Small image of a man handing a book to a women across a counter.

At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Author: William Russell

Author: William Russell (1806–1876)

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

Biography: One of the most vexing mysteries of Victorian fiction. William Russell was born around 1806 in Portsmouth. 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. Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1856.
  2. Tales of the Coast Guard.  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. The Experiences of a Barrister.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1856.
  5. Leaves from the Diary of a Law-Clerk.  1 vol.  London: J. and C. Brown, 1857.
  6. The Game of Life.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1857.
  7. Kirke Webbe, the Privateer Captain.  1 vol.  London: Charles Knight, 1858.
  8. The Serf Girl of Moscow: A Tale.  2 vol.  Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1858.
  9. Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer. Second Series.  1 vol.  London: W. Kent and Co., 1859.
  10. A Skeleton in Every House.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1860.
  11. Tales of the Slave Squadron.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1860.
  12. Two Love Stories: An Anglo-Spanish Romance.  1 vol.  London: W. Kent and Co., 1861.
  13. The Experiences of a French Detective Officer. Adapted from the MSS. of T. Duhamel.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1861.
  14. The Heir-at-Law, and Other Tales.  1 vol.  London: Henry Lea, 1861.
  15. The Romance of Common Life.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1861.
  16. Experiences of a Real Detective.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1862.
  17. Undiscovered Crimes.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1862.
  18. The Cruise of the Blue Jacket and Other Sea Stories.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1862.
  19. Romance of the Seas.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1862.
  20. Autobiography of an English Detective.  2 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1863.
  21. Running the Blockade.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1863.
  22. Secrets of My Office.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1863.
  23. The Jolly Boat: or, Perils and Disasters illustrating Courage, Endurance, and Heroism.  2 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1865.
  24. Skedaddle. By "Our Own" Special Correspondent.  1 vol.  London: George Vickers, 1865.
  25. The Phantom Cruiser.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1865.
  26. Leaves from the Journal of a Custom-House Officer.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1868.
  27. The Confidential Adviser: or, Fighting Against Odds.  1 vol.  London: Ward and Lock, 1868.
  28. Charles Oldfield: The Autobiography of a Staff Officer.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1868.
  29. Recollections of a Sheriff's Officer.  1 vol.  London: Penny Miscellany Office, 1870.
  30. Jack Thurlow and I: or, How Will it End? A Story of Life, Love, and Adventure.  1 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1871.
  31. Autobiography of an Italian Police-Officer.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1880.
  32. Hearts are Trumps: or, Recollections of the English Peasantry.  1 vol.  London: John Maxwell, 1883.