Which Winston Churchill wrote “Man Overboard!”?

Horror fiction is often burdened by the popular impression that it is the refuge of the anti-social, the unliterary, the morbid, and even the perverse.  However, a surprising number of authors of classic literature have dabbled in macabre fiction, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, (“Young Goodman Brown”, “Rappacini’s Daughter”), William Faulkner (“A Rose for Emily”), Charles Dickens (“The Signal-Man”), and Edith Wharton (“Afterward”). In addition, plenty of very successful professionals in other fields, such as journalism, medicine, and academia, have ventured into horror.

For years, the pièce de résistance in my argument in favor of the positive quality of horror authors is a little known 1899 story titled, “Man Overboard!”  The author is one Winston Churchill.  Yes, that Winston Churchill — or so I thought.

In doing background for another blog post, I Googled Churchill’s “Man Overboard!”, and was surprised to find that there were in fact two famous Winston Churchills in that era — the British politician (1874-1965), and a very famous American author of the same name (1871-1947).  So which one wrote the story?

Googling “man overboard winston churchill“, the second link brought me to Fantastic Fiction, a typically reliable source of information on science fiction, fantasy and horror.  I was disappointed to see that they have “Man Overboard!” as having been written by the American Churchill — it seemed my pièce de résistance of horror authors was a fiction.  The third link, however, brought me to Revolution Science Fiction, which attributes the story to the British Churchill.

The Wikipedia article on “Winston Churchill as writer” (the British one) notes that,

Churchill and his namesake and contemporary, the American novelist, are still occasionally confused (as writers): in particular the novels of the “American” Churchill are often incorrectly attributed to the “British” Churchill, or at least listed with them, especially by booksellers. It should be noted the “British Churchill” wrote only one novel Savrola, being better known for his popular histories.

Churchill, upon becoming aware of his namesake’s books, then much better known than his own, wrote to him suggesting that he would sign his own works “Winston S. Churchill,” using his middle name, “Spencer,” to differentiate them. This suggestion was accepted with the comment that the American Churchill would have done the same, had he any middle names.

The odds against British Churchill having written such a sensationalist horror story seemed slim, but the Wikipedia article also attributes “Man Overboard!” as due to the British Churchill!

Confusion like this drives me nuts!  Fortunately, Google books was able to come to the rescue, with a scan of the original story as published in The Harmsworth Magazine, volume 1, 1898-1899.  I readily found that the story was written by Winston Spencer Churchill — the British politician after all!  To clarify things, the story possesses the following footnote,

As by a very remarkable coincidence there are two Winston Churchills, both writers, we may mention that this Winston Churchill is the son of the late Lord Randolph Churchill.

Lord Randolph was the father of Winston Spencer Churchill, which removes any doubt as to the fact that the famed statesman wrote the macabre story!

For convenience, I have extracted the pages of “Man Overboard!” from the magazine volume; the link to the pdf is here.

The best thing about The Harmsworth Magazine is indicated by its full title: The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine.  Most of the stories and articles are supplemented by illustrations or photos, including “Man Overboard!”  A (non-spoiler) sample:

“Man Overboard!” appeared in The Harmsworth Magazine at a turning point of Churchill’s career.  He had been in the military since 1895; he resigned in 1899 and had his first run for political office that same year.  Indulging in some of my (usual) unjustified speculation, I suspect that he gave up his sensationalist writing to avoid causing a future controversy.

Volume one of The Harmsworth Magazine is actually filled with a lot of fascinating articles (including a weird science article I’m going to have to send to Sci).  One unexpected treasure is an illustrated story titled, “The Chancellor’s Ward”, by none other than the delightful author Richard Marsh!  (And it’s a story that hasn’t made it into a Valancourt edition yet!)

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9 Responses to Which Winston Churchill wrote “Man Overboard!”?

  1. OK. You officially rock.

  2. Tevong says:

    i always love these old treasures people dig up through google books, like your twitter on the original tensor analysis paper.

    i’ve been exposed to so many wonderful original sources that it worries me people are putting up a major fight against google books for petty self-interested reasons (see http://www.tnr.com/article/the-love-culture?page=0,0).

    • I was actually a bit skeptical of Google books when it first was announced, in part due to fears of copyright violations. From what I’ve seen, though, they’ve hurt no authors through their indexing, and the availability of the older, rare works is absolutely priceless. It is very worrying to see people argue against it. Speaking as a soon-to-be-published author, I have no problem with Google directing folks towards my book.

  3. rich says:

    Have all three of Hamsworth volumes,googled to find out about them,found your blog and have now read Winstons story, the moral of his story obviously,”smoking is bad for ones health”!Ha ha. Google books a great idea,though you can’t beat a good book in the hand!

  4. Greg L. says:

    Thanks for clarifying this! I’ve added a footnote to the Wikipedia page “Winston Churchill as writer” citing your blog post, since you did the original research.

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