Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor by Mervyn Peake: early draft manuscript with original artworks


This is an early version of Mervyn Peake’s picture book, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor – a pirate story with a difference. At the beginning of the book Captain Slaughterboard is a typically fearsome pirate who fights many battles, but he gives up that life to live happily with the Yellow Creature.

Mervyn Peake drew this version by hand in his sketchbook and then used a pencil to make changes to the story. Later he made even more changes, improving the illustrations and renaming the pirates and their ship (which became the Black Tiger).

What inspired Mervyn Peake to write about pirates?

Mervyn Peake loved stories about pirates. When he was growing up his favourite book was Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson, about a boy called Jim who goes in search of pirate treasure on Skeleton Island.

Coming up with ideas

The original title of the story was ‘Mr Knife and the Creature’. If you look closely you can see a trace of this in the box on image 1.

At the back of the sketchbook (image 55) Mervyn Peake jotted down ideas for the pirates’ names. Eventually he changed Bill Battle to Billy Bottle, Harry Hacker to Timothy Twitch and Mad Moses to Peter Poop. In the published version Freddy Fists was renamed Charlie Choke and Mervyn Peake included a hidden portrait of himself in Charlie’s tattoos.

What did people think of the book?

When Captain Slaughterboard was published in 1939 reviewers described it as ‘rather horrific’ and ‘quite unsuitable for sensitive children’. Bookshops struggled to sell copies and the remaining stock was destroyed in a wartime German bombing raid, making first editions very rare.

Since then the book has been praised for its originality and humour. Its pacifist message and Slaughterboard’s relationship with the ambiguously-gendered Yellow Creature mark it out as being particularly modern. Captain Slaughterboard is now thought of as a picture book ‘way ahead of its time’.


pages 24 – 28

Good for double



All animals [?]

on 2 pages








Once upon a time there was a ^ Far beyond the jungles & the burning deserts lay the bright blue

ocean that stretched for ever in all directions!

There were little islands ^ with palm trees all over it, and

whales swam around ^ them in this sort of way...

But the most exciting thing was

the Pirate Ship!

Captain Knife


The Pirate Ship was called the “Red

Tiger”, and her captain was Mr Knife.

          He looked like this ....


Lots of his men had been eaten by

Sharks or Killed in battle, and hundreds

had walked the plank!  Here are

the ones who were left...

          (The crew Lined up..?)

Jack Joints, the first mate

could do this

Bill Battle the bos’n always knocked

the ashes out of his pipe without bending.

Harry Hacker was very fierce in battle.

His left hand was always very elegent, while his
right hand did all the work. Also, he blew smoke-
rings out of his clay pipe.


And Freddy Fists was marked all over

with dreadful drawings in blue ink..


Mad Moses ^ Cuckoo Flies [?] was the cook, and he had

a cork nose.


And here is Mr Knife again, this time

pretending to be asleep.


One afternoon while they were sailing over

the warm waves they came across an island.

“Captain!” shouted Harry Hacker.  “There’s

some land on the horizon!”

“What colour is it” said Mr Knife, opening

one eye.

“Looks sort of pink to me” said Harry.


“Pink!” shouted Mr Knife, leaping to his feet

“That’s just the sort I like!  Sail me there,

and hurry up, or I’ll chop you all into little

pieces!”          mincemeat


          Then he took out his telescope

and this is what he saw!



“Bullets of lead!” yelled the captain.    “There

are some very queer creatures over there.

Faster!  faster! sail the ship faster!  I must

catch one of them before it gets ^ too dark.”


When they got quite near the island they

jumped into a rowing boat and pulled hard

for the shore.


Captain Knife sat at the back and smoked

a huge pipe.  He didn’t row of course, but

waved his heavy old cutlass about.

          “Faster!  faster!” he thundered: “Have’nt

you any muscles on your arms?”


When the sea was shallow enough they all

jumped out of the boat with a great splash.

The water came up to their knees ^ (not as shallow as they th[in]k) to their knees and it

felt like a nice warm bath.  Bill Battle

trod on a huge orange jelly-fish with a

horrible squelch.


^ Where are the queer Creatures

“They must be somewhere here” shouted Mr

Knife.  “Hurry up and find them.  Dont

forget what I said about chopping you

all up into little pieces!”

          ... This made them rather nervous so

they ran here and there all over the hot

sand and among the palm trees.


Suddenly Freddy Fists who was deep in the

jungle, shouted.

          “Avast!  Belay! I’ve spotted one!”

and they all ran towards him. Sure

enough, there among the trees was a bright

yellow creature who looked like this...


“Just exactly the sort I want” yelled Mr Knife

as he charged over the fruit and turtles that

lay all over the ground.

          “After him you dogs!!”


“I am going to make the slowest of you

walk the plank tonight!  After him!  After

him!”  You can imagine how fast they all



Bill Battle was the swiftest because of his

long legs, and he cought the Yellow Creature

just as he was about to dive down a deep



“Bring him aboard the “Red Tiger” said Mr Knife

when he had stopped panting.  “He is going

to be the ships mascot.


Jack Joints and Mad Moses walked on each

side of the Yellow Creature, holding his hands


But the Yellow Creature didn’t want to

escape because he had been rather lonely

on the island.  You see, most of the other

creatures were purple.

          There was the Guggaflop who always

lounged around like this and was very lazy.


And the Dignipomp .....


And the lonely Mousterash with his beautiful

tail ...


And the Hunchabit, whose croaking always

got on the Yellow Creatures nerves..


... not to speak of the two loathsome Squirmarin’s

And the Baleroon with his backbone
made out of three-ply (that means
very thin wood)


And the Saggerdroop with his melancholy

They all hid among the trees by the
sands, or among the rocks, and watched
the Pirates take the Yellow Creature
away in the rowing boat...

All except the the Sleeka, who watched
it all happening with his head sticking out
of the smooth sea,

And the Plummet, who was right underneath
the waves, and lived among the starfish and
the sponges, the fishes and the pearls. He
could’nt see that anything was happening,
but he felt it was.


Soon the rowing boat had reached the “Red Tiger”

and they hoisted the Yellow Creature aboard

The Captain gave him a cabin to himself, and was

very furious when Bill Battle pulled his tail.

          The pirates were very puzzled, because Mr

Knife was a wicked sort of man and had never

been pleasant to strangers before.  Poor Bill Battle

could’nt understand it at all.

Every morning the Yellow Creature was put in
the front of the ship, where he looked lovely
against the sparkling blue sea. My Knife
would sit on a barrel of rum, and watch
him for hours on end.

Mad Moses was made to take the Yellow Creature
bread and milk every three hours. If he was
late with it Mr Knife ground his teeth and shook
his sword in the air.

Mr Knife ordered them to heave up the
anchor, and they sailed away and right
over the horizon, where they met with so
many adventures and such tremendous
battles that at last the Yellow Creature
and the Captain were the only ones left
on board. They always had their meals

Mr Knife tought him how to play the banjo,
and to dance the Pirate jug. They practiced
it in the moon light.


One very hot day they were leaning over the

ships railing:

“Yellow Creature.” said Mr Knife

“Yo-ho” said the Yellow Creature.  It was the

only expression he had learned from the


“I feel a bit tired of battles and things” said

the captain.  The Yellow Creature looked at him


“Yo-ho” he said again.

Mr Knife walked up and down the deck eight

times with huge strides.

“We’ll go back to that island and explore the
jungle, and snoop around on the mountains”
he said. The Yellow Creature must have
understood for he got very excited and danced
around in a wild sort of way shouting “Yo-ho! Yo-ho!”

So they turned the ship around and
sailed as fast as they could back to
the island. Mr Knife did the steering
while the Yellow Creature looked after
the sails.

Lots of whales got in the way, but the
Captain dodged them all, and one beautiful
bright morning they saw a little pink speck
on the horizon.

It was the island again!


They dropped anchor when they were near
the shore. The island looked fresh and green,
as though it has just been painted, with a
big blue mountain sticking up in the middle.

Mr Knife put his gun and some bottles of rum
into the rowing boat, and they pulled for the shore.


When they had dragged the little boat onto
the hot sand, the Yellow Creature showed Mr
Knife all the exciting parts of the island.
The waterfalls; and the lagoons; The caves
in the mountain and the secret tracks
through the jungle.


They met the Guggaflop, who was nearly
asleep as usual, but grunted quite
politely, when they said “How do you do?”

Soon they had met most of the inhabitents
who were really very friendly.


Mr Knife began to wish that he could

live there all his life.  Every week there

were new things to do!  One day he

said to himself

          “Well, why should’nt I?”


He was the only one left out of all his
pirates, so why should he go sailing around
looking for battles all by himself?
“Ahoy! Yellow Creature!” he called out
suddenly. “I’m going to stay here for good!”


The Yellow Creature was frantic with joy
and shouted “Yo-ho” more than twenty
times and leaped all over the place.


They are still there on the Island.  Mr

Knife would never think of leaving,

and can’t understand why he used

to enjoy Killing people so much.


The Yellow creature does the cooking.

He can make the most exciting things

out of practically nothing.


They have both become very good with

bows and arrows and can hit things a

long way off


But most of the time they are dreadfully

lazy and eat fruit;


Or lie on the hot rocks in the sun

and catch enormous crimson ^ coloured fishes.

Like this ...


Like this ....


(48) (53)

Or like this ...

















Ceiphas Catfish


PETER       { POOP

                   { PANTS

                   { PORTER

                   { PRUNES


                   { TANK








Dickey Dirt




Captain Swigg

Billy Bottle

Jonas Joints

Mad Moses

Stanley Bleat

Freddy Fists


Full title:
Illustrated early draft manuscript of ‘Mr Knife and the Creature’ [later titled Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor]
c. 1936–38, London, Surrey
Manuscript / Draft / Original artwork / Illustration / Image
Mervyn Peake
Usage terms

© SKETCHBOOK COMPRISING COMPLETE PROTOTYPE FOR CAPTAIN SLAUGHTERBOARD, FROM THE VISUAL ARCHIVE OF MERVYN PEAKE (BRITISH LIBRARY) reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop ( on behalf of the Estate of Mervyn Peake. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

Held by
British Library
Deposit 11192

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