Hammerton Palmer

by Mark Hodder

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

Hammerton Palmer is a financial wizard. He could very easily live an opulent lifestyle, had he the patience to amass a fortune via the accepted channels. Unfortunately, while he has an astonishing grasp of how money can beget money, a criminal quirk in his character causes him to frequently exceed the limits of what is considered ethical.

Hammerton Palmer

Hammerton Palmer is a man of medium height, well set up and well groomed. He wears a moustache and a pointed beard, both of which are peppered with grey, and has grey eyes. He often uses pince-nez, which give him a scholarly appearance.

Some five years before he came to Sexton Blake's attention, Palmer was a struggling stockbroker and a habitual gambler. One day, it occurred to him that, rather than gambling in the ordinary way, he and his fellow card players should gamble in human lives. He organised the Death Club. Upon joining, every member made a will leaving at least half of their estate to some other member of the club. Once a month, a meeting was held and a silver box filled with tiny skulls was placed on the table. All the skulls were white except for one, which was black. A draw took place, and the individual who drew the black skull was immediately doomed. He was given ten days in which to put his affairs in order and was then obliged to commit suicide. If he flinched from this, another draw was taken to select a man to murder him. When the will was read, the member who received the half share would then divide it equally among his fellow members. The scheme attracted desperate men who required high stakes to keep themselves from financial ruin. What none of them realised was that Hammerton Palmer had constructed the silver box in such a way as to be always certain that he would draw from it a white skull! In this manner, he became a very wealthy City financier.

Unfortunately for Palmer, one of the club's victim's was associated with Mademoiselle Yvonne, and this drew the Death Club to Sexton Blake's attention. In short order, Palmer was exposed as a villain and was forced to flee the country. Blake made things too hot for him in Europe, so he shipped to Buenos Ayres, doubled back to Rio Janeiro, and from there worked his way up the coast of South America. At Bogoto, he drifted into emerald speculation, buying and selling stolen stones, and doing well enough from the illicit business that he considered settling permanently in Columbia. However, with the outbreak of war in Europe, he took the opportunity to sneak unnoticed back to his native country. There, his finances dwindled until he was forced to take a job as a shipping clerk.

Palmer's criminal nature could not be quelled for long. When he schemed to illicitly gain funds from the auction of a ship, he found himself once again at odds with Sexton Blake, who, after spoiling the racket, allowed the crooked financier to retain eight thousand pounds providing he again left the country.

Palmer made his way to New York, where he gained a further four thousand via a scam at the Waldorf, then journeyed north to Williamstown, Canada, and there invested in a new transport system for the fast-growing town. Had he acted within the bounds of the law, he might have made a very considerable profit from the project, but his propensity to bribery and corruption attracted the attention of Sexton Blake who engaged in a battle of stocks, shares and franchises that left Palmer — again — with a mere eight thousand pounds.

Chronology:

1. The Death Club (UNION JACK issue 558, 1914)
Mademoiselle Yvonne learns that a silk merchant she has invested in has been behaving oddly. Sexton Blake investigates and exposes Hammerton Palmer's Death Club. Palmer flees the country.

2. The Prize Ship (part 1) (PLUCK 555, 1915)
Palmer surreptitiously returns to England and takes a lowly job as a shipping clerk. When he learns that a ship seized for transporting contraband is to be auctioned, he formulates a scheme whereby he can win the bidding and illicitly earn a large sum of money.

3. The Prize Ship (part 2) (PLUCK 556, 1915)
Sexton Blake foils Palmer's scheme but allows him to keep eight thousand pounds providing he leaves the country.

4. Bribery and Corruption (UNION JACK issue 616, 1915).
Palmer invests in a new transport system in a growing Canadian town but his crooked practices attract the attention of Sexton Blake who engages with him in a battle of financial skill. Palmer leaves Canada with a tiny fraction of the profit he would have otherwise made.

5. The Blue God (UNION JACK issue 685, 1916)
Huxton Rymer steals from a remote tribe in Borneo a sapphire that is worshipped as a god. His scheme to smuggle the gem to England has him pursued by the Hoo Feng Tong. He teams up with Hammerton Palmer to offload the gem but the Chinese gang captures the two men. They are rescued by Sexton Blake and slip away, sans jewel, while the detective battles the Chinamen.

6. The Great Ivory Swindle THE SEXTON BLAKE LIBRARY first series issue 325 (1924).

More to come ...