At the Circulating Library Author Information: William Russell

Author: William Russell (1805–1876)

Alternate Name(s): Waters (pseudonym); Lt. Robert Warneford, R.N. (pseudonym)

Biography: One of the most vexing mysteries of Victorian fiction. William Russell was born around 1805 in Southampton. His early life cannot be traced. In the late 1840s, he began contributing stories to Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, including a series of detective stories and a series of nautical fiction. The former have a justifiable claim to be the first British detective fiction (only succeeded by American Edgar Allen Poe). When collected in book format, Russell published his detective stories under the pseudonym "Waters" and his nautical fiction under the pseudonym "Lieutenant Warneford, R. N." beginning with Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer (1856) and Tales of the Coast Guard (1856), repectively. Much of his detective fiction was pirated in America and often reprinted in Britain, usually in cheap yellowback edtions. He did publish some articles and books under his own name, often styling himself "William Russell, Esq.", "William Russell, LL.D.", or "Dr. William Russell." This led him to be confused with William Howard Russell, which may have been a deliberate ploy by his publishers. Whether Russell actually was a barrister or held an LL.D. degree remains a mystery. Besides Chambers's, he also contributed to the London Journal, St. James's Magazine, and The Sixpenny Magazine. In 1851, Russell lived in Hackney with his wife Eliza. In 1871, he lived in Islington as a widower. In the intervening years, he may have resided for a time in Southampton based on the signatures of his prefaces. Russell likely died in 1876 in London. (NB: Laurence Worms was the first to identify William Russell through the British censuses.)

References: British Census (1851, 1871); John M. Reilly, ed., Twenteth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers (1980); Victor Neuburg, The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature (1983)

Fiction Titles:

  1. Tales of the Coast Guard.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1856.
  2. Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1856.
  3. The Marriage Settlement, and The Rose of Corail.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1856.
  4. Leaves from the Diary of a Law-Clerk.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1857.
  5. The Game of Life.  1 vol.  London: Ward, Lock, 1857.
  6. Kirke Webbe, the Privateer Captain.  1 vol.  London: Charles Knight, 1858.
  7. Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer. Second Series.  1 vol.  London: W. Kent and Co., 1859.
  8. Tales of the Slave Squadron.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1860.
  9. A Skeleton in Every House.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1860.
  10. The Experiences of a French Detective Officer. Adapted from the MSS. of T. Duhamel.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1861.
  11. The Heir-at-Law, and Other Tales.  1 vol.  London: Henry Lea, 1861.
  12. Two Love Stories: An Anglo-Spanish Romance.  1 vol.  London: W. Kent and Co., 1861.
  13. The Cruise of the Blue Jacket and Other Sea Stories.  1 vol.  London: Ward, Lock, 1862.
  14. Undiscovered Crimes.  1 vol.  London: Ward, Lock, 1862.
  15. Romance of the Seas.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1862.
  16. Experiences of a Real Detective.  1 vol.  London: Ward, Lock, 1862.
  17. Secrets of My Office.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1863.
  18. Running the Blockade.  1 vol.  London: Ward, Lock, 1863.
  19. Autobiography of an English Detective.  2 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1863.
  20. The Phantom Cruiser.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1865.
  21. Skedaddle. By "Our Own" Special Correspondent.  1 vol.  London: George Vickers, 1865.
  22. The Jolly Boat: or, Perils and Disasters illustrating Courage, Endurance, and Heroism.  2 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1865.
  23. Leaves from the Journal of a Custom-House Officer.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1868.
  24. Jack Thurlow and I: or, How Will it End? A Story of Life, Love, and Adventure.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1871.