Ron Breznay’s Old Masters of Horror
Classic Australian Horror Fiction, Part 5
The Authors and Their Works
Ernest Favenc (1845-1908)
Ernest Favenc, who wrote under the pseudonym “Dramingo,” was born in Walworth, Surrey, England, on October 21, 1845. He attended school in Berlin, Germany, and Oxfordshire, England. He moved to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, in 1864 and worked in a commercial position for about a year. He then went to Bowen and Queensland to work on stations (ranches). During this time, he occasionally wrote for the Queenslander.
In 1877, Favenc was selected to lead an expedition along the western border of Queensland as far as Darwin to see if a transcontinental railway could be built. After this expedition, he settled in Sydney and, on November 15, 1880, he married Elizabeth Jane Matthews, with whom he had a daughter.
Favenc underwent a further expedition in the early 1880s to Western Australia. He is best known for his books based on his expeditions, including The History of Australian Exploration, 1788-1888 (1888), which The Daily Telegraph of Australia called “important” and stated Favenc “treats his subject not in a perfunctory way, but as one who feels the wild charm and the magical attraction of the unknown….”
His first publication was The Great Austral Plain (1887). His other works included the lost-race novel The Secret of the Australian Desert (1895), Marooned on Australia (1896), and The Moccasins of Silence (1896).
He published about 130 stories in various Australian periodicals, and he is known for adventures and fantasies. An early collection of his stories, The Last of Six: Tales of the Austral Tropics, appeared in 1893. He also published romances, children’s stories, and verse. In addition, he was an accomplished pencil sketcher.
Among his supernatural stories are “Spirit-Led,” a ghost story; “A Haunt of the Jinkarras,” about an underground cave populated by humanoids and monsters; “The Boundary Rider’s Story;” “What the Rats Brought;” “On the Island of Shadows;” “Doomed;” and “The Land of the Unseen,” in which two men develop a means of seeing the invisible creatures all around us.
He died in Sydney on November 14, 1908.
Mary Helena Fortune (aka Waif Wander) (c. 1833-c. 1910)
Mary Helena Fortune had two literary distinctions. She published the first horror story by a female Australian author, “The White Maniac: A Doctor’s Tale,” published in 1867 under her pseudonym “Waif Wander.” Also, she was one of the first female crime-fiction writers in the world, at a time when crime fiction was in its infancy.
Fortune was born in Belfast, Ireland. She wrote that she “never knew either mother or sister or brother.” When she was a child, she and her father, George Wilson, moved to Montreal, Canada. On March 25, 1851, she married Joseph Fortune, with whom she had a son, George. Her father joined the gold rush in Victoria, Australia, and she and her son later joined him, arriving in Melbourne on October 3, 1855. It is not known if Joseph Fortune moved with her. She later had another son, Eastbourne, and claimed Joseph as the father, but there is no record of Joseph ever being in Australia. She moved about the goldfields with her father and sons, and her memoirs of this time were an important account of life in the goldfields. On October 25, 1858, she married Percy Brett, but that marriage didn’t last. Brett was a mounted policeman, which helped Fortune in her writing of detective stories.
Fortune started her writing career in 1855, publishing various contributions, including radical poetry, under a pseudonym in various goldfield newspapers. This led her to being offered a sub-editorship of the Mount Alexander Mail, but the offer was withdrawn when it was discovered she was a woman.
As Waif Wander, she began publishing stories in 1865 in the Australian Journal of Melbourne. She had a column, “The Detective’s Album,” under the pseudonym “W.W.,” and eventually contributed over 500 short stories as well as serialized novels and reportage. Most of her short stories were crime fiction, of the police procedural type. Some of her detective fiction was collected in The Detective’s Album: Tales of the Australian Police (1871), the only book she published. She also wrote a number of horror and supernatural stories, including “The Spirits of the Tower” and “Mystery and Murder,” and she wrote a gothic serial novel, Clyzia the Dwarf.
Despite her literary accomplishments, a career which spanned 40 years, she lived in obscurity, her identity remaining anonymous to the reading public. It was not until the 1950s that book collector J.K. Moir revealed the real name behind the pseudonyms.
Fortune even died in obscurity: the exact date and place of her death are unknown.
John Lang (1816-1864)
John Lang was the first native-born Australian novelist and the first Australian crime writer. He also penned the first ghost story written by an Australian, “Fisher’s Ghost: A Legend of Campbelltown.” The tale of James Frederick Fisher’s ghost is a true ghost story of Australia, in which the ghost led authorities to the victim’s body, resulting in the arrest and execution of Fisher’s murderer. Altogether, Lang wrote five versions of this legend, including “The Ghost Upon the Rail” and “The Sprite of the Creek,” a poem relating the origin of Fisher’s ghost.
Lang was born in Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia, on December 19, 1816, and was educated at Cape’s School and Sydney College. While in Sydney, he started writing poems, stories, and novels. His first novel became an international bestseller in 1836, but it was published anonymously and he never claimed authorship. He eventually published 20 novels, a travel book, a collection of short stories, and several volumes of poetry.
In 1837, he traveled to England to study law at Cambridge and was admitted to the bar as a barrister. He returned to Sydney to practice law; however, his convict ancestry made it difficult for him to pursue a legal career in Australia. In 1842, he moved to India to work as a barrister. While in India, he founded a newspaper, The Mofussilite. He wrote several novels in serial form, which were published in The Mofussilite and Fraser’s Magazine. Starting in 1853, most of these novels were published in book form.
Lang is best known for his novels Lucy Cooper: An Australian Tale (1846) and The Forger’s Wife (1855), and his collection Botany Bay, or True Tales of Early Australia (1859).
Lang spent some time in England in the 1850s, where he contributed to several magazines and newspapers, including Charles Dickens’s Household Words.
After leaving London, he lived in Calcutta, India, where he published the Optimist.
He died under mysterious circumstances in Mussoorie, India, on August 20, 1864.
NOTE: Stories by the above authors, and many others, both classic and modern, are available in the recently published Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, edited by Angela Challis and Dr. Marty Young, and published by Brimstone Press, Woodvale, WA, Australia (September 2010).
NOTE II: This is the final installment of Ron Breznay’s Old Masters of Horror. He’s been doing this unique and fascinating column for a number of years and now he’s off pursuing other endeavors. I hope you’ve enjoyed this column as much as Hellnotes has enjoyed bringing it to you. And Ron … thank you so much for all your hard work, research, and time. Old Masters of Horror will never be forgotten. And neither will you!
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