The Coral Island is the story of Ralph, Jack and Peterkin, three young English boys who are shipwrecked on a deserted island in the Pacific. In a Robinson Crusoe way, these three young men manage to create an idyllic society. They build they own house, make fire, gather fruits, build a boat to explore the neighbouring islands .. After many varying and formative experiences, they are eventually rescued by an English missionary. When they return to civilization, they are wiser and more mature, for their adventures were coming of age experiences.
R. M. Ballantyne (1825-1894), the son of a newspaper editor and nephew of the Ballantyne brothers, was born in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy (1835-37) and privately. Bad financial investments caused the family's ruin and Ballantyne's life changed thoroughly. Between the ages of 16 and 22 he was employed in Canada by the Hudson Bay Company, trading with local Indians in remote areas. In 1847 he returned to Scotland. He was a clerk at the North British Railway Company in Edinburgh for two years, and worked then for the paper-makers Alexander Cowan and Company. From 1849 to 1855 he was junior partner of Thomas Constable and Company, a printing house.
In 1848 appeared Ballantyne's Hudsons Bay, or, The Life in the Wilds of North America. The autobiographical work depicted his youth and adventures in Canada. From 1856 he devoted himself entirely to free-lance writing and giving lectures. Ballantyne's first stories depicted the life in Canada, later works dealt with adventures in Britain, Africa, and elsewhere.
The Coral Island which Robert Louis Stevenson acknowledged as the formative influence of his own love of the South Seas has not been out of print since it first appeared.
Annoyed by a mistake he made in The Coral Island, Ballantyne travelled widely to gain first-hand knowledge and to research the backgrounds of his stories. He spent three weeks on Bell Rock to write The Lighthouse (1865), and was for a short time a London fireman (Fighting the Flames, 1867), for Deep Down (1868) he lived with the tinminers of St. Just for over three months. Experiences as a fireman on board the tender of the London-to Edinburgh express and weeks on the Gull Lightship also gave material for his subsequent novels. Ballantyne was especially careful with the details of local flora and fauna, giving his dramatic adventures, capture and escape, shipwrecks and other colorful events and believable settings.
During his career Ballantyne wrote over 80 books. In 1866 he married Jane Dickson Grant; they had four sons and two daughters. Ballantyne died in Rome, Italy, on February 8, 1894. [Lilly List II. Lewis, Books of the Sea, pp. 19824. Sadlier, XIX Century Fiction, #103].