Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), naval hero, inventor, writer of classic English novels, and associated with two of Wimbledon’s best known houses - yet never really a resident - died exactly 164 years ago yesterday.

Marryat’s name lives on today in Marryat Road, off Parkside. Across the Common, a blue plaque in Woodhayes Road recalls his supposed residence at Gothic Lodge. 

Yet the captain was 20 years old and far away at sea in the Napoleonic Wars when his parents first moved to the 100-acre estate of Wimbledon House, Parkside, in 1812.

He would never have been more than an occasional visitor. Moreover, although he leased Gothic Lodge for his wife and children between 1820 and 1827, he spent little time there himself as his career took him far away for virtually the entire period.

Despite this, Captain Marryat has always been so associated with Wimbledon that the biggest known collection of his written works – 700 strong - was once donated to the local museum. There it remained for 27 years from 1922 until 1949 before being transferred to the British Museum (now the British Library).

Frederick Marryat was actually born in Great George Street, Westminster, on 10 July 1792, a second son and one of 15 children.

His father, Joseph Marryat, chairman of Lloyds and MP for Sandwich, was descended from French Huguenots. His mother Charlotte was an American from Boston. Frederick was sent to school at Ponders End, Enfield, and having tried to run away to sea as a boy, joined the Royal Navy in 1806 as a midshipman.

Serving in the Caribbean in 1811, he risked his life for his ship when it was severely damaged in a storm.

On five occasions he would distinguish himself by jumping into the sea to rescue seamen lost overboard.

After action against the Americans he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1812, the same year his family moved to Wimbledon, and he reached the rank of Commander in 1815.

He then worked to expand and improve the Navy’s system of maritime flag signals. Creating the International Code of Signals used for generations afterwards, he earned himself membership of the Royal Society in 1817.

In 1818 he invented a lifeboat and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society.

In 1819 he married Catharine, daughter of Britain’s Consul-General in Russia. They had 11 children and it was for them that he leased Gothic Lodge in 1820, near his parents’ home. In 1821 he commanded the ship that announced the death of the exiled Napoleon on St Helena.

His naval career continued for another nine years before he resigned to become a full time writer. His best known novels, published from 1836 onwards, were the classics Mr Midshipman Easy, Masterman Ready and The Children of the New Forest. After travelling extensively, he eventually settled with his family at Langham in Norfolk on an estate ten times the size of his parents’ property in Wimbledon.

His father died suddenly in 1824 but his mother remained at Parkside until her own death in 1854.

Unlike her famous son, Charlotte Marryat became very much a true Wimbledonian, carrying out good works for the community.

She was also a noted horticulturalist. The estate’s greenhouses were used to cultivate many species of plant never before grown in England.

One of her daughters married Henry Lindsay, Vicar of St Mary's, and the churchyard still contains a Marryat family tomb with eight family members buried there.

Frederick is not among them. His health had been affected permanently by malaria in his youth and in 1847 he stayed briefly at Parkside while consulting London doctors but they could do little for him. He returned to Langham where he died on 9 August 1848. Two of his children also became writers.

Marryat Road was created after the breakup of the Wimbledon House estate in 1899. Although named after Joseph and Charlotte rather than their son, the association was inevitable.

In 1922, the late borough librarian of Wandsworth, Cecil T Davis, bequeathed his vast collection of Captain Marryat books in many editions and translations to the forerunner of today’s Wimbledon Society.

It was held for years at the local history museum in 22 Ridgway. However, without space for public exhibition, on 26 January 1949 it was transferred to the British Museum. Of the 64 copies retained by the Wimbledon Museum at the time, nearly half remain today.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

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