A Brief Biography of Hall Caine (1853 - 1931)

David Wilson [oldmanxbooks@manx.net]

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Thomas Henry Hall Caine was born on 14th May 1853 at Runcorn in Cheshire, where his parents were residing temporarily. His father John Caine, a Manxman, had gone to Merseyside looking for work. Hall was his mother's name, and she hailed from Cumberland.

During his childhood Thomas Henry was occasionally sent to stay with his uncle who lived on the Isle of Man in a thatched cottage at Ballaugh. He would help out with his uncle's butcher-farmer business and ride into the market in Douglas on a small horse and cart. His grandmother lived at the cottage and it was she who told him wondrous tales of Manx fairies and witches and all about the folklore of the island which would provide material for him to draw on in later life for his novels. Grandmother Caine taught him the rudiments of the Manx language,and it was she who gave him the nickname Hommy Veg which in Manx meant little Tommy. Some of his time in the Isle of Man was spent helping another of his uncles who was a schoolmaster at Kirk Maughold, near Ramsey.

When young Tommy returned to Liverpool he had sown the seeds of a life-long attachment to the Island, and this bond grew ever stronger. Thomas became an apprentice architect in Liverpool, whilst at the same time writing articles for trade journals and contributions to newspapers and magazines. He gave lectures around Merseyside to various societies and the subject of one of these, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, invited him to London. Caine lived with the old man right up until his death and the two became great friends. Under his influence Caine took up writing of a more literary kind, contributing to The Academy and The Atheneum as well as other periodicals.

During his time in London Caine shared rooms with an academic friend Eric Robertson, and in the evenings they had meals sent over from a nearby café. The food was delivered by two of the young girls who worked there -- one of them was called Mary Chandler. Some months later she arrived unexpectedly with her step-father who claimed she had been "ruined". She was just 13 years old, Hall Caine was 29. Legally, there was nothing to stop them from marrying, the age of consent at that time being 13, but instead Caine agreed to keep her and educate her. They both kept quiet, never admitting that they were not married, and when in company Caine would tell people that she was 17.

They went to live in Sevenoaks in Kent where Mary devoted all her time to her education and to becoming a fit wife for an intellectual author. A year later they moved to Worsley Road in Hampstead, and not long afterwards Mary became pregnant. Her baby was born in 1884 and christened Ralph. Still Caine made no attempt to legalise the situation -- he did not register the birth for a month. When he did, he committed perjury by giving his wife's name as "Mary Alice Caine, formerly Chandler." He was however a loving, caring father in every other respect, and he loved both wife and child dearly.

In 1886 Caine took Mary to Edinburgh, staying at 83 Princes Street and arranged a quiet wedding. No one except the Registrar and two local witnesses knew anything about it. Caine gave his age correctly as 33, but Mary's was given as 23, but she was in fact only 17. Caine's marriage marked the start of the most successful stage of his career. His other son, Derwent was born in 1891.

Hall Caine's first novel, The Shadow of a Crime, published in 1885, and his second, A Son of Hagar, published one year later, were both set in Cumberland. Rossetti read both of them and advised Caine to change tack and try his hand at a Manx story. He could, said Rossetti, become "The Bard of Manxland."

Heeding this advice Caine wrote The Deemster (1887) incorporating aspects of life on the Isle of Man, and it was this work that brought him to prominence as a novelist. His next books, The Bondman, and The Scapegoat (1890), and Cap'n Davey's Honeymoon (1893) all further enhanced his rapidly growing reputation. In 1894 The Manxman sold nearly 400,000 copies and was translated into many foreign languages, earning Caine a tidy sum of money, but even this was eclipsed by sales of his next novel The Christian (1897) which reached 650,000 -- a staggering number for that time. And so it continued -- sales of The Eternal City (1901) a novel set in Rome sold over one million worldwide. Of all these titles The Scapegoat is authoritatively described as his highest achievement as a story teller.

It can be said that Hall Caine's quest to become The Bard of Manxland was at the same time putting the Isle of Man on the map. It was around this time that it became a favourite holiday resort. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company had purchased brand new steamers to bring many thousands of tourists to Douglas, the island's capital, from Liverpool. Local businessmen speculated on providing new hotels and boarding houses, and new entertainment buildings sprung up to meet the new demand.

More novels followed and many were best sellers of the time. Hall Caine left his home in England and moved to the Isle of Man where he was not slow to take full advantage of his fame and popularity, being interviewed and photographed for numerous magazines and periodicals.

One magazine of the time described Hall Caine as "Slightly built, rather under what is called medium height. Hair, moustache and pointed beard are of bright brown, and with a lofty forehead and keen humorous eyes, he would give you the impression of being a man of great ability even if his name and real personality were unknown to you." Many people remarked that in appearance he was not unlike William Shakespeare. Indeed, knowing he was an astute egotist, many commentators reckoned he deliberately cultivated the likeness.

In October 1901 he stood as a candidate in the Manx elections. He was successful and became a member of the House of Keys (The Manx Parliament) for Ramsey.

Some years later he moved back to live in England where it was easier to supervise his many literary projects like the production of his plays, and he also visited the United States to lobby the government there about the setting up of copyright legislation.

During the Great War (1914-1918) he wrote many patriotic articles, and edited King Albert's Book, the proceeds of which went to help Belgian refugees. He cancelled many literary contracts in America to devote all his time and energy to the British war effort. He was made a K.B.E in 1918 on the recommendation of the Prime Minister Lloyd George, and four years later he was made a Companion of Honour in recognition of his distinction in literature. He was received by Kings, Presidents, Princes and the Pope. He was on speaking terms with Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, leading politicians, eminent actors, and he had now reached the summit of international fame.

The last of Hall Caine's full length novels was published in 1921, when he gave up writing to concentrate on his life's work -- a Life of Christ, which he had been researching for many years during several visits to Palestine and Transjordania. He died before this work was completed and it was published posthumously by his two sons in 1938.

Hall Caine died at his home, Greeba Castle on the Isle of Man on 31st August 1931, in his 79th year. For twenty years between 1893 and 1930 he had held an unquestioned place as one of the best-read of British authors.

-- 14th May 1999 (Hall Caine's birthday).


Mr. Wilson, who can be contacted at oldmanxbooks@manx.net, welcomes e-mail from any other readers, enthusiasts, or collectors of hall Caine.


Victorian Web Overview Hall Caine

Last modified 2000