Wednesday Waffles - Fergus Hume

The earliest Australian Crime Fiction book I've ever found reference to is Ellen Davitt's Force and Fraud which was originally published in 1865, but for sheer numbers and prolific writing Fergus Hume is somebody that needs mentioning.

Starting with The Mystery of the Hansom Cab published in 1886, Fergus Hume went on to have about 137 books published up until 1932.

Fergus Hume (1859-1932) was an English lawyer who emigrated to New Zealand with his parents - Dr James Collin Hume and Mary Ferguson (from Glasgow originally).  (James was responsible for founding the first private mental hospital there as well as Dunedin College). Fergus completed his education in New Zealand, and was called to the New Zealand bar in 1885, before moving to Melbourne later in the same year.

Whilst determined to become a play writer, he worked as a solicitors clerk in Melbourne, remaining mostly unknown.  Desperate to gain the attention of local theatre directors, he found that the most popular writer of books at the time was Emile Gaboriau and his detective works.  Hume used these books as a point of study and came up with his own first effort in 1886 The Mystery of the Hansom Cab.  Hume, being based in Melbourne, set his first book firmly in the city - set amongst the laneways and streets of the city and the "outer" suburbs of St Kilda and Brighton.  The book has a number of interesting elements to it - firstly for the clear and very stark depiction of the fledgling colonial city, and then of the society itself within that city.  Slightly controversial at the time, it managed to offend by drawing a pretty stark portrait of the extremes in Melbourne society and even, albeit somewhat obliquely in some places, incorporating some social commentary along the way.

The book was undoubtedly a very good book at the time - and it remains extremely readable today which is quite something given that much early crime fiction doesn't necessarily hold up well with the passage of time.  Hume must have been extremely frustrated at his inability to get the book published - mostly being rejected by publishers for reasons similar to "no Colonial could write anything worth reading".   Ultimately, he had the book published privately - selling the publishing rights for £50.  Luckily he retained the dramatic rights which allowed him to make a reasonable profit from long theatre runs in both Australia and London.

Hume wrote one other novel set in and around Ballarat and the Australian gold mining fields - Madame Midas which was published in 1889.  Many many books followed from there (the full list of his books is included below), but Hume himself left Australia and settled in Essex, England where he remained until he died from heart failure in July 1932.

Project Gutenberg includes a number of Fergus Hume's works that you can access on line: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/h#a1057

Bibliography

  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886)
  • Professor Brankel's Secret (1886)
  • Madame Midas (1888)
  • The Girl from Malta (1889)
  • The Piccadilly Puzzle (Also published as: Dowker - Detective) (short stories 1889)
  • The Gentleman Who Vanished (US Title: The Man Who Vanished) (1889)
  • The Man with a Secret (1890)
  • Miss Mephistopheles (Also published as: Tracked by Fate; or, Miss Mephistopheles (1890)
  • Whom God Hath Joined (1891)
  • Monsieur Judas (1891)
  • A Creature of the Night (1891)
  • The Year of Miracle (1891)
  • When I Lived in Bohemia (1892)
  • The Island of Fantasy (1892)
  • The Chronicles of Faeryland (1892)
  • Alladin in London (1892)
  • The Fever of Life (1892)
  • The Black Carnation (1892)
  • The Harlequin Opal (1893)
  • The Chinese Jar (1893)
  • A Speck of the Motley (1893)
  • A Midnight Mystery (1894)
  • The Nameless City (1894)
  • The Gates of Dawn (1894)
  • The Best of Her Sex (1894)
  • The Lone Inn (1894)
  • The Mystery of Landy Court
  • (US Title: From Thief to Detective) (1894)
  • The Crime of 'Liza Jane' (1895)
  • The White Prior (1895)
  • The Carbuncle Clue (1896)
  • Tricked by a Tattoo (1896)
  • The Expedition of Captain Flick (1896)
  • The Dwarf's Chamber and other stories (short stories) (1896)
  • A Marriage Mystery (1896)
  • Claude Duval of Ninety-Five (1897)
  • The Tombstone Treasure (1897)
  • Hagar of the Pawn-Shop (short stories) (1898)
  • Under One Cover (1898)
  • The Clock Struck One (1898)
  • Lady Jezebel (1898)
  • The Rainbow Feather (1898)
  • The Devil-Stick (US Title: For the Defense) (1898)
  • The Silent House in Pimlico (US Title: The Silent House) (1899)
  • The Red-Headed Man (1899)
  • The Indian Bangle (1899)
  • The Crimson Cryptogram (1900)
  • A Traitor in London (1900)
  • Shylock of the River (1900)
  • The Lady from Nowhere (1900)
  • The Bishop's Secret (US Title: Bishop Pendle; or, The Bishop's Secret) (1900)
  • The Vanishing of Tera (1900)
  • A Woman's Burden (1901)
  • The Golden Wang-Ho (US Title: The Secret of the Chinese Jar) (1901)
  • The Millionaire Mystery (1901)
  • The Mother of Emeralds (1901)
  • The Crime of the Crystal (1901)
  • The Turnpike House (1902)
  • Woman: The Sphinx (1902)
  • The Pagan's Cup (1902)
  • The Guilty House (1903)
  • The Jade Eye (1903)
  • The Miser's Will (1903)
  • A Coin of Edward VII (1903)
  • The Yellow Holly (1903)
  • The Silver Bullet (1903)
  • The Wheeling Light (1904)
  • The White Room (1904)
  • The Mandarin's Fan (1904)
  • The Red Window (1904)
  • The Lonely Church (1904)
  • The Fatal Song (1905)
  • The Scarlet Bat (1905)
  • Lady Jim of Curzon Street (1905)
  • The Opal Serpent (1905)
  • The Secret Passage (1905)
  • The Wooden Hand (1905)
  • The Black Patch (1906)
  • The Dancer in Red (short stories) (1906)
  • Jonah's Luck (1906)
  • The Mystery of the Shadow (1906)
  • The Yellow Hunchback (1907)
  • The Purple Fern (1907)
  • Flies in the Web (1908)
  • The Sacred Herb (1908)
  • The Sealed Message (1908)
  • The Mystery of a Motor Cab (1908)
  • The Crowned Skull (1908)
  • The Green Mummy (1908)
  • The Amethyst Cross (1908)
  • The Top Dog (1909)
  • The Disappearing Eye (1909)
  • The Solitary Farm (1909)
  • The Devil's Ace (1909)
  • The Spider (1910)
  • The Mikado Jewel (1910)
  • The Peacock of Jewels (1910)
  • The Lonely Subaltern (1910)
  • The Rectory Governess (1911)
  • The Steel Crown (1911)
  • The Pink Shop (1911)
  • High Water Mark (1911)
  • The Jew's House (1911)
  • Mother Mandarin (1912)
  • Across the Footlights (1912)
  • A Son of Perdition (1912)
  • The Mystery Queen (1912)
  • Red Money (1912)
  • The Blue Talisman (1912)
  • Seen in the Shadow (1913)
  • In Queer Street (1913)
  • The Thirteenth Guest (1913)
  • The Curse (1913)
  • The 4 P.M. Express (1914)
  • Not Wanted (1914)
  • The Lost Parchment (1914)
  • Answered: A Spy Story (1915)
  • The Caretaker (1915)
  • The Red Bicycle (1916)
  • The Silent Signal (1917)
  • The Grey Doctor (1917)
  • The Black Image (1918)
  • Next Door (1918)
  • Heart of Ice (1918)
  • Crazy-Quilt (1919)
  • The Master-Mind (1919)
  • The Dark Avenue (1920)
  • The Other Person (1920)
  • The Singing Head (1920)
  • The Woman Who Held On (1920)
  • The Unexpected (1921)
  • Three (1921)
  • A Trick of Time (1922)
  • The Moth-Woman (1923)
  • The Whispering Lane (1924)
  • The Caravan Mystery (1926)
  • The Last Straw (1932)

Postscript:

Whilst the parts of Victoria that Fergus Hume wrote about have mostly been spared thus far, this has been a dreadful week and the ongoing bushfire situation isn't going to end anytime soon.  Whilst those of us lucky enough to be safe and out of the worst of the areas, are chatting away about what is, after all, pure entertainment, spare a thought for the army of volunteers and paid workers trying to pull these fires up.  Spare a thought for how many of them have lost everything themselves, and yet they are still out there fighting these fires. 

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