living not sufficient to enable him to marry or even to travel to Plymouth by coach each weekend. His fiancée works in a shop in Plymouth. Goodfellow spends his weekends there, walking to and fro, something unheard of today. People in those days walked considerable distances, Q himself not excepted.

Goodfellow helps Captain Coffin build a whaleboat, Coffin having the means to pay him from licit or illicit sources. But Goodfellow is unable to persuade Coffin to leave the Plume and Feathers on the evening of the arrival in Falmouth of a boat-load of released POWs, one of whom is Aaron Glass. Goodfellow contributes to the narrative by removing the corner cupboard, containing Coffin's log, thus confusing Harry Brooks and Aaron Glass, but preserving the document for investigation at Lydia Belcher's house in Chapter XIX. Goodfellow also effects the capture of Glass by boring holes in the gunwale of his boat.

Goodfellow is an important character while not being a central one. Curiously, he seems to change little with circumstances, which is the case with some people. He is what he is and remains so.

Amelia Plinlimmon

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Type of character 
Purely fictional

In Harry Revel we learn of Amelia Plinlimmon's descent from Welsh nobility, her matronship of the Geneva Foundling Hospital and her relationship to Archibald Plinlimmon, who married Isabel Brooks and died at Badajoz in 1812.

Just as she secured an apprenticeship for Harry Revel with a chimney sweep in Plymouth, so she arranges for Harry Brooks to have an education – alas at the Copenhagen Academy in Falmouth. Major James Brooks of Minden Cottage has no more interest in Harry Brooks, his only son, than John Rosewarne has of Myra and Clem, his grandchildren, in Shining Ferry, where Aunt Hannah has to step into the breach. It is Amelia Plinlimmon's response to the advert for the Copenhagen Academy in the Falmouth Packet which results in the treasure-seeking adventure on Mortallone – the law of unexpected consequences.

After the opening two chapters of Poison Island she recedes into the background, from where she acts as a sort of Greek chorus through her verses. Yet it is Amelia who effects the decision to enter upon the expedition to Mortalone, at the conclusion of Chapter XX, and who gathers the party together in Chapter XXI.

Amelia Plinlimmon then drops into the background again until she welcomes Beauregard aboard the Espriella when Branscome and Rogers are off exploring the island. She and Lydia Belcher are the ones, when at Beauregard's house, who wish to go off on a treasure hunt, mainly because Branscome can refuse Amelia little. We learn why in the final chapter. Branscome has come under her spell, as Beauregard has come under Lydia's, but with more profitable results, at least romantically. If Beauregard is seeking redemption through love only to be rejected, Branscome is finding acceptance in Amelia. Amelia Plinlimmon is not just a character but a symbol of goodness. It is more than the good heartedness of Goodfellow because she had known disappointment and rejection. It is a goodness triumphing over circumstance. 

Chronology in Harry Revel

177?, May 1: Born. Lives with father. Father dies in debt. Keeps house for Arthur Plinlimmon, brother. Arthur Plinlimmon marries ? Leicester, daughter of  Archibald Leicester, before 1790.

1788-9: Leaves for Genevan Foundling Hospital, Plymouth Dock.

1806, July: Fears French invasion. Harry Revel sleeps in her room. Loves Rev Scougall.

1808, September: Helps arrange apprenticeship for Harry Revel.

1809, April: Writes to Harry Revel.

May 1, Wednesday: First meeting with Harry Revel at Tucker's Bun Shop, Bedford Street, Plymouth.

1810, January: Archibald Plinlimmon transferred to Plymouth.

May 1: Second meeting with Harry Revel at Tucker's. Going grey, probably in her 40s.

Incident with bull.

Archibald forgets her birthday.

1811, May 1: Third meeting with Harry Revel at Tucker's. Archibald steals money from her purse.

1812:  Looks after Major Brooks after death of Isabel Brooks/Plinlimmon at Minden Cottage.





Captain Branscombe

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 No character illustrates the mutability of fortune more than Captain Branscome. In 1809, he captained the Londonderry transport craft which in January successfully navigated a stormy Atlantic to deliver Major Brooks and the 4th (King's Own) Regiment to Plymouth. Later he transferred to a packet of His Majesty's Post-Master General, but had the misfortune of suffering a splintered hip-bone following a fight with a French privateer off Guadaloupe. Retiring to Falmouth on a small pension, probably covering no more than the rent of a room, and no longer able to support his sister, he ekes out a living teaching English, maths and navigation at the Copenhagen Academy, with his pay highly irregular. He also gives instruction to Captain Coffin in navigation, knowing that Coffin is unable to benefit from it.

On his retirement from service at sea, probably not long before the commencement of the novel, he was awarded a sword of honour and gold-rimmed eyeglasses. This detail, so easily overlooked, is central to the development of the plot. The glasses were found by Harry Brooks, on May 14, in the garden of Minden Cottage, following the murder of Major Brooks. Branscome had gone to Minden Cottage on a begging mission, receiving ten guineas, which later explains the mysterious presence of Brooks' cashbox in the summerhouse. As his conscience troubled him about accepting the cash, he returns to the garden to restore the guineas, only to find the body of Brooks, after which he panics and returns to Falmouth. It is Harry Brooks' reticence in revealing his discovery of the glasses which prevents the arrest of Branscome as chief suspect. His explanation in Chapters XV and XVI satisfy his listeners.

No doubt it is penury which explains his membership of the expedition to Mortallone, in which he takes charge, to the exasperation of Harry Brooks. His leadership helps secure the success of the mission. Amelia Plinlimmon is certainly won over. The intimacy of Branscome and Plinlimmon balances the failure of Beauregard and Belcher and the suicide of the doctor with the poison he had prepared for the party.


Captain Coffin

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Coffin appears at first as a harmless drunk – a comic figure teased by local children. As the story progresses, his dark deeds and his tragic history are both revealed. Coffin takes refuge in drink because he is haunted by a crime he committed in the past. After shooting a preventive officer he fled abroad. He married a religious woman but his wife and child died from smallpox and this tragedy caused his moral decline. After working on a slave trader he is captured by a tribe in Africa. He is given the treasure map by Melhuish on his deathbed. He escapes and meets Aaron Glass. They travel to the island where Coffin tries to kill Glass and then sells him to a press-gang. Years later, Glass catches up with Coffin in Falmouth and kills him.

For more details of Coffin, see the article ‘Three Studies in Evil’ and also ‘Chronology of Evil’.

Aaron Glass

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Aaron Glass is a slave trader who murders several times in pursuit of treasure. His main characteristic is avarice. He has a cunning intelligence, but he is careless and the mistakes he makes lead to his downfall. Unlike Coffin, he has no tragedies in his past that could explain or excuse his actions.

For more details of Glass, see the article ‘Three Studies in Evil’ and also ‘Chronology of Evil’.

Dr Beauregard

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Beauregard is a complicated character. He desires wealth because it will bring him power over people whom he believes look down on him. He is born in Havanna, the illegitimate son of an English sea captain and a Spanish woman. Known first as Martin of Carbonear, he is educated by Jesuits and studies chemistry, which he ultimately uses to produce poisons. He gains access to a minor part of the treasure (although not the main hoard) and uses the money to build a house and to study medicine. He is now takes on the name of Dr Beauregard and enters cultured society, using his skills as a poisoner to dispatch other treasure hunters. At the end of the novel he dies by taking his own poison.

For more details of Beauregard, see the article ‘Three Studies in Evil’ and also ‘Chronology of Evil’.