Friday, November 5, 2010

Samuel Walkey (1871-1953)

Samuel Walkey was born at Kilkhampton, Cornwall on 10 July 1871 and was employed by a bank at 16 years of age. His wife encouraged him to write and he began working nights on romantic fiction for Cassel & Co. His stories appeared in The Storyteller, Cassell's Magazine, The Corner Magazine, Cassell's Saturday Journal, and Chums. The founder and first editor of Chums was Max Pemberton, author of “The Iron Pirate,” and a boyhood friend of Alfred Harmsworth, who was soon to dominate the field of story-paper publishing with the Marvel, Pluck and Union Jack. Chums was issued in penny weekly numbers from 14 September 1892 to 1932 and then published as an annual until its demise in 1941.

Walkey’s first Chums serial, “In Quest of Sheba’s Treasure” was published in 1895 and the serial he considered his best, “Rogues of the Fiery Cross,” in 1896. Numerous pirate and adventure serials followed including “The Pirates of Skeleton Island,” “Yo! Ho! For the Spanish Main,” “With Redskins on the Warpath,” and his final Chums serial “Rogues of the Roaring Glory.” Many of these were printed in hardcover in Britain and the United States following serialization. Paul Hardy (1862-1948), well-known for his illustration work for The Strand, was the artist most frequently associated with Walkey serials.

Walkey was best known for his gritty pirate stories but he also wrote numerous short stories featuring the two Jack-a-Lanterns, Marquis and Moonlight, with their Mystery Men, which were just as popular. Walkey described the Jack-a-Lanterns unusual background in Chums no 1096, 13 Sept 1913, in a revival of what were by then old characters. Walkey wrote in the old penny dreadful style: one (sometimes long) line at a time.

“Who was Jack-a-Lantern?

Those of you who have read the early adventures of that chivalrous and mysterious Englishman will not require to be reminded of his exploits; but there may be others to whom as yet Jack-a-Lantern is unknown.

I must therefore tell you, that at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, when the prisons were crowded with aristocrats -- when the guillotine had commenced its dreadful work -- when the most harmless and innocent people were hounded to death by monsters such as Fouquier-Tinville, when Paris had become a City of Blood -- when the vilest and lowest of ruffians were allowed to rage like wild beasts through the streets, killing those whom they willed or whom they were pleased to call aristocrats -- stories were whispered of a mysterious Englishman who, ‘twas said, flitted from prison to prison, or from château to château or from one scene of execution to another; and generally, whenever he appeared, the guillotine was cheated of a victim.

People whispered that he possessed superhuman powers -- that he had been seen in two places at the same moment -- that, while he was being pursued, a pale blue flame would dance or hover around him.

Some said that at times he passed quite fearlessly along the roads, wearing no disguise.

His usual costume was a suit of silver-grey; he was exceedingly handsome; and undoubtedly an Englishman.

As no one knew his name, people called him Jack-a-Lantern.

The revolutionary spies were always upon his trail; but again and again he fooled them, and his little vessel, the Never Tell, carried scores of those who had escaped the guillotine to the hospitable shores of England.

A boy named Chris Chesney was fortunate enough to share in many of his adventures; and Captain Barleycorn of the Never Tell was a character whom the commanders of the French frigates longed to capture, so many times had he given them the slip at the very moment when they believed they had the black barque at their mercy.

Later, a band of Englishmen, known as the Mystery Men, took service under the famous Jack-a-Lantern, and became the despair of the revolutionary spies.

Some of you have read of Sir Charles Mings and his companions.

You also know that in the course of time it was rumoured throughout France that the Jack-a-Lantern had a double, and that there were in reality TWO JACK-A-LANTERNS.

One was called by the Mystery Men “the Marquis,” the other was named “Moonlight.”

If, therefore, you care to listen to the further adventures of the two Jack-a-Lanterns, if you care to hear more of the Mystery Men, you will find in the following stories deeds no less exciting, no less daring, than of the heroes’ earlier exploits.”

Outside of the Cassell company, Walkey contributed pirate tales to Aldine’s Boys’ Own Library (1908-1914, 93 nos.) “Pirates of El Dorado” and “Rovers of Black Island,” both with covers by Robert Prowse Jnr. One title, “Cruise of the “No Surrender”” appeared in Boys’ Friend Library issued by Amalgamated Press. Those three titles are held at the Toronto Public Library in Ontario. Walkey wrote two adult-oriented adventure novels for Cassell’s: “for the Sake of the Duchess,” and “The Lovers of Lorraine.” Boy’s author Geoffrey Trease began his own writing career under the influence of Walkey’s Chums serials. Samuel Walkey died at his home in Dawlish, a seaside village on the South Devon coast on 29 Mar, 1953.

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