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Saturday, January 31, 2015

John H. Duos

Full credit to my mate John Herrington for the following discovery.  In Al Hubin's Crime Fiction Bibliography there is a short entry for one John H. Duos, who wrote a couple of paperback originals shortly after the First World War but was primarily listed for a collection of a dozen crime stories entitled The Order of the Cross, published in 1903.

John spotted an entry in death records for a John H. C. D. Duos, who died in 1941 in Plymouth, Devon, aged 57.

As John Harold Duos, he contributed to The Star as early as 1898 with the story 'An Introduction to Venus' (23 May 1898) and made a further two contributions in 1899-1900 as John H. Duos. A search of other newspaper resources led to the discovery of many more stories, including a number of serials, at least some of which were later reprinted as paperbacks, including The Silver Crucifix and The Prettiest Girl in London. It would appear that John H. Duos had a far more extensive writing career than we were giving him credit.

John Harold Duos is to be found renting rooms at 6 Culverley Cresent, Catford, in 1912 and 125 Inchmery Road, Lewisham, in 1913-15.

However, a search of census records shows that in 1911, 6 Culverley Crescent was occupied by 69-year-old widow Matilda Cairns and her son, 34-year-old author and journalist John Cairns. It isn't a great step to prove that Cairns was behind the pen-name John H. Duos as his death in 1941 was also registered as John H. C. D. Cairns.

His origins are rather more tricky to trace. A death at age 57 would imply he was born in 1883 or 1884. The 1911 census gives his place of birth as Bermondsey, London, and both Mathilda (sic) and John Cairns are to be found in earlier census records which give John's birth as 1875/76 or 1876/77.

In 1881, aged 5, he was living with his parents, Scottish-born John (an engine fitter) and Mathilda (born in Lyons, France, of British parents) and younger brother Robert (born in Bermondsey 9 months earlier in 1880), at 7 Mossington Road, Rotherhithe, Southwark. By 1891 the family were living at Abbeyfield Road, Rotherhithe, and 14-year-old John was working as a leather strap cutter.

By 1901, 25-year-old John S. Cairns (sic) was still living with his mother at 312 Lynton Road, Bermondsey, but was now described as an author, journalist and dramatic critic.

The middle initial helps establish Cairns' birth, which was registered in 2Q 1876 in St. Olave, Bermondsey. He was baptized John Samuel Caldwell Cairns at St. James, Bermondsey, on 30 July 1876.

His parents were John Weir Cairns who was married to Matilda  Caldwell in St. Saviour, Southwark, in 1863. John Weir Cairns died in St. Olave, Southwark, in 1907, aged 71, and Mathilde (sic) Cairns died in Lewisham in 1914, aged 73.

In 1913, John H. Duos was described as "a well-known comedy playright and dramatic critic", although I can find no entry for him in Stage Yearbook, nor any trace of published plays.

In 1917, Duos became embroiled in a court case relating to a dispute over a magazine competition. The case, Barrett v. John Bull (Limited) was heard before Mr Justice Darling and a special jury and involved a £1,000 prize. This was offered by John Bull to anyone who could prove that their "'Bullet' competition" was not properly conducted.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to track down full details of the outcome of the case but the facts, as given by the defendants, are that the action was brought by a discharged servant of John Bull in relation to what was known as the 'Bullet' competition in which a phrase was given and contestants had to create a witty sentence of not more than four words which had some bearing on the phrase. For example, "Church Parade" was one of the phrases and the prize-winner's sentence was "Congregation Nodding."

Other examples, described in court as "equally amusing," included "Raw Recruit" ("Salutes cinema attendant!"), "When the honeymoon is over" ("Proposer becomes seconder"), "In great demand" ("Restitution of convivial nights"), "The British Navy" ("Does not sink to murder") and "The Kaiser's future" ("Won't rest with the clergy")—"And a good thing for him," added Mr. Justice Darling to general laughter.

Three former judges of the competition were to have been called as witnesses by the plaintiff but had not been served with subpoenas issued a month earlier despite every effort being made. The three journalists included Mr. Percy Douglas, who was also a member of the Bar and employed by the Board of Trade. On half a dozen occasions when called upon at the Board of Trade, it was said that Douglas was away on leave, yet when his residence was visited the plaintiff's solicitors, he was said to be at the Board of Trade.

The second named witness was John H. Duos "who was working under an assumed name." Douglas, Duos and a third man had all been judges of the competition and were paid for their work. Shortly before the £1,000 prize competition, they resigned and set up in business as "professional solutionists" offering to supply competitors with witty sentences at a price; those who bought them were to agree to pay a commission on the prizes won. In the circulars set out, mention was made that they had three years' experience of judging the competition.

The plaintiff alleged that the competition was not fairly conducted and that the three "solutionists" had made statutory declarations to that effect. Subsequently, the defendants received a letter from one of the three apologizing and withdrawing the allegation which he made.

When the case came before the King's Bench Division on 25 April 1917, Mr. Percy Oliver, for the plaintiff, asked that the case be postponed until his witnesses could be tracked down. Mr. Justice Darling responded by saying that "this was a question of a statutory declaration, and a man can be prosecuted for a false statement. The Public Prosecutor may want to know about this case if false statements have been made on oath, and in any case one of the men is a barrister, and the Benchers of his Inn would take notice of it. The case must be postponed until the next sittings.

"A grave charge was made against a newspaper of dishonest conduct, and it had been supported by three persons, all journalists, one of them also a barrister, who had made statutory declarations ... They might realize that if they had made statutory declarations which were not true it was a criminal offense. For anybody to do that was a serious matter, and for a barrister even to be suspected of it was very serious. After what had been said publicly in Court they would see that the alternative to accepting subpoenas and attending as witnesses to support their statutory declarations might be an appearance at a Police Court on a charge of making a false declaration."

His Lordship concluded that he was satisfied that there had been an attempt here to frustrate justice... but it would not succeed!

What happened next is something of a mystery. John H. Duos continued to write, although his publishers in the paperback field were not the best payers. The "My Pocket" 3d Novels series published by Hornsey Journal included at least one novel under the byline John H. Dunette, which may be another pseudonym. A third may be John Duno, under which byline appeared For the Cup and a Wife (Hornsey Journal FP Racing Novels 70, July 1930); if the John H. Dunette byline has a question mark over it, Duno might perhaps have two.

In 1939, Duos was living at 42 Ker Street, Devonport, Plymouth, with his wife. John S. C. Cairns had married Lilian A. Amey in Devonport in 1920. The 1939 Register gives his occupation as commercial traveller and his date of birth as 25 April 1884. 

Duos, as Cairns was widely known, probably continued to write until his death in 1941, aged 64 rather than the reported 57.


The Silver Crucifix. London, Aldine Publications (Mascot Novels 108), 1919.
The Convict Woman. London, Aldine Publications (Mascot Novels 111), 1919.
Hearts and Swords. London, Aldine Publications (Mascot Novels 120), 1919.
The Prettiest Girl in London. Aldine Publications (Mascot Novels 126), 1920.
Finding Love (as by John H. Dunette). Hornsey Journal (My Pocket 3d Novels 161), May 1928.
A Girl's Luck. Hornsey Journal (My Pocket 3d Novels 162), May 1928.

The Order of the Cross, and other detective stories. London, R. A. Everett & Co., 1903.

Short Stories & Serials
The Folly of Kate Millmay (as John Harold Duos, Chicago Daily Tribune, 10 Dec 1896; Winnipeg Free Press, 15 Jan 1897)
An Introduction to Venus (as John Harold Duos, The Star, 23 May 1898)
At the Penitent Form (The Star, 2 Oct 1899)
The Wholesale Liar (The Star, 30 May 1900)
The Mysterious Millionaire
The Terror of the Skies
The Vengeance of Leslie Drummond
A Society Sinner (serial, Lincoln Gazette, circa Oct/Dec 1907; Portsmouth Evening News, circa Jul/Aug 1908)
The Ruling Passion (serial, Bury Times, circa Oct 1909/Jan 1910; Lincolnshire Echo, circa May 1910)
A Mayfair Mystery
The Way of the World
The Secret Seven
The Mystery of the Runcorn Inheritance
Love Conquers All (serial, Northampton Mercury, 28 Jul 1911-circa Sep 1911)
Roger Wagnall's Ghost (Burnley News, 18 Dec 1912)
The Faithful Five (serial, The Bristol Observer, circa Apr 1913; New Zealand Herald, 25 Oct 1913-?)
Accidental Chapters
Points of View
Old Mr. Giffard's Will (The Bristol Observer, 28 Feb 1914; Tamworth Herald, 31 Oct 1914)
The Silver Crucifix
The Furnace of Affliction (serial, Biggleswade Chronicle, circa Jun/Jul 1917)
The Prettiest Girl in London
Doubleday's Double
The Revolutionist: A Story of a South American Republic (Taunton Courier, 28 Aug 1918)
The Girl with the Sea-Green Eyes (Framlingham Weekly News, 1 Aug 1931)

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Don't know if anyone is still watching this post. But john h duos is my grandad and would love to know more about him. Have his passport in the mr j h duos. But was known to use as J H Cairns.