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Charles Thurley Stoneham (1895-1965)

An author, naturalist and big-game hunter, Charles Thurley Stoneham was born in India in 1895 and attended Brighton College in England. After the death of his father he ran away from home at the age of 17 to seek adventure in Canada and the U.S. in the years prior to the Great War. While abroad he underwent great hardships and held a number of different jobs; at various times he was employed as a waiter, lumberjack, navvy, barber, door-to-door salesman and farmhand. Stoneham then returned to England and signed up for military service. Subsequent to a period stationed at home, he enlisted in 1915 with the 25th Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers and was shipped to British East Africa where he experienced fierce combat and forced marches. Although invalided out to recuperate in South Africa, he later rejoined the East African Campaign, meeting up with British Forces in Tanganyika. After the war, and a further period of convalescence in South Africa, Stoneham settled in British East Africa, where he undertook numerous hair-raising expeditions and safaris including several weeks climbing Mount Kenya. Having read avidly about the adventures of explorers and hunters of big game in Africa, Stoneham discovered for himself (and fell in love with) the wild animals and landscape of what was shortly to become Kenya. He also took up hunting for a living and would often go exploring through virgin territory, developing a deep affinity for the natural landscape of the region. His experiences in the wilderness and the knowledge he acquired of the fauna of this vast part of Africa were a huge influence on his writing. Making his living from hunting, trading and at one time running a butcher's shop in Nanyuki, Stoneham resided for many years in the Laikipia region of Kenya. After working both alone and in partnership with another young Englishman, Stoneham eventually ended up managing a safari outfitting business. Inspired by his years in Kenya in the 1920s, Stoneham had the urge to write stories about the wild animals that inhabited the land he came to know so well. He sold his first short story in 1926, but a number of years were to pass before Stoneham began selling stories regularly. In 1930, after spending many years in Kenya, Stoneham and his wife moved to South Africa and lived for a time in Cape Town. In this period he managed to sell articles and stories to various South African newspapers including the Cape Times.

Returning to England in 1931, Stoneham, who was greatly encouraged by the author and Daily Mail literary editor Heath Hosken, eventually managed to start selling short stories to various periodicals on a regular basis. Having already sold a few tales in previous years to journals such as The Tatler and Hutchinson's Adventure-Story Magazine, Stoneham began to contribute regularly to newspapers including the Daily Mail and The Star, as well as the magazines Chambers's Journal, Good Housekeeping and Top-Notch. From the early 1930s through the 1960s he sold hundreds of short stories about the wild animals of Africa to the London Evening News, while other stories appeared in magazines such as Everybody's Magazine and Norman Kark's Courier. After the publication of his first novel The Man in the Pig Mask (1929), Stoneham began to write novels and non-fiction books about Africa. Among these were Wanderings in Wild Africa (1932), The Black Leopard (1934) and Jungle Prince (1938). Major success came Stoneham's way when his superb novel The Lion’s Way (1931), about a boy brought up by lions, was made into the Hollywood film King of the Jungle (1933).

During the early years of the Second World War, Stoneham lived with his wife Kay and his son Michael in a cottage on Portland Bill, near Weymouth. The area was an important naval base and a target for numerous German bombing raids during 1940. Stoneham gained employment with the Admiralty in the Anti-Submarine Stores Department and witnessed several enemy attacks on the harbour. Later on in the war, Stoneham relocated to Bath in Somerset and found little time to write, although he still managed to publish two western novels and sell dozens of stories to the London Evening News.

Having spent the better part of two decades in England, Stoneham returned with his family to his beloved Kenya (formerly British East Africa) in 1947. During the late 1940s and 1950s Stoneham was a prolific author, producing dozens of novels, short stories, articles and non-fiction books. A number of his most fascinating books about Africa were published throughout his career. These included several volumes on big-game hunting, a study of the political and social situation in Kenya and books on African wildlife. His novels also tended to be set in Kenya. Arguably his finest work was in this vein; Bamboo Elephants (1956) and Kenya Mystery (1954) are good examples of Stoneham's thrilling, adventure-packed tales. In addition to their dramatic quality, Stoneham's African novels are full of local colour and background and provide many insights into the modern history of Central East Africa. Stoneham also wrote a series of mystery, adventure and western novels under the pen names Norgrove Thurley and Richard Grant, as well as various juvenile stories written for such magazines as Boy's Own Paper. His rich and entertaining autobiography From Hobo to Hunter was published in 1956. An honest, insightful and colourful account of numerous episodes in Stoneham's varied life, From Hobo to Hunter is an essential read for anyone who wishes to know more about Stoneham the man, as opposed to his career as an author (the book barely touches on his fiction output, which is a pity). Stoneham's writings continued to appear until the early 1960s, after which no more was heard of him. To his fans, researchers and bibliographers, the question of when and where Stoneham died remained answered for many years. Finally, in 2012 the mystery was solved. Detective fiction researcher John Herrington established that Stoneham died in the Transvaal in 1965. His place of death suggests that among other Europeans, he moved from Kenya to South Africa around the time the former country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1963. But putting such biographic details aside, Stoneham was undoubtedly a fine writer of engaging and fascinating stories. I hope those interested in his work find this small tribute website useful.

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