Henry Major Tomlinson was born in 1873 in Wanstead, Essex, but spent his youth around the London docks. At the age of twelve he was employed as a shipping clerk. Hating the drudgery of the work, he nevertheless loved the ships with which his labors brought him in contact. Even while working, he found time to read extensively, some of his favorite authors being Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. He married Florence Hammond in 1898.
Tomlinson started writing early in his life and began submitting his work to editors in hopes of escaping the shipping office, but he was thirty-one before he was able to leave his job as a clerk. He became a member of the editorial staff of the London Morning Leader in 1904 and remained in this position until 1909, when he embarked on a long trip across the Atlantic and up the Amazon River on a tramp steamer. This voyage and his experiences on it are the source for The Sea and the Jungle, his best-known travel book. Tomlinson joined the staff of the London Daily News in 1912, serving as a war correspondent in France and Belgium from 1914 to 1917. In 1917 he became literary editor of The Nation and thenaeum, a post he left six years later to pursue writing full-time.
With the publication of Gallions Reach in 1927, Tomlinson achieved success as a novelist, and subsequently he devoted much of his attention to fiction. This first novel, a romance set in the Far East, won the Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize and caused Tomlinson to be associated, as an author, with Joseph Conrad. Perhaps the primary resemblance between them is their devotion to the sea, although Tomlinson also shared Conrad’s conviction that the human state of mind, the thought process, is more important than action as such.
Tomlinson went on to write seven more novels, many of them autobiographical. His essays—collected in such volumes as Old Junk, London River, and Waiting for Daylight—earned him a popular following and are distinguished by a style of impressive imagery, verbal beauty, and poetic introspection. They range in subject matter from his beloved London to the drawbacks of technological progress. Better still are such travel books as The Sea and the Jungle and Tidemarks, the former of which is regarded as a classic of its kind. Tomlinson died in London in 1958.