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The Indian Ocean probably featured in his imagination before he crossed the ocean twice in 1927 on his Far East voyage aboard the Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus. Lowry had already created or heard the myth of his grandfather being lost in the Indian Ocean:
Evelyn Boden Lowry (1873–1950) ... She was the daughter of a master mariner, Lyon Boden, lost at sea in circumstances that were variously described and embellished , by both Evelyn and her son, in the telling. As Lowry told the story to Margerie (who, again, seems to have taken it as gospel)Captain Boden and his command, The Scottish Isles, were becalmed in the Indian Ocean, the crew dying of cholera; so the Captain gave orders to a nearby British gunboat to blow up the ship, with him on board. Bradbrook debunks this by saying that Captain Boden had died of cholera, the news relayed to a passing vessel before before The Scottish Isles vanished and was lost in a storm with all hands. Bowker found that the ship that John [sic] Boden disappeared on 26 April 1884, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, was the Vice Reine, of which Boden was not captain but first. Chris Ackerley Paradise Street blues: Lowry's Liverpool in Writing Liverpool: Essays and Interviews By Michael Murphy, Deryn Rees-Jones 2007
Lowry makes reference to the myth of his grandfather's loss in Ultramarine Pgs 110-11; and in letters to Derek Pethwick dated 6th March 1950 (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg. 207) and to George Sumner Albee dated 17th March 1957 in which he again refers to his grandfather being "at the bottom of the Indian Ocean." (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg. 896); in the short story 'The Forest Path to the Spring'; "And I thought of my grandfather, becalmed in the Indian Ocean, the crew dying of cholera,my grandfather giving orders finally, at the beginning of wireless, to the oncoming gunboat, to be blown up himself with the ship." (Pg.258); in his incomplete novel La Morida the West Coast"Could their captain love these diesel-engined monstrosities to the extent, like his grandfather, of going down with them?" (Pg 188)
The ocean would have featured in many of the books and magazines read by Lowry about the sea including Joseph Conrad's novels and short stories, Bill Adams's works; James Johnston Abraham's The Surgeon's Log , Eugene O'Neill etc. It is interesting to note that the father of the character Swede Chris C. Christopherson in Eugene O'Neill's play Anna Christie died in the Indian Ocean. Lowry received a copy of the play as a prize at his school The Leys. (Collected Letters Vol. 1 Pg. 26).
Lowry makes other references to the ocean other than alluding to the death of his grandfather; in a letter to Betty and Gerald Noxon dated January 15th 1943; "I wish you could both be here for we seem to see potential pictures for Betty everywhere and moreover we are putting on some magnificent freezing blue weatherwith the sun raining diamonds in Burrard Inlet and sea-gulls and the washing frozen on the line and a two hundred foot alder plunging above the house like the mast of a ship on a rough day in the Indian Ocean. (The Letters of Malcolm Lowry and Gerald Noxon: 1940-1952 Pg. 50); and the novella Lunar Caustic when Lowry's alter-ego Bill Plantagenet recalls sailing across the Indian Ocean with a cargo of animals; "The panthers died, in the Indian Ocean at night the lions roared, the elephants trumpeted and vomited so that none" (Pg. 69); and again in Under The Volcano; "A piece of driftwood on the Indian Ocean. Is India my home? Disguise myself as an untouchable, which should not be so difficult, and go to prison on the Andaman Islands for seventy-seven years, until England gives India her freedom?" (Pg. 157) "This chow the crew hadn't eaten went into the Indian Ocean, into any ocean, rather, as the saying is, than “let it go back to the office.” (Pg. 165 )
Lowry further refers to the ocean in his incomplete novel La Morida the West Coast; " — ridiculous, unimaginative name, although it would be beautiful if encountered, say, in the Indian Ocean — or would be beautiful in French Cote Aouest — which makes him reflect about the prophet being without.. " (Pg. 188) and later; "it were eponymous, and certainly not so unimaginative as the beautiful horrible romantic old freighter he'd seen in the Indian Ocean, the British Motorist — the ship has a cargo of rolls of rusty barbed wire. Ugly ships. Possibly she'd done yeoman service in the war. Had oil-tankers got souls? Could their captain love these diesel-engined monstrosities to the extent, like his grandfather, of going down with them?" (Pg 188) and his posthumously published novel Dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid; "of hundreds of miles behind this childhood dream of heaven, and rolling valleys, the dream of the sailor sleeping on the poop in the vast violet of the Indian Ocean as it deepens at noon. (Pg. 221)