The Pilot, or A Tale of the Sea

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The Pilot, or A Tale of the Sea is a play by Edward Fitzball (1792–1873)[1].

The original text

It was an adaption by Edward Fitzball (1792–1873)[2] of the historical novel The Pilot; A Tale of the Sea[3] by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)[4]. The novel was first published in late 1823 and it deals with the life of a naval pilot during the American Revolution, but Fitzball changed the pilot to a British sailor. It is the first of a trilogy of sea sagas for the stage, along with The Red Rover (1829) and The Waterwitch

The original stage adaptation was first performed at the Park Theatre in New York on October 29, 1824.

Translations and adaptations

Fitzball also wrote a burlesque version that takes place off the American coast with British sailors and which makes the ridiculous characters Yankees. It was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain as The Pilot, or a Storm at Sea and, styled "A Nautical Burletta", it was first produced on October 31, 1825 at the Adelphi Theatre, London. This version, though hated by the Americans, had great success in England, and by extension probably also in the colonies. The title Pilot, A Nautical Burletta also appears in some sources (e.g. Clifton, 1993).

In turn The Pilot, or A Tale of the Thames, a satirical burlesques of Fitzball's play, was done at the Adelphi, 6 December 1830 (Fitzball's version was playing at Covent Garden at the time 1830). An Americanized version of Fitzball's play, Paul Jones; or, The Pilot of the German Ocean, styled "A Melodrama in Three Acts", was prepared and produced in New York by W.H. Wallack in 1829.

Performance history in South Africa

1833: First performed in Cape Town in the African Theatre by the All the World's a Stage on Monday 6 May, 1833, as afterpiece to The Illustrious Stranger, or Married and Buried (Kenney and Millingen). The production was a benefit for Mr Whiley. In view of the origins of the company, it is very likely that the text used was the popular 1825 burletta[5] version, rather than the straight play of 1824.

1862: Performed as The Pilot, or A Tale of the Sea by Clara Tellett and her company in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, on 11 and 12 August, with The Bonnie Fishwife (Selby) , A Perfect Cure (Sapte) and The Married Bachelor, or Master and Man (O'Calligan).


Larry Stephen Clifton. 1993. The Terrible Fitzball: The Melodramatist of the Macabre. Popular Press: p.184[6]

M. Powell. 2015. British Pirates in Print and Performance. Springer[7]

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [8]: pp. 226,

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