The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Pete, Jack, and Sam Adventures (1895-1922)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Pete, Jack, and Sam Adventures were written by S. Clarke Hook and first appeared in “Pete at Margate” (The Halfpenny Marvel 80 no.4, May 18, 1895). S. Clarke Hook (1857-1923) was a traveler and story paper writer.
Pete, Jack and Sam are jolly young adventurers who travel around the world, fighting bad guys and saving fair young maidens. Their opponents range from ordinary criminals to Ku Klux Klan-like racist groups to anarchists to revolutionaries to corrupt foreign governments. Pete, Jack and Sam are almost always rich enough to afford such trips with ease. They blithely charter trains and balloons and often succeed in unearthing large amounts of buried treasure. Pete, Jack and Sam journey from the Andes to Alaska to Japan to the Transvaal, with stops in Glasgow, Northwich, and Canterbury. Many of the trio’s adventures take place in Spanish America, reflecting Hook's fluency in Spanish and experiences in Central and South America.
Pete, Jack and Sam are easily distinguishable. Jack Owen is a wandering, adventurous English teenager, a former Oxford man. He is headstrong and the one most likely to get the trio in trouble. Sam Grant, an American, is a skilled hunter and an ace shot. He is a more articulate version of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, although he may have been Hook’s homage to R.M. Ballantyne’s Peterkin Gray (see: The Coral Island). And Pete is a tall, strong, extroverted “Negro,” a former sailor and circus strong man. The three meet in a mining camp in Bolivia. In the talons of an eagle they find a gold plate bearing the date 1801, an engraving reading, “Am starving amid untold wealth,” and a latitude and longitude. With this information Pete, Jack, and Sam discover their first treasure, which they used to fund their many adventures. Along the way they pick up a faithful and smart dog, Rory.
The Pete, Jack and Sam stories were popular, and although Hook’s style is ordinary the stories have a certain crude energy. One of Hook’s editors wrote that Hook took more liberties with geography and the probabilities than any other author, and that Hook would have put lions and tigers in Iceland if he wanted them for a story. The stories are still moderately enjoyably, on a basic level, as blood-and-thunder adventure. Hook wastes no time with fripperies such as narrative style, lengthy descriptions, or complex characterization, but the stories have a brisk pace, an undeniable vitality, and feature lead characters who are (unusually for the story papers) neither prissy nor sadistic (see: The Jack Harkaway Adventures) but who smoke, gamble, and drink whiskey.
However, what the modern reader is likely to be struck by is Pete. Initially Pete was racist comic relief; Jack and Sam shared the heroic duties, and Pete was left to be a figure of derision. But early in the series Hook shifted the focus of the series on to Pete, whose personality changed dramatically and who became the leader of the trio. Pete is always cheerful and outgoing. He has a great deal of bonhomie and an almost supernatural strength and endurance. The new Pete unfortunately retained certain racist elements. But he was smart, clever, and the undeniable hero of the series. It is Pete who always devises the canny plans to rescue himself and Jack and Sam from whatever fix they were in. Jack and Sam both defer to Pete and defend him against white men who tried appeal to Jack and Sam on the basis of race. When Jack or Pete tease Pete, for example by comparing his looks to a gorilla’s, Pete teases back by saying that the gorillas look like Yanks.
In a move without precedent in nineteenth century British story papers, Pete is not an anti-black stereotype. Unlike Ching Ching (see: The Ching Ching Adventures) and other heroic Chinese figures, Pete speaks in coherent, articulate English, different from the bigoted patois usually seen in other black story paper characters. Pete has a wide knowledge of the world and is always successful at whatever he turns his hand to, whether it is learning ventriloquism, making money, or running a theater troupe. And Hook made a point in the Pete, Jack, and Sam stories of ensuring that the snobs and bigots who target Pete get their comeuppance by story’s end. Pete is often badly injured in the stories, but he always recovers by the next story and resumes his role as the dominant member of the trio.
Print: K. Boyd, Manliness and the Boys' Story Paper in Britain: A Cultural History, 1855-1940. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2002