Who Shall be Leader? A Story of Two Boys’ Lives. Boys of England Office, 173 Fleet-street, 1896. Although not noted in the bound volume the author was Vane Ireton St. John, the illustrator a man named Hebblethwaite. Frank Jay said of Hebblethwaite that he “could draw as well with his left hand as with his right one, and was considered the finest black and white artist of the day. He eventually married Mr. Brett’s eldest sister. The artist’s work can be seen on the front pages of most of Brett’s publications.”
Who Shall be Leader? was first published in the inaugural number of Charles Stevens’s weekly boys story paper The Boys’ of England on Tuesday, November 27, 1866. Other serials begun in No. 1 were Alone in the Pirates’ Lair, by the editor Charles Stevens and Chevy Chase; or, the Battle on the Border, by John Cecil Stagg. After the 10th number B.O.E. was taken over by Edwin J. Brett with Vane St. John, John Cecil Stagg, and William Thompson Townsend, author of Giles Evergreen; or, Fresh from the Country, remaining as the lead writers of serials.
W. Emmett Laurence produced a rival in The Young Englishman’s Journal beginning on April 13, 1867. The Boys of Bircham School by George Emmett commenced in No. 8 of that publication. Edwin Brett’s next venture was The Young Men of Great Britain of January 28, 1868, which featured Bracebridge Hemyng’s Dick Lightheart serials in 1872. Tom Wildrake’s Schooldays began in 1870 in Emmett’s Sons of Britannia and Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays, by Bracebridge Hemyng, commenced in BOE No. 249, Vol. 10, 1871. Brett ceased publication of penny number romances around 1900 but continued to issue the stories in complete bound volumes with coloured wrappers for sixpence until the firm closed down in 1906.
John Springhall, in ‘Boys of Bircham School’: The penny dreadful origins of the popular English school story, 1867-1900 dismisses Who Shall be Leader? as the first penny dreadful school story because only 8 out of 23 parts take place in school before the boys head off to the Napoleonic War and the battle of Waterloo for the remainder.
However, in that short time frame Who Shall be Leader? has all the ingredients that went in to the make-up of the Boys of Bircham School and it’s many successors including canings (on naked flesh), bullies, practical jokes on the headmaster and tutors, even a tuck shop run by a Jew known as ‘Friar Tuck.’ It would be inconceivable that the proprietors of The Young Englishman’s Journal were unaware of one of the most popular stories to appear in the BOE considering the intense rivalry that was later to develop between Edwin Brett and the Emmett’s over Hemyng’s Jack Harkaway series.
*Corporal Punishment and Private Perversion by E. M. Sanchez Saavedra HERE
*A Notable Man: Edwin J. Brett HERE
*Who wrote Jack Harkaway? by Steve Holland HERE
*Philip Richards (1842-1890?) HERE
*Jack Harkaway's Schooldays and After HERE
*Jack Harkaway in America HERE
*The 'Orricle 'Unston Brothers by E. M. Sanchez Saavedra HERE
*Last of the Black Flag HERE
*Jack Harkaway Gallery HERE