Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932)

by Pauline M. Kirk

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932), by Elliott & Fry

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932), by Elliott & Fry

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H82.266

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.

With the success of this first novel and the publication of another, Professor Brankel's Secret (c.1886), Hume chose a literary career and in 1888 settled in England. There he published some 140 novels, most of them mystery stories set in England, America, Africa or on the Continent which he often visited. Only Madam Midas (1888) and its sequel Miss Mephistopheles (1890) were set in Australia, although fifteen others had colonial associations. His novels had clever plots but no great literary worth and none enjoyed the popularity of The Hansom Cab which played an important part in the growth of escapist literature.

Hume was reputed to be deeply religious and to avoid publicity but in his later years he lectured at young people's clubs and debating societies. He died at Thundersley, Essex, on 12 July 1932.

Select Bibliography

  • N. K. Harvey, ‘Towards a Bibliography of “The Mystery of a Hansom Cab” ’, Biblionews, vol 11, no 9, Sept 1958, pp 29-30
  • Table Talk, 6 Jan, 13 Apr, 27 July 1888
  • Australasian, 21 Jan 1893, 23 July 1932
  • Bulletin, 4 Oct, 15 Nov 1902
  • Otago Daily Times, 13 July 1932
  • Times (London), 14 July 1932
  • J. K. Moir, ‘Australian Thriller: Fergus Hume's “Hansom Cab”’, Argus (Melbourne), 2 Dec 1944, supplement
  • G. James, ‘A Literary Mystery’, Age (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1965.

Citation details

Pauline M. Kirk, 'Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hume-fergusson-wright-fergus-3817/text6053, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 9 December 2016.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932), by Elliott & Fry

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932), by Elliott & Fry

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H82.266

Life Summary [details]

Birth

8 July 1859
England

Death

12 July 1932
Thundersley, Essex, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation