[Captain A.E. Dingle was a pulp writer who wrote sea stories. Like Bill Adams, he was a sailor before he became a writer and was shipwrecked four times during his career. He was also a yachtsman.]
Captain A. E. Dingle – the letters A.E. stood for different names at different periods in his life, at birth it seems to have been Albert Edward, followed by Aylward Edward and Aylward Egbert in adulthood – was born in Oxford, England sometime in 1874 or June 1878 to Robert Charles Dingle and Sarah Ann Dingle (Cotterell). His family was poor; his father was a retired whaling captain who had lost his money and become an itinerant Methodist parson.
He described his childhood in terms of extreme poverty – he never ate an egg before he went to the sea, his diet was mostly bread and lard and he wore his father’s old clothes with his mother’s old shoes. He went to common day school till the age of fourteen. His only contact with Oxford University was when he worked in the grounds.
Realizing that he would not get ahead in life, he decided to go to sea. He joined the ship Khedevieh, a four-masted rigger sailing out of London, as an apprentice. On his first morning on board ship, he was served three eggs because the captain thought he was a friend of the owner. This was the first time he had eaten a whole egg; his father used to give him the top of an egg each morning, their family was too poor to afford more than one egg a day. The captain became very angry that he had treated him better than he deserved when he found out the truth.
Twenty-three months later, on his third voyage, he had his first shipwreck. The Khedivieh was in the Gulf of Honduras, when a gust of wind came out of nowhere on a clear day and overturned the vessel, which sank immediately. He and another apprentice, who were sleeping below decks, were thrown into the sea from an open hatch. Nineteen crew members perished. The captain lost his wife and child, and committed suicide. He and the other apprentice clung to a hatch cover and stayed afloat for more than a day before they were rescued.
He spent the next seven years in sailing ships. He rose to be a mate of the Thermopylae, later of the Sophocles. He became master of the Lady Elsie, in the wool trade, from 1897 to 1899. The age of sail was over, and he moved to steel ships, becoming captain of the Mohawk, a Boer war transport ship and the Mara, an Australian meat steamer. He was given the title of lieutenant commander by the British and later served for two years in the Japanese Navy. “I was wounded in the arm by a spear at the time of the Boxer rebellion in China. A sailor right by me shot the Chinaman just in time to save my life. I was temporarily deafened by the sound, and my assailant just seemed to dissolve, becoming mostly bullet hole.”
In 1904, he married Ethel Marion Tuckey.
His last command was shipwrecked, which indirectly led to his becoming a writer. He was coming from Australia on the Mara with a load of frozen lamb. Drippings from the refrigerators had accumulated in the bilge (the lowest compartment on a ship where the two sides meet at the keel), so he ordered the sea cocks opened to let in sea water to reduce the smell. A minute later, the ship exploded under him – the sea water had somehow reached the boilers – and he was thrown from the ship and rescued by an American schooner. As a result of this incident, he lost his master’s papers and without them, could not get other jobs at sea. This was in 1911.
A friend convinced him that New York had more opportunities than England, so he sold his home, left the cash with his family and landed in New York after working his way across as a waiter on a steamer. Trying to earn a living and send money back home to his family, he tried a variety of jobs. He worked in a department store, and at the same time tried to be a salesman. He worked as a packer in a famous store, and then became a boatman for a rich man (possibly J. Pierpont Morgan) and finally got an office job. He brought his family to the States at this time.
Chance had brought him to New York, and another chance gave him his break. He was invited to a dinner for adventurers in New York. (This was the start of the Adventurers Club in New York, and he was one of the original members, but that’s another post.) He told a story of his seafaring days, and Arthur S. Hoffman, who was attending the meeting as well, asked him to send in his story to Adventure magazine. He wrote up the article and sent it in. Hoffman called him in after a few days, and told him that the story was illegible; he needed to submit a typewritten manuscript.
He went out and asked a stenographer to type out his manuscript. The stenographer quoted five dollars to do the job, and Dingle couldn’t afford that. He asked the steno if the manuscript could be typed for fifty cents and offered to share anything he got from selling the manuscript. The steno rejected his offer. He saw an ad offering a ten day trial period on a refurbished typewriter, and sent in an order. He got the typewriter, and by the time he learned enough typing to send the seller a filled in acknowledgment card, the ten day trial period was over. He asked for and got an extension of the trial for another ten days.
In those ten days, he typed and sent out his story. He sold his first article, Blind luck on St. Paul, to Adventure, for somewhere between forty five and sixty five dollars, and it appeared in the January 1913 issue. He managed to sell a couple more articles to Hoffman, though I could find only one, A Life on the Seven Seas, that also appeared in the same issue.
He had got confidence that he could make it as a writer, and decided to send his family home, where it was cheaper to bring his two daughters up. And then he hit a dry spell – for the next year, he didn’t sell a single story. At this time, he was rooming with Gordon MacCreagh. MacCreagh was also trying to get a break as a writer.
At one point, their funds were so low that they lived for a week on a fifteen cent tin of boiled, unsalted beans. After this week, they decided that they’d had enough of beans, and went out to earn money. A nearby boxing club was offering five dollars to each participant in a competition. Each participant had to put up a fight, otherwise they’d be thrown out. They both went there and signed up to fight each other. When they went into the ring, they were both scared that they’d be thrown out without their five dollars, and pulled no punches. That evening, they went back with ten dollars between them.
One day in 1913, editor Bob Davis, who was working at Munsey’s magazine, sent for Dingle. Bob gave him some advice on writing fiction – every piece must have a distinct beginning, a middle and an ending. Dingle followed his directions and made some sales to Munsey’s, and that was the beginning of his writing career.
The sea was still providing his living, only his means of extracting it had changed. He bought a boat, named it the Gauntlet, and spent a lot of time on the boat, sailing it around New York and nearby areas. He also typed out his stories on the boat. His sister, Mary, also an avid sailor living in America, was the model for the heroine of many of his stories and novels.
The Gauntlet, Captain A.E. Dingle’s yacht
During World War I, Dingle could not enlist in the navy due to his wrist injury which he had sustained earlier. However, he taught American sailors navigation in a gunnery school in New York. In 1918, tired of the cold weather and the lack of heating due to recurring fuel shortages, he decided to move his family to Bermuda. At the time, German submarines were operating in the Atlantic and taking a heavy toll of American shipping. He sent his family across by a regular ship, and decided to make the crossing himself in the Gauntlet.
The Gauntlet was the smallest boat to ever receive permission to make the crossing. He expected to make the crossing in a week. To be on the safe side, he carried food for thirty days, fifty gallons of water on board for his passenger, (Trixie, his Airedale terrier), a box of canned soup and forty eight bottles of beer for himself. He armed himself with a revolver, though he stated this was in case Trixie became aggravated and decided to cross swords with him. It was just before hurricane season in the Atlantic, and the weather was steadily getting worse. He and Trixie had a couple of narrow escapes, losing all their water en route. The sails were destroyed, and he had no power and for five days he had no drinking water as well.
The boat drifted towards Bermuda, and he was picked up by the USS Niagara, after nearly being shot as a possible camouflaged submarine. They gave him water and towed the Gauntlet to shore in Hamilton.
Captain A.E. Dingle and his dog, Trixie, just after their four week yacht trip to Bermuda
Captain A.E. Dingle and his dog, Trixie, just after their four week yacht trip to Bermuda
He settled down in Bermuda, writing a steady stream of stories that got published in many magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post. He continued his boating, taking part in various races, often with his sister being his crew. In September 1927, when he was sailing with his sister, their boat hit some submerged wreckage and she was lost overboard. This loss deeply affected him, and he stopped going to sea shortly afterwards.
He did continue writing, though. His series of whaling stories in the Saturday Evening Post was considered so authentic that the Whalemen’s Club at New Bedford made him an honorary life member. He returned to England in 1930, and remarried in 1944. He passed away on 30 October, 1947.
Over his career, he wrote more than twenty novels, published three collections of short stories and an autobiography,A Modern Sinbad: An Autobiography.
Notes: There is significant confusion about his name, date and place of birth. I found an article that talks about one person’s attempt to resolve this confusion. This article also contains a bibliography of his novels and short story collections.
Links to his books in print: