Hornung, E.W. (Ernest William), 1866-1921

Alternative names
Birth 1866-06-07
Death 1921-03-22

Biographical notes:

Ernest William (Willie) Hornung (1866-1921) was born on 7 June 1866, the son of John Peter Hornung, a Hungarian, who had settled in Middlesbrough. E. W. Hornung's education began at Dame School, the life at which is portrayed in his book 'Young Blood'. From there he proceded to St Ninian's, Moffat. He was one of the nine boys with which the school was opened at Easter 1879 by A. J. C. Dowding and Rev W. H. Churchill. In 1880 Hornung went to Uppingham whilst the famous Edward Thring was still headmaster. Hornung remained there until 1883 where his literary talents developed and he took a keen interest in the school magazine. He then went to Australia where he remained until 1886 and it was here that he began his literary writings and this country inspired his early adventure novels. Whilst in Australia he lived rough and wrote many stories before he had the courage to submit them to editors. All the time, however, he was gaining local colour for his novels which, like 'Raffles', made him famous. His Australian novels include 'A Bride from the Bush' published in 1899, 'The Belle of Toorak' and 'Stingaree'.

Hornung was a keen motorist, had a lifelong interest in cricket and was a great supporter of the public school system. These interests are reflected in his literary works. Hornung was a recognised authority on cricket and he was an enthusiastic player although he did suffer from asthma and short sight. Although Hornung is perhaps best known for his 'Raffles' stories about the gentleman burglar, 'Fathers of Men', his story of Uppingham, has been considered by many, including Rudyard Kipling, to be his finest work.

In 1893, Hornung married Constance Doyle, a daughter of Charles A. Doyle, and they had one child, (Arthur) Oscar, named after his maternal uncle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle thought that his brother-in-law's series of 'Raffles' books would harm Hornung's reputation as they got between the public and his better works. He considered 'Peccavi' (1900) an outstanding novel.

At the outbreak of war, Hornung became heavily involved in war work in London and his son, Oscar, immediately enlisted with the Essex Regiment. Hornung handed over a newly purchased motorcar for military service and was quickly absorbed in anti-aircraft gunnery as well as other self-imposed war duties. After Oscar was killed in the trenches in July 1915, Hornung visited the troops in France at the request of the Government and he subsequently joined a YMCA unit there. He initially worked in the stores and then helped to organise a library and rest hut at Arras under the auspices of the YMCA between 1917 and 1918. The hut was destroyed by the Germans in the 'Big Push' of March 1918. After the Armistice, the Second Army was transferred from Flanders to the Rhine and a large YMCA centre was opened in Cologne and Hornung ran the library there under Barclay Baron. He recorded his experiences with the YMCA in 'Notes of a Camp Follower on the Western Front' (1919). In addition to his novels and short stories Hornung wrote some war verses as well as a play based on the 'Raffles' stories which was successful. Shortly after the war Hornung went to St Jean de Luz for his wife's health. Here he contracted a chill which proved fatal. He died on 22 March 1921 survived by his wife. He was buried in the cemetery at St Jean de Luz, next to the English novelist George Gissing (1857-1903).

Hornung's 'Raffles' stories began with 'The Amateur Cracksman' (eight stories published in 1899) and was followed by 'The Black Mask' (a further eight stories) in 1901. These 16 stories were subsequently published together as a compilation under the title 'Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman' and, with the third collection of short stories, 'Thief in the Night' (published in 1905) were known collectively as the 'Raffles stories'. A fourth book in the form of a novel, 'Mr Justice Raffles' was published in 1909. Hornung's other published novels and collections of short stories number more than 20 works and include: A Bride from the Bush (1890); Under Two Skies (1892); Tiny Luttrell (1893); The Boss of Taroomba (1894); The Unbidden Guest (1894); The Rogue's March (1896); Irralie's Bushranger (1896); My Lord Duke (1896); Young Blood (1898); Some Person's Unknown (1898); Dead Men Tell No Tales (1899); The Belle of Toorak (also known as The Shadow of a Man) (1900); Peccavi (1900); The Shadow of the Rope (1902); At Large (1902); Denis Dent (1903); No Hero (1903); The Camera Fiend (1911); Fathers of Men (1912); The Thousandth Woman (1913); and Witching Hill (1913). His non-fiction works include: Notes of a Camp-Follower on the Western Front (1919); and Young Guard (poems) (1919).

Hornung's protege and close friend, Shane Randolph Chichester, OBE (1883-1969) was born on 24 February 1883, the son of the Honorable Francis Algernon James Chichester and Lady Emily Octavia Stewart. Chichester first met Hornung in 1896, at the age of 13 at St Ninian's, Moffat where Hornung was an 'old boy'. They struck up a strong friendship, which developed out of their shared enthusiasm for cricket, and Hornung became somewhat of a mentor to the younger man. Chichester, in turn, would later develop a particularly close relationship with Hornung's son, Oscar.

Chichester continued his education at Wellington College, Berkshire and then at Cambridge University. He graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1905 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Chichester was an engineer and between 1905 and 1910 he worked for the Irrigation Department in Egypt. Following a period of ill health he later became an inspecting engineer to Rolls Royce Ltd, 1913-14 and then 1919-42. In the First World War, after being discharged from the First Naval Brigade in 1915 as being unfit, he joined the Ministry of Munitions as Chief Dilution Officer (Explosives) for which he received the OBE in 1919.

Chichester married Madeline (Babs) Herschel Whately (c 1889-1977), a daughter of Henry Arthur Whately (c 1855-1957), on 26 December 1914. One of Chichester's sisters, Mona, became Henry Whately's second wife and so Whately became Chichester's father-in-law as well as his brother-in-law. Shane and Madeline had two children: Major Oscar Richard Herscel Chichester (1915-2006), who was born some months after the death of his namesake, Oscar Hornung, on the front line; and Desmond Shane Chichester (1919-2001). In 1942 Chichester graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge University with a Master of Arts degree.

During the First World War and after the armistice Chichester became involved with Hornung's YMCA work by acting as an 'agent', collecting and despatching books for the libraries Hornung was establishing for the British soldiers. Chichester's 1941 publication entitled 'E. W. Hornung and his Young Guard, 1914' arose out of his inability to obtain a copy of Hornung's published volume of verses entitled 'The Young Guard'. The first edition of the work, printed only for private circulation, contained a selection of verses from 'The Young Guard', many of which had been written during the First World War and some of Hornung's school addresses which had previously not been published. The second edition, which was a public issue, appeared in 1941 and it was aimed at families who had lost a 'Young Guard' during the Second World War. Chichester felt that Hornung's writings would be of help to others and wanted to make them more widely known. The second edition included a preface and memoir of Hornung, written by Chichester, and a memoir of Oscar Hornung which was reproduced from the 'Eton College Chronicle'. The profits from the sale of this enlarged edition were given to the YMCA in memory of E. W. Hornung. Shane Chichester died on 6 April 1969.

Sources: papers relating to E. W. Hornung; information supplied by the depositor; the Dictionary of Australian Biography available at http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogHi-Hu.html#hornung1 viewed 12 January 2012; The Peerage website available at http://thepeerage.com/p23558.htm#i235579 viewed 12 January 2012

From the guide to the E. W. Hornung, Papers of, c 1893-1966, (University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections)


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  • Prompt-book
  • First World War (1914-1918)
  • Literature
  • Drama (English)


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