# 37054

HUME, Fergus (1859-1932)

The Mystery of a hansom cab

$1,100.00 AUD

A sensational novel … A startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life. London : The Hansom Cab Publishing Coy., 60 Ludgate Hill, n.d., [1888]. “One Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Thousand” (t.p.). Small octavo (182 x 122 mm), original pictorial wrappers, the upper wrapper featuring an illustration of the hansom cab in a Melbourne street, lower wrapper with advertisement for Champagne de Lossy (Holden) Reims, inside wrappers with advertisements for Williams & Sons Whisky and Pulvermacher’s Galvanic Establishment; pp [2 advertisements], [1-4], 5-230, [2 advertisements]; spine and upper wrapper with small amount of paper loss at tail; small rust marks surrounding the exposed staples at gutter of first few leaves, small stain to fore-edge of first few leaves, else internally clean throughout; a very good copy.

Written and set in Melbourne, Hume’s novel The Mystery of a hansom cab helped to create the genre of crime fiction. It has been hailed ‘The most successful Detective Story of all time’ (Everyman’s Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1960).

Of the original Melbourne edition (1886) only copies of the last (fourth) impression are readily obtainable on the market. The present copy is one of the “One Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Thousand”, an early example of the thirteen London impressions printed in 1887-1888 by The Hansom Cab Publishing Company. At this early stage the book was selling at the rate of around 25,000 copies per month.

From the ADB:

‘Fergusson Wright (Fergus) Hume (1859-1932), novelist, was born on 8 July 1859 in England, the second son of  James Hume. The family migrated to New Zealand where the father helped to found Ashburn Hall in Dunedin. Fergus was educated at Otago Boys’ High School, continued his literary and legal studies at the University of Otago and was articled to the attorney-general, Robert Stout. Soon after his admission to the Bar in 1885 Hume left for Melbourne where he became managing clerk for the solicitor, E. S. Raphael.

With ambitions as a playwright, Hume decided to write a novel to attract the attention of theatre managers. On the advice of a leading Melbourne bookseller he chose the style of Emile Gaboriau, then popular in translations, and produced The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, a ‘crude but ingenious’ tale in which he based his descriptions of low life on his knowledge of Little Bourke Street. Melbourne publishers ‘refused even to look at the manuscript on the ground that no Colonial could write anything worth reading’, so he determined to publish it himself and had 5000 copies printed by Kemp & Boyce in 1886. According to Hume this edition was sold out in three weeks and another was demanded. Some months later he sold his rights to a group of Australian speculators for £50. In London the great success of the Hansom Cab Publishing Co.’s edition in 1887 led to many more printings for which Hume received no further payment. Even his claim to authorship and original publication was publicly disputed, although he wrote a preface to a revised edition in 1896.’

Further reading: Lucy Sussex. Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab. (Melbourne : Text Publishing, 2015)

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