Reprint: Among the "Shockers": Mr. Fergus Hume's Vogue

Mr. Fergus Hume, the author of "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," whose death in England has been reported, helped, inadvertently to make another man's fortune. The other man, however, eventually became insolvent. Mr. Hume, who came to Melbourne in the 'eighties, was a barrister with a taste for mystery stories. In 1887 his book, "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," was published in Melbourne and it caught the public fancy. Within about one month 10,000 copies of the book were sold in Australia, chiefly in Melbourne.

An astute German resident of Melbourne bought the English rights from Mr. Hume for £100. He took the book to London, where it experienced another extraordinary success. Within about three months 300,000 copies were sold, and the foundations of a useful fortune were laid for the enterprising German. But he had found a taste for "shocking," and he proceeded to establish what he called the Hansom Cab Publishing Company. The vogue of the "shilling shocker" had just come in; and the lucky publisher set out to "shock" as many readers as he could. He published, among other popular "shockers" Hugh Conway's "Called Back," which thrilled many a maidenly bosom in the quiet 'eighties.

But "shocking" as a fine art declined, and with it the publisher's fortune, and in due course the Hansom Cab Publishing Company went into liquidation Mr. Hume himself made very little money from his book, although later it was dramatised. Only a few years ago it was translated to the screen. His later books did not enjoy the same popularity as "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," and Mr. Hume spent the last years of his life in comparatively poor circumstances.

He may have had some indirect influence upon the development of the modern "thriller," but that is doubtful. Still, if Mr. Hume did not found a school, he lost a fortune, and he enjoyed for a time the fickle favour of the public.

First published in The Argus, 14 July 1932

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Note: you can read an electronic version of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume on Project Gutenberg.
Fergus Hume page on Wikipedia.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on May 1, 2009 10:19 AM.

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