In the chapter (8) “Blicks at War” of the book The
Five-Pound Secretary: An Illustrated History of the Blickensderfer Typewriter
that he wrote in 2003 with Robert Blickensderfer, Dutch typewriter collector
and historian Paul Robert mentions Lionel James.
The only known photograph of Lionel James,
and not one showing much of him, either.
Is that a Blick case on his right?
It is certainly a different mode of transport!
Punch magazine once labelled James “One of the Princes of the Golden Age of War Correspondence”.
refers to James’s endorsements of
the Blickensderfer – written to the Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company in
Stamford, Connecticut - as a typewriter
which in his own experience had stood up to the most gruelling of working
includes one of the letters written by James to the Blick
company, in 1901, as well as the “German Cinderella or poster stamp” drawn by Munich artist Julius Edmond Robert Nitsche and
showing James typing while riding a
camel. As well, Paul has this page from a British trade catalogue. He dates
both the stamp and the catalogue from the 1910s.
is headed “Reuters Korrespondent im
Omdurman-Feldzuge [campaign]”. It’s one of my very favourite
typewriter-related images, and has been for many years.
The Battle of Omdurman (September 2, 1898)
is where Lionel James first “made
his name” as a war correspondent. An army commanded by the British General Sir Herbert Kitchener (below) defeated
the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the
self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, marking the success of British
efforts to re-conquer the Sudan.
Lionel James “stole a march” on his much more
seasoned newspaper rivals by banging out his description of the battle on his Blickensderfer and, “by sheer bluff”,
contriving to send his story by the river steamer which carried Kitchener's official despatch to the
War Office in London.
Unfortunately this is the largest size I can find for this image of Lionel James on camelback. Anyone have a larger file please?
to be able to positively identify the subject of a turn-of-the-century
typewriter-associated illustration such as this. But the “Reuters
[and later The Times of London] Korrespondent
im Omdurman-Feldzuge” is most definitely Lionel
became more acutely aware of James
after Anne Fadiman contacted me last
week about typewriters which were
used in entirely different climes: in the Antarctica
(regular readers of this blog may know I have posted many times on typewriters
taken on expeditions to the South Pole).
Anne (above) was
researching an article for the New
York Review of Books that mentions the typewriter used by Ernest Shackleton on the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic. She pointed me in the
direction of a booklet (The Typewriter and Phonographic World)
which contains a section on “The
Typewriter at the Poles”.
eventually found this booklet online and became absolutely engrossed by its
contents. And there, among all the other gems, was this letter from Lionel James endorsing the
Blickensderfer (one I had not previously seen).
If James used a Blick for all his newspaper and news agency reports, his short
stories for Blackwood’s Magazine
(among other publications) and his 13 books, he was indeed right to pay the typewriter a glowing tribute. You will
note in the letter published by Paul Robert, James says he is agreeing to give the Blick company his typewriter
as a memento in exchange for a new one – but stresses his Blick is in “perfect order” – despite its travels and its constant
James’s books were With the Chitral Relief Force, The Indian Frontier War, Side Tracks and
Bridle Paths, With the Conquered Turk, A History of King Edward’s Horse, Times
of Stress, On the Heels of De Wet,
The Boy Galloper, A Subaltern of Horse, The Yellow War, Green Envelopes, A History of the Russo-Japanese War and,
in 1929, High Pressure; Being Some Record of Activities in the Service of The
Times Newspaper (Primarily
the Record of My Work as a War Correspondent [1895-1904]). When The Times History of the South African War was being compiled, James collaborated on two volumes.
Lionel James was a most fascinating character.
While working for Reuters as its War
and Special Correspondent (1894-1898), he covered the Chitral (1894-5), Mohmand,
Malakand and Tirah (1897-8) and Sudan (1898) campaigns. Exceeding the call of
duty on one occasion, he became involved in a gunfight at the Malakand Pass,
supporting and rallying the British soldiers – an action for which, although a
journalist, he was mentioned in despatches.
to 1913 James was Special and
Principal War Correspondent for The Times of London. His work took
him to Egypt (1899), South Africa (1899-1910), America and Macedonia (1903),
Japan and Manchuria (1904), India (1907-8), Persia and Turkey (1907-8) and the
Balkans (1909). In 1909 he was also with the Spanish Army in Morocco, and in 1910
with the Turkish Army in Albania.
home, James also covered the January
1911 Sydney Street Siege in London. James was congratulated for his vivid
account by his editor George Earle Buckle (above).
and cost-cutting measures introduced by Lord
Northcliffe to keep The Times afloat, Buckle was forced
out in mid-1911 and James resigned
But James remained active in military
matters. He had joined the King’s Colonials in 1902 and by 1914 the unit had become
King Edward’s Horse. Serving with the British Expeditionary Force in the Battle
of the Somme, Colonel James led a
depleted regiment against heavy odds and earned the DSO for rescuing the
leaderless remnants of two other British regiments. Twice during World War I he
was mentioned in despatches.
biographer says James was born in
India, but other researchers say he was born in Teignmoth, Devon, in 1871, and
a census form James filled out in 1881, as a 10-year-old student, supports this
way, James was a younger son of the
by-then retired Lieutenant Colonel L.H.S. James of the Royal Artillery, who had
joined the Indian Army in 1858, and Emma (née Batson).
said to have been returned to England aged nine, in 1880, to attend a boarding
school, Surrey County School (later Cranleigh). He nonetheless failed to pass
the South Kensington science examinations.
From the Dictionary of Indian Biography
James returned to India at 16, in 1887,
and was employed on an indigo estate in Behar, where he worked for 10 years
polo, which may explain his apparent (I’d say as imagined by Nitsche and others) adeptness in being
able to type with a Blickensderfer
while astride a camel!
James acquired a string of ponies and
enlisted in the volunteer Behar Mounted Rifles. By 1895 two of his books of
short stories had been published after appearing in Indian English language
In 1894 an
attempted coup using his own horse at the Allahabad racecourse landed James in serious
debt. To work it off, he began what was to be a hugely successful career as a
war correspondent, working for John
O’Brien Saunders (1852-1905), the Calcutta-based proprietor of The Englishman, who needed someone to
cover the Chitral campaign (in what is now northern Pakistan) in 1895. James also covered the revolt for Reuters and The Times of India.
confreres of the then greenhorn James
were such noted and experienced war correspondents as Bennet Burleigh (1845-1914, London Daily Telegraph), Melton
Prior (1845-1910, The London
Illustrated News), Frederic Villiers
(1851-1922, London’s The Graphic) and George Warrington Steevens (1869-1900, London Daily Mail). James still
managed to hold his own.
this time James also became friendly
with the famous Australian-born journalist George
Ernest (“Chinese”) Morrison, after whom James would later name one of his sons.
born in Geelong in 1862, worked for The Age in Melbourne and The
Sydney Morning Herald before travelling to New Guinea, Scotland, North
America, the West Indies, Spain, Philippines, Burma, India, Japan and China. After
publication of a book on his travels from China to Burma, Morrison was appointed a special Asia correspondent by The
Times foreign editor Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol.
In March 1897, Morrison
became the first permanent correspondent of The Times in Peking (Beijing). He
turned down the chance to be The Times foreign editor in 1907 and
died at Sidmouth, Devon, in 1920, survived by his beautiful young New Zealand-born wife Jennie Wark Robin (below), who had been his secretary. (Morrison's eldest son
Ian [1913-1950] was killed reporting the Korean War for The Times.)
giving a résumé of James’ character,
Morrison said that he was “good,
simple, hot-tempered, impatient, self-willed, and able”. But apart from James, only Morrison and William Howard
Russell (below), who covered the Crimean War, forsook personal safety to such a
degree while reporting.
James was not just brave but ingenious.
When, Ladysmith was besieged and it was almost impossible to send news from
there to Johannesburg, he decided to use carrier pigeons (shades of Evelyn
Waugh’s foreign correspondent classic Scoop). Unfortunately, these were
intercepted, and a Boer with a sense of humour wrote to thank James for an enjoyable meal.
famous “war correspondent” James
encountered was Oakland-raised Jack
In 1904, London, then just 28, sailed on the
Siberia from San Francisco for Yokohama to cover the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst Press.
Hare haring after a photo
London travelled with fellow
correspondents Frederick Palmer (1873-1958)
and the renowned British war photographer James
Henry “Jimmy” Hare (1856-1946), who were working together for the New York Globe, Willard Dickerman Straight (1880-1918) working for Reuters, and the
celebrated British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett,
among others. Ashmead-Bartlett (1881-1931),
who worked for London’s The Daily Telegraph, was in 1915
instrumental in the birth of the Anzac legend at Gallipoli.
time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the rules of engagement for war
correspondents had changed considerably. Gone were the days when they were
allowed right up on to the front lines. As their ability to report the action
increasingly quickened, through the use of typewriters
and telegrams, so were they pushed further back from the battle fronts. They
began to be drip fed only the sort of basic information armies believed they
should have, in the interests of security.
Lionel James did not much take to the changes.
During the Russo-Japanese War, “scores of correspondents were kept kicking
their heels in Tokyo chafing at their enforced idleness”. But James had other ideas. His way of
overcoming this situation meant:
a secret deal with the Japanese Imperial Navy, whereby a Japanese naval officer
went with him to supply his admiralty with intelligence.
Times to pay for his chartering of the steamer Halmun in Shanghai, and installing
on it four tons of American inventor Lee
De Forest’s wireless equipment. James had meet De Forest (below) at sea in December
1903 while on his way from England to the United States en route to covering
*Finding labour to build a 180-foot high bamboo
wireless mast on the British-leased treeless promontory of Weihaiwei on
the China coast.
these efforts, James was able to enter the conflict zone of the war at sea.
Thus James became the first war
correspondent to employ wireless equipment to transit his copy. This achievement is the subject
of a book by war historian Peter Slattery.
first report was published in The Times on March 15, 1904; he went
on to file many other despatches, including the sinking of the Russian flagship
War correspondents in Manchuria. Is Lionel James among them?
was later forced to move inland into Manchuria to continue his reporting of the
war. From there, he sent a 5000-word story on one of the major land battles of
the war at Liaoyang – the longest cable ever filed.
The New York Times, April 24, 1904
James married Margaret Crane. In 1897
Margaret was returning from India to England and James set off to ask for her hand in marriage. He raced on
horseback to Bombay, where Margaret’s ship had just departed. Undaunted by
this, James swam after the vessel, climbed aboard and proposed.
James managed a racing stable and
stud farm and until 1942 he was a governor of the Imperial Services College,
Windsor. He then became governor of Haileybury school. He retired in 1946 and
died at Newbury, Berkshire, on May 31, 1955, aged 84.