The first Richard Hughes

You might have seen the ABC program a couple of years ago about this rather interesting family. Working backwards there is Christa Hughes (Machine Gun Fellatio), the jazz musician Dick, Richard Hughes upon whom both James Bond and a le Carre character is based, and then, Richard Hughes senior who was a notable ventriloquist in his day. I discovered all this when listing one of his books on ventriloquism – they seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth now.

For more on the family try You Only Live Twice and Spies with the write stuff

Why do newspaper headlines have this addiction to corny puns???? And is it, as somebody suggested to me recently, only an Australian thing?

Who is John Galt?

No, not that John Galt, the Rand craze-about-town.

I’m talking about the John Galt, Scottish writer of Lawrie Todd, a tale of early Canadian settlers which I happen to be listing. A prolific writer, whose works include the first major study of Byron whom he knew well, he was also a traveller, explorer, entreupreneur, establishing towns in Canada – his name is remembered in various ways there and in Scotland. Indeed although he returned to Scotland, his sons became important figures in Canadian politics. The wiki entry looks quite reliable as wiki goes, if you want more detail.

In a program on the BBC ‘Reformers and radicals in Scottish literature’, Carl MacDougall comments that:

Galt was the first writer to show the effects of the burgeoning industrial revolution, making him the first political novelist in the English language, and though his reputation has been overshadowed by Scott and Hogg, he is now recognised as one of the great writers of the age.

Another notable historical and literary figure I’ve never heard of, another for my ‘to read’ shelf.

HE Kugelmann A 19th century Herbalist.

This is one of the fascinating unusual items we’ve been preparing for our latest list:

Kugleman's soap
Kugleman’s soap

Kugleman's soap

Kugelmann, Mr. H.E., Consulting Herbal Practitioner

Instructions on Diet, Exercise, Bathing, Sleeping, Etc., Including Hygienic Recipes ‘Pocket Guide’ on Cover. (Melbourne and Adelaide: Australian Head Office, Consulting Chambers and Warehouse 311 and 312 Flinders Street, Melbourne, Vic., and Torrens Chambers, Victoria Square, Adelaide: no date) Pencilled date of 29.8.79 on rear fixed endpaper. Not in Ford, who notes that the Author appears in Bruck’s ‘List of Unregistered Med. Practitoners’ (1886). Decorated boards pp. 80 (140 x 90 mm). On the title page H.E. Kugelmann describes himself as ‘Inventor of the Standard Herbal Magnetic Remedies’. On p. 80 the book shows that he gave consultations on a two-monthly basis in Adelaide and South Australian Country Towns as well as in NSW, and every sixteen weeks at Brisbane and Toowoomba, Queensland. A subject of fierce attack from the Medical Establishment.

Looking around the web, I found this page which gives more of the story of this 19th century medicinal man and his family.

An ad from the Sydney Mail of February 6, 1897, as well as providing a detailed testimonial from Mr WT Franks, whose wife was saved by Kugelmann’s treatment proudly states that Kugelmann possesses the power to tell his Patients what is the matter with them without being informed of the nature of the Disease.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising, then, that the business is still going and there is a short page on its history here too. it is the source of the pictures on this post.

I especially like this ad from a 1901 Brisbane newspaper:

“Mr. H.E.Kugelmann, of 15 Bridge Street, Sydney, and 14-16 Queen Street, Melbourne, and who has visited Brisbane regularly for nine years, wishes to intimate that owing to his Practice increasing so largely, and to insufficient accommodation at Gresham Hotel, his Brisbane consultations will next week, and in future, be conducted at The Commonwealth Buildings, Adelaide Street, corner Albert Street, Brisbane. Consultations free on all Chronic and supposed to be Incurable Diseases next week …. and about every sixteenth week thereafter. Also at the following Provincial Towns on dates named, and thereafter at regular intervals, as usual, of about sixteen weeks…”

It was headed “DON’T DIE!”

My sentiments exactly, Mr Kugelmann….

One can only suppose that a man of his profession and ambition must have lived an interesting – and perhaps even precarious – life? Prior to WWI he acquired a Murray river property that had been Dame Nelli Melba’s, leading to the following WWI story:

The Kugelmann case was bizarre from beginning to end. South Australian born, Kugelmann had moved to Melbourne where his professional life first attracted attention. He was a famous herbalist: after all, what concoctions could a herbalist produce to poison Melbourne’s water supply? In 1912, Kugelmann had purchased the Gooramadda estate on the banks of the Murray River. The previous owner had been content to let neighbours hunt on the estate or cross it to swim in the Murray River, but not Kugelmann. Perhaps he wished to protect the irrigation plant he built after buying the estate: perhaps he lacked the broad tolerance of the estate’s previous owner when it came to the recreational pursuits of his neighbours. With the outbreak of war, however, Kugelmann’s anti-social nature and the power plant meant only one thing — disloyalty. The plant was being used to send wireless signals to submarines lurking off the Australian coast: the estate was being used to store arms for the Germans at Walla Walla (‘many mysterious heavy cases’ had been delivered to the estate); and it housed a field gun to be used for shelling the railway line. No less than four official complaints were made, one by an area militia officer, the other three by a neighbour, F W D Kelly. The police investigated the charges and Intelligence even sent one of their own in 1918. They found nothing beyond an irrigation plant doing what it was supposed to do and an employee, a German national, who became decidedly ‘antibritish’ when he had had a few too many. The investigating officer reported, Kugelmann ‘apparently does not bear the reputation of being disloyal in this district’. He added almost wistfully, ‘but at the same time there is a good deal of suspicion’.15 If the defence department had been relying on the local police and Kelly to intern the herbalist they were sorely disappointed. German Australians in Rural Society 1914-1918 John McQuilton

Not to mention the odd law suit. The infamous rag ‘The Truth’ took a stab at discrediting him which resulted in a highly publicised libel suit by Kugelmann against John Norton and the paper. You can see many references to it and other Kuglemann stories by going to the NLA’s online newspaper site here. The last report I found saw the jury dismissed after failing to come to agreement. One can observe that the case seems to have done neither The Truth nor Kugelmann any damage. Any advertising…as they say.

Netta Syrett: working by stealth from within.

Netta Syrett is one of those writers who, despite having published many books, becomes unfashionable and thence ‘forgotten’.

She did work as a teacher as well as a writer until, quoting from wiki:

Syrett’s first novel, Nobody’s Fault (1896), was published by The Bodley Head in their Keynote series. Her writing and teaching careers coincided until 1902, when her play The Finding of Nancy received negative attention after Clement Scott, writing for the Daily Telegraph (9 May 1902), insinuated that the play was thinly disguised autobiography. Syrett was asked to resign her teaching position after a student’s mother read Scott’s review. By that time, novel writing had become for her “a sure thing” and Syrett continued to turn out a novel per year until retiring in 1939.

That’s an awful lot of writing now so completely ignored that on, I notice that although a few of her books are listed, there is not one review or rating of them. Syrett was the first to acknowledge this process:

At the end of her autobiography, The Sheltering Tree (1939), New Woman author Netta Syrett questions the legacy of her writing. She states matter-of-factly, “I have no illusions about the importance of my work. In a few years, or even less, everything I have written will be as dead as the dodo. Already my novels are being swamped by those of the beginners in the art of fiction, who in their turn are destined to be superseded by children now at the nursery” New Woman Fiction

But surely, aside from the general feminist attempts to regenerate interest in the female authors of this period, the fact that Syrett’s genteel books written for conservative middle-class audiences are nonetheless chockablock with homosexual characters affords her some chance of attention now. For more on this see Netta Goldsmith’s article on the Lesbian Heroine of Syrett’s work.

The amazing thing about Syrett is not only that she did what a lot of writers like Woolfe weren’t willing to – risk the social and legal difficulties that could arise from this – but she wrote about lesbians in a context of happiness, which somewhat later Patricia Highsmith still wasn’t permitted to do in public. Her novels were simply of a type where she could add these characters without the least issue from the reviewer or the reader. As if it were some sort of Svengali effect where her novels were so nice that nobody could see the wood for the trees.

RWO Kestel: a man ahead of his time?

My curiosity was piqued while listing KESTEL, R.W.O. Radiant Energy, a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe. Port Adelaide [printed by F. Cockington] 1898. The Tasmanian antiquarian bookseller Richard Neylon had this to say about it:

The frontispiece of experimental apparatus must be one of the best examples in the history of Australian scientific illustration: a new theory explaining the workings of the universe can be tested with a decapitated corrugated iron water tank, two rules and a ball on a string. It also, just in graphic terms, has a radiant energy of its own. This is a stylish little book and has a stylish and reasoned generosity not always present in such works: “the difference in the two theories does not at all effect the accepted laws of the force of gravity, as given us by Newton”. As to considerations of a Newtonian universe he points out that “of two theories, if one can be demonstrated by … experiment and the other cannot, I prefer the former.” An humane execution. I wonder if R.W.O. is the Ralph Kestell [sic], mason of Port Adelaide, that appears in the directories but can’t add any more to that.

The picture of the apparatus is charming…what can one add except ‘Cern, eat your heart out!’

I poked about the internet for a bit and came up with a fascinating picture of the author.

Ralph Wheatley Odgers Kestel 1838-1903 landed in South Australia from Cornwall as a youngster with his parents and immediately, at age 10 was working in the mines of Kapunda and Burra. At the age of 14 he started going to the gold diggings interstate and worked as a builder in Adelaide as well involved in various notable buildings. He was prominent in Port Adelaide, mayor at one point, and a contemporary record has it that:

He was instrumental in doing much good for Port Adelaide during his councillorship. He introduced a drainage scheme for the sanitary improvement of the town, but, although it was not adopted, it found much favour and led to prompt action by the civic body. He took a prominent part in the purchase of the land for the Corporation Wharf, and also in securing 1,000 feet of wharf frontage to Tam o’Shanter Creek, and strongly supported Mr. H. W, Thompson when mayor in introducing asphalt footpaths Notable South Australians; Or, Colonists, Past and Present (1885) Author: George E. Loyau

Kestel, R. W. O. (Ralph Wheatley Odgers)
Kestel, R. W. O. (Ralph Wheatley Odgers) A man ahead of his time?

He was of a period where anybody who was a good thinker could become engaged in considerations which are now the purview of a tiny number of people around the world academically engaged as ‘cosmologers’. His book Radiant Energy, a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe attracted a review in Nature, no less, which is worth reprinting in full:

Nature 69, 101-101 (03 December 1903) |
Radiant Energy A Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe
F. S.
THE loose and unscientific use of terms, such as force, the curious absence of ordinary mechanical conceptions, as, for example, inertia, and the almost puerile objections raised against the Newtonian theory of planetary motion, sufficiently proclaim this book to be the work of the untrained amateur with original ideas. In consequence, none but a discerning reader will profit by its perusal.

Yet the closing sentence— “Radiant Energy is a Working Power in the Mechanism of the Universe”—is a remarkable one, considering that the book is dated as having been published five years ago. The researches of Nichols and Hull in America, and Lebedew in Russia, on the pressure due to radiation have established the author’s contention.

In the chapter on comets some of our present notions of the cause of comets’ tails are clearly anticipated, but in applying the same idea to other parts of the mechanism of the universe, the author has fallen into the error of imagining a repulsion from the sun “just thirty thousand million times too large.” The main idea is that “a repelling force radiating from the sun” “partakes of the sun’s motion of rotation,” and “is carried round in the direction the sun is revolving.” The author justifies himself by mechanical analogies, and uses the idea to account for the origin of both the orbital and axial motions of the planets. By the aid of a model in which the repulsive force is represented by a stream of horizontal water jets emanating from a rotating nozzle, many of the phenomena of planetary motion, it is claimed, can be demonstrated experimentally.

The idea, although so crudely expressed, when applied to our present knowledge does seem to possess a real value. Light, radiating from the sun, should, it seems, be affected by the rotation of the sun, in such a way that the resultant of the pressures from all parts of the solar surface which reach a planet passes through a point displaced from the centre in the direction of the edge approaching the planet. The same would apply to pressure exerted by normally projected corpuscles or electrons. The effect is to produce a positive acceleration of the planet in its orbit. Whether there is also a couple acting to produce rotation suggests a nice problem for the astronomer. Is it possible that these infinitesimal pressures acting over infinite time could originate the motions of the planets? Could these pressures maintain the planet in uniform motion through a resisting ether? These problems should now admit of a definite answer, and seem worthy of a more competent analysis than the reviewer is able to give.

It is quite clear from other evidence we can glean here and there, that Kestel was a person of substantial intellect who had applied himself in original and notable ways to solving the mysteries of the universe despite his seriously deficient education. Or one wonders if that last sentence should read somewhat differently: because of his lack of education, rather than despite it. There is a record from the Astronomical Society of South Australia 1901 minutes described on its site thus:

In 1901 there was another controversial lecture, accompanied by a demonstration, this time by a Mr Kestel. There was no doubt that he believed in what he said, which was that Newton hadn’t quite got it right and there was a force of repulsion as well as attraction. Since the secretary records Mr Kestel’s uniform courtesy under trying conditions, and at one stage in the discussions, before beginning his reply, Kestel obtained a promise that members would not interject unduly, it seems as if the audience may have remained unconvinced. Astronomical Society of South Australia

Unfortunately we don’t know exactly what his idea, as brought to this meeting, was, but we do know that the general sense of it was eventually vindicated. There is indeed a force of repulsion.

What a pity that Kestel died before he could read the rather positive review he received at the hands of Nature. As it is, in bringing it to the attention of Adelaideans via a Letter to the Editor of The Advertiser, the main broadsheet of Adelaide until Murdoch took possession at which point it became a tabloid, first in nature and next in shape.

The Advertiser Friday 8 January 1904
The Late Mr RWO Kestel To the Editor. by JC Kirby
Sir-The late Mr. R W O Kestel, of Port Adelaide, was much given in the intervals of business to the study of astronomy, and especially of celestial physics. Eventually he published a work, “Radiant Energy: A ‘working power in the mechanism of the universe ” This has been reviewed in Nature of –December 1903, a copy of which came from the publishers to the home of the deceased gentleman by sea mail, and, on the whole, bears remarkable testimony to the originality of his ideas and their substantial truths. For the honor of the memory of one of the most worthy men and able thinkers South Australia has produced, allow me to call attention to certain statements in Nature [quotes at length from the review]……

From the above it appears that Mr Kestel was a foremost pioneer in celestial physics, and that without the advantages to be found in Universities and the great centres of knowledge he made distinct acquisition to the volume of the world’s science. It is pleasing to remember that he received much sympathetic encouragement from Sir Charles Todd, and also from Mr Russell, the Government Astronomer of New South Wales Both these gentlemen felt that there was a large measure of truth in Mr. Kestel’s speculations, and that they were worthy of the attention of men of science. The instrument, which in so many respects has no parallel in the world, is still at Port Adelaide. It would be a pity for it to be broken up, as it sheds remarkable light “upon celestial mechanics, and I believe in all mechanics.

Kirby then goes on to a personal reminiscence of Kestel, which sent shivers up my spine as I read it:

Our deceased fellow-citizen had a great sense of righteousness. One day he told me, I have had a great temptation from the devil, for in the course of my investigations, I saw, as in a moment, how a machine could be made, and forces used, which would be capable of destroying men men ten thousand at the time, and make ordinary artillery useless. I felt he said, that if I revealed it to one of the Great Powers I should have large money, but I should bring great calamity on mankind, and so I have resolved never to reveal what I have found out. and content myself with the machine I have made, which, while it will never give me pecuniary profit, will help the world in good knowledge. In Mr Kestel, Port Adelaide and South Australia lost a citizen of genius.

Who is Sidney Hobson Courtier?

Fashion in reading is an odd thing – not only that we forget the recent past – but what survives. Courtier is a case in point. I read at the State Library of Victoria site that

Sidney Hobson (or S. H.) Courtier should be much better known than he is today. He wrote twenty-four crime novels, and even though they unfold just as dramatically in just as atmospheric Australian bush settings as Arthur Upfield’s – if not more so – by comparison they have been largely forgotten.

Having devoured all of Upfield’s books as a kid, I’m wondering now if I should try Courtier, somebody I’ve never heard of before. It’s hard not to be curious about the books he wrote last:

In 1967 Courtier suffered a devastating stroke that robbed him of speech and some movement, however he doggedly taught himself to speak again using a series of speech exercises that he devised himself. (Later he tried unsuccessfully to have these published.) Significantly, he wrote about sensory loss in four of his subsequent crime novels – the loss of movement in No Obelisk for Emily (1970), the loss of memory in Dead If I Remember (1972), the loss of hearing in Into the Silence (1973),43 and the loss of sanity in The Smiling Trip (1975).

Who is Harry Stephen Keeler?

Clearly I’m not up on the trendy revived types – so maybe everybody else reading this already knows the answer to the question.

Maybe the very name of the early book by him we have says it all:

The Green Jade Hand: In which a New and Quite Different Type of Detective unravels a Mystery staged in Chicago, Bagdad on the Lakes, London of the West!

At the very least an oddball who spent some time in his youth in a lunatic asylum – whether this was warranted or not isn’t clear to me – he is responsible for the most hilarious characters I’ve seen in print.

The Chiseler puts it like this:

Marry a moustachioed alcoholic and erstwhile magician to a Welsh-American beauty shortly before the World’s Columbian Exposition. When their son is born, widow the mother. Widow her again—twice. Put her in charge of a boarding house for vaudevillians. Make her son a prankster and give him a degree in electrical engineering. Bake him in the Kankakee mental asylum for a year. The result: the one and only Harry Stephen Keeler.


Here are a few of his plots as reported in Spectacles:

A man is found strangled to death in the middle of a lawn, yet there are no footprints other than his own. Police suspect the “Flying Strangler-Baby,” a killer midget who disguises himself as a baby and stalks victims by helicopter. (X. Jones of Scotland Yard, 1936)

Someone killed an antique dealer just so he could steal the face — only the face — from a surrealist painting of “The Man from Saturn.” (The Face of the Man from Saturn, 1933)

A woman’s body disappears while taking a steam bath. Only her head and toes, sticking out of the steam cabinet, remain. (The Case of the Transparent Nude, 1958)

Because of a clause in a will, a character has to wear a pair of hideous blue glasses constantly for a whole year. This is so that he will eventually see a secret message that is visible only with the glasses. (The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro, 1929)

The Chiseler has a lovely discussion of Keeler, doesn’t this put a smile on your face?:

Ignoring the pleas of his editors, HSK churned out huge, multivolume creations that tried his readers’ brains and now seem boldly postmodern, as if they had been dreamed up by Pynchon or Oulipo. To mention a few:

The Box from Japan (1932) is set in 1942 and runs to over 700,000 words, with extensive digressions on intercontinental 3-D television, a Nicaraguan canal, and the Japanese emperor’s love of Virginia ham.

The Marceau Case and X. Jones of Scotland Yard (1936) are “documented novels” that consist of newspaper stories, telegrams, photos (including one of a topless woman and one of Keeler himself), astronomical charts, cartoons, a Bible verse, two ten-page long footnotes, and much more. The premise is a twist on “locked room” mysteries: a man was strangled on an open croquet lawn, with only a few small footprints in his immediate vicinity. Was he garroted by a Lilliputian in an autogyro? The case is given a three-dimensional solution by an American in the first volume, and a four-dimensional solution by an Englishman in the second.

Not only do we have this extremely strange man, who has utterly devoted fans now trying to do things like get a Keeler stamp made, but as it happens I understand he lived just a few blocks from another very odd but talented US artist/writer Henry Darger who was writing/illustrating Vivian Girls as Keeler was dreaming up his crazy fiction. I wonder if it is coincidence that they had similarly unhappy childhoods and developed into the sort of creative spirits they became?

There is any amount on the web now about these cult figures, it’s well worth taking the time to explore them.

Who was Ridley Haim Herschell? 1807-1864

I was curious to find out more about the author of A Visit to My Father-Land, being notes of a Journey to Syria and Palestine in 1843, With Additional Notes of a Journey in 1854

Forgotten now, but important in his day, his roots were Polish-Jewish, but he ended up in England where he married Helen Skirving Mowbray, a union of love which cost them dearly, ostracised by both their families.

Amongst other notable work Herschell became a preacher of renown as well as writing books including the one that prompted my interest.

Caroline Cornwallis

I’m struck by the number of women prominent in the field of education in the nineteenth century (maybe even earlier) who quickly become forgotten. Listing A Brief View of Greek Philosophy up to the Age of Pericles ‘no author’ from the mid-nineteenth century, I see that it and many other books were written anonymously by Caroline Cornwallis. She was a fighter for education for the poor in particular, and for women. Declining marriage early in her life and remaining independent, she nonetheless, we are reassured by the Dictionary of National Biography (early twentieth century edition), never neglected her home duties.

Note that even if one is a woman without the emcumbrance of spouse or child, home duties were not to be escaped. One’s execution of these was probably far more important in society’s eyes than any number of books educating any number of people. Has this changed? Not where I am currently residing, which is Switzerland.

Answer to: Who am I?

In my last post, I asked for the identity of a nineteenth century female writer in the US who was so wildly popular that her fourth novel sold 1,000,000 copies in its first 4 months of publication.

Augusta Jane Evans was one of the most successful writers of the US in the second half of the 1800s, active in the Civil War on the side of the South.

As was typical of female writers of the day, she did it because she needed the money. Indeed, the proceeds of her second novel, Beulah, when she was 18 – it sold over 22,000 copies in its first year of publication – was used to buy a family home. Evidently her father wasn’t the best at holding onto money.

Hunger Games, by the way, in terms of ratio of copies to population in the US comes in at about 1:20. St Elmo, written in the 1860s, 1:40. I find that quite an incredible statistic, imagining that less people read books back then, they were more expensive to buy and there was none of that marketing hype thing where everybody now reads a certain book or two because everybody else is. I’m sure word of mouth must have counted for lots, but not the kind of instantaneous easy thing that is now. No Twitter, no facebook, blogs, internet. And still the book spread like wildfire.

An interesting essay on the way in which myths are perpetuated, even at the level of academic scholarship, is The Publishing History of Augusta Jane Evans’s Confederate Novel Macaria: Unwriting Some Lost Cause Myths by Melissa Homestead. Fascinating on the process by which facts are made, literally out of nothing.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Evans, by the way. Like almost all female writers of the nineteenth century, she is excluded from the literary canon, along with the other hugely influential, most widely read authors of her day.

Well. We seemed to have saved ourselves $20 by making this too hard. I’m uncertain about giving things away too easily – with the internet it would have taken seconds for anybody to figure this one out with another hint or two. Still, I’ll try to make the next one more readily solvable.