Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who wrote Jack Harkaway?

If you're a fan of old penny dreadfuls, the answer is obvious: it was Bracebridge Hemyng. Crazy name, crazy guy, as they'd say in Private Eye. Trained as a lawyer, Hemyng became a hugely prolific writer of crime and romance novels and collections, wrote about life in London and created one of the most famous characters in boys' fiction.

Jack Harkaway was not the first schoolboy story to be serialised in old boys' papers—that honour goes to "The Boys of Bircham School" by George Emmett which, whilst owing something to Tom Brown's Schooldays, set the template for serial yarns about young English lads and their schooling. Dozens of similar stories followed (Emmett himself produced the long-running "Tom Wildrake's Schooldays" series), but none had the success of Jack Harkaway.

Harkaway is an astonishing character. An orphan, he is enrolled in Pomona House Academy in the hope that it will calm him down for Jack is constantly in trouble, playing practical jokes and getting into fights. But that's precisely what happens when he arrives at school where he meets his nemesis, a bully named Hunston whom he defeats, thus earning the respect of his classmates.

Jack, a skilled ventriloquist, causes all sorts problems although his practical jokes are always aimed at bullies and teachers—no doubt considered fair game by his young audience. But Hemyng seemed not to know how to hold back and at least one child loses his life when he falls from a train and another jape, involving a circus parade, leads to a teacher's wife being killed by a lion. What John Hammerton saw as the "robust humour" of the series, others saw as more pernicious. Reading them nowadays it's impossible not to be shocked by the jingoism and bigotry of the stories. Even sixty years ago, one writer was asking "how on earth schoolboys could read it without vomiting can only be understood by clinging to the belief that they had acquired the horrid taste gradually."

After burning down the school, Jack is sent to sea. Hemyng took Jack to China before returning him to England to enroll at Oxford.

The Harkaway stories were appearing in the most popular of boys' penny papers, Boys of England published by Edwin Brett and his appearance sent sales soaring , adding 100,000 copies a week. The stories also found a ready audience in America where Frank Leslie reprinted the stories in Frank Leslie's Boys' and Girls' Weekly from December 1871; these were unpaid reprints and Leslie soon ran out of stories as Hemyng was also writing other tales at the same time, including the adventures of a Harkaway clone called Dick Lightheart.

Leslie offered Hemyng a huge sum—$10,000 a year—to write exclusively for his papers and Hemyng, not surprisingly, accepted this vast fortune and moved to America in 1873. He began writing 'Jack Harkaway in America' immediately and the story was licensed back to the UK where it began serialisation in George Emmett's Young Englishman in January 1874.

Edwin Brett struck back by hiring another author to write 'Jack Harkaway and his Son's Adventures Around the World' which ran for 21 months in Boys of England. These two divergent series—those written by Hemyng and published in the UK by Emmett, and the second series published by Brett—ran alongside each other for some years until Frank Leslie's publishing empire began to crumble and Hemyng discovered that his contract was worthless. After working for Beadle & Adams briefly, he reestablished himself with Leslie when the latter's finances stabilised and continued to write for the Leslie publications until 1884.

Hemyng then returned to the UK and eventually began writing new Harkaway stories for Edwin Brett's son (also Edwin), although in the 1890s, Harkaway was beginning to lose his appeal and Brett's Jack Harkaway's Journal folded after only 18 issues. Long gone were the days when newsvendors would fight each other in the streets outside of Brett's office in order to be the first to get their copies of the latest instalment of Jack's adventures.

The question many have asked is: Who wrote the anonymous stories published by Edwin Brett following Hemyng's defection to America in 1873. The only publication information offered by Brett was that the stories were "edited by Edwin J. Brett. Notice—All Dramatic Rights to Mr. Edwin J. Brett's 'Jack Harkaway' Stories are strictly reserved."

Some years ago, a chink in the anonymous armour appeared when antiquarian book dealer Robert Taylor offered a number of copies of Harkaway novels which had been inscribed. To the title pages of copies of "Jack Harkaway Among the Brigands" and "Jack Harkaway and Son's Adventures Round the World" were added the words "by Philip Richards". Both volumes also contined the inscription of Richards' daughter "Millie Stavordale nee Richards". It is worth noting that copies of "Jack Harkaway After Schooldays" and "Jack Harkaway at Oxford" were not inscribed as being by Philip Richards [they were certainly by Bracebridge Hemyng] although although his ownership was proven by his signature on the first leaf of the former.

This news made barely a ripple as collectors of Jack Harkaway are now few and far between. I remember doing some digging around at the time to see what I could find about Philip Richards and drew a complete blank on both him and his daughter.

I've returned to the mystery a couple of times without making any headway... until yesterday when I thought I'd take another crack at it. Lo and behold, something weird turned up and I may have resolved who Philip Richards was, although you have to start with his daughter—or, more correctly with his daughter's husband.

Stavordale is not a common name. There was a minor peer called Stephen Fox-Strangeways (1817-1848), the son of the Earl of Ilchester, who became Lord Stavordale, but do a Google search and you won't find many people with that surname.

I eventually tracked down a Mrs. Stavordale and her hubby in immigration records at Ellis Island. Mrs. Amelia Stavordale travelled to the USA in 1905, 1907 and 1911 with her husband Jack Stavordale. Jack was an "artiste" according to these records and his name was given as Miles-Stavordale in the 1911 records that I located.

The Stavordales lived at 50 Rupert Street, London in 1907; in 1911 they were living at Granville Mansions, Shepherds Bush, London. The immigration records note all sorts of details about them... including the fact that both Jack and Amelia were 6' 3" tall. They must have made quite an imposing sight together.

Jack Stavordale was the manager of the Miles-Stavordale Quintet, a popular banjo and harp act in British music halls from around 1899 on. The band apparently went to New York for the first time in 1902 when they played second place to Milly Capell "whose sensational equestrian feats have attracted attention" (New York Times, 28 September 1902) It must have been around this time that a rumour spread in New York that Jack Stavordale was engaged to be married to Marie Dressler, the actress.

On with the hunt... and the next bit takes a leap of faith. Amelia Stavordale was born c.1867 according to her age during her trips to the USA. So I took a flyer to see if I could find an Amelia Richards born around the same time whose father was called Philip. And there is one: Amelia Matilda Duhart Richards, born 4 November 1866 (christened 25 April 1867 at St. James, Westminster).

Could this be out Millie Stavordale nee Richards?

We come, therefore to Philip Richards. Philip Richards was the son of Henry Robins Richards and his wife Amelia and was born in Lambeth in 1842. He married Caroline Adams at Saint James, Westminster on 27 January 1866 and the couple had three children: Amelia (b. 1866, as above), Caroline Florence Richards (b. 1 September 1869; ch. 17 September 1869 at St. James) and Marie Ruth Richards (b. 1 February 1871; ch. 24 May 1871 at St. James).

In 1871, Philip and his family are living at 33 Cranbourne Street, Westminster, and his occupation is described as an Agent for [French? It's annoyingly illegible!] Gords. In 1881 he was living at 4 Trafalgar Road, Camberwell, Surrey and his occupation was given as Furniture Fabric Importer (Merchant).

I cannot trace Richards in the 1891 census and suspect that he is the Philip Richards whose death was registered at Holborn in 1890.

Although I can believe Amelia Stavordale could well be known as Millie Stavordale, her father's occupations as listed in census records doesn't sound too hopeful. 'Jack Harkaway and His Son's Adventures Round the World' (serialised in Boys of England in 1874-75) doesn't sound like it might have been the work of a Furniture Fabric Importer, does it?

However, there is still a chance that Philip Richards was indeed a writer—at least part time. The timing of the story is interesting: Richards was married and had three children to support and may have found himself in need of extra money. Rather more compelling, I feel, is what we find when we look further back into his past.

Henry Richards, his father, was a printer. The family were living at 1 Exeter Change in 1851 at which time Henry's elder brothers Henry and Mark were also printers (the latter an apprentice). But what I find most interesting is in the 1861 census: Philip is then an 18-year-old clerk living at 33 Cranbourne Street with his widowed mother and, at the same address is another clerk, a 26-year-old named Charles H. Ross. The same Charles Henry Ross who, whilst working at Somerset House, began writing stories for Reynolds's Miscellany, bloods for the cheap press and would later create Ally Sloper, Britain' first comic strip character and was also amongst Edwin Brett's contributors with the serial "Philip's Peril by Land and Sea" in Boys of England in 1869.

It seems possible that Philip Richards may have been introduced to Brett by Ross and subsequently became a contributor to Boys of England. If Brett paid Richards the same miserly rate that he rewarded Bracebridge Hemyng, Richards may well have deserted Brett for new pastures, in or out of the writing game, which may explain why his name has never cropped up in any of the literature about penny dreadfuls before. The signed books strongly imply that someone called Philip Richards wrote "Jack Harkaway" and this Philip Richards (1842-1890?) seems to me the most likely candidate, despite some odd occupations recorded in census records.

Just to tidy up a couple of loose ends: in 1891, Amelia Richards was a telephone operator living with her sister Marie; she was married at the Strand Register Office in London in 1900 to John Emes Thomas, who used the stage name Jack Stavordale. I've now had this confirmed by Hazel Greenfield, Stavordale's great-granddaughter, who tells me he stood 6' 6" and that Amelia was his second wife (he had previously married in 1875).

Update: 7 May 2008

John Adcock has unearthed some interesting information on Richards for his Yesterday's Papers blog. Apparently, Richards contributed to various Christmas issues of Bow Bells Annual published by John Dicks alongside Charles H. Ross and J. Redding Ware (another penny dreadful contributor). John also noted vari0us stories in a series of magazines published by A. Lynes & Sons. Here's the embarrassing bit... I've indexed some of those in the past and Richards was a regular contributor (as was Bracebridge Hemyng). I'd completely forgotten.

So... here's a brief bibliography of Richards' known work elsewhere:

Christmas in France (Bow Bells Annual, 13 Dec 1868)
The Awful Ending of the Fancy Barber (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Sum 1870)
Tum Tum's Story (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Win 1870)
"Poor Papa" (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Sum 1871)
The Queen's Shilling (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Sum 1873)
Chronicles of Chid's Chambers (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Christmas 1873)
Bolter! (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Sum 1874)
The Juvenile Lead (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Sum 1875)
Jack Jerrold's Holiday (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine 12, 1875)
Miss A. Braithwaite (A. Lynes & Son's Illustrated Magazine, Win 1877)

Even more interesting is the fact that Richards and Ross collaborated on a play, "Ruth; or, a Poor Girl's Life in London", that was staged at the Surrey Theatre on 25 February 1871.

And then there's "Philip's Peril by Land and Sea" which was serialised in Boys of England in 1869, credited by Charles H. Ross and Quentyn Richards (which information I missed first time round). What's the betting Quentyn is really Philip.

So it would appear that the Ross connection was strong and, to my mind—especially now we know Richards was a reasonably prolific writer and quite possibly contributing to BoE as early as 1869—makes Richards' apparent claim to have written Jack Harkaway all the stronger.

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