A man who was responsible for saving the life of novelist George Orwell when the boat they were in capsized has died at his Rosthwaite home at the weekend, aged 94.
Henry Dakin was the nephew of the world-famous novelist and but for his actions Orwell’s final masterpiece – the dystopian classic 1984 – may never have been completed.
The drama unfolded at a time when Orwell – real name Eric Blair – had escaped to the remote Scottish island of Jura to work on the manuscript of the definitive work which still resonates to this day.
Orwell left London for Jura in April 1947 and while on the island his sister’s family – including Henry and his sisters Lucy and Jane – visited the substantial house called Barnhill where the author was living and it was from there that they undertook what turned out to be a disastrous boating expedition on August 19.
The boat which contained Orwell, his adopted son Richard, Henry, Lucy and Jane got into difficulties in the choppy waters at the edge of the Corryvreckan whirlpool between the islands of Jura and Scarba when the boat’s outboard motor was wrenched off.
Henry, who was in the army at the time, managed to row the boat towards the rocky islet of Eilean Mor but it capsized before reaching safety.
All on the boat managed to swim to safety, Orwell emerging from underneath the craft to drag himself and his young son on to the rocks. Fortunately, they were spotted and picked up by a passing fishing boat that was taking some tourists on a trip round the island.
Henry’s sister Lucy Bestley, who lives in Keswick and used to run the Royal Oak at Rosthwaite, said that Orwell, whom she called Uncle Eric, had failed to securely fasten the outboard motor to the boat.
“It was going along, pop, pop, pop, pop and then there was silence,” said Mrs Bestley.
“He (Orwell) might have been the greatest intellectual in the world but as for practicalities he was not very good.”
“We were being swept round and Henry got hold of the oars and started rowing,” said Mrs Bestley, 90.
“The effect of the Corryvreckanis that it spreads out and there was quite a lot of choppy seas. It was not rough but you could feel the waves and things.
“Eric was sat at the back of the boat and I remember that a seal popped its head out of the water. He said that seals were curious things, always wanting to know what is going on.”
After being rescued the owner of the fishing boat offered to drop them off at Barnhill but Orwell was insistent that they were dropped off on the main island and they would walk back to the cottage.
“It was all right for him (Orwell) because he had his shoes on. Henry had taken his boots off and I had lost one of my shoes.”
Mrs Bestley, whose 97-year-old sister Jane Morgan lives at Lake Head Court, Keswick, added: “I always say that if it had not been for Henry rowing and saving us from drowning then 1984 might never have been written.”
Mr Dakin was born at Uppingham in Rutland to Humphrey and Marjorie Dakin, who was Orwell’s eldest sister. During his working life he was employed by a refrigeration firm before taking up a post with National Savings while living at Clevedon in Somerset.
He moved to Rosthwaite with his wife Iris and three children – Caroline, James and Robin – in 1978 to become partners, with his sister Lucy and her husband Harold, in running the Royal Oak. He later bought The How in the village and ran it as a bed and breakfast with his second wife, Marjorie.
Mr Dakin and Marjorie were both talented tennis players and were both members of Keswick Tennis Club.
Mrs Bestley said that her brother was very affable and sociable.
“Lots of guests would return to the The How because he and Marjorie made their stay so nice,” she said.