by Jess Nevins
The text here, except where otherwise credited, is © copyright 2001 Jess Nevins, and may not be duplicated, in part or in whole, without my permission.
Thanks to: Alicia.
Updated 3 February 2002
Updates in blue.
Nelson Lee was one of the longest-running detectives of the British story papers. He was a rival to Sexton Blake for more than a generation, and is remembered fondly even today. This site is meant to provide some information on him.
Nelson Lee first appeared in "A Dead Man's Secret" in The Halfpenny Marvel #46, 19 September 1894. He was created by "Maxwell Scott," the pseudonym of Dr. John Staniforth (1863-1927), a Yorkshire medical doctor (he dealt with the smallpox epidemic of the 1890s in Sheffield) who wrote boys' story paper stories to augment his income and who later became a J.P. Steve Holland, the operator of the splendid Story Papers Index, which is an invaluable aid for researchers like myself, said the following about Stanforth on the Children's Books and Magazines mailing list:
the A.P. (Amalgamated Press) bought the copyright on Sexton Blake but Staniforth (Maxwell Scott) refused to sell copyright on his far more popular Nelson Lee, so when it came to seeking a detective character to turn into a star, the A.P. chose the lesser light ... Blake. Staniforth did eventually sell Lee to the A.P. but by then Blake was well established and poor old Nelson was always in his shadow.Lee, as mentioned, was popular enough to rival Sexton Blake himself for many years, though as Steve Holland points out Blake fairly quickly became the more famous of the two. Lee was initially, during the first phase of his fictional career, just a detective. Hardly "just," though; he was the "hero of Lhasa and Limehouse, confidant of Lloyd George and Kitchener." He ranged around the world solving mysteries but was usually to be found in London. His apartment, which doubled as his headquarters, was in Gray's Inn Road. He was "aquiline, with sunken yet clear eyes...he could even be called good-looking." Although quite virile and tough--an underwater battle with axes was as nothing to him--he preferred the comfort of his living room; he's been called a "dressing-gown detective" because of his tendency to pace about his room ("with the rapid stride and muttered growls of a caged and hungry lion") in his nightgown as he solved mysteries without actually going to the scenes of the crimes. Likewise, although he was strong and tough and a red-blooded adventurer--"there is no such word as 'fail' in the dictionary of Nelson Lee"--he enjoyed his Turkish carpets and his antique lamps. Until 1902 he worked intermittently with the French detective Jean Moreau, a man as brilliant as Lee, but Moreau eventually betrayed Lee (a little matter of the French crown jewels) and Nelson had him given into custody.
Lee's assistant was Richard Hamilton, better known as "Nipper." Nipper was a street urchin whose "features, like his hands, were perfectly modeled" under his filth. Nipper, introduced in Lee's first appearance, was an acrobat who had memorized from somewhere the output of large numbers of poets, Latin, German and other; Nipper was bright and eager and a good person despite his desperate background. Lee had rescued Nipper from a life of crime (he wasn't supporting himself, even by selling matches) on the streets of London, quite similar to how Sexton Blake had first met his assistant, Tinker, and like Tinker Nipper repaid Lee by becoming his assistant and friend forever after. I should note, though, that there is another account of Nipper's background, one which shows Nipper as a "semi-millionaire" school boy at St. Ninian's, a public school, and that it was at St. Ninian's that Lee met Nipper.
For some years Lee was also assisted by Eileen Dare, a "girl detective" (actually a young woman, but why quibble) who was very useful to Lee in cases where he needed "a woman's intuition" or someone to infiltrate a "house of mystery" in the disguise of a parlor maid. Lee paid more attention to his appearance and slicked back his hair when she was around, and was always very courteous to her, calling her "Miss Dare;" the more dirty-minded among us would suspect them of having an affair, and of her sharing his bachelor quarters. Eileen, however, was engaged to one Captain Billy Masters, and her disappearance in the series after 1918 can most likely be ascribed to her marrying Captain Masters and settling down to be his wife. Lee also had a bloodhound, Rajah, who was quite similar to Blake's Pedro, being ferocious, intelligent, and very faithful. Later on, Rajah was replaced by Wolf, another bloodhound.
Lee did not care for the money he made on his cases, but did care about not having to handle "routine small-time stuff;" unless the case was personal, he almost always took on the more interesting, gruesome, or internationally-flavoured cases. During the detective phase of Lee's career he was very similar to Blake (without, I hasten to add, being a Blake copy) in the scope of his cases as well as the enemies he faced, for more on whom see below. Lee never had quite the same level of opponent as Blake, but his enemies, as you'll soon see, were quite respectable nonetheless.
In 1917 the second phase of Lee's career began. In "Nipper at St. Frank's," in Nelson Lee Library Original Series #112, 28 July 1917, during a case involving a Chinese Triad Lee and Nipper, being hunted by agents of the Triad, hid out at St. Frank's, a "venerable public school" in the Bellton area of Sussex. After the case ended Lee joined the staff and became an instructor/headmaster/somethingorother there. (Being American I'm a bit unsure about the correct terminology.) Nipper enrolled at St. Frank's so that the Lee/Nipper team would not be split up. This allowed the writers of the Nelson Lee Library and the other magazines Lee appeared in to still do Nelson Lee detective stories but more often to do school stories, of the kind which Charles Hamilton made famous with the enormously popular Billy Bunter/Greyfriars series. For more than sixteen years Lee spent time at St. Frank's, uncovering trouble there as well as fighting crime and evil abroad. During the St. Frank's phase of his career, however, Lee was accompanied by members of the St. Frank's faculty as well as some of the students. Nipper was a constant, of course, and Eileen Dare continued to make the very occasional appearance. There was also Lord Dorrimore, the happy-go-lucky, adventurous millionaire who accompanied Lee on many of his international adventures, and whose yacht, the SS Wanderer, was often the aquatic command base for the trips. There was Umlosi. And there were the students of St. Frank's, most notable of which was the very unlikeable Handforth.
In fact, during the second phase of Lee's fictional career many of the stories focussed primarily on the students of St. Frank's, with Lee and Nipper being placed in the background. Those stories gave St. Frank's a well-delineated cast of characters, from students to faculty to the natives of Bellton. These stories were, if anything, more popular with the readers than the stories of Lee's detective years, and when fans of Nelson Lee gather and when they write about him, as in the wonderful magazine Story Paper Collector's Digest, it is almost always the St. Frank's stories they discuss and write about. However, and perhaps unfortunately, I'm not enamoured of the St. Frank's stories. I'm not a big fan of school story genre in general, and so don't feel compelled to spend the time and energy and money to research them and give entries for Billy Bunter and Handforth and the Fistic Five and Harry Wharton and all the rest of the school story characters. (Perhaps someone else will come along and do a web site on them?)
Lee's Rogues Gallery, as mentioned, was more than respectable. One of the more memorable and interesting enemies Lee fought was Dr. Karnak, who first appeared in 'The School Museum Mystery" in The Nelson Lee Library #448, 5 January 1924. Dr. Karnak was an Egyptian scientist who came to St. Frank's as a Science master and lecturer. However, almost as soon as he arrived he began persuading some of the students to study sorcery. Karnak was a very capable hypnotist, which helped him bring the boys under control and to convince the boys that ghosts had appeared during the seances he led. It turns out that Karnak had formerly been part of a group of Baal-worshipers, and the group had found a mummy which was supposed to be Baal's body. Karnak took the mummy and fled, earning the group's wrath. The Egyptians finally tracked Karnak down at St. Frank's, and after Karnak was fired from St. Frank's (Lee had discovered Karnak's sorcery group and fired him; Karnak hypnotized one of the students into trying to murder Lee but the attempt failed) the Egyptians kidnaped Karnak. Their ship, however, struck a derelict and then blew up, supposedly killing Karnak. Karnak, an Egyptian, was (of course) dark-skinned, well-dressed, and a fez- and turban-wearer. He was assisted by an eight-foot-tall African native, who Karnak used to pretend to be the Baal-mummy, come to life, and to frighten the good people of Bellton.
Another of Lee's notable opponents was Jim the Penman. There was a real "Jim the Penman," of course--James Townsend Saward, a notorious forger of the Victorian era who may have been one of the inspirations for Professor Moriarty. The "Jim the Penman" of the Nelson Lee stories is Douglas James Sutcliffe. He was introduced in Nelson Lee Library: Old Series #39, 4 March 1916, and was created by (of course) Edwy Searles Brooks. He was a solicitor gone to the bad, and was an expert forger and a master of disguise. He was so good at both, in fact, that even the great Nelson Lee was often unable to penetrate his disguises, and even the victims could not tell the difference between Jim's forged signatures and the real thing. Jim was successful, usually, but Lee continually foiled his criminous efforts, and for this Jim hated Lee. Jim tried to kill Lee and Nipper on several occasions, usually in very cruel ways--trapping them in burning windmills--but never quite succeeded. Jim wasn't totally without virtues, however, for when the time came to betray his country (and Lee & Nipper) to the Germans for a very large sum of money, Jim couldn't do it. And at one point he displayed such bravery that Lee, impressed, let him go. But on the whole Jim was quite wonderfully, brutally despicable. He teamed up on a few occasions with Professor Zingrave.
A third notable opponent for Lee was Professor Cyrus Zingrave. Zingrave was the the "Monster of Moat Hollow," Lee's own "Napoleon of Crime." He was a sometime ally of Jim the Penman and a man described as making Professor Moriarty look like Mr. Pickwick. Zingrave ran various criminal organisations, including the League of the Green Triangle and then the Circle of Terror, all of which were global in scope and engaged in wholesale robbery and murder, foiling Scotland Yard and other police agencies. Naturally, Lee took them on and broke the organisations, although Zingrave escaped their ruin. Like many another arch-villain, Zingrave escaped from seemingly-sure death on a number of occasions, always returning to bedevil Lee despite having, for example, toppled off a high ledge into an erupting volcano. Zingrave's step-daughter, Vera Clifford, was not sympathetic to her step-father, and helped Lee on a few occasions, including the battle with the League of the Green Triangle.
And, of course, there was Mademoiselle Miton, the Black Wolf. Many of the longer-running Sexton Blake-like characters had adventuress enemies, that very Victorian of characters, the single woman who broke laws (but only the ones regarding property and theft, rather than murder), was answerable to no institution, authority, or man but herself, who was quite possibly sexually active without being married (Shock! Horror!), and who had feelings for her enemy despite their repeated duels. Sherlock Holmes had Irene Adler, Sexton Blake had Mademoiselle Yvonne (and the many Yvonne duplicates), Dixon Hawke had Nicollete Lazare, the Black Angel--and Nelson Lee had Mademoiselle Miton, who appeared in 13 stories. She was a young, beautiful adventuress who, like Mme Yvonne, had a jones for Nelson Lee, but unlike Blake Lee never reciprocated Miton's feelings. Miton's face "was dark and young and full of the beauty of the sunny vineyards." She
was petite. Her features were small. Her eyes were liquid brown, soft as woodland pools, her nose was deliciously small and straight and her lips were like twin bows of blood red coral. Her skin gleamed softly white and beneath the dark masses of her hair Lee could just catch sight of two exquisitely formed ears.Despite Lee's having no romantic feelings for her he clearly felt some affection for her, because several times, after capturing her and relieving her of her stolen loot, he gave her time to escape before the police arrived. At other times, when she had him in her power, she fed him knock-out drops rather than bullets. They also sent each other warning notes, and Lee always felt a sneaking pleasure when she escaped capture.
There was also Dr. Mortimer Crane, "the Man with Four Identities." He was an evil surgeon not unlike Dr. Huxton Rymer, the Blake enemy who also bedevilled Lee (see below). Crane had been a specialist on Harley Street in London, winning much respect for his medical skill, but there was something wrong and evil in his nature, and he turned to crime. He maintained his practice, and earned a decent income, but also became a criminal, stopping at nothing, even murder, to achieve his ends. He was a master of disguise, being capable of altering his entire being, including his mannerisms and speech. Crane maintained four separate criminal identities, but despite the many difficulties presented to him Lee managed to trace them back to Crane and winkled him out. In the final story Crane was reduced to living in a slum in the foreign quarter of London. He assumes one last impersonation, but Lee solves the case, and a disgusted Crane, having no wish to be a guest of Her Majesty, takes poison.
There were also, of course, opium smugglers, spies (German, Russian, French and other) armed with radio-controlled planes and midget submarines and the like, and any number of thieves, swindlers, and murderers; on occasion, as when an ex-con targeted Lee with death, the Lee's adventures grew quite violent, with both the the Tower Bridge and London Bridge being blown up. Lee also took on criminal organizations with names like the League of the Green Triangle, the Circle of Terror (both, as mentioned, run by Professor Zingrave) and the Fu Chang Tong. And, of course, Lee took on more singular, Sexton Blake-like enemies: the Night Owl; Genghis, the Mystery Man of Lhassa, a Yellow Peril-type who had supernatural powers and planned to use them to destroy the West; Harlo the Hypnotist; the murderous Gaunt Stranger, who will stop at nothing to gain money to spruce up the orphanage of which he is the head; and the sinister Comte de Plessigny. Lee went to Balghanistan, a small state in India, and took on and overthrow the brutal Ameer of Balghanistan and his "Pit of Terror." Lee defeated Foo Chow, a Yellow Peril warlord in China. In 1931 Lee foiled an attempt by Professor Mark Rymer, the brother of Huxton Rymer (see below), from illegally gaining a fortune not rightfully his. Lee took on a Criminals' Confederation not unlike the one that bedevilled Blake, this one led by master criminal Oscar Dene. There were also a number of "local tearaways" like Lumby Bill, the Bellton hooligan. And there was the Combine, a group of business men and financiers who are in the pay of the Germans. (Eileen Dare's father was falsely accused of being one of them. He died of heart-failure in jail before he could be executed for treason. In revenge Eileen drove the members of the Combine to financial ruin, jail, or suicide.)
Lee, Nipper, and the boys at St. Frank's had fun in the Congo, fighting cannibals and the "Gorilla-God." Lee dealt with trouble at St. Frank's from the "Bullies' League." Lee went to Africa and hunted for treasure in the deserts of El Safra (competing against the formidable Captain Grell and Mr. Starkey) and in an underground world of vast caverns, volcanos, and even an underground sea. Lee and Nipper (and several of the other students from St. Frank's) went underneath the Antarctic and found a subterranean world there, and were forced to settle a war between two of its countries (both inhabited by white Lost Races). Lee (and Nipper, of course) explored the Amazon and found the friendly Arzac and the savage Ciri-Ok-Bak tribes, the "White Giants of the modern El Dorado," in a dinosaur-infested part of Brazil. Lee took on Foo Chow, a Yellow Peril Chinatown crimelord who made the mistake of kidnaping Yung Chin, a Chinese student at St. Frank's. Lee, Lord Dorrimore, Umlosi, and St. Frank's students fought Lost Race Romans (under the rule of Emperor Titus) in the Sahara. Lee, Nipper, and the St. Frank's crew found the descendants of Elizabethan-era English settlers in the Antarctic. Lee et al found El Dorado, with its lake of molten gold, in a section of South America still populated with dinosaurs. There were endless fires, floods, explosions, and other disruptions at St. Frank's itself, whether from natural disasters or evil headmasters or evil students or from Professor Zingrave, who crashed a burning airplane on to the school. There were mutinies and barrings-out, provoked by the evil German-American millionaire William K. Smith. There was the Petticoat Rule series, where women took charge of the school (much to the regret of everyone involved, needless to say). There were the weakling wives of headmasters who gave in to their drug addictions, bringing trouble to the school. There were schoolboys on the verge of going wrong, like Reginald Pitt, who spent his first term at St. Frank's in schoolboy wickedness, only to save another boy and earn a place at St. Frank's. And there were schoolboys gone entirely to the wrong, like Ezra Quirke, the "Schoolboy Magician," and Titus Alexis, a very ill-tempered Greek junior, and Walter Starke, a boy wrong in the head and wrong in the heart, who died badly, as befitted him. There was Hunter the Hun, the brutal housemaster at St. Frank's who was quite despicably awful to the boys and who ended up kidnaping the Headmaster. (Not to worry, though; Nipper rescued him, Hunter was seen to, and all was well.) When Lee et al went to stay at a country mansion, it was inevitably haunted. When Lee et al went to Australia they (of course) ran into a boy calling himself "Ned Kelly" and claiming to be the grandson of the Ned Kelly, carrying on the family tradition. Lee et al went into the Rockies and encountered the Night Hawk, who used a winged, motorized flying suit for kidnaping. Lee and Nipper dealt with the Inner Seven, a group of corrupt industrialists. Lee & Co. went to India and defeated the Tyrant of Rishner, who ruled his land from a very tall pinnacle of rock. Lee et al went to the South Seas in 1922 and faced a cyclone and a volcanic eruption.
In Nelson Lee Library Old Series #83, "The Broken Vase," Lee was confronted with a murderer who gave his intended victim a vase filled with a poison gas; the murderer then crouched outside the victim's house and played a violin until it struck the note which shattered the vase, thus spreading the poison gas. In Nelson Lee Library Old Series #86, "The Great Air Mystery," Lee, a pilot himself, was kidnaped and taken with Tinker to a secret city in North Africa; the kidnaper had already abducted several women and planned to found a new race filled with adventurous, daring, and courageous people, like the women he had kidnaped and like Lee and Tinker themselves. In one story the evil Baron von Holts attempted to take over St. Frank's, backed by a confederation of criminals armed with machine guns; their ultimate goal was to replace the school's curriculum with Communist-style teachings.
In one memorable story (beginning in Nelson Lee Library Old Series #31, 4 December 1915) Lee et al encountered the Crystal Urn, a vase that had been sacred many long centuries ago in Atlantis. The Urn's lid was found in the modern day in a temple in the jungles of the Yucatan, while the Urn itself had made its way into the personal collection of Lucrezia Borgia. Mlle Miton, the Black Wolf, had brought the Urn and its lid together, but had the misfortune to be discovered by the priests of Wady Pera, descendants of an Atlantean cult and wielders of a mysterious mental force. The priests captured Mlle Miton and brought her to their temple in the Atlas Mountains, where she was rescued by Lee. The story concluded with Lee letting Mlle Miton go free.
In another fondly-remembered story, "The Island Above the Clouds," which appeared in Nelson Lee Library Second Series #141-146, Lee et al encountered nothing less than Atlantis. It began with Lee and Nipper about to depart for the West Indies on a murder case, while Lord Dorrimore and Umlosi are going to cross the Atlantic in the newly-built Sky Wanderer, an amphibious aircraft. Handforth, a regular of the St. Frank's stories, stowed himself away on the plane, thus getting himself into the adventure he craved. A cyclone blows the Sky Wanderer many miles off-course, and Dorrimore and crew discover a mystery island in the sky, thousands of feet above sea level, in the heart of the Sargasso Sea. They land, only to encounter violent, primitive natives, bloodthirsty dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, and man-eating fungi. A little daunted, they retreat and go in search of Lee and Nipper, deciding that this is a case for the varsity squad. Lee and Nipper, meanwhile, have encountered Black Hawk, a giant bearded man who is also a pirate from the 17th century. Lee and Nipper are rescued from Black Hawk by Dorrimore and the others, and together they fly off in the Sky Wanderer to return to the "lost continent of Atlantis." They find the requisite adventure there, Handforth having a very chaste romance with the young and beautiful Amanda, the future queen of Atlantis, and Lee et al restoring Amanda to her throne. Black Hawk, you see, had killed Amanda's father years before, and had ruled Atlantis since then in a most evil way. There are reversals of fortune, Lee being shackled and blindfolded and made to walk the plank (he's rescued by Umlosi) and the like, before Amanda regains the throne of Atlantis and Black Hawk and his crew are left in the weed-choked Sargasso Sea, being eaten alive by giant rats. (Possibly of the Sumatran variety.) Amanda decides that the modern world is not for her or her people and Lee, Nipper, Dorrimore, Umlosi, and Handforth return to England.
In a rewrite of the 1921 Tagossa sequence, Nelson Lee Library Second Series #79-83 (1931) featured Victor Orlando, a young schoolboy recently arrived at St. Frank's. He is kidnaped by his half-brother Zeno and brought back to their homeland of Caronia. Victor is the king of Caronia, but Prince Zeno has aims to the throne. Zeno holds Victor hostage in an impregnable mountain stronghold in Caronia while he begins his attempt to take the throne. Lord Dorrimore won't stand for one of St. Frank's students being treated in this manner, of course, and takes a group of St. Frank's juniors and girls from the Moor View school (another sequence of stories linked with the Nelson Lee and St. Frank's stories through various characters and crossovers like this one) off to Caronia. Dorrie does not tell Lee about the trip, however, since he is sure that Lee would veto it; revolution is in the air of Caronia, and it is likely to turn violent. The group arrives in Galvarad, Caronia's capital, checks in at their hotel, and then sets off for the Kazatova mountains, where they are attacked by a group of bandits, led by Miklos Keiff. The group is captured by Keiff's men and forced through a series of canyons and gorges to the bandit's home, an enormous cave. Dorrie et al are left there when Keiff and the bandits leave, but Keiff returns alone, to reveal himself to be Lee in disguise. Lee had overheard some of Dorrie's remarks about the trip, back at St. Frank's, and beat Dorrie and the others to Cavonia. Once there Lee captured the real Miklos Keiff with the help of agents of the Grand Duke of Cavonia and set himself up as Keiff. Keiff, unfortunately, escapes, gets his men back, and captures Lee, Dorrimore, and all the rest despite a great struggle from Umlosi, making them all slave for the bandits. Irene and the Moor View girls poison the thieves' food--just enough to sicken them but not enough to disable them--and everyone escapes. They are pursued by the bandits and trapped in a mountain gorge, but the revolution has begun, and under cover of gunfire and explosions Lee leads the group to capture one of the rebels' ammunition trains. They then drive the train through the enemy lines and into royalist territory. They go to the airport, Lee takes command of a waiting plane, and they fly into Galvarad with King Victor as the revolution collapses. Once Cavonia is restored to order Lee et al return to St. Frank's.
I found, on the Web, a nice summary of a Nelson Lee story arc, done by a fan who read them when they first came out. This is what he said:
A typical holiday series had the students searching for pearls on Paradise Island in the Pacific, where their luxury yacht, the Wanderer, was seized by hijackers. The island was devastated by a hurricane, which carried out to sea one of the students on the broken-off top of a palm tree. Native pearl divers landed by the hijackers went berserk and attacked the St Frank's party in their camp. Attempts to explore a sunken galleon were interrupted by an undersea earthquake. Giant seaweed brought up from the depths by the upheaval immobilised the Wanderer, and sea-serpents and giant squids similarly displaced from their normal habitats menaced the passengers and crew. The chief hijacker was dragged under the weed to his death by an unseen monster while attempting to make off with the pearls. Installing a giant blade on the bow of the Wanderer finally enabled the party to cut its way through the weed to freedom, and return in triumph for the new term at St Frank's.I've now found a Geoffrey Wilde article on Lee and the St. Frank's stories which appeared in The Gem (for bibliographical information on these stories, as with so much else here, I've relied on the Edwy Searles Brooks Site, and even though the people who run that site won't respond to my e-mails to them and seem not to have updated the site in some time, it's still a darn good resource for ESB & Nelson Lee information). The Gem stories ran from 1933 through 1935 and were half reprints and half new stories.
Of the new stories, the first (Gem #1344-1354) was a reprise of the aforementioned "White Giants of El Dorado" sequence, which as mentioned involved the discovery of El Dorado in a section of Brazil still populated with dinosaurs. This second discovery of El Dorado began with Lee, Dorrimore, and a group of St. Frank's juniors and seniors taking the Sky Wanderer, outfitted as "a flying school which is to take a large contingent of St. Frank's seniors and juniors on an educational tour of the world under the headmastership of Nelson Lee." They fly over South America and can't resist seeing if anything of El Dorado survived the massive earthquake which ended the first El Dorado sequence. In Wilde's words, "From this point events move with breathless speed, reaching a climax with the appearance of Professor Zingrave and the imprisonment of Lee's party in a fiery subterranean cavern where they are surrounded by a lake of molten gold."
After the return to El Dorado came the “Treasure Isle” sequence, in Gem #1355-1365, 3 Feb to 14 Apr 1934. Lee, Dorrie, and the St. Frank’s boys traveled to the South Pacific and adventured amongst cannibals on a deserted jungle island, surviving a ship-wrecking whirlpool, Lord Dorrimore taking a poisoned spear in the arm, and Handforth being tortured by the savages. (A shame he didn’t die of it.)
From there the crew went to the American West, in the “Ghost River Ranch” series (The Gem #1366-1376, 21 Apr to 30 June 1934). The group took the Sky Wanderer back to St. Frank’s, but junior Justin B. Farman gathers together a group of students to visit his father’s ranch property in Arizona. Sure enough there’s trouble afoot in the Ghost River valley, and the students are in the thick of it. Nelson Lee makes a sudden, surprise ending near the story’s end and saves the day for everyone.
Then, in the “School From Down Under” sequence (The Gem #1377-1387, 7 July to 25 September 1934), a group of Australian students come to St. Frank’s for the summer and take over the River House. What follows is mostly student hijinks, with pranks and cricket matches, but there’s a crime (theft) and Nelson Lee’s attendance is required to solve it.
After that came what may have been the high point of The Gem’s stories, the “Ten Talons of Taaz” sequence, in #1388-1398, 22 September to 1 December 1934. Ten of the top juniors at St. Frank’s, traveling to China, rescue the crew of a sinking ship. This incurs the wrath of a Tibetan cult, who kidnap them. Their lives are spared, but they are forced to undergo an ordeal in order to appease the anger of the vulture-god Taaz. Each ordeal is different, and each junior suffers it by himself. Over the entire sequence lies a supernatural air, and the nature of Taaz is never adequately described (in rationalist terms, at least).
Following the Taaz sequence was a reprint, the “Handforth the Ghost Hunter” series of stories, with Handforth (lord he’s an annoying git) going ghost-breaking. And then...ah, and then.
And then, in a reprint of the still-fondly-remembered “Northestria” sequence, Lee et al discovered a Lost World. A St. Frank’s students, a group of Moor View students (the girls’ school which was St. Frank’s neighbor) and Lee, Dorrimore, and Umlosi took to Dorrimore’s airship, the Titan (the original “Northestria” stories appeared before Dorrie’s ship became the Sky Wanderer) and traveled to...er...either the Arctic Circle or the Antarctic Circle. (Sources vary on which it was.) The Titan is caught in a violent storm and are forced to put down in a strange country surrounded by volcanic mountains. This land, peopled by Whites (there weren’t any other kind in Lee’s world, of course), is warmed by the volcanoes, so that they aren’t all frozen to death but can survive and prosper. (It’s the typical Arctic Lost World bushwah, in other words.) Lee and the group make contact with them, after the usual initial difficulties, but discover that they’re trapped in Northestria (the Titan is too damaged to go on) and that the Northestrians are on the brink of war with each other. (Don’t worry–everyone gets out and there’s a happy ending for all concerned.)
And, finally, there was the “Black Hand” sequence, in Gem #1436-1448 (24 August to 16 November 1935). Eight St. Frank’s students end up involved in...well, I’ll let Wilde tell it: “in the machinations of an exiled Mafia-like organisation which has established a secret headquarters near the school.” Now that is prime story paper plot fodder. Naturally, the Black Hand is led by the sinister Zingari. Naturally, he is a master strategist, almost the equal of Lee. Naturally, it’s only after many issues that Lee and the St. Frank’s boys are able to strike back at the Black Hand and then vanquish them.
And that was it for new Nelson Lee stories. They went out on top, I think it fair to say.
Finally, Lee very occasionally had what we might think of a crossover. He did not spawn any individual series, as Blake did, or crossover with other characters, as Blake did, Lee was quite clearly a part of what we might think of as the Sexton Blake Universe. Blake and Lee collaborated on a number of occasions, beginning with "The Winged Terror," in Boys' Herald in 1910; Blake was very complimentary of Lee, calling him "old chap" and even offering to withdraw from the case, as Lee was already addressing it. In addition to the Boys' Herald story Lee & Blake teamed up in Union Jack #683, "In Double Harness," in Union Jack #688, #768, #777, and #794 (28 December 1918). #794, "Waldo the Wonder Man," (28 December 1918), saw the pair team up to capture Rupert Waldo, better known as Waldo the Wonder Man. The pair were actually best friends and members of the same club, with Blake and his assistant Tinker paying a visit to Lee and Nipper at St. Frank's on two occasions.
Lee even took on one of Blake's enemies. Dr. Huxton Rymer, an adventurer and insane surgeon, customarily fought Blake, but in three stories in 1920 Rymer challenged Lee. From The Prairie Library #31 (10 January 1920) through #35, "The Black Pearl," Lee dealt with Rymer and Ah Wah, a Chinese criminal. Ah Wah was illegally taxing coolies and was forced to flee from Hong Kong to Honolulu with Lee in hot pursuit. In Honolulu Ah Wah teamed up with Huxton Rymer and attempted to steal a valuable black pearl, a scheme which Lee foiled, with Ah Wah captured but Rymer eluding Lee and the Honolulu Police. Prairie Library #36-41, "A Dangerous Partnership," saw Rymer and Mlle. Miton, the Black Wolf, joining forces. Mlle. Miton found Rymer in the South Pacific, when he was down on his luck. They combined to establish a bank in Bogota, Colombia. They planned to let people invest their money in the bank and then flee with the accumulated sum. The pair were preparing to go to England with £162,000 when Lee appeared and frustrated their scheme, but Rymer and Miton succeeded in eluding capture. Then, in "The Missing Professor," Prairie Library #42-50, Rymer and the Black Wolf were hired by a diamond speculator who was threatened by a professor who had allegedly discovered a way of making diamonds. Rymer and Miton were hired to kidnap the professor, and they succeeded, with Rymer impersonating the professor and guaranteeing that a demonstration of the professor's method would fail. Rymer and Miton were both captured in the end by Lee, but Rymer escaped and Miton got only twelve months in jail.
In Nelson Lee Library: Second Series #175 (7 September 1929) Nelson encountered Stanley Waldo, aka "Waldo the Wonder Boy," the son of Rupert Waldo, but a boy gone right where his father had gone wrong. Unfortunately for Stanley, the students and instructors at St. Frank's are willing to forgive him his father's misdeeds, but other enemies of his father are not, and trouble seeks him out despite his best efforts. Later on, in another set of stories, Stanley helps Lee against Professor Zingrave.
That was Nelson Lee, not a fictional immortal but nonetheless a long-running character of great interest. I'm always interested in learning more about Lee, so if you know something that I don't, or if I made an error, please write me and tell me about it.
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