Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gask, Arthur Cecil (1869–1951)

by Michael J. Tolley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869-1951), by Vandyck Studio

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869-1951), by Vandyck Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B58382

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869-1951), dentist and novelist, was born on 10 July 1869 at St Marylebone, London, fourth of five children of Charles Gask, merchant, and his wife Fanny, née Edis. Arthur's sister Lilian was to become a writer of children's stories. Educated at Merchant Taylors' School, he trained as a dentist at the Royal Dental and Middlesex hospitals and gained his licence (1891) from the Royal College of Surgeons. On 10 August 1898 he married a dentist's daughter Florence Mary Tippett in the parish church, Tormoham, Devon; they were to have four children. Gask worked at St Vincent's Home, Torquay, then as a dental inspector in industrial schools and in 1905-08 at the Harrogate Infirmary, Yorkshire. He divorced his wife on 19 July 1909 and on 13 September that year married the children's nursemaid Marion Elizabeth Maltby at the register office, West Ham, London. On the birth of their first son in 1910, Gask described himself as a journalist.

Accompanied by Marion and their two sons, and by a daughter of his first marriage, Gask emigrated to Adelaide in 1920. He set up practice in rooms on North Terrace where he was among the first in the city to carry out extractions with gas. Six ft 3 ins (191 cm) tall, slim and moustached, he was suave and successful, and enjoyed telling his captive patients 'off-colour' jokes. He was amiable, but eccentric, and made kleptomaniac raids on his local pharmacist. Although he was an agnostic, Gask liked to discuss religion. While waiting for his patients, he began writing crime fiction.

He paid for the publication of his first novel, The Secret of the Sandhills (1921), which sold the print-run of one thousand copies in three weeks. Herbert Jenkins Ltd, London, republished it next year. By 1926 about 30,000 copies had been sold and the firm handled all English editions of his work, which was to comprise some thirty-four novels. His famous detective hero Gilbert Larose first appeared in Cloud, the Smiter (1926). Gask's style was pacy and sometimes titillating. He published, on average, at least one book a year until his death. The Red Paste Murders (1923) was considered for a film and The Dark Highway (1928) was praised in All About Books as 'virile and gripping'. The Jest of Life (1936) recorded the migration of an Adelaide dentist's soul to several leading citizens. In 1931 The Lonely House (1929) was republished in New York by Macaulay Co. which brought out four more of his books, including one in another genre, The Master Spy (1937). Gask's work was translated into several European languages, serialized in newspapers and broadcast on radio. He also wrote short stories.

In 1933 Gask retired to write full time at rural Kooringa where he named his property Gilrose; he later returned to Adelaide and lived at Walkerville. Despite illness, he completed Crime Upon Crime (1952). Survived by his wife and their two sons, and by the two sons and one of the daughters of his first marriage, he died on 24 June 1951 in North Adelaide and was cremated. The Secret of the Garden (1924), republished in 1993, is notable for its mischievous social criticism of Adelaide; H. G. Wells regarded The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as Gask's 'best piece of story-telling . . . It kept me up till half-past one'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Depasquale, A Critical History of South Australian Literature, 1836-1930 (Adel, 1978)
  • All About Books, Jan 1929
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 21 May 1926, 27 June 1951
  • Mail (Adelaide), 20 Sept 1947
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 20 July 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael J. Tolley, 'Gask, Arthur Cecil (1869–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gask-arthur-cecil-10283/text18191, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869-1951), by Vandyck Studio

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869-1951), by Vandyck Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B58382