Saturday, February 5, 2011

GA Henty

It is not commonly known that during the
Abyssinian campaign GA Henty survived on
African swallows that nested in his beard

I'm rather a fan of GA Henty. He formed a large part of my youthful reading and along with Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, sparked an interest in history that has lasted to this day.
This heroes are all generally cut from the same stuff, a young chap down on his luck who wandered out to the edge of the Empire and did well rising after a series of haresbreath 'scapes and dangers endured with a untrembling stiff upper to a position of power and influence.

This was stirring stuff for young minds and I always lapped it, despite some of the stories being a little hard to believe. I remember there a novel where a chap became Colonel of a Regiment at the age of 18. I must admit this didn't strike me as incongruous at the time, but I believed some pretty duff stuff at the age of nine*. Which is not to say Henty is without merit, he espouses some very solid old fashioned values of courage, modesty, noblesse oblige, self-reliance, social conscience and honesty that are very laudable and that I think a lot of contemporary children's fiction could benefit from.

Henty's descriptions of military campaigns are often very good, informed by his own experience as a war correspondence. George MacDonald Fraser says as much in his notes to Flashman on the March, which chronicles the Abyssinian campaign which Henty reported upon as a correspondent.

Henty's work is now in the public domain and can be found on Project Gutenberg and also on Mike Harris of has been doing some excellent recording of Henty's work and I thoroughly recommend them. I have enjoyed listening to his recordings of "On the Irawaddy: A story of the first Burmese War" and "Among Malay Pirates: Tales of Peril and Adventure."

*I believed some truly odd stuff at that age, my atheism and professed communism not withstanding, probably the oddest thing I believed at the time was that breasts were prehensile.
There is a long and not particularly interesting story behind this one, but suffice to say that a cousin of mine somewhat oversold Molly Ringwald's performance in "The Breakfast Club".


  1. I have a dozen or so old Henry's that 8 have started re-reading for the 1st time in 40 some odd years. Afterwards they really ought to go live somewhere else.

    There was another author that made q deep mark, Welch perhaps? Knight Crusader, etc. But it was Sutcliffe who was the biggest influence (hence all that sword and spear and shield stuff). I am excited about the soon to be here Eagle of the 9th movie even while I dread what they may have done to it!

  2. Ross - Knight Crusader was Ronald Welch - his ECW novel For the King was my favourite.

    Conrad - Henty was one of the authors collected in Battles of the Nineteenth Century (Forbes, Henty, Griffiths et al) which is fascinating and can be found in a number of places on the internet.

    It's well worth investing in a proper set - I think there were at least a couple of editions, mine is the seven volume set updated to include the Boer War.

    I quite liked Henty's Through Russian Snows, which I had in an abridged paperback version. It was a bit odd having a British Lancer regiment in 1812, but made an impression anyway. And then of couurse there was By Sheer Pluck, which seems to say it all....


  3. "prehensile breasts" . . . my, my, my . . . that does get the imagination going, doesn't it?

    I've only read 5 or 6 Henty works (at Project Gutenberg) and found them enjoyable (if fantastic) reads. He did do a reasonable job of covering the conflicts in those that I read. He's certainly worth reading a few to get some "background" for one's gaming.

    -- Jeff

  4. Ross,

    I enjoyed her "Simon" and "Sword at Sunset", a great deal, though Simon was somewhat at odds with my Royalist sympathies. It did instill a lifelong interest in cavalry.


    I have five volumes of "Battles of the Nineteenth Century" and excellent reading it is too. I was looking at it this morning. I do hope to record some articles from it with an eye to putting them on

  5. Ronald Welch for sure ("For the King", "Sun of York" and "Mohawk Valley" especially), as I read his books over and over again... also Geoffrey Trease ("Bows Against the Barons" etc)... but also Surtliffe/Treece/Henty.... happy days...