Friday, September 3, 2021


— by John Adcock —♠

The amusements of these youths are the low theatres, the dancing saloons, and entertainments of a like description. Many of the penny theatres are frequented only by boys and girls who are already thieves and prostitutes. “Jack Sheppard,” “Dick Turpin,” “Claude Duval,” and other exhibitions of dexterous and daring crimes attract the attention and ambition of these boys, and each one endeavours to emulate the conduct of his favourite hero. An Inquiry into the Extents and Causes of Juvenile Depravity, Thomas Beggs, 3 Mar 1849

Thomas Begg’s inquiry into juvenile delinquency, and numerous other statistical inquiries undertaken throughout Britain by clergymen and missionaries, regarded destitute, homeless, juvenile boys and girls as heathens, lost in depravity, and in dire need of religion. “Heathenism is the poor man’s religion in the metropolis,” wrote R.W. Vanderkiste, a London City Missionary, in 1852. Vanderkiste took seriously his forays into Clerkenwell to save its children from “the heathen darkness.” Missionaries and Ragged School employees, armed with religious tracts, also targeted the slums of Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, and Whitechapel Road. Even the title to Vanderkiste’s travelogue sounds as foreboding as a trip to Darkest Africa; Notes and Narratives of a Six Year’s Mission, Principally Among the Dens of London. As to the efficacy of religious tracts G.W.M. Reynolds, in his Political Instructor, had this to say in 1850.

Those who talk so much about religious education, and deprecate secular education, have for many years been in the habit of circulating tracts, small pious stories about deathbed repentance, and such like, which tracts are seldom read. They contain no healthy nutriment for the minds of up-grown men, and are taken in and returned by the cottagers to the tract distributors as part of their duties. These tracts are seldom read, and when read are so silly and uninteresting, as to render a re-perusal impossible. Sir Harry Inglis and the sanctified Mr. Plumptre, as well as all pious rectors, curates, and others who feel an interest in such matters, may rest assured that such religious teaching is a waste of time and money, and that it would be of service to the state that their pious intentions received a more healthy direction.[i]

Reynolds, at least, proposed more useful ways to combat poverty — in his opinion secular education and a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work were preferable to pious homilies. The Chartists maintained that “to secure to labour all its just reward, is to increase in the same proportion the ability to purchase, and to lessen the weight of pauperism and crime.” Walter Cooper, on behalf of the Associative Tailors, addressed their brother toilers of all trades in 1850. “You will not pay living wages? Look to see your poor rates increase, and your streets swarm with prostitutes and beggars!” Reynolds did not romanticize the lower classes in his novels but he understood their vice, criminality, and degradation as the inevitable result of extreme poverty. To Reynolds the law was a system designed for the rich, intended to keep down the poor. Justice was a façade. As for the poor, it was their own damned fault.[ii]

And this is the prospect for the poor of England who live in great towns and cities. Prospect! did we say? It is the actual reality. It is here where the impulses which all men and women – even the worst of them – to do good, if it be but for once in the course of a feverish life, are strangled! It is here that honesty goes forth shame-stricken, and bold, brazen dishonesty flaunts it and is applauded. It is in these terrible lazar spots that the pure are polluted and the chaste are compelled to sell their innocence for bread! It is from homes skulking in the forbidden corners in these localities that mothers come forth and sell their bodies in order that their children shall live, and hence it is that the widows of labourers and artisans are forced to surrender every vestige of matronly dignity, to traverse the streets with drunken and delirious steps, and maddened with the remorse of a crime for which they should surely remain guiltless (…)[iii]

The selling of children for sex was rife in the slums. One prostitute related her story to Henry Mayhew for a series of articles in the Morning Chronicle. She was an orphan who could neither read nor write, placed in a small tradesman’s family, where her mistress beat her black and blue with hands and sticks. She ran away and took up residence in low penny or two penny lodging-houses filled with children. “During this time, I used to see boys and girls from ten to twelve years old sleeping together (…) I saw things between almost children that I cannot describe to you – very often I saw them and that shocked me.” At twelve she lived with a fifteen-year-old boy as husband and wife. She soon turned to prostitution. She described accommodations in a low lodging-house in Kent Street where no adults were present.

They were all thieves and bad girls. I have known between three or four dozen boys and girls sleep in one room. The beds were horrid filthy and full of vermin. There was very wicked carryings on. The boys, if any difference, was the worst. We lay packed on a full night, a dozen boys and girls squeezed into one bed. That was very often the case – some at the foot and some at the top – boys and girls all mixed. I can’t go into all the particulars, but whatever could take place in words or acts between boys and girls did take place, and in the midst of the others. I am sorry to say that I took part in these bad ways myself, but I wasn’t so bad as all the others. There was only a candle burning all night, but in summer it was light a great part of the night. Some boys and girls slept without any clothes, and would dance about the room that way. I have seen two dozen capering about the room that way; some mere children – the boys generally the youngest.

The boys in the lodging-house sent the girls out on the streets to engage in prostitution. If this proved unsuccessful the girls would steal something rather than return empty-handed and face a brutal beating.

I have seen them beaten, often kicked and beaten until they were blind from bloodshot, and their teeth knocked out with kicks from boots as the girl lays upon the ground. The boys, in their turn, are out thieving all day, and the lodging-house keeper will buy any stolen provisions of them, and sell them to the lodgers.[iv]

As early as 1841 the Sixth Report of the Inspector of Prisons in England found that a “vast number of boy malefactors, when examined, were found to have been misled by witnessing the performance of such plays as Jack Sheppard.” Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal covered the report under the title Felon Literature and quotes numerous boy’s testimony to their influence. An eighteen-year-old said “I have seen Jack Sheppard performed; I thought he was a capital example for those who followed the trade.” A fourteen-year-old thought Jack Sheppard was “very nice, and if I was only as clever I would be thought the very best of thieves.” Another; “I had his life, some boy took it from me; most boys have his life.” A twenty-one-year-old said “(…) I noticed them picking one another’s pockets on the stage; it gave everyone a great insight how to do it. If I did not know how to do such tricks when I went into the theatre, I am sure I could when I came out.”

One eighteen-year-old identified as J. H. had just entered the fifth year of his apprenticeship when he came across a “Life” of Jack Sheppard. He then saw the play, probably in a penny gaff. It “excited in my mind an inclination to imitate him; the part was well acted at the play. I read how he got into places; and I had a wish to try if I could do the same. The play made the greatest impression on my mind. A few weeks after I saw the play, I committed the first robbery. When the scene is hoisted, he is carving his name upon a beam which goes across the shop. I wrote ‘Jack Sheppard’ on the shop-beam, just as it was in the play. It occurred to my mind that this trade was like my own –  a carpenter. I often thought about it when I was at work.”

There is no reason to doubt the boy’s testimony. On the other hand, James Greenwood, “The Amateur Casual,” writing in 1869 in The Seven Curses of London, cautions against taking juvenile prisoner’s tales at face value. “A talent for gammoning “Lady Green,” as the prison chaplain is irreverently styled, is highly appreciated among the thieving fraternity.” Greenwood toured the boys’ wing of the gaol with a governor known by the boys to blame penny dreadfuls for their pernicious influence. All boys when asked would say “It was them there penny numbers what I used to take in, sir,” and receive a pat on the head and a homily for his troubles. Considering the terrible lives they led boys really had no reason to blame the penny dreadfuls. The Bee-Hive, a working man’s newspaper reported the following sad story in 1870.

BOW-STREET. James Anderson, a ragged little urchin, of about eight years of age, was charged with stealing money from a till. A corn chandler disposed that he saw the prisoner crawl into his shop and creep behind the counter. He put his hand into the till and went out of the shop. Prosecutor followed, and ultimately captured the prisoner, who by this time had thrown the money away. Prosecutor lost altogether about four shillings. Some of the money was picked up by the boys in the street. – The father of the prisoner here stepped forward, and said that his boy had become corrupted by bad companions amongst whom he had fallen, and who frequently enticed him into a “Penny Gaff” in the Euston-Road. The money was doubtless stolen on purpose to visit that place. He (the father) had often beaten his boy with a strap for going to the place, which was the resort of thieves and bad girls. – Mr. Vaughan said, that a similar case to the one now before him, the “Penny Gaff” in the Euston-Road, had been alluded to. He should request Mr. Balding (the inspector on duty at the court), to report the frequent complaints that had been made concerning the latter place to the Chief Commissioner of Police immediately. – Mr. Vaughan (to the prisoner): Who told you to go to that place? – The prisoner: No one, Sir, I went with another boy, a cripple. I have been there about six times. – Mr. Vaughan: Were there many people there when you went? – The prisoner: Yes, Sir, it was always crowded. –  Mr. Vaughan: And what do you see there, little boy? –The prisoner: “Oh, they give us about three songs; then there’s some actin’, then they puts down the blind, and that’s all you see.” (Laughter.) – Mr. Vaughan: What kind of acting was it? – The prisoner: Eh? – Mr. Vaughan: What kind of acting was it?  –The prisoner: Oh; murdering and that. – Mr. Vaughan at this stage remanded the prisoner for a week.

It seems that penny bloods and penny dramas did encourage the homeless, impoverished, and children of the honest working classes to crime. The sensational texts provided would-be boy-burglars, boy-pirates, and boy highwaymen with the appropriate chap-book heroes to emulate. Oscar Wilde said “The boy-burglar is simply the inevitable result of life’s imitative instinct. He is Fact, occupied as Fact usually is, with trying to reproduce Fiction, and what we see in him is repeated on an extended scale throughout the whole of life.”[v] 

Poverty, drink and fractured family life were a more direct cause of juvenile crime. A report in The Times of December 30, 1847 is a startling example of the fatalistic attitudes carried about London by neglected children:

Mansion House. – A boy of about twelve years of age named William Lipley, was brought before the Lord mayor on the charge of stealing a piece of beef. From the statement of the officer it appeared that the prisoner belonged to a most dangerous gang of little boys, who were very much practised in robbing women in Bishopsgate-street and Leadenhall-market, and whose diminutive size gave them facilities unknown to children of larger growth. The charge was proved.

The Lord Mayor.  – Do you say that this boy is an old hand at thieving?

The Officer. – Certainly, my lord. He has been often in custody. When I caught him, I asked him where he supposed he should at last get to?

“Go to,” said he, “why to the gallows, to be sure.”

The Lord Mayor. – Did you say so, prisoner?

The Boy. – Yes; the man’s right enough. I did say so.

The prisoner was then committed to trial.

The strongest street Arabs tormented the weakest — small children, drunks, cripples, and imbeciles. One tiny girl was arrested carrying a baby which she had been tormenting by cutting its flesh with a blade, a pitiful public cry for help. Accidents, fires, and public hangings attracted riotous mobs of swearing children of “tender years.” The publisher Charles Gilpin spoke to a group engaged in lewd, obscene, and filthy conversation outside the Debtor’s door. The juveniles had spent the night in the street to secure a good view of the morning’s hanging. Young people were “children in years, but old in vice profligacy and debauchery.” Mr. Roberts of Bristol visited 167 prisoners awaiting sentence of death, of that number he claimed 165 had attended previous executions.

Not only the children. G. W. M. Reynolds wrote in his Political Instructor, under the heading A LESSON FOR THE PEOPLE,[vi] “Then what of the aristocracy? Why, at the public strangulation of the Mannings, there were present numerous scions of that oligarchical class. One “noble lord” paid ten guineas for a seat and drove down in his cab at six o’clock on the fatal morning, alighting in great Suffolk-street and repairing on foot to the house where “a window” was reserved for his special behoof (…) “gentlemen of fashion” were as plentiful on the occasion as ‘gentleman of the swell mob.”[vii]

[i] Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 20, March 23, 1850, p.159

[ii] Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 21, March 30, 1850, p.168

[iii] The Rookeries, Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 21, March 30, 1850, p.162

[iv] The Confessions of an Unfortunate Girl, Reynoldss Political Instructor, Vol 1, No. 16, February 23, 1850, p.122

[v] The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde, The Nineteenth Century, January 1889

[vi] Dec 8, 1849

[vii] In Dec 1849 The Trial of the Mannings, with their portraits was published, price three pence, but you must ask for Lloyds Edition, as all the other editions are not sold under sixpence.

Top of the page image is from The Street Waif by E. Harcourt Burrage, woodcut illustration by Harry Maguire, c.1884

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Harold Hering Knerr (1882 – 1949)

by Joe Lex

When the comic strip “The Katzenjammer Kids” debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s Sunday supplement for the “New York Journal” on 12 December 1897, it is unlikely that anyone could have predicted that it would still be syndicated in newspapers and magazines 124 years later in 2021.  If you don’t see it in your local newspaper, go to the Comics Kingdom website and, sure enough, there it is.  I checked it today ( 

Harold Hering Knerr, who is interred at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, was its artist for 35 years – from 1914 until his death in 1949.  When you look at his family history, his becoming a cartoonist is probably one of the last things you would expect.  Harold’s father, Dr. Calphenas Brobst “Calvin” Knerr, was a physician who at age 92 was the oldest graduate of Hahnemann Hospital Medical School when he died in 1940.  His uncle Levi Knerr was also a physician trained at Hahnemann.  His brother Bayard, six years his senior, was yet another a physician.  Another brother, Horace, became a metallurgist. 

His mother was Melitta H. Hering, whose father Constantine Hering (1800-1880) was an early proponent of homeopathic medicine in America and a founder of Hahnemann Hospital; in 1834, Constantine had caused quite a stir in his neighborhood when he brought a fir tree from New Jersey into his house at Christmas time and decorated it with fruits, candies, gifts, and candles, just as he had done growing up in Germany.  It is now acknowledged as the first Christmas tree in Pennsylvania.  You can hear more about him in “All Bones Considered: Laurel Hill Stories” podcast #017, “American Medical Fathers, Part 1 (HERE)”

Harold was born in Bryn Mawr in 1882.  After a brief time in public schools, his parents sent him to Episcopal Academy for two years and then to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, where he discovered, as he said, “I was not Michelangelo.”  PMSIA, also referred to as the School of Applied Art opened in the Centennial year of 1876 as both a museum and teaching institution.  Classes began in a building at 312 North Broad Street, and soon expanded into the old Franklin Institute (now the closed Philadelphia History Museum), at 15 South 7th Street.  In 1893 PMSIA acquired a complex of buildings at Broad & Pine, vacated by the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.  In 1938, the two institutions split: the museum became the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the school stayed the PMSIA.  In 1964, it renamed itself the Philadelphia College of Art.  After further name changes the school is now the University of the Arts.

While growing up at the end of the 19th century, Harold decided that he wanted to be an aeronaut – in other words, he wanted to fly before there were airplanes.  When interviewed in 1922, he related “My first experience as an aerialist was on a roof, a hipped affair … the roof was next to my father’s home with a galvanized iron gutter at each of the eaves to catch the rain.  It was fun to sit at the peak of the hip and slide down the slate roof, catching with my heels on the gutter.  I really had two chances before falling the 30 feet to the ground.  If I missed with my heels, as I sometimes did, I could catch with my hands, which I always did.  I never fell.  But I was compelled to stop this childish prank by parental authority.  Grown persons are always interfering with the amusement of children.”

“Then I transferred my talents to the dumb waiter.  I would pull myself up to the top of the house and turn loose, thus getting a swift ride to the bottom of the shaft, accompanied by a terrific bump.  Again my parents became nervous and I was forced to desist.  Then I got a glider.  It was great.”

He talked about how he and his friends had some of the first gliders in the country which they would attach to automobiles by ropes and fly like kites when the autos speeded up.

“The gliders were followed by balloons.  Those were days of real sport.  Once the crew I trained with reached a height of 13,000 feet by the simple process of throwing overboard too much sand by mistake.”  He describes how they shot up from 2000 feet after inadvertently dumping a 40-pound sandbag ballast.  Then their descent was so rapid that they avoided a crash only by heaving everything else out of the basket as the balloon deflated, and then skidding through a herd of startled cows before they came to a safe stop.

He continued working on his drawings and sold several to Philadelphia newspapers, including realistic sketches of gravestones “from the city’s oldest graveyard” (Christ Church?) for $3 each.  By 1901, when he was 19 years old, he was drawing color comic strips for three of Philadelphia’s newspapers, many of them “one-shot” features. 

The art of cartooning was in its very early days, and many of the early strips featured artists who were fine illustrators.  The initial drawings were black on white, and the colors were added by the publishers. 

While the origins of comic strips can be traced to the 1820s, it was not until the great newspaper wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer during the 1890s that they started to flourish in America.  I talked about an earlier American cartoonist A.B. Frost in a video podcast on YouTube called “A.B. Frost and His Family.”  The first acknowledged newspaper comic strip was “The Yellow Kid,” which appeared in Pulitzer’s “New York World” and then Hearst’s “New York Journal” from 1895 to 1898.  The comic gave its name to the pejorative phrase “yellow journalism,” stories that were sensationalized for the sake of selling papers. 

In 1897, German immigrant Rudolph Dirks introduced a strip starring two German American boys, Hans and Fritz, and their Mamma.  He called it “The Katzenjammer Kids.”  It was based on an 1865 German strip called “Max and Moritz.”  Katzenjammer is a German term meaning “the yowling of cats,” but is also a euphemism for a hangover.  Dirks’ early illustrations were rather crude – even the word balloon had not yet evolved.  In 1902 Dirks introduced “Der Captain,” a boarder, or perhaps live-in companion, for Mamma.  In 1905, he introduced “The Inspector,” an officer of the school system.  It was wildly popular.  Some modern art scholars even claim that Pablo Picasso’s love of “The Katzenjammers” led to his early breakthroughs in cubism on “Portrait of Gertrude Stein” (1905-1906) and “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon” (1907).

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Knerr was contributing comics to five different newspapers, including “Mr. George and Wifey.” “Scary Williams,” “Wooly Willie and Little Chief Rain-in-the-Face,” and “Zoo-Illogical Snapshots.”  One of his characters followed Scott Joplin’s introduction of ragtime at the 1904 St. Louis Fair.  The strip was called “The Irresistible Rag – They Must Dance” and featured a grossly caricatured African American musician who delighted in playing catchy ragtime music on his flute and forcing people to dance. 

His biggest success was “The Fineheimer Twins,” which was a blatant rip-off of the Katzenjammer Kids, bad German dialect and all, featuring the mischievous Johann and Jakey.  Knerr penned this one for more than ten years until 1914.

In 1914, Rudolph Dirks left William Randolph Hearst for the promise of a better salary under Joseph Pulitzer.  This was an unusual move, since cartoonists usually went the other way, leaving Pulitzer for Hearst.  Hearst sued and in a highly unusual court decision, he retained the rights to the name “Katzenjammer Kids,” while Dirks retained the rights to the characters.  Hearst promptly hired Philadelphian Harold Knerr to draw his own version of the strip.  Dirks initially renamed his version “Hans and Fritz.”  Anti-German sentiment during the Great War forced him to change his title to “The Captain and the Kids.”  And for the next six decades, two versions of effectively the same comic strip were distributed by rival syndicates in US newspapers.  Dirks version ran until 1979.  This would be the equivalent of two similar comic strips called “Doonesbury” and “B.D. and Boopsie” running in competing newspapers for more than half a century with exactly the same premise, the same characters, and similar artwork.

Harold Knerr, Chicago Examiner, July 4, 1915

Hans and Fritz – one blonde, one brunette – were not mischievous like Dennis the Menace or Calvin; they were downright malevolent, and their audience loved them that way.  Mamma, a plump Fräulein with her dark hair in a triple-bun, was constantly flustered.  The pipe smoking Der Captain, dressed in cartoon sea togs, had a full-face beard and a short temper.  He often had his foot propped on a stool to sooth his aching gout; naturally, his throbbing toe became the target of the boys.  Other characters were added through the years – Rollo Rhubarb, Lena, Miss Twiddle, and Der Captain’s shifty friends “The Herring Boys,” with a name echoing Harold’s own middle name.

The Katzenjammer Kids were such a cultural phenomenon that they became a traveling stage show for children, playing across the United States and Canada for many years; there were Katzenjammer animated cartoons, Katzenjammer dolls, and jigsaw puzzles and cereal box cut-outs and comic books.  They even made it onto US postage stamps and, as satire, into everything from Tijuana Bible eight-pagers to “National Lampoon.”  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, “Playboy” magazine published a satirical comic called “The Krautzenbummer Kids.”

Knerr took advantage of another feature of early cartoons.  Many Sunday comics were permitted to take up the entire page.  A number of artists produced what were called “toppers” – cartoons that would run on the top third of a page so the main feature could have the bottom two-thirds.  Staying with his German roots, Knerr started publishing “Dinglehoofer and His Dog” in 1926, showing the adventures of a kindly German American bachelor – much like Knerr, who never married – and his curious little pup, Adolph.  Eight years into the strip, an orphan boy named Tadpole Doogan joined them, calling the lead character “Mr. Dingy.”  In 1936, events in Germany again affected America’s comic pages and the name Adolph was no longer considered appropriate.  So dog Adolph got “adopted” by a farm family, and a new dachshund puppy named Schnappsy joined the cast.  There was also a family cook and maid named Lilly.  This strip also ran until Knerr’s death in 1949. 

Knerr’s private life was a quiet one.  He had moved to New York City and lived in a hotel apartment for the last few decades of his life.  His name was rarely, if ever, in the newspapers other than on his comic strips.  Now and then he answered fan mail including a letter from a woman reader who asked him to send one of the six fictional pups born to Schnappsy.  Along the way he developed some unnamed heart problems.  On 8 July 1949, a hotel maid using a pass key found him dead on the floor of his bedroom in his pajamas.  He was 66 years old and his only surviving relatives were his brother Horace and sister Mildred.  His remains were interred in the Hering family plot, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Washington section, Lot 330.  Many artists later, his comic strip lives on, 72 years after his death.  It is the longest running comic in the history of the United States. 



“Katzenjammer Kids’ Secret Is That All Grownups Have,” The News-Democrat, Paducah, Ky.  Sunday, 5 November 1922, page 28

“Harold H. Knerr – of the “Katzenjammers” Tells Times-Dispatch Readers something About Himself,” The Times Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia.  Sunday, 2 Mar 1930, p. 74

“Dr. Calvin B. Knerr Dies at Age of 93,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Monday, 30 September 1940, page 5.

“Harold Knerr, Cartoonist, Dies,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Saturday, 9 July 1949, page 5.

“What Do You Want to Know?  Who originated the Katzenjammer Kids?” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Friday, 19 July 1968, page 21.

“H.H. Knerr” - - accessed 23 August 2021, ©1997 by James R. Lowe

“The Katzenjammer Kids” - - accessed 23 August 2021, ©1997 by James R. Lowe

A.B. Frost and His Family
A.B. Frost was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, where the narrator, Joe Lex, is a volunteer tour guide.

Notes From Nam HERE


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Crossing the Color Line –

 Stanley Ketchel's Challenge for 

Jack Johnson's Heavyweight Crown

Crossing the Color Line is the result of impressive and exhaustive research, whereby we follow Stanley Ketchell, Jack Johnson, and Ketchells manager Willis Britt’s movements almost day by day, leading to the big fight on October 16, 1909 in San Francisco and its immediate aftermath. Ketchell would be murdered less than a year later and Johnson would go on to beat heavyweight James J. Jeffries in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. 

The background details on the managerial negotiations, with accurate figures of the money spent and lost, is meticulously unearthed. Crossing the Color Line honestly and fairly documents a part of boxing history that is usually neglected in favor of the more sensational slant taken by several Ketchell biographers. A great addition to boxing history, richly illustrated with vintage photographs and cartoons.

Above is the trailer for the upcoming release Crossing the Color Line: Stanley Ketchel's Challenge for Jack Johnson's Heavyweight Crown (Valigor Press, 302 pages, 8x10, paperback, photos).

This book will be issued in paperback and as an eBook on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble link

Amazon link

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Early London Detective Fiction and Police News


by John Adcock

The Victorian era detective story began with the publication in the April 1841 issue of Graham's Magazine of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue which gave the author a Parisian reputation.Poe’s popular volume Tales of the Grotesque spread the story throughout Europe. Dickens introduced the first private eye in English literature in 1843, Mr. Nadgett, in Martin Chuzzlewit. Angus B. Reach featured a detective as a character in Clement Lorimer: or, The Book with the Iron Clasps: A Romance, published by D. Bogue in 1849 with illustrations by George Cruikshank. Dickens Bleak House, first published as a serial between March 1852 and September 1853, marked the arrival of the first police procedural hero, as well as the first calling together of all the suspects in a murder for the unravelling of a crime. [Bill Blackbeard in a post on the now defunct Yahoo group Bloods & Dime Novels.]

Charles Dickens was the first author to experiment with monthly instalments of his three-volume novels, and the first to begin issuing weekly instalments in All the Year Round. On April 30, 1859, A Tale of Two Cities, In Three Books, commenced serialization in All the Year Round. The Woman in White, “a continuous original work of fiction” by Wilkie Collins began serialization in All the Year Round on Nov 23, 1859. Great Expectations was announced on November 3, 1860, it was “to be continued from week to week until completed in about eight months.”  The Times review of Great Expectations labelled these weekly instalments “a great experiment”

The first of these fictions which achieved a decided success was that of Mr. Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White. It was read with avidity by hosts of weekly readers, and the momentum which it acquired when published in fragments carried it through several large editions when published as a whole.[i]

Dickens and Collins successes with sensational serials in literary magazines, usually connected with penny and halfpenny journals, led to sensation novels, books and serials calculated to entice a market on the move. Railway libraries, cheap books such as The Travellers’ Library, The Parlour Library, and The Popular Library, came into being in the 1850s to satisfy the demand for light railway reading. Men, women and children bought reading material to leaf through on long train rides, or when waiting in line for admittance to restaurants and clubs. Continuous serials attracted a traveling audience and so were designed to build a weekly readership. The Times, again…

Lingering over the delineation of character and of manners, our novelists began to lose sight of the story and to avoid action. Periodical publication compelled them to a different course. They could not afford, like Scheherazade, to let the devourers of their tales go to sleep at the end of a chapter. As modern stories are intended not to set people to sleep, but to keep them awake, instead of the narrative breaking down into a soporific dullness, it was necessary that it should rise at the close into startling incident.

Fictional detectives began surfacing in yellow backs for railway reading in the 1860s. Recollections of a Detective Police Officer by “Waters” (William Russell) was the earliest of these detective fictions, first appearing in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal in 1849. It was then published between covers by J. & C. Brown in 1856, Kent in 1857,[iii] and finally by Charles H. Clarke on Dec 15, 1859. This was followed on October 16, 1860 by A Skeleton in Every House, More Mysteries by Waters, in Clarke’s The Parlour Library series whose copyright had been purchased in January from Darton & Co. The next was Tom Fox; or, The Revelations of a Detective, “Comprising Adventures, Disguises, Perils, Escapes, Captures, and Intrigues.” This was issued April 1860 by George Vickers with 158 engravings.

The author of Tom Fox; or, The Revelations of a Detective was John Bennett. Bennett published his first work, Night and Day; or, Better Late than Never in 1858. In 1860 Bennett wrote The Career of an Artful Dodger; his Art and Artfulness for George Vickers. One of his serials about a London street boy was issued in penny numbers by Henry Vickers as The Life and Career of a London Errand Boy

By 1873, three companies were named in an article on cheap literature as purveyors of the “largest proportion of criminal literature of the present time.” Those were The Newsagents’ Publishing Co., Edward Harrison and Henry Vickers. 

The author of the uncomplimentary article identifies the author of The Life and Career of a London Errand Boy, John Bennett, as the “Editor of the Police Record.”[iv] He was probably referring to The Illustrated Police News, Law Courts and Criminal-Record, begun Feb. 20, 1864, which ran to 3862 numbers, ending on Mar 3, 1938. The first publisher was John Ransom and the owners were Lee and Bulpin. It has been suggested that this was Henry Lea and Edwin Bulpin.[v] The Publisher’s Circular told the facts on April 15, 1868.

A curious instance of the vicissitudes attending literary property is given in the Press News of the current month, in the case of the Illustrated Police News, which was originally projected and started by a small machine-printer in London, who, getting into financial difficulties soon after, had to arrange with his creditors, and the publication in question, which was just beginning to pay, was sold out and out for £150.

George Purkess junior had published Purkess’s Penny Library of Romances in January 1863. He was named as proprietor and publisher of the Illustrated Police News in November 1865[vi] and the Illustrated Police Gazette on Feb. 9, 1867. In 1871 he published the Halfpenny Police Gazette; or, London by Gaslight, which was incorporated into the Illustrated Police News after the sixth number. A dubious character named Edward Henri Todé was identified on September 24, 1869 as the editor and publisher of the Illustrated Police News by The English Mechanic, who had previously employed him as an editor. 

If Todé had any connection at all to the Illustrated Police News it was as a one-time editor. The periodical also claimed Todé was the editor of The New Newgate Calendar, a penny dreadful which was serialized by Edward Harrison from 1863 to 1865. In 1870 The English Mechanic wrote that Todé “was no more the creator of this publication than an empty coal barge on the Thames creates the tides on which it rides.” 

Palmer’s Index to “The Times” Newspaper for 1872 shows an inquest had taken place on the body of Edward Henri Todé “who Died of a Fit on the Streets” on May 26 of that year.


[i] Times, October 17, 1861

[ii] On the Sensational in Literature and Art, G.A. Sala, Belgravia, Vol.4, 1867/68, p.445

[iii] Catalog of an Exhibition arranged to illustrate New Paths in Book-Collecting, Nov 1934, p.33

[iv] Cheap Literature Past and Present, John Pownall Harrison, The British Almanac of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1873, p.60

[v] Cruel Deeds and Dreadful Calamities:  The Illustrated Police News, 1864-1938, Linda Stratmann

[vi] Pennies, Profits and Poverty, Robert J. Kirkpatrick, 2016, P.69

[vii] Cheap Literature Past and Present, The British Almanac 1873, p.78

[viii] Sensational Literature, The Reader, Nov. 12, 1864. P.597

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Turn of the Century Lustige Blätter Illustration –

by Lyonel Feininger











[k] Kin-der-Kids, Chicago Tribune, 1906

[l] Lyonel Feininger, Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1906

Read the full issues at Heidelberg University Library HERE