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On the trail of Captain Kettle and C .J. Cutcliffe Hyne.

Captain Kettle and C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
Jim Mackenzie on the trail!
Page updated 5th March, 2015.

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On the trail of Captain Kettle and C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne

I was sitting quietly indexing the pages of Boy’s Own Paper one day when I first stumbled across the remarkable character known as Captain Owen Kettle. It’s on page 474 of the 1906 annual that we had our first encounter. The subject was three Yorkshire writers and this is what I found -

“The three greatest writers - as many think - of adventure stories of the modern school, curiously enough, all come from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and from one part of that riding. And Cutcliffe Hyne, Walter Wood, and Halliwell Sutcliffe have, indeed, won the hearts of many older folk in the world, as well as holding enchained the British schoolboy who dearly loves a thrilling story. What romances and adventures these three writers have given boys of today ! What more celebrated hero in his queer way than that ever- popular spitfire, the dashing Methodist skipper, Captain Owen Kettle ?”

I copied a part of the article for Steve Holland who busily stores all information about children’s writers of the past and thought no more about it for a while. However, I soon discovered that the idea of Yorkshire writers for boys had started nagging away at the back of my mind. I had recently completed my study of the children’s stories of Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside and the book was out. However, my area of interest really extended to the whole of the north-east of England and thus a partial study of north Yorkshire. However, the thought that the three authors in question lived in Bradford area of the West Riding comforted me with the notion that I wouldn’t have to read their work.

Two weeks after reading the article I returned the copy of B.O.P. to the kindly shop-keeper who let me borrow it. As I shoved it back on to the shelf a small red book tumbled to the floor from the pile above. (I secretly call this part of the shop “Tottering Towers” because of the skewed ranks of volumes that frequently create an avalanche on to unwary customers.) I stooped to pick it up and discovered that the title was “The Adventures of Captain Kettle” by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne.

An Alarming Discovery
By now you will realise that I began to read it and, standing there knee deep in musty volumes, breathing in more than eighty years grey dust, my heart began to sink. Things were much worse than I had anticipated. Within a couple of pages I had established that Captain Kettle didn’t just confine himself to Yorkshire – he was actually a character who lived in South Shields at the mouth of the River Tyne. A few pages further on it got worse for he crossed the river to supervise his ship being “coaled” in Newcastle. It was inevitable (but still not pleasing) to discover that my guide to the children’s books of Newcastle was incomplete. I bought the book (3.00) and took it home to read from start to finish.

As I got deeper into the story my first feelings were of relief that the north-east section was no more than a trivial preface to the big adventure involving a revolution and gun-running to a Caribbean Island. I hadn’t missed so much after all. I pressed on to finish the book and gradually began to detect some of the reasons why the B.O.P, article I quoted was so fulsome in its praise. Captain Kettle was an absolute tartar of a character, the very prototype of the modern anti-hero, a mess of contradictions and larger than life in every way but his physical stature. The world he inhabited was peopled by rogues, villains, fraudsters, cowards, brutes, sloppy sentimentalists, religious hypocrites, scheming revolutionaries, and far from noble savages. Captain Kettle meets all the challenges with a dogged determination, a ruthless way with his fists and an unscrupulous eye for the main chance. His only articles of faith appear to be love of his family and unswerving loyalty to his employers. Many times he finds himself outside the law but comforts himself by declaring that is his owner’s business.

A new “Kettle” of fish
I finished “The Adventures” with a feeling of relief. His time in South Shields and Newcastle were no more than footnotes in the larger story. I hadn’t missed much after all. Out of idle curiosity I ran “Captain Kettle” in the subject slot on Abebooks.

Consternation – there were at least another 6 books out there – some of them priced at exorbitant levels. It was no good – I would have to check them out to see if more north-east references turned up. I did what I always do in these cases – I went to the library with a list. The British Inter-Library Loan Service is a marvellous institution. You fill in a card with the details you know and they send it off on a journey until the books end up back at your local branch. On the negative side it is like playing roulette, for certain books have totally vanished from the world unless you happen to live in London and have time to read them in the British Library. At the moment I can play roulette without losing my stake for items classified as Junior Fiction do not come with a fee. I calculate that I win 50% of the time. My best gain was when I collected the last two Monica Edwards (unavailable anywhere) and read them at my leisure whilst others bankrupted themselves in competition on E-bay.

To my surprise six books turned up during the course of one week. This was about a month after I had filled in my request. I studied the reprint dust-jackets with interest. The rear of “The Little Red Captain” declared,

“This pugnacious, red-bearded little Welsh sea-captain, created by a lively imagination, effortless humour, and a breezy vigorous style, was at one time as popular a fictional character, both here and in America, as Sherlock Holmes.”

What an extraordinary claim !

However, it is time to lay out all the “Kettle” saga before you so far as I can establish it at the moment. Here is a list of the “Kettle” books that I can trace:

Adventures of Captain Kettle 1898
Further Adventures of Captain Kettle 1899
Scan of reprint to the right.>>>
The Little Red Captain : an early adventure of Captain Kettle 1902
Captain Kettle K.C.B. 1903
Captain Kettle on the Warpath 1915
The Marriage of Captain Kettle 1916
Captain Kettle’s Bit 1918
The Reverend Captain Kettle 1925
President Kettle 1929
Mr. Kettle, Third Mate 1931
Captain Kettle Ambassador 1932
Ivory Valley – A Captain Kettle Adventure 1938

 

You can already tell from a study of the titles and dates that the chronology of the Captain’s career is not going to be that easy to work out. By the way, there may be other volumes out there for currently at Abebooks there is a reference to a letter about “The Boyhood of Captain Kettle”.

The best way to regard these books is to compare him with that entirely different sea-going hero Captain Horatio Hornblower. Like C.S. Forester C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne started his hero in mid-career and then leapt about forwards and backwards from that point. From my studies of a mere seven books “Captain Kettle K.C.B.” marks the end of his maritime adventures and finds him retired on a farm near Skipton in Upper Wharfedale. Perhaps the character was resurrected for World War I for the 1915 “Captain Kettle on the Warpath” and the 1918 “Captain Kettle’s Bit” seem to suggest such a course was taken. This is merely my surmise and I am happy to be corrected by those who have actually read these stories.

Here are brief outlines of seven of the above stories as I raced through them during the early days of October, 2004.

The Adventures of Captain Kettle.
Kettle is hired by an unscrupulous gun-runner to take weapons to the rebels in Cuba. At this point in his career he is already married with two children. Mrs. Kettle lives in South Shields whilst her husband is away at sea. They both attend a church run by a particular branch of the Methodist tradition. This is partly the inspiration for Kettle’s own desire to found a church (of which he is to be the chief minister) in Upper Wharfedale. The gun running expedition goes disastrously wrong. Kettle escapes, of course, and finds himself caught up in a potential South American revolution where the would-be president is called Donna Clotilde La Touche. Later escapades in the book include carrying mutinous Islamic pilgrims across the Red Sea on their way to Mecca, poaching pearls in Japanese waters, breaking a man out of a prison on the French island of Cayenne, refloating a stranded vessel in the Azores and, perhaps most remarkably of all, being in command of an ocean liner that collides with an ice-berg in the North Atlantic. Readers should note that these stories were published in 1899 and the Titanic did not go down until 1912. Throughout the stories Kettle is dogged by constant bad luck. In the end everything goes against him no matter what endeavour he undertakes. He finds solace in writing dreadful poetry about the countryside. With a subtle piece of self-mockery C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne makes his hero sneer at those who create books or write stories for boys’ magazines about life on the sea or (even worse) who create detective stories. In spite of temptation from young women Kettle always remains faithful to his wife waiting back in South Shields.

Further Adventures of Captain Kettle.
The cover of this volume in the Lythway Press reprint carries a picture of an idyllic looking farm-house with neat stone walls and gentle hills in the background. This is surely the farm at Kettlewell near Skipton on which Owen Kettle is destined to settle at the end of his career. The house in South Shields is just a temporary accommodation for his family whilst he wrestles with a malignant fate in order to bring home enough money to live comfortably and respectably. Nowadays this book would be identified as a savage attack on the evils of the European colonisation of Africa. In particular the conduct of those responsible for the atrocities in the Belgian Congo is drawn to
our attention. Cruelty and hypocrisy walk hand in hand through the land as Kettle, once more desperate to earn a living, accepts a commission in the Belgian Colonial service. The introduction echoes the B.O.P. article by saying,

“The author went to great trouble to get his material right, travelling nearly half a million miles to ensure verisimilitude and realism in his stories.”

Human life is cheap and brutality is never far below the surface. Kettle contributes his share to the death and destruction wrought by the white man on the dark continent. Later adventures in the book show that even the unscrupulous Kettle is sometimes prepared to draw the line in spite of his dire need for money. He is easily suborned to interfere with the working of the International Telegraph system in order to help with a Stock Market swindle. However, when he learns that the fraudsters intend making their money by dragging England into a war in the Transvaal, he goes apoplectic with rage.

“Run England in for a bloody war, would you, just for some filthy money !”

He scuppers the villains’ plans but ends up destitute once more. His cantankerous nature also makes him put a spoke in the wheel of a man who intends to marry an heiress for money, and frustrate the efforts of a trickster who wants to murder a man for the insurance that he has taken out on him. Once more the author contrives to end the book with a cunning ironic twist. All Kettle’s efforts at building up a profitable cargo business for his latest employers are rendered invalid by his need to rescue the passengers from a German liner. To find space for the huge number of survivors he has to open his hatches and jettison the cargo. However humane his actions may be considered by the world at large he knows that the owners will contrive a way to give him the sack for committing commercial suicide. This turns out to be true but fate has another roll of the dice to make before the last page is reached.

The Little Red Captain
This, unlike the previous two books we have described, is a full-length novel and, at times, Captain Kettle appears merely as a peripheral character. This is hardly surprising as it is a reissue of “Honour of Thieves”, a novel written before the Kettle character had come into his own. In a way it is irresistibly reminiscent of the work of Charles Dickens. It starts off by being about a swindle and ends up in giving a very detailed picture of the life of a man who is a crooked financier and apparent pillar of society. Such was Mr. Merdle in Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” and so we find Mr. Theodore Shelf. On the other hand it is also the story of Patrick Onslow, a man who takes to crime after being rejected by one woman, and who fights his way back to respectability because of the love of another. In between there lies the swindle. Captain Kettle, fallen on hard times once more, takes a ship loaded with gold to New Orleans or does he ?

Captain Kettle K.C.B.
Once again the author cannot resist making fun of British institutions and British behaviour. The promotion of this dastardly little rogue to the rank of K.C.B. provides the final kick in the teeth to those who believe in the system. C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne inserted the words “The Last Adventures” under his title heading and called Chapter 12 of the book “The Last Adventure of Captain Kettle”. However, as you can see from the list above this did not preclude him from making his antihero up-anchor again or from revealing episodes in his early life that had only recently come to life. Indeed the author made use of the device of pretending that his fictional character lived on a farm near to him and that he was constantly trying to pry information out of a reluctant narrator. This time Kettle has adventures in Somaliland, Tunisia, the Canary Islands, and Spain. He gets Shanghaied and, at the lowest ebb of his fortunes, gets his leg cut off.

The Marriage of Captain Kettle
This full-length novel takes us back to the early days of the firebrand of a hero. C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne supplies the missing details of how young Owen comes to meet and marry the redoubtable woman who became his wife and mother of his daughters. The Mersey and Liverpool rather than the Tyne and Newcastle prove to be the scenes of his early home-life. In spite of his nature it turns out that Kettle had a very loving juvenile life with the family of Captain Farnish in Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula. Whilst serving with Captain Farnish Kettle has a terrific adventure in the Sargasso Sea and meets for the first time Miss Chesterman, an aristocratic lady, to whom he is drawn. Later he comes across the path of Miss Dubbs, the daughter of a clergyman, who later had to earn her living by serving behind a bar in a public house. The two women are to cause him a lot of trouble before he finally decides to settle with one.

The Reverend Captain Kettle
Captain Kettle attempts salvage once more in this new set of loosely-linked adventures. The books starts of in Spitzbergen and northern waters but eventually finds its way once more to the Canary Islands and West Africa. In the end Captain Kettle manages to acquire the degree which he considers will allow his sermons to have more weight with his congregation in Upper Wharfedale.

Mr. Kettle Third Mate
The author obviously enjoyed writing about the early days of his hero when he was still somewhat young and innocent. His essential pugnacious nature, however, is already well set in place. He starts off in prison in Vera Cruz and soon finds himself deeply entangled in looking for an ancient treasure. The attentions of two young women, one aristocratic and haughty and the other voluptuous and affectionate, for a while distract himself from the fact that he is determined to set his foot on the ladder of promotion that will lead to his master’s ticket and a command. Another visit to West Africa finds the author straying into outright fantasy as the air is filled with flying turtles that would give a determined man the handle on ultimate world power.

Having plunged with enjoyment into the lively early stories and waded with tenacity through the later turgid adventures it was time to find out more about the man behind them. I returned to the original article in B.O.P., looked up anything I could find on-line and set out to build a full list of his books. The result is not wholly satisfactory and I would be glad to learn more.

Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne was born in 1865 and died in 1944. According to B.O.P. he was born in Gloucestershire where his clergyman father was in charge of a parish there. However, Hyne made his home in Yorkshire and lived there most of his life. He attended Cambridge University and was known as quite a scholar. B.O.P. declared the following of his appearance and demeanour.

”He is a regular giant amongst tall Tykes, with his six feet something. He reminds you insensibly of the old Norse Vikings, with his frank face, full of boyish fun and pleasure; his deep blue eyes, always smiling; his strong-looking limbs and body. You can tell him at a glance for a sportsman of the best type, through and through. Like all true Yorkshiremen, he loves sport of all kinds, but he is at his best with a gun, with a rod, or sailing the briny ocean. Where you know Mr. Hyne is present, and you hear a laugh that seems to shake the room at some funny story or incident, you do not need to ask who was the man who so enjoyed the joke. When you learn that a brawny youthful Englishman has been on a long walking tour and has penetrated into some part of the globe where no other white man has been seen before, the traveller may not be Cutcliffe Hyne, but it will be very probable that it is ! For the creator of "Captain Kettle" makes it a boast that he travels ten thousand miles a year for pleasure and profit, and he is a great man at a walking-tour.”

Cutcliffe-Hyne wrote for Boy’s Own Paper in its early days and attended its anniversary dinner. Most of his well-known work first appeared in Pearson’s Magazine during the late 1890s. As you can see from the list of his books he also wrote detective stories under the name Chesney Weatherby.

The only other biographical note I can find refers to the death of Hyne’s wife in 1938.

The non-Kettle books of C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne
Beneath Your Very Boots 1889
Currie, Curtis and Co Crammers 1890
Four Red Nightcaps 1890
A Matrimonial Mixture 1891
The New Eden 1892
Sandy Carmichael 1892
The Captured Cruiser 1893
The Recipe for Diamonds 1893
Honour of Thieves 1895 (later became “The Little Red Captain”).
The Wild-catters 1895
The “Paradise” Coal Boat 1897
Through Arctic Lapland 1898
Stimson’s Reef 1899
The Filibusters 1900
The Lost Continent 1900
Mr. Horrocks, Purser 1902 (also appears in the “Kettle” series)
Thompson’s Progress 1902
McTodd 1903 (also appears in the “Kettle” series)
Atoms of Empire 1904
Kate Meredith Financier 1906
The Trials of Commander McTurk 1906
The Escape Agents 1913
Prince Rupert the Buccaneer 1913
Empire of the World 1914
Firemen Hot 1914
Red Herrings 1918
Admiral Teach 1920
Ben Watson 1926
Abbs – his story through many ages 1929
But Britons Are Slaves 1931
West Highland Spirits 1932
Absent Friends 1933
My Joyful Life 1935
Don’t You Agree 1936
Wishing Smith 1939
Steamboatmen 1943

Written as Chesney Weatherby
The Adventures of a Solicitor 1898
The Adventures of an Engineer 1898
The Dilemma of Commander Brett 1899
Four Red Nightcaps 1900 (already appeared under his real name ?)
John Topp Pirate 1901
The Foundered Galleon 1902
The Baptist Ring 1903
The Mystery of a Bungalow 1904
The Tragedy of the Great Emerald 1904
The Branded Prince 1905
The Cable-Man 1907
The Claimant 1908
The Romance of a Queen 1908

More Surprises
I returned to Abebooks and this time I inserted the author’s name. The result was astonishing. There were over 100 entries for just one of his books – “The Lost Continent” published in 1900. Captain Kettle may have been a famous Victorian and Edwardian character but “The Lost Continent” was clearly the story that had gone down on record as his most popular book. Yet again I resolved to investigate further. Pretty soon it became clear that “The Lost Continent” was a tale about Atlantis and that it was regarded as a cult classic in the “Lost World” genre. By sheer luck I noted that the book was available on Project Gutenberg and so I settled down to read it. It can be found at -
http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/other/ebooks/lostc10.txt
It’s a great story, employing all of Cutcliffe Hyne’s narrative and descriptive talent, epic in scale, and suppressing the tendency towards humour that undermines the conviction of the serious points in the “Kettle” stories. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by revealing any of the details. Sufficient to say that even if Captain Kettle was incapable of outperforming Sherlock Holmes then I think you might agree that this tale of Atlantis surpasses anythingthat Conan Doyle wrote about the adventures of Professor Challenger.

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