CAPTAIN CHRISTMAS

by Mark Hodder

  • An introduction to this popular old character for the benefit of new readers.

Captain Christmas is adventurous, reckless, impulsive, aggressive, courageous, honourable, and short-tempered. He hits first and asks questions later. He dotes on his old mother (who lives in Cleethorpes).

Captain Christmas

Captain John Christmas was created by Stacey Blake, though the time of his birth is at present uncertain. He featured as the main character in a number of short stories in the Penny Pictorial (and possibly elsewhere) long before he first encountered Sexton Blake. (The earliest of these that I've seen dates from 1911 (A GREAT DISCOVERY, Penny Pictorial issue 656, 23/12/1911). I have other Captain Christmas stories dating up to 1915 and am aware of another from 1917. I'm certain that there are many more.)

Christmas enters the Blake saga in September 1927 and does so in typical style. When we first meet him, he is wiping another man's blood from his knuckles, having just partaken of a bar brawl with Blake at his side.

He is a man who's 'fought his way all around the world among the toughest crews and rottenest ships that ever sailed'. Christmas is nearly always strapped for cash and has a habit of finding trouble wherever he goes. He has a tendency to lead with his fists, hitting out before properly assessing a situation. Such is his confidence that he often underestimates his enemies, even when they outnumber him (which they usually do!).

Though unmistakably a man of the sea and a habitual wanderer, Christmas secretly dreams of a more settled life as a poultry farmer!

Chronology

Independent adventures:

1. A Great Discovery (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 656, 1911)
Christmas is captain of The Hermes, a passenger liner which tours the edge of the Artic circle. When a man named Conyngham receives a wire from home to inform him that his family business has been forced into debt, he tells his story to the Captain. With no money to his name, he feels he can no longer pursue a relationship with a fellow passenger, Miss Coleman. The ship reaches the ice and a number of people are rowed over to an iceberg. Among its ore deposits, Conyngham discovers a vein of gold. He later returns alone to collect the nuggets. Unfortunately, a storm hits the region. Christmas takes a boat and attempts to rescue the young man but they both end up stranded. They manage to weather the storm overnight and the next morning, The Hermes picks them up. Conyngham is reunited with Miss Coleman.

2. The Great Sugar Plot (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 799, 1914)
Captain Christmas is approached by a German who offers him two thousand pounds in return for allowing his cargo of sugar to be captured by the German navy. Christmas refuses but, later, his first mate proposes to accept the offer but then deliver the cargo anyway, thus causing the German to lose a fortune. Christmas agrees to the plan but after setting sail he realises that there's a saboteur aboard. This man signals German ships which begin to close in during the night. Christmas lays a trap of mines but British ships arrived and save the day.

3. Getting Even (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 802, 1914)
Captain Christmas's ship — The Southwell — runs into a German mine and is sunk. Christmas and his crew are picked up by a British destroyer which then encounters an enemy cruiser and so engages in battle. The fighting rages through the day and into the night. Then, under cover of darkness, Christmas and his crew row a boat towards the enemy ship and board it, wresting control from the Germans. When another enemy cruiser approaches, the newly commandeered ship joins with the British destroyer to sink it.

4. A Master Stroke (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 843, 1915)
Captain Christmas is in New York when he reads in a newspaper that a friend has been captured by the Germans and faces death by firing squad. Upon learning that William, Crown Prince of Germany is also in the city, Christmas kidnaps him and sails in the Maid of Perth to the remote Gull Island, off Spain. Via telegraph, he communicates with Germany and bargains his friend's life for that of the Prince. In response, four U-boats arrive at the island but Christmas, predicting this, has set mines. Two of the submarines are destroyed. A third is sunk when a British battleship arrives on the scene. The fourth flees. The Prince is returned to New York and the Captain's friend is set free.

5. The "Governor" (PENNY PICTORIAL issue 938, 1917)

Adventures with Sexton Blake:

1. The Case of the Oil Pirates (UNION JACK issue 1,247, 1927)
Captain Christmas signs up to command a ship belonging to an oil syndicate, not realising that his three employers are thoroughly dishonest and currently under investigation by Sexton Blake. The detective and his assistant join as crew and are soon battling a mutiny side by side with the Captain. Control repeatedly switches from one side to another until Blake & Co. discover that the syndicate is obtaining its supplies illegally by tapping a British oil pipe. At that point, the three abandon ship and rejoin it later in fresh disguises. They voyage with it back to London where Detective-Inspector Coutts, having been alerted by wire, swoops on the vessel and makes his arrests.

2. Rogues Afloat (UNION JACK issue 1,273, 1928)
Captain Christmas is hired by the Supradium Syndicate to sail a ship to the Antartic where a newly discovered substance will be mined. En route he discovers that the whole thing is a swindle and that his employers intend to steal the money the public has invested in the company. Christmas takes over the ship, sails south, and forces the villains to mine the substance as they had advertised. He is joined by Sexton Blake and the two manage to retake the ship after the crooks capture it and attempt to flee. However, the substance in the hold undergoes a chemical reaction and burns through the hull, sinking the vessel and all aboard — apart from Blake and Christmas, who escape and are rescued.

3. The Case of the Kaffir King (UNION JACK issue 1,274, 1928)
A Lloyd's underwriter commissions Captain Christmas to recover the wreckage of the Kaffir King which is ashore on the banks of a West African creek. The vessel's crew had abandoned her when she appeared to be sinking and were all saved, excepting the mate. The ship, though, did not sink, drifting, instead, to its current location. Its former captain, Harmston, tries to prevent Christmas from reaching the wreck, for its recovery will reveal the crime he has committed. After battles at see and at the site of the wreck, Sexton Blake appears, having flown ahead in a seaplane. He exposes the crime and works with Christmas to bring Harmston to justice. In the end, the villain is killed and Christmas completes his mission.