Cover image for Wager
Woodman, Richard, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Sheridan House, 1999.

Physical Description:
259 pages ; 23 cm.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Wrenched by tragedy from a peaceful and respectable middle-class home in Victorian London, Hannah Kemball finds herself accompanying her father, Captain "Cracker Jack" Kemball, aboard the tea-clipper Erl King on a voyage to China. It is 1869. In shanghai and Foochow, the crack British tea-clippers are loading the season's tea, preparing for the annual race to bring their valuable cargoes and the fortunes of their swaggering crews halfway around the world to the London market.Unfortunately for Hannah, only one thing matters t the iron-willed captains about to pit their skills against the perils of three oceans: to be the first to make it home. Overconfident of victory, Captain Kemball strikes a wager with the sinister Captain Richards of the Seawitch. The stakes: Hannah's hand in marriage.The race is on, and as the sails unfurl, so do the dangers for Hannah aboard her father's ship. As the fastest sailing vessels ever built storm across the world's oceans, she learns that this is a race with no rules, and that murder, mayhem and deceit are all part of the game.

Author Notes

Richard Woodman was born in London. England in 1944. He became an indentured midshipman in cargo liners at the age of 16, which resulted in a 37 year nautical career. He became captain in 1980. He spent 11 years in command at sea, 6 years in operational management ashore, and is currently a Board Member of Trinity House, the authority responsible for navigational safety round the coast.

He is a regular correspondent for the shipping newspaper Lloyd's List. He has written over 50 books, a mixture of fiction and maritime history. His fiction works include the Nathaniel Drinkwater series, A Kit Faulkner Naval Adventure series, and The William Kite Trilogy. He received several awards including the Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award in 2001 for his journalism, the Society of Nautical Research's Anderson Medal in 2005 for three major studies of convoy operations in the Second World War, and the Marine Society's Thomas Gray Medal in 2010 for his five-volume history of the British Merchant Navy.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The Mariner's Library Fiction Classics presents the first U.S. edition of an admirable seafaring tale first published in Britain in 1990. In the late 1860s, Captain Kendal of the tea clipper Erl King bets that he can beat Captain Richards' Seawitch home to England from China. If Kendal loses, Richards gets the hand of Kendal's daughter Hannah in marriage. Shortly after leaving China, however, Kendal is killed by pirates, leaving Hannah to take command of the ship and continue the race. Aided by Second Mate Munro and two Chinese passengers, fought by drunken First Mate Enright, and battling storms, calms, and her own qualms, Hannah wins the wager and accepts the magnetic Richards from a most un-Victorian position of equality. Characterizations are broad but, for the most part, believable; the sea scenes rate high marks; and the historical background is inlaid with an abundance of well-chosen detail. Altogether, this is a feast for maritime fiction buffs. --Roland Green



HANNAH Kemball leaned on the teak rail that ran round the poop of the tea-clipper Erl King and stared across the muddy waters of the Whangpo River at the skyline of Shanghai. Unconsciously her fingers caressed the bare wood, in gentle imitation of the daily cleaning it received from the apprentices who, under the eye of Chief Mate Enright, scoured it with a mixture of sand and sea-water rubbed with sail canvas. The river fascinated her, for its endless succession of changing scenes possessed an eternal quality. The curious batwing sails of the big junks moved upstream with a patience that seemed, in its infinity of effort, an embodiment of China as something too vast to be comprehended. Amid their slow majesty lesser sampans bobbed under sail or oar, the latter sculled tirelessly into the implacable current. Many of these, Hannah noticed, were handled by women, black-clad, pearshaped figures with babies secured to their backs. Several seemed permanently stationed under the overhanging counterstern of the Erl King, the women looking up expectantly as, with one arm twisting the long yuloh over the sampan's stern, they held the other outstretched in the universal supplication of the beggar. Galley scraps, coins or wooden dunnage -- almost anything could be turned into the necessities of life by these thrifty and industrious people with their ingenious talent for improvisation. Hannah shook her head; she had already tossed a few pence at one such woman, but her virtuous act was immediately confronted by another's need as an endless succession of broad, flat faces sought her compassion. There was nothing left on the deck of the ship since Mr Enright had put a stop to the apprentices throwing planks of dunnage into the river. She shook her head again, exasperated by the persistence of one particular woman. 'No,' she called, 'nothing . . . no-thing,' adding in imitation of the ship's crew, 'no have got.' Still the woman looked up, her broad feet splayed upon the deck of the cockleshell craft, her shapeless black samfoo pyjamas high-buttoned at the neck and fluttering loosely about her body as it swayed to the rocking of the sampan. Her brown right arm swung in a ceaseless expenditure of energy as it twisted the long yuloh, holding the boat motionless against the current. Her left hand remained extended, palm open. Behind her russet face and tightly drawn-back hair, Hannah could see the bobbing head of her baby. 'Please Missee . . . for baby . . .' Hannah looked about her. On the far side of the poop, beyond the mizen mast, Mr Munro's back showed he was busy. The men on deck were milling around the galley door with their mess-kids anticipating dinner. She could act unobserved, for she was prompted by a sudden surge of pity for the unfortunate woman below her, and her eye had fallen upon the white hemp line, neatly coiled in its varnished box beside the wheel. She slipped aft, hesitating momentarily, aware that she was about to act imprudently, for the log-line was an important item of the clipper's equipment. She swept the thought aside. A spare log and line lay in a box in her father's cabin and the pathetic situation of the coolie woman touched her. She bent and picked up the end of the line, waving its brass impeller at the woman. The coolie woman nodded vigorously and began to scull closer. Hannah bent and picked up an armful of coils, throwing them over the side as fast as she was able. Then, with a pretended innocence ' she resumed her place at the starboard rail. Below her the woman scooped at the soupy water, gathering in the tangle of white rope. She had forsaken the yuloh which trailed on its lashing, and the sampan drifted slowly downstream. On her frantically moving back the tiny head of her baby seemed to nod a wild and abandoned farewell. 'You shouldn't have done that, Miss Kemball. It'll cause a deal of trouble.' She turned, flushing with guilt, and looked into the face of Mr Munro. His bronze eyes accused her from beneath the peak of his cap. 'It's barratry,' Munro added, 'the fraudulent practice of a mariner to the prejudice of the ship's owner.' 'Then it doesn't apply to me,' she replied quickly, 'I'm no mariner, Mr Munro. Besides, I've done it now.' 'Aye, but 'tis others who'll be blamed, Miss.' Excerpted from Wager by Richard Woodman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.