The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Chapter III.
One Hundred Pounds Reward.

V.R. MURDER. 100 POUNDS REWARD.

“Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July.”

HansomCab

Coming up on ABC1 next Sunday.

Simon Caterson’s “Introduction” to the Text Classics edition of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab:

THE bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. That distinction belongs to Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which appeared in the year before Sherlock Holmes made what was, by comparison, a rather unspectacular debut in A Study in Scarlet.

The Hansom Cab was an overnight sensation when published in Melbourne in 1886, and it rapidly found readers around the world, especially in Britain. As many as 750,000 copies were sold during Hume’s lifetime, nearly half that number within the first six months of publication in London in 1887.

Advertised in its first English edition as “a startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life,” The Hansom Cab was a first novel which had been written almost by accident and was self-published. Despite these modest beginnings the book became a huge international success and was translated into eleven languages. In its obituary for Hume in 1932, the Times was to note that “everybody read it eagerly and in fact it went all over the world.”…

You can get a free eBook from the University of Adelaide.

humeMrs. Hableton’s particular grievance was want of money. Not by any means an uncommon one, you might remind her; but she snappishly would tell you that “she knowd that, but some people weren’t like other people.” In time one came to learn what she meant by this. She had come to the Colonies in the early days — days when the making of money in appreciable quantity was an easier matter than it is now. Owing to a bad husband, she had failed to save any. The late Mr. Hableton — for he had long since departed this life — had been addicted to alcohol, and at those times when he should have been earning, he was usually to be found in a drinking shanty spending his wife’s earnings in “shouting” for himself and his friends. The constant drinking, and the hot Victorian climate, soon carried him off, and when Mrs. Hableton had seen him safely under the ground in the Melbourne Cemetery, she returned home to survey her position, and see how it could be bettered. She gathered together a little money from the wreck of her fortune, and land being cheap, purchased a small “section” at St. Kilda, and built a house on it. She supported herself by going out charing, taking in sewing, and acting as a sick nurse, So, among this multiplicity of occupations, she managed to exist fairly well.

And in truth it was somewhat hard upon Mrs. Hableton. For at the time when she should have been resting and reaping the fruit of her early industry, she was obliged to toil more assiduously than ever. It was little consolation to her that she was but a type of many women, who, hardworking and thrifty themselves, are married to men who are nothing but an incubus to their wives and to their families. Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Hableton should condense all her knowledge of the male sex into the one bitter aphorism, “Men is brutes.”

Possum Villa was an unpretentious-looking place, with one, bow-window and a narrow verandah in front. It was surrounded by a small garden in which were a few sparse flowers — the especial delight of Mrs. Hableton. It was, her way to tie an old handkerchief round her head and to go out into the garden and dig and water her beloved flowers until, from sheer desperation at the overwhelming odds, they gave up all attempt to grow. She was engaged in this favourite occupation about a week after her lodger had gone. She wondered where he was.

“Lyin’ drunk in a public-’ouse, I’ll be bound,” she said, viciously pulling up a weed, “a-spendin’ ’is, rent and a-spilin’ ’is inside with beer — ah, men is brutes, drat ’em!”

Just as she said this, a shadow fell across the garden, and on looking up, she saw a man leaning over the fence, staring at her.

“Git out,” she said, sharply, rising from her knees and shaking her trowel at the intruder. “I don’t want no apples to-day, an’ I don’t care how cheap you sells ’em.”

Mrs. Hableton evidently laboured under the delusion that the man was a hawker, but seeing no hand-cart with him, she changed her mind.

“You’re takin’ a plan of the ’ouse to rob it, are you?” she said. “Well, you needn’t, ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to rob, the silver spoons as belonged to my father’s mother ’avin’ gone down my ’usband’s, throat long ago, an’ I ain’t ’ad money to buy more. I’m a lone pusson as is put on by brutes like you, an’ I’ll thank you to leave the fence I bought with my own ’ard earned money alone, and git out.”

Mrs. Hableton stopped short for want of breath, and stood shaking her trowel, and gasping like a fish out of water.

“My dear lady,” said the man at the fence, mildly, “are you — ”

“No, I ain’t,” retorted Mrs. Hableton, fiercely, “I ain’t neither a member of the ‘Ouse, nor a school teacher, to answer your questions. I’m a woman as pays my rates an’ taxes, and don’t gossip nor read yer rubbishin’ newspapers, nor care for the Russings, no how, so git out.”

“Don’t read the papers?” repeated the man, in a satisfied tone, “ah! that accounts for it.”

Mrs. Hableton stared suspiciously at the intruder. He was a burly-looking man, with a jovial red face, clean shaven, and his sharp, shrewd-looking grey eyes twinkled like two stars. He was, well-dressed in a suit of light clothes, and wore a stiffly-starched white waistcoat, with a massive gold chain stretched across it. Altogether he gave Mrs. Hableton finally the impression of being a well-to-do tradesman, and she mentally wondered what he wanted.

“What d’y want?” she asked, abruptly.

“Does Mr. Oliver Whyte live here?” asked the stranger.

“He do, an’ he don’t,” answered Mrs. Hableton, epigrammatically. “I ain’t seen ’im for over a week, so I s’pose ’e’s gone on the drink, like the rest of ’em, but I’ve put sumthin’ in the paper as ’ill pull him up pretty sharp, and let ’im know I ain’t a carpet to be trod on, an’ if you’re a friend of ’im, you can tell ’im from me ’e’s a brute, an’ it’s no more but what I expected of ’im, ’e bein’ a male.”…

I’ll leave you to your own judgement of that, but why did I inadvertently find myself thinking “Gillard” for some reason? You may ignore that if you like.

So I am rereading my eBook version. Can’t say it is the world’s greatest book, but it is interesting. I am sure the adaptation on Sunday will be well worth a look.

See also Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932) and The Case of the "Growler" and the Handsome Hansom which is not directly relevant but introduces a nice blog from a Tasmanian historian.


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