Sean Williams (ladnews) wrote,
Sean Williams

arthur j rees: obscured by time

Recently I had cause to dig deep into the life of Australian-born Arthur J Rees, the relatively obscure author of such works as The Shrieking Pit, The Hand in the Dark, and The Threshold of Fear (a sober fantasy). I usually find this kind of research quite tedious, but something about this guy caught my attention. Perhaps it was the ambiguity surrounding his birthdate (anywhere between 1870 and 1977!). Or maybe the odd hints that things weren't the same as his bios stated. Whatever the reason, it became my personal mission to dig up as many old references as I could lay my hands on, and, once I had them, make them available more widely. (Google will see this stuff, right?) Finding info on early Australian writers can be very difficult, as I've now learned the hard way.

Below the cut is everything I could find: the praise Dorothy Sayers laid on him in her landmark anthology Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror; the enigmatic and possibly exaggerated Lone Hand bio; typos (or are they?) in the official records; the dubious character of his occasional collaborator, John R Watson; even a possible affair...

"The Life and Times of Mr Arthur J(ohn) Rees"

Frequent references:
• 'Miller': E. Morris Miller in Australian Literature (Rev 1950 ed)
• 'Who Was Who': Who Was Who among English and European Authors, 1931-1949. (1978) Based on entries which first appeared in The Author's and Writer's Who's Who and Reference Guide, originally compiled by Edward Martell and L.G. Pine, and in Who's Who among Living Authors of Older Nations, originally compiled by Alberta Lawrence.
• 'The Lone Hand': a biographical sketch in The Lone Hand Volume 14 Number 84, April 1914, page 337

• 23/9/1872 in St Kilda to Frederic Rees and Harriet (nee Crutchfield) courtesy of Victorian Pioneer Index
• 23/9/1872 on Frederic Rees family tree
o lists him as the twelfth and last child
o among his sisters are 'Kate Frances' (1960-1920) and 'Mary Ann' (1870-1871): the "Frances and Annie", "my sisters in Australia",  to whom he dedicated The Shrieking Pit?
• 1870: his entry in 1935 Authors and Writers Who’s Who
• 1875: Findon
o also records that he was 37 in 1911, making his birth year either 1874 or 1875
• 1875, of Welsh parentage: Who's Who In Wales (1921)
• 1877: The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1985) by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews
• 1877: Dodo Press bio
• 1880: Who Was Who
• Miller: 'Arthur J. Rees was born in Melbourne in 1977' (probably a typo)

Frederic Rees family tree states that he married Mary Elizabeth MILLAR around 1901
• Victorian Pioneer Index lists Mary Elizabeth Millar's birth in 1868, of Charles Gypsum Millar and Mary Aice (nee Kenney)
o no record of a marriage
o does list the marriage of an Arth Jno Rees to Mary Jane Gilbert in St. Kilda in 1901 (possible typo?)
Findon: in 1911 AJR 'had been married for five years'
o references another woman to whom he pursued 'with romantic intentions'
• listed as married, but no wife’s name given, in 1935 Authors and Writers Who’s Who

• Miller: 'He was for a short time on the staff of the Melbourne Age and later joined the staff of the New Zealand Herald'.
1935 Authors and Writers Who’s Who: editor of New Zealand Truth 1910-12.
• The Lone Hand says that he wrote for the Melbourne Age 'for some years' and was later 'a special writer of the New Zealand Herald and the New Zealand Press Association'.
o also that while in NZ he 'contributed stories and sketches to Sydney papers'
• Miller: 'In his early twenties he went to England.'
Findon: 'in all probability left that continent [Australia] in the early 1900s. It is known he boarded the SS RUNIC for England.'
Austlit: settled in England 1911
• The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1985) records that he was a freelance journalist when he first moved to England
Findon: in 1911 AJR lived in Nepcote and was 'working as a journalist on his own account'
o 'He ended up in Sussex in 1917 and became a journalist for the Times newspaper.'
o date he moved to Findon unknown
1935 Authors and Writers Who’s Who: worked for the London Times 1914-22
• The Lone Hand: 'writing for various magazines' since coming to London.
o 'His name is well-known to the readers of the London Evening Standard as a regular contributor on Australian subjects.'
• the preface to The Shrieking Pit (1918) is signed 'A.J.R. London'

Findon: 'lived with his wife in a bungalow named Nettledown on the lane leading to the north side of Cissbury Ring ... Nettledown was of rudimentary construction, being of wooden fabrication with a corrugated iron roof.'
o Upon AJR's death: 'His timber and corrugated iron bungalow has long been demolished and forgotten except by a few. His plot is now amalgamated into the garden of the property known as Thistledown...'
1935 Authors and Writers Who’s Who: living in Worthing
Who's Who In Wales (1921): lists his address as The Bodley Head,Virgo Street, London, W1, but that's most likely his publisher
• Who Was Who: gives his address as Falconhurst, Evelyn Rd, Worthing

Austlit: 22 Nov 1942 in Worthing, Sussex, England
• Miller: ' He died in 1942.'
o all sources listing a death year agree on this point
Findon: death certificate states he was aged 67
o doesn't match birth year of 1872 but does match Findon's birth year of 1875
• There is a memorial to 'JOHN beloved husband of MARY ELIZABETH MILLAR who died Feb 9th 1939 aged 67 years' on the NORTH side of Holme St Pauls Churchyard at Causewayhead near Silloth, Cumbria: Memorial Inscriptions

• 'The Missing Passenger's Trunk' and 'The Finger of Death' (the latter story a condensation of The Unquenchable Flame) reprinted in Volume IX of The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories (1929)
• Miller: 'two of his stories were included in an American world-anthology, besides translations of other of his works into French and German.'
• 'The Missing Passenger's Trunk' reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, October, 1987.

• Full bibliography here.
• wrote two novels with John Reay Watson (see below)
• Miller: 'His literary output belongs to the period that follows [his leaving Australia], and reflects little if anything of his Australian experience.'
Old Sussex and her Diarists (non-fiction) is described as 'a rambling discussion of life in Sussex as depicted by diarists of the county' consisting of 'substantial extracts...with linking narratives and further contemporary material' by Christopher Samson Handley.
o referenced in 'English Countryside and population in the 18th Century' (Economic Geography, 1936, G. E. Fussell)
o In Old Sussex and her Diarists AJR writes of the slow uptake of both potatoes and the Pope in the area: here
Findon, re The Cup of Silence: 'this is the one in which Kathleen (May Ockenden) bore such a resemblance to the heroine. Chanctonbury Ring featured in the novel, plus the soaring ramparts of Cissbury Ring, Blackpatch and not forgetting Stump Bottom--where Arthur often went for his evening constitutional walk over the downland.'

• His work is held up by Abraham Saul Burack as a positive example in Writing Detective and Mystery Fiction (1945) and Writing Suspense and Mystery Fiction (1977)
Who's Who In Wales (1921)
The New International Yearbook: a Compendium of the World's Progress for the Year 1921
The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1985) by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews
• described as 'Mr Arthur J Rees, an English author' in Melbourne's The Argus, 21-9-1935
• Barzun and Taylor's Catalogue of Crime calls The Shrieking Pit a 'first-rate novel of the length and pace customary at the time of its writing, but distinguished from its fellows by an absolutely steady forward march through a variety of clues and contradictions.'
• Dorothy L. Sayers in the introduction to Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (1928) mentions "Mr. A. J. Rees's sound and well-planned stories".
o Also: "Messrs Rees and Watson write of police affairs with the accuracy born of inside knowledge, but commendably avoid the dullness which is apt to result from a too-faithful description of correct official procedure."
• The Lone Hand claims that The Merry Marauders was favourably reviewed by London papers.
o 'The Times, Athenaeum, Pall Mall Gazette, and other journals praise the humor of the book and the easy style of the author.'
• born at Tinonee, N.S.W., 23rd May, 1872; of Scottish parentage
• unmarried
• short stories published in The Bulletin
• NOVELS: In a Man's Mind, London, 1896; An Earthly Fulfilment, London, 1899.
An Earthly Fulfilment by 'J. R. Watson' highlighted by Wigg & Son 'Newest and Best Fiction of the Month' in The West Australian through August 1899
• described in 1900 by A. W. Jose, Angus & Robertson's Reader, as too 'sexual' for a 'respectable English paper'
Tags: arthur j rees, history

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