Last month the Sheffield Reading 1900-1950 group considered melodrama, especially in the passionately seething novels of Ethel M. Dell. This month we’ll be considering sea and adventure books, and I shall be looking at an author I should have delved into more thoroughly a while ago.

‘Bartimeus’, I’ve discovered, sounds rather an interesting man. Born Lewis Anselm da Costa Ricci in 1886, he anglicised his name to Ritchie and trained as a naval officer. Bad eyesight prevented him from pursuing a career at sea, but he remained in the Navy, in the accounting branch. It was then that he began writing stories, mostly set at sea. He took his pen-name from the Bible, ironic ally hinting at his reason for leaving the career he loved by naming himself Bartimeus, the blind beggar of Mark 10, 46-52.
During the War he was seconded to the Admiralty, as secretary to Admiral C.L.Napier, and then later worked under Jellicoe. His literary output seems to have increased during the War, and some of the most interesting-looking pieces in this collection (which I’ve only just started reading) are stories closely based on fact – accounts of operations, and of topics like Q-ships.
In 1932 he served on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. In the Second World War he joined the Ministry of Information. He reported on Dunkirk and many other topics, until becoming Press Secretary to the King in 1944. He stayed in this post until 1947, when he retired.
His output was mostly in the short-story format. The Times obituary, from which I’ve gathered most of my facts, says that his one novel, Unreality:

made enjoyable reading, but […] from a technical point of view, exhibited a sailor’s open-handedness in the profusion of secondary episodes.

Over the next week or two, expect to see a few posts here about how he tackled the problem of turning wartime naval exploits into stories.
If anyone knows more about him, I’d be interested to hear.


  1. janevsw
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    According to http://www.randallhouserarebooks.com/store/book/23782, “Commander A. Lewis da Costa Ricci, took his pseudonym “Bartimeus” because at the loss of an eye as a result of Malta fever which he had while serving as midshipman in the Mediterranean.”

    Malta fever, also known as undulant fever, = brucellosis which can have ophthalmic manifestations. It’s transmitted via unsterilised milk or meat from infected animals, usually goats, and was a real problem for the RN in the Med.

    • Posted April 11, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Jane. I wonder whether he felt a certain irony during the second war, when he wrote two books in praise of Malta and its wartime endurance.

  2. MichaelTalbot-Butler
    Posted December 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Lewis Da Costa Ricci was the cousin of my late nmother Phyllis Talbot-Butler, nee Worthington-Lewis of Neath, South Wales.
    She died in 1995 at Prestwich, near Manchester aged 99 and often used to talk to me about her friendship with ‘Bartimeus’, whose books she loved.
    My father, Frederick George Talbot-Butler MM died in 1960 aged 70.
    I am the sole survivor of the family and live at Northwich in Cheshire aged 82. I was awarded the BEM in the Queens’ Birthday Honours List last June.
    Does anyone remember my family?

    • Posted February 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Hello Michael,

      My name is Heather and I am a researcher for a documentary company Spun Gold. If possible I’d love to talk to you about your family connection to Lewis Ricci – my email is heather.cruickshank@spungoldtv.com or my number is 0207 065 6930 if you’d be able to get in touch – it would be great to talk to you!


    • Judith Dunne
      Posted November 23, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Hi, my grandmother Idea Worthington-Jones was cousin to Lewis and I remember the name Phyllis being mentioned by her and Dodie her sister. Her first married name was Varley and both my mother Joyce and her sister Rachel had that as their maiden names.Lewis was instrumental in my sister and I being accepted at The Royal Naval School in Haslemere.

  3. Judith Dunne
    Posted November 23, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Ida not Idea

  4. Phil Hollington
    Posted April 13, 2018 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only read one of his stories “Of human valour” about a young woman, and old salt and a simple young man who go to Dunkirk. It is in a collection “Best stories of the Navy” given by by grandfather, himself ex-navy, to my father when he joined the RN in 1941. A lovely, moving story.

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