Tom the Boater
Life Afloat: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2015
Christopher M Jones
A rare collection of photos showing the working boat scene of the early 1900s originally taken to illustrate a children's story.
The following images were staged and taken around the turn of the 20th century to illustrate a children’s book Tom the Boater: A Tale of English Canal Life. Written by Emma Leslie (1837–1909) and first published by the Religious Tract Society in 1882, the story follows the lives of a boating family aboard an unregistered, horse-drawn boat. The title character, Tom Swan, is a kind of Tiny Tim figure – a young boater with an injured leg and a sensitive mind. Although he is ignorant of everything but life on the cut, he is inspired by the words of a roving preacher and attempts to teach his beloved sister Polly, as best he can, about Christian salvation. Forced to leg through a tunnel, he falls off the boat and is presumed drowned. Unknown to his family, he is actually plucked from the water by a kindly observer who foresees the accident, and is taken to hospital. When Tom awakes, he is convinced he has been rescued by Jesus. Meanwhile, distraught Polly and her many s…