Fergus Hume

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Fergus Hume (c.1882) Fergus Hume.jpg
Fergus Hume (c.1882)

Ferguson Wright Hume (8 July 1859 – 12 July 1932), known as Fergus Hume, was a prolific English novelist, known for his detective fiction, thrillers and mysteries.


Early life

Hume was born in Powick, Worcestershire, England, the second son of James C. Hume, a Scot and clerk and steward at the County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum there. When he was three the family emigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand, where he was educated at Otago Boys' High School and studied law at the University of Otago. He was admitted to the New Zealand bar in 1885. Shortly after graduation Hume relocated to Melbourne, Australia, where he obtained a job as a barristers' clerk. He began writing plays, but found it impossible to persuade the managers of Melbourne theatres to accept or even to read them.

Rise to fame

Hume first came to attention after a play he had written, entitled The Bigamist was stolen by a rogue called Calthorpe, and presented by him as his own work under the title The Mormon. Finding that the novels of Émile Gaboriau were then very popular in Melbourne, Hume obtained and read a set of them and determined to write a novel of the same kind. The result was The Mystery of a Hansom Cab , set in Melbourne, with descriptions of poor urban life based on his knowledge of Little Bourke Street. It was self-published in 1886 and became a great success. Because he sold the British and American rights for 50 pounds, however, he reaped little of the potential financial benefit. It became the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian era; in 1990 John Sutherland called it the "most sensationally popular crime and detective novel of the century". [1] This novel inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write A Study in Scarlet , which introduced the fictional consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle remarked, "Hansom Cab was a slight tale, mostly sold by 'puffing'." [2]

After the success of his first novel and the publication of another, Professor Brankel's Secret (c.1886), Hume returned to England in 1888. [3] His third novel, Madame Midas, was based on the life of the mine and newspaper owner Alice Ann Cornwell. After this book became a play [lower-alpha 1] her estranged husband, John Whiteman, sued over its content. [5]

The Crimson Cryptogram by Fergus Hume. First edition published by John Long 1900. Crimson Cryptogram 1900.jpg
The Crimson Cryptogram by Fergus Hume. First edition published by John Long 1900.

Personal life

Hume settled back in England, first in London, but after a few years in Thundersley, Essex at Church Cottage, probably at the invitation of the Reverend Thomas Noon Talfourd Major. Hume lived in Thundersley for thirty years, publishing in excess of 130 novels, plus several collections – most of them mystery stories, though he never recaptured the success of his first novel. He also wrote lyrics to songs composed by his brother-in-law, Charles Willeby, and book reviews for literary journals including The Bookman.

The 1911 census lists him as ‘author’, aged 51, and living at Church Cottage, Thundersley, which consisted of six rooms. He had a housekeeper, Ada Louise Peck, a widow of 69. He regularly travelled to Italy, France, Switzerland and other European countries.

When the Rev Talfourd Major died in 1915, Hume had to leave Church Cottage. He moved to ‘Rosemary Cottage’, 34 Grandview Road, Thundersley, where he lived with John Joseph Melville and his wife. Melville was a metallurgical chemist by profession, with a special study of alchemy.

The Millionaire Mystery by Fergus Hume. First edition published by Chatto & Windus 1901. The Millionaire Mystery.jpg
The Millionaire Mystery by Fergus Hume. First edition published by Chatto & Windus 1901.

Hume was reputed to be deeply religious and intensely private and known to avoid publicity, but in his later years he lectured at young people's clubs and debating societies. He died at Thundersley on 12 July 1932 and lies in an unmarked grave next to an actress and the Rev Maley. All he left in his will were some small items, like a horse blanket and a pipe. His estate was valued at £201. [6]


Individual works


  • The Bigamist (1887). Hume gave the script to a fraudster, Calthorpe Mallaby, who re-titled the play The Mormon, and presented it under his own name at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1887
  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, with Arthur Law (1888)
  • Madame Midas, the Gold Queen, with Philip Beck (1888)
  • In Love and War (1889)
  • The Fool of the Family (1900)


  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886)
  • Professor Brankel's Secret (1886)
  • Madame Midas (1888)
  • The Girl from Malta (1889)
  • The Piccadilly Puzzle (1889)
  • The Gentleman Who Vanished: A Psychological Phantasy (1890); aka The Man Who Vanished
  • Miss Mephistopheles (1890); aka Tracked by Fate
  • The Man with a Secret (1890)
  • The Year of Miracle: A Tale of the Year One Thousand Nine Hundred (1891)
  • A Creature of the Night (1891)
  • Monsieur Judas (1891)
  • When I Lived in Bohemia: Papers Selected from the Portfolio of Peter ---, Esq (1891)
  • Whom God Hath Joined (1891)
  • The Black Carnation (1892)
  • Aladdin in London (1892)
  • The Fever of Life (1892)
  • The Island of Fantasy (1892)
  • The Man with a Secret (1892)
  • The Chinese Jar (1893)
  • The Harlequin Opal (1893)
  • The Nameless City: A Rommany Romance (1893), under the name Stephen Grail, at least in the US [7]
  • A Speck of the Motley (1893)
  • The Lone Inn (1894)
  • The Mystery of Landy Court (1894); aka From Thief to Detective
  • The Best of Her Sex (1894)
  • The Gates of Dawn (1894)
  • A Midnight Mystery (1894)
  • The Crime of Liza Jane (1895)
  • The White Prior (1895)
  • The Masquerade Mystery (1895) aka The Third Volume
  • The Expedition of Captain Flick (1896)
  • The Carbuncle Clue (1896)
  • A Marriage Mystery (1896)
  • Tracked by a Tattoo (1896)
  • Claude Duval of Ninety-Five (1897)
  • The Tombstone Treasure (1897)
  • The Clock Struck One (1898)
  • The Rainbow Feather (1898)
  • The Devil-Stick (1898); aka For the Defense (US title)
  • Lady Jezebel (1898)
  • Under One Cover (1898)
  • The Red-Headed Man (1899)
  • The Silent House in Pimlico (1899)
  • The Indian Bangle (1899)
  • The Crimson Cryptogram (1900)
  • Shylock of the River (1900)
  • The Vanishing of Tera (1900)
  • The Bishop's Secret (1900); aka Bishop Pendle
  • The Lady from Nowhere (1900)
  • A Traitor in London (1900) [8]
  • The Millionaire Mystery (1901)
  • The Crime of the Crystal (1901)
  • The Golden Wang-Ho (1901); aka The Secret of the Chinese Jar
  • The Mother of Emeralds (1901)
  • A Woman's Burden (1901)
The Pagan's Cup, first edition published by Digby, Long & Co, 1902.jpg
  • The Pagan's Cup (1902)
  • The Turnpike House (1902)
  • Woman: The Sphinx (1902)
  • A Coin of Edward VII (1903)
  • The Jade Eye (1903)
  • The Silver Bullet (1903)
  • The Yellow Holly (1903)
  • The Guilty House (1903)
  • The Miser's Will (1903)
  • The Mandarin's Fan (1904)
  • The Wheeling Light (1904)
  • The Red Window (1904)
  • The Lonely Church (1904)
  • The White Room (1904)
  • The Secret Passage (1905)
  • Lady Jim of Curzon Street (1905)
  • The Opal Serpent (1905)
  • The Fatal Song (1905)
  • The Scarlet Bat (1905)
  • The Wooden Hand (1905)
  • The Mystery of the Shadow (1906)
  • The Black Patch (1906)
  • Jonah's Luck (1906)
  • The Purple Fern (1907)
  • The Yellow Hunchback (1907)
  • The Amethyst Cross (1908)
  • Flies in the Web (1908)
  • The Sealed Message (1908)
  • The Green Mummy (1908)
  • The Crowned Skull (1908)
  • The Mystery of a Motor Cab (1908)
  • The Sacred Herb (1908)
  • The Devil's Ace (1909)
  • The Solitary Farm (1909)
  • The Top Dog (1909)
  • The Disappearing Eye (1909)
  • The Peacock of Jewels (1910)
  • The Lonely Subaltern (1910)
  • The Mikado Jewel (1910)
  • The Spider (1910)
Cover of a 1907 New York publication of The Silent House (1899) The Silent House - cover - Project Gutenberg etext 19069.jpg
Cover of a 1907 New York publication of The Silent House (1899)
  • The Steel Crown (1911)
  • High Water Mark (1911)
  • The Jew's House (1911)
  • The Pink Shop (1911)
  • The Rectory Governess (1911)
  • The Mystery Queen (1912)
  • The Blue Talisman (1912)
  • Red Money (1912)
  • Across the Footlights (1912)
  • Mother Mandarin (1912)
  • A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance (1912)
  • The Curse (1913)
  • In Queer Street (1913)
  • Seen in the Shadow (1913)
  • The Thirteenth Guest (1913)
  • The Lost Parchment (1914)
  • The 4 PM Express (1914)
  • Not Wanted (1914)
  • Answered (1915)
  • The Caretaker (1915)
  • The Red Bicycle (1916)
  • The Grey Doctor (1917)
  • The Silent Signal (1917)
  • Heart of Ice (1918)
  • The Black Image (1918)
  • Next Door (1918)
  • Crazy-Quilt (1919)
  • The Master-Mind (1919)
  • The Dark Avenue (1920)
  • The Other Person (1920)
  • The Singing Head (1920)
  • The Woman Who Held On (1920)
  • Three (1921)
  • The Unexpected (1921)
  • A Trick of Time (1922)
  • The Moth-Woman (1923)
  • The Whispering Lane (1924)
  • The Caravan Mystery (1926). Originally published as a newspaper serial under the title The Caravan Crime (1921)
  • The Last Straw (1932)
The Amethyst Cross by Fergus Hume. First edition published by Cassell & Co 1908. Amethyst Cross 1908.jpg
The Amethyst Cross by Fergus Hume. First edition published by Cassell & Co 1908.

Collections of works

See also

Notes and references

  1. Hume and British actor Phil Beck collaborated on the stage version, in which Beck played the lead role, subsequently took his own life. [4]
  1. John Sutherland (1990) [1989]. "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab". The Stanford Companion to Victorian Literature. pp. 454–455. ISBN   9780804718424.
  2. "Fergus Hume's Startling Story" by Simon Casterton, Inside Story : Books and Arts, 8 May 2012
  3. "Hume, Fergus". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. pp. 893–94.
  4. "Suicide of Mr Philip Beck". The Colonist . Vol. III, no. IV. Tasmania, Australia. 25 January 1890. p. 21. Retrieved 9 March 2021 via National Library of Australia.
  5. Griffiths, D. (23 September 2004). Cornwell [other married names Whiteman, Robinson], Alice Ann (1852–1932), goldmining industrialist and newspaper proprietor. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 9 Dec. 2017, see link
  6. "Find a will | GOV.UK".
  7. "The nameless city. A Rommany romance". LCCN Permalink. Library of Congress (lccn.loc.gov). Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  8. "Review: A Traitor in London, by Fergus Hume". Westminster Review. 155: 109. 1901.
Other sources

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