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A Great Savior; Or, Gustave the Dutch Boy

by Thomas John Barnado

The Children’s Treasury & Advocate of the Homeless & Destitute, vol. 1, issue 1 (1874)

Pages 11-12

A sample page from A Great Savior; Or, Gustave the Dutch Boy by Thomas John Barnado
From “A Great Savior; Or, Gustave the Dutch Boy.” Used by permission, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Introductory Note: The editor of The Children’s Treasury, Dr. Thomas John Barnardo, wrote the tale “A Great Savior; Or, Gustave the Dutch Boy.” The story  is an adaptation of a popular legend about a Dutch boy who saved Holland by sticking his finger in the hole of a water dyke. Barnardo’s adaptation integrates religious symbolism within the story, in keeping with the aims of his ragged school children’s magazine.


THE country of Holland is not at all like England. It has no high mountains or great hills, but is very flat and low; so low that the sea would come in and cover all the land, if the people did not build great and thick walls of mud to keep it out. But often, in very stormy and bad weather, the waves of the ocean have cracked and broken these walls, and even occasionally have risen above them; and then the water rushed over the country and destroyed the cities and houses, and drowned a great many people, and little children, and the cattle, and the horses and sheep too. So you see the people have very great cause to fear such a flood, and they pay great attention to the walls.

One evening, many years ago, a little boy, whom we shall name Gustave, was walking near one of these walls, a great way off from the houses, and he thought he heard a rushing, hissing sound, like that of running water. So he looked all around, and sure enough he soon saw that there was a small hole in the sea-wall, through which the water was coming in, and which was getting larger and larger every moment. Gustave called out aloud for help; but he was too far away for any one to hear him, and he soon saw that calling out was of no use. He was a brave lad, and did not like to run home for help, fearing that the hole would be too big when he came back. So what do you think he did? Why this—he went up to the hole and boldly thrust in his own arm beyond the elbow, and found that in this way he quite plugged it up, and prevented the water from entering.

Meantime it began to grow dark; and though he continued to call aloud for aid, no one heard him, and his poor arm and side felt so stiff and cold that he was nigh giving up. But he thought of his father and mother, of his brothers and sisters, perhaps asleep in bed; and if he took out his arm, and the water came in during the dark night, what would become of them, and of all the people in the place? Shuddering to think of it, he determined to hold on. And so all through the dark night, whilst the waves were beating near the wall, and the cold, sharp wind was almost piercing through his bones, the little hero maintained his post. And when morning at last came, he was found by a laborer who passed that way, stiff and cold, almost dead; but with his arm still firmly wedged in the hole, through which, otherwise, certain death would have come to everybody who lived near.

Well, of course, when all the people heard of it, and considered the great danger to which they had been exposed during the night, and the heroic self-denying love of the dear young lad, they were deeply moved. And all the women thronged around him and kissed him, and the men carried him home in triumph to his house; and they built a beautiful statue as a memorial, and put underneath the words, ‘The Saviour of his Country.’ And wherever that lad went, people honored, loved, and tried to please him, because he had shown such wonderful love to them. Of course there may have been some people who said, ‘We don’t believe this story is true; why should we love him? Nonsense! you know it cannot be true.’ But others would say, ‘Oh, just think of it, when we lay asleep that night, never dreaming of danger, there was that dear Gustave standing with his arm plugging the hole; and he saved us by doing this all through the night. How grateful we ought to feel! Oh, how we ought to love him with our whole hearts for what he has done!”

Dear little friends, this is just what people are saying and doing all over the world now. The Wonderful One who prevented the dark, awful waters of sin, and death, and hell, from drowning us all, was Jesus. It was Jesus who, when we deserved to go to hell because we were sinners, loved us so much that He endured the awful pain and agony of the cross, that we by trusting Him might be safe and happy. The Bible says—“ He bare our sins in His own body on the tree,”11 Peter 2:24. and “He died the just for the unjust to bring us to God.”21 Peter 3:18. Every one who believes this must love Jesus with all his heart, and will shew his gratitude by a holy life. The people who believed the story about Gustave, were very grateful and happy next day, as they thought of their deliverance and their deliverer; and so will every little one who reads this, and who shall believe in his or her heart, and say like St. Paul, ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’3Galatians 2:20.

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How To Cite (MLA Format)

Thomas John Barnado. “A Great Savior; Or, Gustave the Dutch Boy.” The Children’s Treasury & Advocate of the Homeless & Destitute, vol. 1, no. 1, 1874, pp. 11-2. Edited by Rachel Forsey. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 25 July 2024,


Rachel Forsey
Isaac Robertson
Alexandra Malouf


20 September 2018

Last modified

25 July 2024


1 1 Peter 2:24.
2 1 Peter 3:18.
3 Galatians 2:20.