S.B.H. Hurst – Sailor, Traveller and Writer

[S. B. H. Hurst wrote stories set in India and the Orient as well as sea-stories. He wrote from personal experience as a sailor. His stories appeared in Adventure, Short Stories, Sea Stories Magazine as well as slicks like Collier’s.]

S. B. H. Hurst c. 1922
S. B. H. Hurst c. 1922

Samuel Bertram Haworth Hurst was born in January, 1876 in Barton upon Irwell, near Manchester. His family was “as poor as it was aristocratic”. At the age of thirteen, after some education, he left home to become a sailor. He joined the British Navy as a cadet on a British sailing ship.

He felt the need to read something in his spare time. The only book on the ship was Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in an English translation. It was pretty hard going for a boy who had only a few years schooling, and had never done much reading before. He kept at it because there was nothing else to read, and eventually he finished it. He had obtained a better knowledge of English, and an interest in meta-physics.

At the age of 15, he had received his mate’s rating and was shipping on another ship with other cabin boys. He had started writing poems on metaphysical reasoning, and insisted on reading them out to the other cabin boys. If they did not listen or did not agree, he fought with them. Hurst was a good fighter, and after defeating his opponent, would make him write a metaphysical poem. One of the boys he fought was John Masefield, whose first poetry was written under these circumstances.

At the age of seventeen, he found himself in a saloon in Brooklyn, where he came across a drunken man who insisted he was on a “high mission”, and asked him if he had a dollar. To humor the man, Hurst went with him to a second-hand book store, where, with his dollar, the intoxicated stranger bought Spencer’s “First Principles” and a dictionary, He then raised his hat and left. Mr. Hurst never saw him again, but the man changed the whole course of his life.

For a number of years, he roamed the sea, visiting many ports. At the age of 21, he settled down in India and spent the next 4 years there. After this time, he again started sailing and continued till he settled in Seattle in 1907. He began to write poetry again after this, but the need for making a living made him give that up and concentrate on prose. He was homeless at this time, but still writing. In 1913, he made his first appearance in Adventure, with “Being a Detective” in the January 1913 issue.

Till 1918, he was struggling to make a living from writing, but that year onwards, he became a successful writer. In 1922, he published his first novel, Coomer Ali, an adventure story set in Arabia and followed it up with a second, Barney, in 1923. After this, he seems to have sold only to magazines, and continued writing till his death on June 18, 1933, at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington. His last appearance in Adventure was in the July 1933 issue with a short story titled Cyclone.

S. B. H. Hurst c. 1922
S. B. H. Hurst c. 1922

No novels of his remain in print today. However, one of his stories, “The Shanghaied Policeman”, features in the Best of Adventure, vol. 2, and another, “The Spirit of France”, in the Adventure Megapack, an ebook which I recommend as an amazing bargain.

You can read a story of his titled The King of the Jerawahs here. It’s about the treasure of Alexander the Great and features one of his series characters, Bugs Sinnat. Courtesy of PulpGen.com. Hope someone makes a collection of these – Black Dog Books or Altus Press, I’m looking at you and hoping for the best.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for doing this research. He also apparently wrote a book titled 'The Locusts,' which was serialized in the Seattle Star in 1922. Rife with Japanese stereotypes, it purports to tell the story of how Japanese took over Washington state farmland. You can find it by searching Library of Congress's online "Chronicling America" historic American newspapers.

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