THE HONOURABLE JOHN LAWLESS

by Mark Hodder

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

John Lawless is an adventurous gentleman — reckless, loyal and courageous &mdash, who often acts outside of the law. His significant others are: the Countess of Warlowe (his mother); Pete (his manservant), Sam (Pete renamed), and Paul (his chauffeur).

The Honourable John Lawless

The Hon. John Lawless is a tall, tanned, broad-shouldered young adventurer; a 'muscular giant' whose face is 'that of a Greek god — clean-cut and intelligent'. From his first appearance in the Sexton Blake saga in 1914 (A BID FOR A BATTLESHIP, Union Jack 550) up until 1916, his surname is spelt 'Lawliss', though in his debut story there's some inconsistency, with a typo making him 'Lawless' on the second page.

Lawless is the son of a famous explorer who died in the Artic while searching for the North Pole (in the pre-war years, explorers still followed the 'Lawliss's Trail'). This occurred before Lawless was born but, despite never knowing his father, the son took on many of his personality traits, much to his mother's dismay (for she couldn't stand to lose her son too). The men of the family can trace their ancestry back to Admiral Lawliss, a Freebooter who 'sacked the great cities along the Pacific slopes in the old, bloodthirsty days'.

Lawless's mother is the Countess of Warlowe and she lives with her beloved son in a large house on Gardney Square in London or at their small family estate in Berkshire. Though grand, these residences aren't what they used to be, as the family fortunes have faded considerably over the years. Also 'part of the family' is Pete, Lawless's valet, who he picked up in central Africa in 1909. Pete is a Masai warrior. In 1916 he changed his name to Sam.

Previous to 1914, Lawless's meteoric career had taken him to all four corners of the world and included many daring escapades, such as participation in one or two revolutionary battles in South America. This thirst for adventure has often pushed him beyond the boundaries of the law — with activities including breaking into houses and cracking safes — though he has never acted for his own gain.

Chronology

1. The Boundary Raiders (UNION JACK issue 554, 1914)
This recounts the first time the Hon. John Lawliss and Sexton Blake met. However, either because the stories were submitted in the wrong order or due to a mix up at the publishers, this was actually published after the second story! Lawliss kidnaps the newly appointed governor of the isle of Tatua, which is half owned by Britain, half by Germany. He impersonates the governor in order to restore territory that the Germans have stolen thanks to a river that has been re-routed by a landslide. With Blake on his tail, Lawliss sets explosives to destroy the natural dam. The detective collars him before he can set them off but, after he hears Lawliss's story, agrees with the scheme and detonates them himself, thus restoring a tiny corner of the Empire.

2. A Bid for a Battleship (UNION JACK issue 550, 1914)
As outlined above, this was the first Lawliss story published but is actually the second chronologically. Warring South American nations vie over a British battleship that has come up for auction. When one nation's envoy is robbed of documents pertaining to its bid, the Hon. John Lawliss assists by stealing back the papers. Sexton Blake is employed to investigate this latter burglary but realises that he is on the wrong side. He teams up with Lawliss to deliver the bid and beats the rival country thanks to his superior cunning.

3. Arms for Ulster (UNION JACK issue 561, 1914)
Lawliss accidentally becomes involved in the kidnapping of a millionaire's daughter when she stows away on a yacht he's using to intercept a German ship that's smuggling weapons to Ulster. Sexton Blake pursues him and, upon boarding the yacht, decides to aid him in his mission. Initially, they fail and Lawliss and Tinker fall into the hands of the Germans. However, Blake comes to the rescue and, with Lawliss's help, is able to defeat the enemy.

4. The Bogus Prince (UNION JACK issue 563, 1914)
Lawliss is mistaken for a member of the royal family of an east European country and becomes embroiled in a bitter feud. When a Prince of the royal household is abducted, Lawliss 'borrows' Pedro to track him. Blake, in tracing the 'dognapper', joins forces with Lawliss and together they defeat the conspirators.

5. The Mystery of Shamrock IV (UNION JACK issue 569, 1914)
During Cowes week, Lawliss and his servant, Pete, are employed as deck hands aboard an American yacht. They take the position because they are suspicious of the crew. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas Lipton hires Sexton Blake to guard his yacht, the Shamrock IV, with which he hopes to win the America Cup Race. Lawliss is taken prisoner after being caught eavesdropping on his employers as they lay their plans to sabotage Lipton's vessel. Blake learns of this from Pete and comes to the rescue. Together, the detective and Lawliss expose the Americans and send them packing.

6. The Case of the German Admiral (UNION JACK issue 570, 1914)
Lawliss encounters a German spy who Blake has been asked to trace. He finds evidence that a tower in Epping Forest is being used as a rallying point for the enemy. It has been stocked with armaments. Lawliss takes control of the building and fights off hordes of German agents. He is soon joined by Blake and Tinker and, together, they blow up the tower and make a getaway. Lawliss and the detective are captured but Tinker comes to their aid with the police at his heels and the remaining enemy agents are taken into custody. This is Sexton Blake's first case of the Great War.

7. Made in Germany (UNION JACK issue 575, 1914)
Lawliss and Blake save a man from an attack by two German spies. The intended victim has evidence that the Germans have created a fake press bureau to spread propaganda throughout Britain. After destroying the English branch of the enemy organisation, Lawliss and Blake don disguises and travel to Berlin to bring the bureau to an end. While there, they rescue Lawliss's mother, who has been trapped behind enemy lines. After succeeding in their mission they flee in a plane but fly in the wrong direction and end up on the Prussian front. Captured, they face a firing squad but are rescued by the head of the bureau who sends them on a mission to deliver false reports to Britain. They return home on a spy boat, beach it, and destroy the reports.

8. Business As Usual (UNION JACK issue 578, 1914)
After being wounded while working for the British Secret Service, Lawliss takes some R&R in a remote English fishing village. Strange events lead him to call Sexton Blake who arrives to help him capture a German submarine and its crew.

9. The Food Profiteer (UNION JACK issue 676, 1916)
After over a year away (apparently spent in South America), Lawliss returns... only now he is 'Lawless'. Working his passage back to Britain, he is challenged to prove a charge of food profiteering which has been levelled at a man named Yardle. He begins to investigate and discovers that Yardle is hoarding bacon. He teams up with Sexton Blake to battle the gang guarding the food and to then distribute it to the public at pre-war prices.

10. The Wheat Ring (UNION JACK issue 683, 1916)
A young businessman is trying to raise money to allow him to deliver shipments of wheat to Britain at pre-war prices but an American combine has hired a gangster to stop him as the scheme would damage their profits. John Lawless impersonates the young man and allows himself to be taken prisoner. While he resists pressure to sell the wheat concerns, Sexton Blake sees to it that the plan goes through without interference. The detective then rescues Lawless.

11. The Catspaw (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 29, 1917)
Lawless returns from the Russian front with a bullet wound in his side and is sent by Sexton Blake to recuperate in the detective's country cottage. In the small town, Professor Kew and Count Ivor Carlac fool him into helping a convict escape from prison. Lawless ends up in the prison himself, until Sam recognises him in a chain gang and causes his release. The prisoner Lawless broke out, Melvale, had hidden a hoard of stolen jewels before being imprisoned for their theft, and has promised to divide the spoils with Kew and Carlac. The trio make for the Norfolk Broads where the treasure is concealed on an island — but are pursued by Lawless, Sexton Blake and Tinker. Carlac and Kew are betrayed by Melvale, who is subsequently killed when a mine explodes beneath his boat. The fate of the two crooks remains a mystery to Lawless and Blake.

12. The Stolen Factory (UNION JACK issue 699, 1917)
Lawless investigates a man who disappeared the day before he was to bid for a factory located in Africa. He attends the auction, drives up the bidding, and causes a man named Jansen to pay considerably more than the expected price. He then interferes with the paperwork before travelling to Africa, where he impersonates Jansen and takes possession of the factory. Jansen, meanwhile, hires Sexton Blake who surmises that his client is being impersonated and travels to Africa to find out why. When he discovers that Lawless is involved, they join forces to battle an Arab trader to whom Jansen is shipping illegal rubber bound for Germany. The two men defeat the plot.

13. The Half-Caste (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 35, 1917)

14. Vengeance (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 38, 1917)

15. The Case of the £10,000 Fee (UNION JACK issue 739, 1917)

16. The Barrier Reef Mystery (THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY 1st series issue 45, 1917)

More to come ... ...