The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

The Lambs of Littlecote (1894)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

The Lambs of Littlecote was written by E. Harcourt Burrage and first appeared The Lambs of Littlecote no. 1-39 (1894-1895). Burrage (1839-1916) was one of the most prolific penny dreadful authors of the nineteenth century and was popularly known as “the boys’ Charles Dickens.”1 He wrote hundreds of serials for various journals, and was noted for being a staunch opponent of corporal punishment for schoolchildren; none of the boys in his stories were ever beaten by their masters. Burrage was better regarded by the press than most of the other boy's novels authors and was seen as someone who “carefully avoided all that tends to immorality,” a statement rarely heard with regards to other authors of penny dreadfuls.

The Lambs of Littlecote is a standard late-Victorian school story. Littlecote Academy's Headmaster is Fontenoy Snicker, who drops his Hs and who has “a face which Nature must originally have intended for a racecourse welsher.”2 Snicker drinks and is often publicly upbraided by his wife for his failings. Snicker's assistant, who wants Snicker’s job, was P. Y. Bunn, who drinks and is misused by the students, who call him “Penny Bunn.” The students’ teacher is Awful Rooker, who likewise drinks. The students are an interchangeable lot, no different from the students in other late Victorian school stories. Their leader is Jack Ford, a “youth of action, abounding in health and courage.” The main character of The Lambs of Littlecote is of Donovan Peebles, who arrives new to the Academy at the beginning of the serial. He is quickly accepted by Jack Ford and the other students, who call themselves the “Lambs of Littlecote” and enjoy the usual high-spirited mischief of late-Victorian school stories students.

Chunder Loo appears in Chapter Eighty, preceded by a letter of testimonial. The school has an opening for a teacher, and the Indian Loo applies for it and is accepted, as his references are excellent. Bunn is angered by his arrival at Littlecote, not merely out of racism (although Bunn has a surfeit of that) but also because Bunn feels his position is threatened by Loo. But Loo is far too clever for Bunn, and when Bunn tries to get Loo drunk, so as to easily disgrace him, Loo drinks Bunn unconscious. At dinner that night Loo immediately intimidates the boys, listening to their fictions and lies with gravity and silencing them with his gravitas. For a time all is well at the school. Snicker is happy with Loo’s performance as a teacher and is equally happy with Bunn’s discomfort over Loo’s presence. The students are wary and uncomfortable around Loo, and he blithely ignores them. But Loo begins sneaking out of his quarters in Littlecote Abbey at night, for what reason nobody knows. Loo sees that one of the locals, a crooked lawyer, is immoral and strikes a deal with him: Loo gives the man poison, so that he can kill his wife, in exchange for a future favor from the man. Loo continues scheming in the background, and Jack Ford and the other decide that Loo is a bad man and begin closely watching him. They venture to play a prank on him by placing a skeleton under his bed. He does not react to it, disappointing the boys. Some time later he rigs the skeleton so that it flies through their bedroom at night, terrifying them. Loo observes that one of the students is unpopular with the other students, and a thief besides, and makes the student his assistant. When one of the students is found beaten to death, Loo lets the local police fumble around the crime scene while he launches his own investigation. Loo is unhappy about the murder and wants it solved as soon as possible, because the presence of the police at Littlecote Academy will endanger his own plans. Loo quickly solves the crime but frames a man he dislikes for the crimes.

Eventually the boys help prove to Snicker that Loo is up to no good, and Snicker fires Loo. Loo leaves Littlecote, accompanied by his student assistant, but sets the Abbey on fire as he leaves in the hopes that all of the students will be killed. (They are out of the Abbey at the time and no one is injured). The students and faculty go on a trip to India, where the students discover Loo leading coastal pirates against white ship traffic. It is eventually revealed that Loo’s real name is Aaron Brand, and that he was a wandering robber and murderer in India and China. He is captured and tortured to death by a Turkish Bey who bears him a grudge.

The first twenty years of school stories after Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays had villainous teachers and headmasters, but the interaction of schoolboys with wicked foreigners began with Burrage’s Tom Wildrake’s Schooldays (1872), which started the trend of sending schoolboys abroad. But villainous foreign teachers were not a regular occurrence in school stories until the twentieth century. They became common in school stories of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Nelson Lee’s St. Frank’s stories (see: The Nelson Lee Mysteries). But these villainous foreigners were almost always white, as most school story authors (and publishers) would not put white students in the care of a non-white authority figure. Indian teachers, villainous or heroic, were especially rare.

Burrage makes Chunder Loo into a variation of the Yellow Peril character type. Loo is sinister and frightening to the students. He keeps a poisonous snake, Mehala, as a pet, and lavishes on Mehala all of the affection he withholds from other people: "Mehala is faithful. He can speak in a language that neither you nor any of your cursed dunderheaded race can understand. Had I parents, wife, children, the loss of all would be as nothing to compare to the loss of Mehala."3 Loo describes himself as a “refined scoundrel.” He is a schemer (although his ultimate goal is never made clear) and is ruthless; when asked for mercy, on the grounds that his victim is a good man, Loo responds, “I hate good men. They are poison to me. What I want is men who will do anything at a pinch.”4 

But unlike other contemporary Yellow Perils, like Kiang Ho (see: “Tom Edison’s Electric Sea Spider”) and Doctor Yen How (see: The Yellow Danger), Chunder Loo is not an exotic peril, but rather a familiar figure, a teacher of schoolboys. While there were no Indian schoolteachers in British public (private) schools in 1894, such a thing was relatively easy to imagine for the reading audience, given the constant two-way traffic between India under the Raj and England and the small but steadily growing number of Indian students in English schools. This may explain why Burrage, after having spent many pages establishing Chunder Loo as a formidable threat, abruptly reverses course and steadily demeans him before exposing him as a white man, the “yellow-skinned” Brand. Burrage has Chunder Loo commit a number of foolish acts, all out of character for him, so that his defeat can be particularly humiliating and he can be shown to be inferior not only to the schoolboys but also to average English man and woman. Although racism was always present in school stories before World War Two–even authors who were trying to condemn racism, like Frank Richards (a.k.a. “Charles Hamilton”), made their non-white characters into figures of mockery–The Lambs of Littlecote is more than usually bigoted. Burrage displays great ignorance of Hinduism, mangling the names of the gods and implying that they are serpent worshipers. Loo is often called a “nigger,” though never to his face, as he is too formidable and frightening to directly insult. And when Loo’s death is reported, the white students approve of torture as the method of death for him.

The Lambs of Littlecote also briefly engages in a piece of decades-old moral panic. One of the boys is seen reading the Newgate Calendar, causing the other students to tut-tut over his choice of reading matter and to imply that if he continues to read such works he’ll come to a bad end. (He does). Such fears were originally voiced about the Newgate novels in the 1820s and the 1830s (see: Proto-Mysteries), but by the 1890s crime fiction was an accepted part of the literary landscape. Its appearance in The Lambs of Littlecote is as incongruous and correspondingly amusing as a twenty-first century declaration that listening to rock music will lead to truancy.

Recommended Edition

Print: E. Harcourt Burrage, The Lambs of Littlecote. London: Aldine Publishing, 1895.


1 John Springhall, “Disreputable adolescent reading: low-life, women-in-peril and school sport 'penny dreadfuls' from the 1860s to the 1890s," in Mike Huggins and J.A. Mangan, eds., Disreputable Pleasures: Less Virtuous Victorians at Play (New York: Frank Cass, 2004), 117.

2 E. Harcourt Burrage, The Lambs of Littlecote (London: Aldine Publishing, 1895), 2.

3 Burrage, The Lambs of Littlecote, 341.

4 Burrage, The Lambs of Littlecote, 245.