Erskine Childers wrote The Riddle of The Sands, a bestselling Edwardian spy novel. The logbooks that inspired him are in the National Maritime Museum.

Among the wealth of fascinating manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum are Edwardian novelist Erskine Childers' logbooks. Written in a neat copper-plate, they reveal the origins of his best-known book The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903.

The Riddle of Sands inspiration

The Riddle of the Sands was a bestselling spy novel of the early 1900s, about two friends who uncover a German plan to invade England while sailing around the German Frisian Islands. Childers, a superb seaman, based the novel on his own experiences sailing around the East Frisian coast and large parts of his logbooks from an 1897 Baltic cruise appear in the book. The sailing yacht Dulcibella (named after Childer’s sister) is based on Childer’s own yacht, the Vixen.

The journals and logbooks that cover Childers’ sailing up to World War I are in the archives of the Royal Cruising Club and held at the National Maritime Museum.

Erskine Childers and Irish nationalism

Born in London in 1870, Childers spent much of his youth in Ireland and went on to become an outspoken Irish nationalist. In 1914, he famously used his yacht, Asgard, to smuggle 900 rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition from Germany into Ireland for the revolutionary Irish Volunteers.

Despite his position on Irish home rule, Childers served as an intelligence officer during the First World War. When the war ended, Childers returned and continued to campaign for Irish nationalism. He was shot by firing squad in 1921 during the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). 

The journals of Childer’s 1914 gunrunning cruise make for fascinating reading and can be found in the archives of the Royal Cruising Club at the National Maritime Museum. 

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