Sunday, September 19, 2010

James Skipp Borlase (1839-1902)

“We have no hesitation in saying that the life of Ned Kelly, the Ironclad Bushranger is as disgraceful and disgusting a production as has ever been printed.” -- Saturday Review, 26 Nov 1881.

Ned Kelly, the Ironclad Australian Bushranger was published by Alfred J. Isaacs & Sons of 16 Camomile Street, London, in 1881. Isaacs was not a huge publisher of penny dreadful, in fact this was their only known title. However, the last page of the bound volume (it was first distributed in penny numbers) lists the “Anonyma” series of popular novels with 16 titles in picture board’s priced 2 shillings each. Publishers C. H. Clarke and Henry Vickers names appeared on some of the boards for Ned Kelly. As well Chapter CCXXIII has a series of quotes from the London press which gives the address of the publisher as “Illustrated London Novelette” office, at 280 Strand, as the issuer of the original 38 penny numbers. This was the General Publishing Company. The Illustrated London Novelette published “complete novels” from 1880 to 1893.

The author of Ned Kelly was James Skipp Borlase who used the pen name J. J. G. Bradley (1839-1902). James Skipp Borlase was born in Truro, Cornwall in 1839 to James John Grenfell and Frances Catharine Borlase. In the 1851 census he was living with an aunt and uncle at Ringmore, Stokeinteignhead, Devonshire. His first known published literary work was a poem published in The What-Not; or, Ladies Handy-book in 1859. His address at this time was 12, North Parade, Penzance, Cornwall.

The Solicitors Journal reports that Borlase passed his examination in 1862 and was articled (or assigned) to his father J. J. G. Borlase and J. Roscoria. Borlase practiced law as a solicitor from Jun 1862 to Dec 1863. He apparently contributed to the Family Herald and London Journal. Two short tales appeared in the Odd-Fellows Magazine published in Manchester; ‘Ecarte’ in1862 and ‘Dr. Norton; or, Love in Death, a Sketch from a Law-Students Diary,’ in 1864. ‘Dr. Norton’ was resold c. 1867 to the Australian Journal under the new title ‘Our Fellow-Lodger.’

He married Rosanna Flamank in Sept 1863 and the couple took ship to Australia in March 1864. Borlase worked as a solicitor, but deserted his wife in 1865 and ran off to Tasmania. He was arrested and returned to his wife in Melbourne where they reconciled. He was a staff writer for the Australian Journal from 1865 to 1869. His AJ crime series was collected in book-form as The Night Fossickers in 1867, with the addition of at least one chapter written by Mary Helena Fortune (1833-1909), a Canadian who wrote under the name of ‘Waif Wander.’ Borlase edited Fun; or, the Tasmanian Charivari from April to Sept 1867. The year 1868, in Sydney, he began syndicating fiction supplements to bush papers in New South Wales. He apparently wrote a Mysteries of Melbourne which is only known through title chains (‘by author of…).

Borlase returned to the UK in 1869, followed by accusations of plagiarism, and wrote articles for Temple Bar, and Once a Week. Most of his work from that point on appeared in penny dreadful and boys’ story periodicals. 

He wrote Through a Thousand Perils, Mazeppa; or, The Demon Horse of the Ukraine, and That Rascal Jack, a Tale of Thrashemwell College, for the Emmett’s Sons of Brittania as J. J. G. Bradley. Wreck of the Golden Cloud; or, The Three Gallant Middies, Skeleton Island; or, the Pirates’ Hidden Treasure, and The Mastiff of the Guard: a Tale of Van Diemans Landwere published in The Young Englishman. For the Boys’ Standard he wrote Gentleman George the King of the Road (1875) illustrated by G. C. Tressider, On the Queen’s Service, illustrated by William Reynolds, Bluecap the Bushranger; or, The Australian Dick Turpin (1876), The King of Diamonds; or, the Adventures of the Pack in France, (a sequel to Gentleman George) and Young Will Watch, the Smuggler King

Bluecap, Gentleman George, King of Diamonds and On the Queen’s Service were serialized in The Boys of New York as by J.G. Bradley and an American author used the pseudonym in The American Gentleman George, Starlight Tom; or, the Riders of the Forest, and Gentleman George and his Strange Adventures for the same periodical.

In 1884 Borlase wrote Tom King: The Hero Highwayman; or, Stand and Deliver, by the author of “Lady Godiva,” “Sixteen String Jack,” “Ned Kelly,” “Will Watch,” “Prairie Perils,” “Mazeppa,” &c. Tom King was published by Pinder, Briggate, Leeds, under the title of “The Yorkshire Pocket Library.” For True Love's Sake: a Tale of Paris and The Police Minister: a Tale of St. Petersburg were published by Warne in 1890.

In 1891 Borlase contributed The Golden Creek; or, Lost in the Bush to the Boys' Champion, which had incorporated The Boys’ Leisure Hour that year. He also contributed to Pearson’s Big Budget (1897-1909). He had married again, a much younger girl, and at the turn of the century was supplying newspaper serials for the Tillotson & Son syndicate who had been publishing his serials since the 1870s. In the 1880s and 1890s he was writing books for Cassell & Co. which were serialized in newspapers throughout the British Empire and in the New York Sunday Mercury. 

Some of the Borlase titles I found running in newspapers from 1896 until his death were The World's Wicked Ways; or, The City of Pleasure, Peril and Perdition, Nina the Nihilist, Loved by an Empress; or, the Palace of Ice a Romance of Holy Russia, The Black Hand, The Black Bloodhound, Queen of the Harem, Murdered at Mid-Day; or, the Girl with Three Lovers, Darker than Death, An Ocean Secret: Being a Strange Story of a Dead Man’s Gold, Recalled to Life, The Shadow of the Knout, and A Wild Wooing and a Weird Wedding. He wrote To Avenge Gordon!; or, The Last Dash for Khartoum, a Tale of Love and War, published in 1898. His last newspaper serial was Boer or Briton? or, Equal Rights for all Whites, a Tale of Love and War in South Africa in 1900. The 1901 census shows him living at Brighton with second wife Susanna and 17 year old daughter Fanny. Borlase died in Brighton at the age of 70 on Nov 1, 1909. [Author Dies at Brighton, Brighton Gazette, Nov 6, 1909. Thanks to Petra Weber]


  1. How utterly oddly coincidental! I was just told, right after viewing the documentary "Ned Kelly Uncovered" this week, that I resembled Ned Kelly in one of my recent photos - the commenter had no idea I'd just watched it - then you post this! Interesting coincidence!! Incidentally, I look nothing like the bloke.

  2. Telepathy? Its only a 3 hour drive from Calgary to Edmonton!

  3. Fascinating! Do you know what was in the content to explain the "disgraceful and disgusting" review? I'm assuming Kelly's bushranging career, including the killing of policemen, would have been sufficient.

  4. Hi Lyn, The author never specified what he found "disgraceful and disgusting" about the book but I think you have it right. There were a few mildly risque parts and lots of mindless violence otherwise not much worse than the average pd. I preferred Bluecap the Bushranger to Ned Kelly.

  5. Did a search for James S Borlase and this blog came up first. Interesting author.

    I'm researching other things but a serialisation of one of his novels appeared. This is from Dunfermline Saturday Press - Saturday 05 February 1887. Also lists other works such as The Cuirassiers of the Guard, Three Dashing Hussars, Sword and Lance, The Queen's Cadet, The Queen's Colours, The Hundred Guardsmen, Freebooters and Sharpshooters and Who Murdered John Cameron. Quite a prolific author.

  6. Thanks. Some of these titles including The Cuirassiers of the Guard were serialized in The Sons of Britannia here >

  7. I have a copy of 'The white witch of Worcester' by James Skipp Borlase, which was published in 1928 by the (long since defunct) Worcester Chronicle; it was apparently serialised first in the 1880's.

  8. Thanks... Interesting stuff! I have some of his books, I've always liked the cover of "Stirring Tales of Colonial Adventure" !! His daughter, Fanny Grenfell Borlase, was my Grandmother. Died in 1971.

  9. It's Sydney NOT Sidney. Bloody hell...