All Hands! by H. M. Tomlinson (1937)

As part of our adventure stories month, we set sail with a sea story…

Review by John S.

Plot summary:

The Hestia, a tramp steamer, is the main character in this novel. We meet her in the East Indies where she is regarded by the crew as an unlucky, even cursed vessel – ‘there’s a spell on her’ (p.18) – with intermittent steering problems. She eventually returns to England and is repaired, at least up to a point, at a shipyard in Devon. A professor and his daughter, who are friends of the owner, join the Hestia’s next voyage to the Mediterranean with the intention of taking a holiday.  While in the Mediterranean new orders are received and the Hestia sets sail for America, encountering a terrible storm in the mid-Atlantic.


Well then, me hearties, this is a novel about life onboard a merchant ship, the business of a shipping company in the 1930s, and the elements. Tomlinson rose to fame as a travel writer before turning his hand to fiction. The human characters, apart from the captain, are secondary and rather one dimensional. Are the professor and his daughter introduced in Devon to increase the story’s appeal to landlubbers? They don’t perform any other purpose. I also struggled to tell one sailor from another because their characters are not clearly delineated and their conversations unfold rather confusingly. Having got those points of criticism out of the way, I did find All Hands! an entertaining and relaxing bedtime read. I enjoyed the descriptions of shipboard routine and the work of a shipping office, as well as the author’s digressions on life at sea and the problems of the interwar shipping industry. The sedate pace of the novel gives way to melodrama during the Atlantic storm. The bosun is swept overboard, poor chap. The owner, Sir John, who is nearby but safely aboard a luxury liner, is made aware of the danger to which he has exposed his employees and friends on the rickety Hestia. But all ends well except for the bosun. Although All Hands! is not exactly gripping, it would not put me off reading another sea tale by Tomlinson.

4 thoughts on “All Hands! by H. M. Tomlinson (1937)

  1. I write about Arnold Bennett’s review of Tomlinson’s first novel, ” Gallions Reach” in Brown & Grover edited ” Middlebrow Literary Cultures” ( palgrave macmillan, 2012).The novel opens with an echo of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.

    • Hello there John! Yes, Bennett wrote that ‘the Conrad influence is pretty plain on the face of Gallions Reach’. Perhaps less so on All Hands!

  2. I like Tomlinson ; he pierces to places we mostly don’t have our eyes open to, and sees them mystically. Is there a Tomlinson Society or ‘fan club’.

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