SHIPWRECKS, DOG-BIRDS, AND CANNIBALS

The Travels and Adventures of William Bingfield, Esq; containing, as surprizing a Fluctuation of Circumstances, both by Sea and Land, as ever befel one Man ... with an accurate Account of the Shape, Nature, and Properties of that most furious, and amazing Animal, the Dog-Bird. Printed from his own Manuscript ... Vol. I [-II].

London: Printed for E. Withers ... and R. Baldwin ... 1753.

2 vols, 12mo, pp. ii [of viii], 269, [1]; viii, 246; with a fine folding frontispiece by Boitard of Bingfield in a landscape full of wild creatures, cannibals, and his pet Dog-Bird, but wanting the contents leaves to volume I; a very good copy in contemporary speckled pale calf, neatly rebacked, new endpapers.

£2100

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The Travels and Adventures of William Bingfield, Esq; containing, as surprizing a Fluctuation of Circumstances, both by Sea and Land, as ever befel one Man ... with an accurate Account of the Shape, Nature, and Properties of that most furious, and amazing Animal, the Dog-Bird. Printed from his own Manuscript ... Vol. I [-II].

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First edition of one of the most entertaining imaginary voyages of the eighteenth century.

The pseudonymous Bingfield, brought up by his mother in Norfolk after his father had been killed in the Battle of the Boyne, joins the army, buys a commission, and meets and falls in love with Sally Moreton. Their courtship is cut short when she is sent to an uncle beyond the sea and Bingfield’s regiment is despatched to Africa. South of the Line his ship encounters a fierce storm that drives it on for eighteen days before it sinks. Washed up on a fertile island, he encounters ‘a very large Creature of the Bird Make’, ferocious and flightless, ‘walking upon two Legs, but without the least Feather or Down about it, its Covering being long shaggy Hair. It had ... the sharpest and strongest Teeth in its Mouth ... and a long Tail hairy, and like a Pig’s.’ A pair of the ‘Dog Birds’ can run down and kill a tiger or a stag. Bingfield shoots one of the creatures, finds her nest, and brings up the young who become quite tame. The tame ‘Dog-Birds’ help him to rescue his beloved Sally (shipwrecked herself on the way to an enforced marriage in India) from cannibals.

Together they rescue Malack, a black man from another island who had been a prisoner of the cannibals. With Malack as their guide they restore a captive native king to his throne and help another to overcome his enemies. After Sally dies, Bingfield and La Bruce, a French female captive, set out for a Portuguese factory, marry, and set sail for Europe, only to encounter pirates off Madagascar. Having seized the pirate ship, but short of food and water, they are rescued by a Dutch vessel bound for the Spice Islands. Eventually they get back to England, where Bingfield’s mother is still alive, and they live happily and raise a family.

Chapter XIX in volume II includes ‘reflections on the right to make slaves’, the Dutch sea captain having sold into slavery Malack’s long-lost mistress (and future wife) Hormunka, whom he regarded as his property because he had rescued her from the sea. After much discussion the transaction is reversed.

According to Lockhart this tale was a favourite with Sir Walter Scott, who first read it at the age of ten and only after some difficulty re-acquired it in later life. His copy is still at Abbotsford. Dickens refers to it in All the Year Round as ‘the most popular successor to Peter Wilkins’.

ESTC lists six copies in the UK and twelve in North America. Raven 174; R. J. Howgego, Encyclopedia of Exploration [vol. V]: Invented and apocryphal Narratives of Travel (2013), p. 46.

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