JEFFERY FARNOL 1878-1952
Novelist, Landscape Painter, Wood Carver,
Boxer, Master of Fence and Athlete
By EDWARD FARNOL 

 
 

My Eldest brother, Jeffery Farnol, or to give him his full name, John Jeffery Farnol, was born at Edgbaston, Birmingham, in the County of Warwick, on February the 10th, 1878, was all of the above to a very marked degree, and there are many examples-- paintings, carved chairs and boxes and other items fashioned by his hands still to be found in and around London, mainly in Kent.

My earliest memories are of a very dark haired rather plain boy of about 15 with beautiful grey eyes and a very firm and well shaped jaw, small and shapely hands and feet--when he was fully grown he wore size 5 in shoes-- short of stature, but well muscled and proportioned so that when stripped he looked a perfect small example of the race. He always had an air of authority and assurance which he carried throughout his life.

I was seven years younger than Jack as we called him then and five younger than my second brother Ewart, and as we grew up together in our parents' house at Lee in Kent I loved and watched the two and strove to be like them.

At Derwent House Prep. School in Lee my brothers were always the acknowledged leaders of the 50 or 60 boys. Ewart the handsome and debonair boy of adventure and Jack the thoughtful who always gave the final decision on any scheme or plan.

At school Jack was brilliant at History and Latin but no interest whatever in Mathematics or modern languages could be coaxed out of him. He was always a very great reader and devoured every type of literature, striving to store in his mind and memory all that he read so that he could quote you instantly passages and details from most of the Classics and well known Authors.

He loved Tennis and Football and played a sound game at full back both for the School and later for the Lee team.

About this time he started to carve and model ships--The Golden Hind, The Revenge and Frigates, Sloops and three deckers of Sir John Jervis' and Nelson's time. Very beautiful things they were and some were later on exhibition in the Maritime Museum at Greenwich and at the Goldsmiths' Institute at New Cross, London, S.E

I remember an occasion on a wet and dreary day we (Jack and I) were hunting the house for likely modelling material when we found an empty cardboard corset box--which had contained mother's latest fearsome contraption of steel and brocade which women wore in those days. He turned the box over in his hands for some time, saying never a word. I said, "What are you going to do with that thing", and he replied, "You wait old Cock and you will get a surprise". I did in truth, for during the next few days the long corset box was transformed into a black and white three decker under full sail--a lovely thing made from the old box, mother's strong button thread and father's note paper for sails--Jack spent hours knotting and splicing the shrouds and running rigging all perfect to scale and true copies of the old ship's cordage.

Incidentally this sealed my fate for many future hours, as "being only a kid, it would not be thought strange if I went into ladies' outfitters and begged empty corset boxes." I did, and must have collected 50 or 60 during the next few weeks.

About 1895 we boys were given the sole use of a half basement room which was large with a huge old fireplace and furnished with some old "saddlebag" arm chairs, large table, and upright piano which had seen its best days.

Here we could collect our friends when we liked--and there were most often 7 or 8 fellows who came in during any evening--whilst on Saturday afternoons during the winter there would be anything up to 20. The rule was that we must do everything for ourselves, and this was strictly enforced by mother who made periodic and surprise inspections. The room had to be kept clean and tidy by us and the maid was not allowed to touch the place--except to make up the fire on Saturday afternoons during the winter and put a large black kettle on the hob so that we could make our tea when we all came in from football. We should find a vast loaf of bread and also large pot of beef dripping, salt and a toasting fork. We made what toast we wanted--each boy for himself--but there was nothing else provided. I shall remember those teas till I die as the most delicious and surely the most satisfying meals I have ever eaten. Here, in this old room Jeffery, as I suppose I should now call him, made some of the most beautiful copies (in wood and wire--and now and then out of Mother's shell patty pans of tin) of the swords and rapiers carried by famous men of old--Drake and Raleigh, The Black Prince and many others. There are still many of these about. Whilst we sandpapered and "blued" under J's. instructions the talk would range and range over the happenings in the world past and to come, but I never heard "Sex" even mentioned and dirty stories were things told by "Yobs" and "outsiders".

The years were passing and as my brothers grew towards 18 and 16 respectively, plans for the future were formulated. Jeffery insisted on his writing and it was planned for Ewart to go into the Diplomatic Service in the Siamese Legation where one of our uncles then held a high position For Ewart to do this it would be very necessary for him to understand and ride horses and have a military bearing, so it was arranged that, a little later, he should join a smart Cavalry Regt. and be "bought out" after two years' training.

Jeffery had his first short stories published in 1895 and 1896 and was working hard on a novel which he called "The Skull of the Inca." To my mind this was the best Pirate Story, ever written with the exception of Treasure Island, but strangely enough, has never been published. The manuscript seems to have vanished entirely. At this time my brother began to show his first interest in girls, and there seemed to be hoards of them in Lee and Blackheath. For amusement I have just made a list and find that I can still call to mind the names of 57 in our circle, with whom we danced and played tennis in those times of nearly 70 years ago.

Jeffery always had many girls dangling--they flocked around him then as they did all through his life-- he seemed to have a magnetic charm and attraction for all the female sex, and he himself quite obviously liked variety. Ewart, on the other hand, though really handsome with his dark, brilliant eyes and tightly curling chestnut hair, chose for himself a beautiful girl and thereafter showed no special interest in any other. After he was killed in Africa she went into the Hospital for Sick Children in London and devoted her life to nursing children from then on. Dear Elsa! you were a gay and lovely woman and your devotion and constancy have been beautiful things.

Now was the time when Jeffery got together his Pierrot Troup of 10 girls and ten men--he always had a very quick wit and made an excellent ''corner man''--They used to hire one of Tillings 2 horse 'buses and go all over South East London to give shows. They were much acclaimed and raised several hundred pounds for many local "good causes."

In between all the other activities he put in a lot of time boxing and "sparring" with the unfortunate Pedlar Palmer, who would have been among the "Top Flight" in the Boxing World had it not been for the "accident" in the train from Epsom on Derby day. Also at this time Jeffery was doing a lot of weight and barbell lifting with Eugene Sandow-- great evenings they were full of comradeship and good cheer.

One, to me especially, very bad and distressing trait in Jeffery's character now began to develop and got worse and worse with the passing months. He who had always been a sunny tempered and happy fellow, became gloomy and quite beastly tempered before he had had his breakfast in the morning so that no one--not even Mother--could say word to him without being swamped by his rage and nasty sayings. Alas this failing stayed with him through his life. After he had eaten and smoked his first pipe the gloom would pass away and he became his normal self again. Never once did I hear him offer any apology to anyone. He seemed to think it quite part of normal life.

Many of the girls we knew had told us how they were "crowded" on the pavements by gangs of young toughs who said beastly things to them when they were "surrounded". We held Council on this bad state of affairs in our old room one day after tea and decided to form what became quite famous (locally) as the "purity squad". Twelve of our best boxers were chosen to go out together in packs of four, each pack was to force their way to the help of any girl they saw being "crowded'', see her clear of the ''Yobs'' and then, if the matter looked like coming to a fight, offer to take on in a field nearby, any or all of the "enemy", one by one in a correct "sporting" manner one at a time, the enemy being allowed to pick their opponent from the squad. Being at heart British--the "Yobs" liked the idea and as a result there were some bloody battles in our field with plenty of damage on both sides, but only on one occasion the idea didn't work, the Yobs attacking at once twelve to our four and so making it a Gang Fight. Our reserve eight fortunately turned up early in the row and the enemy got such a "pasting" that they never put in an appearance again. One funny thing arose in our "picked fights, Jeffery was by far the smallest of our squad and was therefore most often picked out for the first affray, but as he was also by far the best boxer, the Deptford boys soon grew wary of him and picked from the others. It took just under a year to clear up the nuisance and thereafter the girls could walk the pavements without molestation. It is strange to remember that our many fights left us with quite a few good and friendly "Yob" supporters

In passing I should like to mention that from our crowd (or squad) two were killed in the Boer War, one died with Captain Scott on the way back from the Pole, one Commanded a Division in France in the 1914-18 war, one became the most famous surgeon in Southern India, one grew to be one of our most famous builders of bridges, one a very well known Architect-- and Jeffery, not so bad a percentage out of 12 young men.

Jeffery now enrolled at the Goldsmiths Institute at New Cross, London S.E., to study in the "Life Classes" of the Painting School, three nights a week. Also he began an intensive course or instruction in Fencing and all other forms of swordsmanship--sabre , cutlass, Scottish Claymore and the finer art of the rapier and small sword. His most engaging habit of keenness and enthusiasm for anything he undertook, soon took him (as usual) to the fore and in course of time he became a really fine exponent especially of the small sword and rapier. On fine evenings our garden would ring with the clash and hiss of steel as the masked and leather jerkined figures stamped and circled only poor Mother's pet lawn. We wore it bare that first season, but Mother didn't really mind only she saw to it that we all labored in the Autumn raking and levelling and sowing fresh seed. A wonderful woman who had an inspired gift for managing and getting the best out of any boy. All our friends loved her and were always keen to do what she wished. Her faith in Jeffery's ultimate success never wavered, and I know now that she fought many battles with my father so that Jeffery could carry on with his writing--about this time she even cleared out her own pet drawing room so that it might become a study for the "budding genius" as she sometimes called him. My father was much away on his travels during all these years and had little to do with our training and when he was at home seemed principally wrapped up in Politics and his devotion to W. E. Gladstone, after whom he had named Ewart.

It was now that I was taken ill with a serious fever and lay for weeks near to death. During this time Jeffery would come to have his tea with me and read aloud to me the parts of The Skull which he had written the previous night. All his life he did his writing after dinner getting to bed sometimes after sun rise. When I was about again and during a long convalescence, I spent many, many hours with him in his study looking up details for his work--distances by road from place to place--the finer points of 17th century dress and weapons and so on. You will find that he cannot be "faulted" on such matters because he was more than careful to be accurate in all that he wrote.

Ewart had now gone to join his Regiment of Hussars and was in the Cavalry Barracks with it at Canterbury. He used to come home on weekend leave now and then resplendent in blue "pill box'' cap with chin strap, yellow frogged blue tunic (Serge I think it was called) tight "superfine overalls" with broad yellow stripe down each leg which were strapped under the highly polished boots which in turn carried glittering and jingling spurs. It was a grand uniform and how we all admired him in it--not least his Elsa.

In the early spring of this year -- I think 1906--father came home after a particularly bad journey and after something bad had happened to the Liberal Party--in a mood of fixed wrath and despondency. The first morning after his return he came upon Jeffery before he (J) had eaten any breakfast--it then being about 12 midday and. Jeffery having only just come down from his bedroom. The hour and the surly greeting he got from his eldest son caused an explosion of blazing wrath during which he told my brother that he was an entirely lazy, good for nothing oaf who by his piffling little stories didn't even earn the cost of the bread he ate--Father did not have things all his own way for Jeffery could talk too and say the nastiest and most hurtful things in a quiet and most enraging manner. The row was certainly violent short of blows--and went on for an hour or more. The first "shindy" I had ever heard in our house. It ended by Jeffery being told that a job would be found for him with an engineering firm in Birmingham where he would be taught the useful craft of Tool Making. J. in his turn saying that he would go to Hell itself rather than have to stay in Fathers house and eat his bread. Mother tried to intercede but both Father and son were by this time beyond reason. So it came about that within 14 days Jeffery was on his way to live with our favorite Aunt in her house at Kings Heath, from where he went each day to the works.

He worked quite well--as he always did--and lived quite happily in Aunt Keziah's house, but it was not to last for more than about six months. At the factory there was a very tall disused chimney and one day the men Jeffery was working with challenged him to climb up inside and fix a flag to the lightening conductor.

My brother waited until all the workpeople had gone home one evening that Summer, and only the night watchman was about, and then went in to the square brick chamber at the chimney foot.

There was a good deal of old soot on the floor but the arched entry to the chimney itself was easy to see. He started to climb up by the iron rungs fixed across the corner (the chimney was one of the old square ones) and got about halfway up when he came to a gap where two rungs were missing-- after a struggle he got past this obstacle and reached the top. He tied a large silk handkerchief to the rod and started down, but at the two missing rungs, found it easier to reach up than to try and find holds below when hanging in space. However, now in a fine sweat of terror and exhaustion, as he told me afterwards, he managed somehow and arrived down to within about 12 or 14 feet of the bottom, when the rung he was holding came away in his hand and he shot down into a deep bed of soot. Of course he had knocked down bushels of the stuff as he climbed and this nearly ended his life, as he could neither see or breathe. He got to his feet somehow and, by the one chance in a million, plunged forward through the soot and blackness on the direct line to the doorway, and so out into the sweet evening air.

He lay there for sometime being very sick, and when he did start to get out of the works, ran slap into the watchman--an old Irishman--who had one look and with a yell of "Holy God, save us I've met the Devil's own self" bolted for the gates into the road.

There was trouble in plenty, next day--what with the watchman's Devil and the handkerchief fluttering from the chimney--and my brother was lectured and cursed by the Boss for risking the fact that they would have had to pay damages if he had killed himself. Jeffery was not very polite to the "Great Man" I fear and was packed off to return home for good --so ended his course of Tool Making.

Father was nasty about the brevity of any effort at "real work'' but things were not so bad as expected. and Jeffery settled back into the old ways without causing much of an upheaval. He and Father were never really "friends" again after the row and sort of walked around each other like a couple of wary dogs. Years later Jeffery was very good and very generous to both our Parents. Bought and gave them a house and so forth, and helped them in many other ways.

During the years we had, all three of us, been great cyclists and had fully explored what was then in truth "The Garden of England". I don't think that there is a mile of road in the County (or of Sussex for that matter) which we had not ridden over, and it is from his detailed knowledge of the country that he drew the descriptions in The Broad Highway, The Money Moon and The Amateur Gentleman. One epic ride we made about this time to Cranbrook (48 miles) in the early beauty of a Summer morning and starting home again after tea, gave his readers the best and most vivid description of a thunderstorm, for just after nightfall we ran into the worst storm I have ever seen in England. As we were both very soon soaked to the skin, we rode on and the play of the lightning as we climbed River Hill out of Silveroaks, I have not forgotten and never shall, though I have seen plenty of storms on the West African Coast.

Jeffery was alway careless as to his clothes, the direct opposite to immaculate Ewart, and as he would not accept anything at all at home except his food, clothing became a serious problem which caused much worry to Mother and, on some occasions, embarrassment to me as for example when we rode down to Cranbrook to have tea with a charming family, and he walked into their old garden where tea was set, with two tufts of shirt tail wagging behind him where they stuck out of holes in his seat, worn through on the saddle riding down from home. On another occasion I met him walking with the Lee beauty and model of fashion, with the lining of his jacket flapping down over his seat and a pair of my old house slippers, (much too large) tied on to his feet and, round his ankles with white string. Strangely the girls never seemed to mind what he looked like. Had it been me I am sure that they would have failed to see me.

In between all the other things which we did in those days was to make all kinds and sizes of kites. These Jeffery and I flew on Blackheath and even from our own garden with great success. Except when we draped some of them on neighbours trees and chimneys where they would flutter until they fell to pieces.

During the summer of 1898, Ewart still being with the Hussars at Canterbury and on shooting courses at Lydd, I was much with Jeffery working on his "research" most evenings until about ten o'clock. When father was away mother used to like to get to bed by about 9.30 and sent the maid up also "to get some extra rest". J and I would go down to the service basement kitchen to make ourselves some tea which caused the habit of having tea at night (which has been with me all my life). Being an old house full of cracks and crannies in the timber this kitchen used to swarm with black beetles which came out when the lights were extinguished. We used to go down armed with long handled shovels from the hearth sets, and smash and batter as many as we could before they scuttled away from the light. We faithfully kept each his score every night and totted them up on Saturday, the best number winning the packet of cigarette prize put up by mother.

This was about the only sport or exercise at which I regularly beat my brother.

World affairs were darkening and things which were to change all our lives were looming over us.

The Boer War was coming nearer and though my Parents wanted to buy Ewart out of the Army at once he would not hear of such a thing "I refuse to be branded as a coward by everyone we know".

When War finally broke upon us Ewart's Hussar Regiment was one of the first units to be sent off to Africa. Jeffery and I went to the Arsenal Dockyard at Woolwich to meet the troop train from Canterbury and walked by the side of the dear old boy as the column marched in fours the short distance to the S.S. Templemore, the ship in which they were to sail. The horses had already been embarked, so that after spending less than an hour with Ewart on the ship we were hustled off, the mooring lines were cast loose, and we stood and watched as the steamer crept away down the river on the tide. We had seen the last we were ever to see of the gay and charming brother we both loved so much. I have always thought that Jeffery had a "foreknowledge" of what was to come, for a depression settled upon him from that hour.

Two months later we heard from an old friend, a Major, in the 16th Lancers that Ewart has been in action and distinguished himself by leading a few other men of his Troop and bringing out two of our Field Guns, whose crews had been killed under heavy fire. That his name had gone forward for a very high decoration and that we could expect great things.

Two weeks after that came the formal telegram of "Regret" from the War Office, and that was the end, for there were no posthumous awards of decorations in those days. The telegram seemed to strike Jeffery a blow from which he never recovered, for he lost the "sparkle" and gaiety which had always distinguished him amongst us, and these never came back even after he had won his astonishing popularity as a novelist.

1 have written a good deal about Ewart in these notes because no picture of Jeffery Farnol could be anything like a true one unless the enormous influence for good which my younger brother exercised over Jeffery is noted and understood. He developed into a sober and quiet thinker and a really brilliant conversationalist, with a quick and, sometimes, "spicy" wit. A very engaging imp of a man with no shadow of conceit, but, as 1 say something of the best in him died with my brother Ewart.

In 1901 I was 16 and busy building up a small business of my own which I had started in London. Jeffery was still at home writing and painting some lovely pictures of the Kentish scenery. At this time he was very friendly with the two daughters of Sir Henry Irving's business manager who lived at Wandsworth, and used to cycle over and have tea with the family on most Saturdays.

One night when he came home very late, I was asleep in bed. He came and prodded me awake and asked if 1 had any money "You see old cock, I want some rather badly and at once". I had twelve pounds saved up in my table drawer, all in nice golden sovereigns which I got out for him asking what's the emergency?

My brother said "don't worry about that old 'un I'll tell you all about it very soon". In truth he did--for on the following Wednesday evening he arrived with a girl none of us had ever seen before and introduced her to mother as Blanche Hawley, youngest daughter of H. Hughson Hawley the well known painter of New York and Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.A. "At least, Mother, that is who she was, now she is Mrs. Jeffery Farnol for we were married at Wandsworth today."

I had never seen Mother's placid face display such consternation. But my dear boy she said, where on earth are you going to live and where is your income to come from? What you are earning now will not keep you both. Well, Mother I thought that we might camp down with you here for a time--we could fix up the large empty attic as a bed sitting room and be quite comfy. Income? I am making a bit now, and Blanche has a very good bit of cash sent her each month by Mr. Hawley, so we should manage for a time. Typical Jeffery Farnol throughout his life. In fact they lived with us in the old attic for more than a year and their only child (a girl) Gillian was born there

Towards the end of 1902, Mr. Hawley wrote to Blanche, saying let us see this Paragon of a man you are alway writing us about--bring him over to New York with you, for which I enclose enough money to pay your fares and expenses. They sailed a few weeks after, first class on a lovely ship, and I saw them off--all three of them. It was eight years later in 1910 that I next saw my brother. After I had sent him the first 250 pounds of "Advance Royalties" which I had squeezed out of his Publishers.

Blanche was a most dainty and charming girl, the same height as Jeffery, with a lovely figure (I used to call her our "Pocket Venus") and long, soft hair which gleamed like spun gold. To meet Blanche and Jeffery walking, together was a real delight - They were both so well formed and graceful and yet so small and such striking contrast to each other that most people they passed had to take a second look.

Their arrival in the States was quite an "event" for the Hawley family- Father, Mother, two other sisters and one brother--Leo. All of them seem to have fallen to my brother's charm except father Hawley. He was an Englishman who had lived most of his life in the States and--at that time- thought much of "Money and Position."

After a few weeks there was almighty row between Mr. Hawley and Jeffery (both accomplished talkers and, when roused, with a gift for saying hurtful things) so that my brother was once again--"ordered out". His own Father and now Blanche's. He walked out of the house at Englewood without a cent and not even a tooth brush, and it was many weeks before Blanche found out that he had got himself a job as a Scene Painter at the Astor Theatre in New York, and was living, with plenty of rats, in one of the "Property" rooms there, sleeping on an old chest and cooking on a gas ring. He lived there for about a year, whilst Blanche came from Englewood almost daily to bring him food and cook it for him on the gas ring. It was during the long and rat haunted nights there that he wrote the whole of The Broad Highway which was to bring him fame. Such fame I may say, that, after 1910 made it almost a misery to bear the same name, and not BE the writer.

A reconciliation was brought about between Jeffery and Mr. Hawley mainly by the efforts of Mrs. Hawley (Jennifer), and my brother went back to live and work at Englewood.

During the following years to 1910 the two men became very fast friends indeed, and many years later both Hughson Hawley and his wife--the much loved Jennifer--died at my brother's house near Brighton and are buried in the tiny churchyard at Patcham, near the grave of our own Mother who died in 1921, a comparatively young woman of only 61. My Mother, Katherine Farnol's unfailing support, and belief in Jeffery's future success, was an inspiration to him, as her teaching to us as boys had always been--"Remember boys, that if you fight in a just cause--come back to me with your shield or on it". Rest her Soul. She was a truly grand woman Jeffery most surely returned to her "carrying his shield".

 
Many thanks to Stephen Cole, Pat Bryan and Geoff Perkins










Copyright Toucan Press

and used here by kind permission of Dr. Gregory Stevens-Cox










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