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Available on Amazon
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Haggard, Sir H Rider

Category: Writer

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, KBE, Kt (22 June 1856 – 14 May 1925) was an English writer of adventure novels, who spent six years in South Africa as a young man and later served on official commissions which took him to all parts of the British Empire.

He is most famous for his thirty four adventure novels set in countries as diverse as Iceland and Mexico, Constantinople and Ancient Egypt. Of these, King Solomon's Mines, 1885, and She, 1887, are possibly the best known and “reveal his enduring fascination for the landscape and peoples of Africa”.  The exploits of Alan Quatermain have long served as a template for the Indiana Jones character.  

She is generally considered to be one of the classics of imaginative literature and with 83 million copies sold by 1965, it is one of the best-selling books of all time.  She has been adapted for the cinema at least ten times, and was one of the earliest films to be made, in 1899 as La Colonne de feu (The Pillar of Fire), by Georges Méliès.

Haggard is also remembered for Nada the Lily (a tale of adventure among the Zulus) and the epic Viking romance, Eric Brighteyes.   Haggard was praised in 1965 by Roger Lancelyn Green, as a writer of “a consistently high level of literary skill and sheer imaginative power".

He was appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1912 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Why is he on the site?  Through his travels and experiences, Haggard developed a fervent interest in telepathy and spiritual experience, even having an experience himself.  His books are infused with his beliefs in this respect and he was involved with his fellow believers in London, in particular in the SPR, who were researching psychical phenomena.  Three of Haggard's novels were written in collaboration with his friend Andrew Lang who shared his interest in the spiritual realm and paranormal phenomena.


Henry Rider Haggard, generally known as H. Rider Haggard or Rider Haggard, was born at Bradenham, Norfolk, the eighth of ten children, to Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, a barrister, and Ella Doveton, an author and poet.  His father was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to British parents.  Haggard’s early life appears to have been entirely ruled by his father, but softened to a degree by his mother.

Haggard was initially sent to Garsington Rectory in Oxfordshire to study under Reverend H. J. Graham, but unlike his elder brothers who graduated from various private schools, he attended Ipswich Grammar School, in part because his father could no longer afford to maintain his expensive private education. After failing his army entrance exam, he was sent to a private crammer in London to prepare for the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office.  He never sat the exam.

In 1875, Haggard's father sent him to what is now South Africa to take up an unpaid position as assistant to the secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Natal. In 1876 he was transferred to the staff of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Special Commissioner for the Transvaal.

Haggard was heavily influenced by the larger-than-life adventurers whom he met in Colonial Africa, most notably Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham. He created his Allan Quatermain adventures under their influence, during a time when great mineral wealth was being discovered in Africa, as well as the ruins of ancient lost civilisations of the continent, such as Great Zimbabwe. Three of his books, The Wizard (1896), Black Heart and White Heart; a Zulu Idyll (1896), and Elissa; the Doom of Zimbabwe (1898), are dedicated to Burnham's daughter Nada, the first white child born in Bulawayo.

It is clear that as Rider Haggard managed to shed the yoke of his father’s strong influence, his true vocation as a writer became more apparent.  Furthermore, he was not in sympathy at all with his father’s views.  Although the swashbuckling aspects of his novels portray many of the stereotypes associated with colonialism, they are yet unusual for the degree of sympathy with which the native populations are portrayed. Africans often play heroic roles in his novels.

As best he could for the time, and bearing in mind he had to earn a living from his novels, Haggard showed considerable respect for Africans.  Although the main characters are typically European (though not invariably), he weaves in story lines that helped change attitudes. Notable examples are the heroic Zulu warrior Umslopogaas and Ignosi, the rightful king of Kukuanaland, in King Solomon's Mines.

Interesting is his perceived target audience.  Haggard himself wanted to write books for boys, but he ultimately had an influence on children and adults around the world.  I remember when King Soloman’s Mines and She were serialised in my brother’s comics [Eagle], and each week’s instalment was eagerly awaited.   King Solomon’s Mines was also apparently being read in public schools [and] aloud in class-rooms all over the UK.


Still in his very early twenties, Haggard fell in love with Mary Elizabeth "Lilly" Jackson.  He desperately wanted to marry her, but he had no paid employment in Africa at the time.  So, in 1878 he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal, and wrote to his father informing him that he intended to return to England and marry her.

His father forbade it.

He instructed  Haggard to make a proper career for himself; and Lilly, probably realising the hopelessness of the situation, married Frank Archer, a well-to-do banker, in 1879.

When Haggard was a successful novelist, he was contacted by his former love, Lilly Archer, née Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had embezzled funds entrusted to him and had fled bankrupt to Africa. Haggard installed her and her sons in a house and saw to the children's education. Lilly eventually followed her husband to Africa, where he infected her with syphilis before dying of it himself. Lilly returned to England in late 1907, where Haggard again supported her until her death on 22 April 1909.

These details were not generally known until the publication of Haggard's 1981 biography by Sydney Higgins.

Marriage and novels

When Haggard eventually returned to England, he was in his late twenties.  He married a friend of his sister, Marianna Louisa Margitson in 1880. They had a son named Jack (who died of measles at age 10) and three daughters, Angela, Dorothy and Lilias.  Lilias Rider Haggard wrote a biography of her father entitled The Cloak That I Left (published in 1951).

Moving back to England in 1882, the couple settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk, Louisa's ancestral home. Later they lived in Kessingland and had connections with the church in Bungay, Suffolk. Haggard turned to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1884.

His practice of law was desultory and much of his time was taken up by the writing of novels which he saw as being more profitable”.

Haggard lived at 69 Gunterstone Road in Hammersmith, London, from mid-1885 to circa April 1888. It was at this Hammersmith address that he completed King Solomon's Mines (published in September 1885).

A sequel soon followed entitled Allan Quatermain, followed by She and its sequel Ayesha.  All are swashbuckling adventure novels, tinged with the paranormal and an escape from the humdrum and mundane as well as being set in the context of the places he had known - Africa of course, but the action of Ayesha happens in Tibet.

Last years and Death

Haggard was also involved in agricultural reform and was a member of many commissions on land use and related affairs, work that involved several trips to the Colonies and Dominions.  This effort eventually led to the passage of the 1909 Development Bill.  Haggard also wrote about agricultural and social reform, in part inspired by his experiences in Africa, but also based on what he saw in Europe. At the end of his life, he was a staunch opponent of Bolshevism, a position that he shared with his friend Rudyard Kipling [also on the site]. The two remained lifelong friends.

Haggard stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a Conservative candidate for the Eastern division of Norfolk in 1895, losing by 197 votes.

Haggard continued writing until his death on 14 May 1925 in Marylebone, London aged 68. His ashes were buried at St Mary's Church, Ditchingham.

Graham Greene, in an essay about Haggard, stated:

Enchantment is just what this writer exercised; he fixed pictures in our minds that thirty years have been unable to wear away.



Many of Rider Haggard’s books can be read free at Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive, or listened to via LibriVox (public domain audiobooks).






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