Tuesday, 1 April 2008

issue 2, vol. 1 - 4th May 1894

Issue 2, Vol. 1
Published: 04/5/94
Price: ½d
Author(s): Harry Blyth
Illustrator(s): Unknown
Main Story: Sexton Blake, Detective (anon. but most likely Harry Blyth, creator of the detective)
"Some time ago we arranged with Mr Sexton Blake, the celebrated Detective, to furnish us with the particulars of the most remarkable and sensational cases he has been involved in. From some of the materials he has placed at our disposal we have formed the following startling and authentic narrative, feeling sure that its strange details will excite a world-wide interest. -Ed. "UNION JACK" LIBRARY."
So opens Sexton Blake's first appearance in the paper which would later propel him from being a cash-in Sherlock Holmes imitator to world-wide fame. See the notes section for more.
The story begins with Blake being visited by Harry Armytage (that's how it's spelt!), who has been left an orphan and raised by his Uncle, has fallen in love with his cousin Ninian Joyce (he is from the Fens...). Being in the navy he would be away from home for months at a time but always return to his love. However when he came back most recently, after the letters from her stopped coming, he discovered they had moved to Essex and not told him. Seeking out the house he finds is deserted, his uncle apparently dead and Ninian missing. More mysteriously, in the days before his death he had taken all his money out of the bank and had behaved in other odd ways. Frustratingly, the doctor who had attended him had also died recently and so could not be turned to for clues. Blake suggests that Ninian may have taken the money and left, but Harry is sure she would remain faithful to him. He asks Sexton Blake to investigate, saying he is not wealthy, but blake stops him, saying "I would rather work for nothing for a naval man like yourself, one of the best protectors of our precious flag ... than i would take bank notes from those who are careless about the honour of old Britain."
Travelling to the graveyard where Harry's uncle, Fenton Joyce, is buried, they exhume the body in order to find if he died of natural or murderous causes. They get a shock when the coffin lid is lifted - it is full of stones! Harry is stunned by Blake is more cautious, and suggests a covert examination of the house the man used to live in, Raven's Nook. If he isn't in the coffin he may still be there, alive or dead. The house is tumbling-down, overgrown and rotten (this section could be out of a horror book... most of the "penny dreadfuls" that the Union Jack and Halfpenny Marvel where started to suppress where horror stories). Harry spots his uncles cigar-case glinting in the moonlight on one edge of a stagnant pool of water. Before they can wonder what that means Blake notices a moving light inside the house and they rush in. The place is dusty and looks like it was abandoned in a hurry, with things like a knife halfway cut through bread. In the drawing-room of the house tables and chairs are overturned and cards and dice are everywhere, evidently a gambling-den! worse still is the blood all over the fireplace. As they begin to suspect Fenton Joyce was murdered and then thrown in the pool outside, the room is plunged into darkness and they are attacked, then locked in the room.
Pretending to be from Scotland Yard, Blake reasons with thier captor, who had thought they where burglars. He is actually Joe Tax, the servant of the new owner of the house, who has bought it unseen and has not yet arrived. The owner, Gaspard Sellars, is away and wants the house done up before he gets back. Blake asks to have the pool dragged but Joe says it will be drained and filled in the next day, they then talk of the previous owner, Joe saying he's "dead and buried", Blake puts emphasis on the "buried" and notices a suspicious reaction. He suspects Joe is wrapped up in the plot and the two decide to watch him and see if he sends a message to his employer. Joe returns to the room with food for them and at the same time releases a carrier pigeon out of the window, taunting the detective. The pool is dragged the next morning, with nothing being found in it, and Blake and Harry decide to leave the house. They return to London, no closer to the solution of the case than when they started...
When suddenly, Ninian Joyce drives past them in a carriage! This absurd and insane coincidence leads to a breakneck chase across London. Joe Tax is driving the carriage and a grey-haired old man is inside it with the girl, but during the chase he gets out at some point on the route. The pursuit continues until the carriage crashes. Blake rushes up to it to attempt to save the girl, and is just about to lift her when one of the horses kicks him in the head.
After recovering from his injuries Blake and Harry talk about Gaspard Sellars, who had bought Raven's Nook. He has now returned to England and is living in a manor house in Cornwall called Craig's Craft... at the house, Fenton Joyce is held in the power of Sellars, who has convinced him, using faked newspaper cuttngs, that he has murdered somebody, and that Sellars is saving him from the gallows... for the small price of some blackmail money and his daughter's unwilling hand, of course. After hearing Sexton Blake is on the case, Sellars convinces Joyce that the detective is after him, adding to his terror. Joyce begs to be hidden, and Craig's Craft happens to have a walled-up old tower to which a secret passage leads. They hide him in there.
Harry Armytage visits the house, openly accusing Gaspard Sellars of the plot. The latter pretends to be shocked but allows him to look around and stay for a few days, he does and finds nothing until just before he is about to give up, when he notices somebody looking out of a window in the tower. He begins to climb up the ivy covering it, and reaches the window to see his uncle alive inside. But at that moment he is shot and falls to earth.
Joe Tax, meanwhile, has been visiting a local pub in the area, He and Sellars plan to sail to Bristol where they will force Joyce to get his money out of the bank, where it is held under a fake name. Joe becomes friendly with a Captain Hook who implies he does a bit of smuggling, and will carry anything for the right price. Joe becomes more friendly with him and explains the whole plot. Before having the idea to sneak Fenton Joyce out on his own, sail for Bristol and keep all the money for himself. Returning to the house just after the shooting, he and Sellars quarrel until Harry sits up, almost completley unhurt. He demands a ladder so he can climb the tower and look in the window again. They bring the ladder and he climbs, but as he reaches the top explosions sound within the tower, he drops to the ground and runs as the tower is blown apart by a huge explosion.
Sellars appears oddly unconcerned, though he didnt expect the explosion he had heard the previous owner of the tower had stored lots of gunpowder in there. He also knows that Joe Tax was running around inside the secret passage and sneaking Fenton Joyce away. What he doesnt know is that Joe intends to run straight down to the ship and sail away with him. "May hurricanes shiver the Shark!" cries the captain, "but you have shown a red light at craig's craft and no mistake! i was looking for a lantern or something of that kind. I did not suppose you where going to set fire to the whole countryside!". Fenton Joyce is shown aboard the ship, but as Joe pays his fee and goes to get on the Captain suddenly reveals himself to be Sexton Blake! He sails away leaving Joe to stand there repeating "Sexton Blake!" over and over.
Joyce and Blake sail away, and Joyce explains that he had gotten into the stock exhange and was persuaded by his 'friend' Sellars to buy Raven's Nook. There gambling parties are held until Joyce becomes an addict. However one day he accuses a man of cheating and a fight breaks out, in which the man appears to be killed. Sellars tells him he will be hung unless he hides, which is how he ended up a captive. Blake tells him no murder was ever reported, and the story of him being found guilty in his abscence was never real. They then agree to sail to Bristol and get the money.
Joe Tax, who has calmed down and speculted on what caused the explosion ("I must have dropped a match somewhere"!). He goes back to Sellars and pretends he was being helpful by getting joyce away quickly, but was double crossed by Blake. The two decide to head for Bristol but again fight, and this time Joe Tax is stabbed then thrown over a cliff. Eventually Sexton Blake, Fenton Joyce and Gaspard Sellars meet in a room in Bristol, where they have it out, Sellars sticking to the murder story and Blake attempting to disprove it. Suddenly the "murdered" man, Fred Dudley walks in... yep, another insane coincidence to tie the plot together. With nothing to prove, Sellars runs for it.
Meanwhile, Harry Armytage finds out where Ninian Joyce is being held prisoner after recovering from the carriage crash, a disreputable boarding-house in London. He visits in disguise to rescue her. However as he explains what has happened Sellars rushes in and the two fight. Then some policemen who had been following Sellars join the fray and force him to retreat. He rushes across the rooftops of London until he accidentally steps on a skylight and falls into the stairway of a house, being killed. Sexton Blake and Fenton Joyce arrive on the scene, and the lovers are reunited and the 'murderer' is cleared, bringing the case to a sucessful conclusion.
Other stories: None
Notes: For many years, this was thought to be the first Sexton Blake story. This was probably begun by the 1000th edition of the Union Jack, in which the cover is reproduced and it is quoted as the first ever story. In fact it was the fourth, three others appearing in the Halfpenny Marvel in late 1893 and early 1894, though they where little better than this one.
This story was reprinted in the 1940's Sexton Blake annuals and in a 1960's Valiant special annual as "the first story". However by the 1980's the real first story had been found, and it is that which is reprinted in the 1987 "Sexton Blake Casebook".
The beginning of this story, seen above, also implies that Sexton Blake is a real person, a theme continued through numerous stories in the various papers he appeared in. However as he continued well into the 20th century, apparently without ageing at all, this idea was quietly dropped. In some later publications people make reference to him and Sherlock Holmes having both been real people (in the world the story takes place in), however in others Blake insists that Holmes was imaginary.
The editorial to this issue is split into a lengthy article on how well the first issue was recieved by the reading public, and the difficulties an editor faces in getting a new paper ready for publication. He also mentions that mistakes crept in to the first issue and that distribution was patchy and some areas sold out too quickly. He also gives a brief history of the Union Jack flag, interestingly no mention is made of it only being called "Union Jack" when flown at sea (as a "Recent" Doctor Who episode did). Instead he says that the union of England and Scotland which created the first version of the flag (the diagonal red strips to represent Ireland, and later Northern Ireland, where added later) occured during the reign of King James, which would have been written as Jaques at the time, so the flag became nicknamed "Jaques Union" and later "Union Jaques". He also mentions that all flags flown from ships are "Jacks", but not that the flag is called Union Jack only when flown from a ship. There is also a brief description of the next story, 'Neath England's Flag, a story about the British Navy fighting against the slave trade.
The smaller section of the editioral has interesting anecdotes, a theme that was to continue right up to the end of the paper... though these would later be exclusively crime and punishment related. One of the tales concerns a drummer boy captured during the Napoleonic wars, the French general asked him to beat numerous tunes, but when asked to beat a retreat the drummer said "We have no need of that in the British army"!