Piddingworth Greg Benton
|'Piddingworth...where St. George's Cross is not yet banned.'
|Honour all men.
Honour the King.
|Adventure stories for boys, in particular, have long since given way to
other types of pursuits; some, not particularly edifying. The same might
also be said of our culture in general.
The appeal of the stories written by G.A. Henty is more than historic.
His brilliant mingling of great events in great times and great heroes with
a boy's wonder and natural inclination for these things afforded much
to the generations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the time
my generation entered the fray in the forties and fifties, the few number
of Henty Books, along with others passed down in my own family, like
those of Rudyard Kipling and Ernest Thomas Seton, became both iconic
as well as a lingering invitation to link with 'our great past'.
Still, it was easy to make a connection with Henty for those of us
who grew up with Kipling's Jungle Book in the Wolf Cubs and Boys Scouts
wherein, as in the Henty books, moral lessons directed toward the building
of character are richly present.
It is not surprising to me that there has been something of a revival
in interest for Henty in some places; particularly in Evangelical Christian
schools and other groups in the United States where the traditional
virtues promoted in G.A.'s stories are still revered.
More information on G.A. Henty can be found on the Henty Society
website. I am grateful to Mr. Roger Childs of the society for his
assistance with the brief biography below.
I make no claim to being a 'Henty Expert' as some others undoubtedly
are or might claim to be; knowing the details of the man's life and publishing
More importantly, it is the 'story' that counts...and in that respect
there are many 'experts' in their own right, whom, as readers, the
author continues to invite to share in his many imaginative adventures
G.E. Benton, March, 2009
A contemporary of G. A. Henty once described him as 'a man of strong will,
reasonable ambitions and a hard, steady worker'. He also said that Henty was 'a burly
man with a good humoured English sort of face, who always smoked a short,
well-colored clay pipe'.
George Alfred Henty was born 8 December, 1832 in Trumpington, near Cambridge.
The eldest son of a stockholder, he was educated at Westminster School, London
and at Caius College, Cambridge, which he attended in 1852, but from which he departed
before having obtained a degree.
At the onset of the Crimean War in 1854, Henty and his brother volunteered for the Army.
Assigned to Hospital Commissariat, they helped to supply food for the staff and patients.
In 1855, they were sent to the Crimea. The following year, G.A.'s brother died of cholera.
G.A. lived during the reign of Queen Victoria at the height of Empire.
His story-telling developed in the company of his own children when,
after dinner, he would spend an hour or two in telling them a story
that would continue the next day. Some of his stories took weeks
to finish! A friend, present with them one day, watched the spell-
bound reaction of his children prompting him to suggest that he
write down his stories so others could enjoy them.
G.A. wrote about some of his war adventures in a series of letters which described
the siege of the Russian fortress of Sevastopol. The letters were accepted for publication
by a newspaper, but he did not show than any particular interest in writing as a vocation.
Whilst serving in the Crimea, Henty was stricken with a fever and sent home.
Upon his recovery, he was honoured for distinguished service and promoted in rank.
He then was given an assignment for the Italian hospitals during the war between
Austria and Italy. He subsequently was attached to Army Commissariats in Belfast
When Henty had become weary of Army life, he resigned his commission and returned home
to Blighty where he was employed by his father in the management of a coal mine in Wales.
Sent to Sardinia to manage another mine, he soon decided that he did not care for this work
either and devoted himself to being a 'professional writer'.
In 1865, he wrote a series of articles for the 'The Standard', a newspaper that in the
following year sent him to cover the continuing Austrian-Italian conflict.
Later he witnessed some of the Franco-Prussian War, the opening of the Suez Canal,
turmoil in Russia, and adventures in Africa where he joined a British expedition.
In 1894, Henty reported on guerrilla warfare in Spain. The following year, he toured
Imperial India with the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and in the year following,
obseved the war between the Turks and the Serbians.
When not reporting, Henty was writing books, including about eighty books for boys.
A young man who worked as his amanuensis for two years said that G.A. used to walk up
and down his study smoking his clay pipe and reeling off stories just as fast as the secretary
could take them down.
His first book, Out on the Pampas, was published in 1871. After this, he became quite well
known, following which he devoted himself entirely to his true vocation. Altogether he wrote
approximately 122 books, as well as stories for magazines, earning him the popular title of
"The Prince of Story-Tellers" and "The Boy's Own Historian."
His histories, particularly battle accounts, have been acknowledged for their accuracy.
The chief criticism Henty faced from the 'intellectuals' of his day was that his heroes
were 'too Christian'. G.A.'s story-telling gave life to the events that are so often associated
with laborious tasks in the study of history.
The stories of the Henty Books generally revolve around a fictional boy hero during
fascinating and important periods of history. His heroes, exemplifying the virtues admired in
a British gentleman, demonstrate are diligence, courage, intelligence, loyalty, love of country
and the willingness to overcome in the face of peril.
These young heroes fight wars, sail the seas, discover land, conquer evil empires, prospect
for gold, and a host of other exciting adventures where they encounter famous personages
such as Josephus, Titus, Hannibal, Robert the Bruce, Sir William Wallace, Sir Francis Drake,
Moses, Robert E. Lee, General Wolfe, Clive of India, Frederick the Great, the Duke of
Wellington, Huguenot leader Coligny, Cortez Alfred the Great, and Napoleon.
The young reader of G.A.'s adventure stories are easily able to become acquainted with
the great events and personalities of history and civilisation and so provide a supplementary
knowledge to the formal reading of history they might receive.
Certainly one is able to discern a contrast between the societies of civilised and pagan cultures
and perhaps develop some appreciation for the former.
In his later life, G.A. took a trip to the gold fields of California, but it tired him.
His last years were spent quietly at his home in Sussex where he died aboard his yacht 'Egret'
in Weymouth Harbour, on 16 November 1902.