Sax Rohmer

Author - Freelance Journalist


Arthur Henry Ward was born in Birmingham to a working class family with the expressed hopes that he would better his position by becoming part of The Civil Service. Only, having failed the Civil Service entrance examination, he instead became a clerk at the London office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, on 31 Lombard Street, at the age of 18. But, owing to some incident not discussed by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, he found himself in search of another job.

In 1905, he met “his girl with attitude,” Rose Elizabeth Knox, whom he would marry. Of course she had no illusions as to his career as she considered him to be a gentle dreamer, out of touch with daily reality, full of Irish charm and old world chivalry. An artist.

After their marriage, he became for a time a clerk at a gas company and then a cub reporter on the weekly paper, the Commercial Intelligence. As a struggling journalist and writer of short stores for several magazines, he wrote music-hall lyrics as well. He knew he had finally found his calling when he had two of stories accepted on the same day: The Mysterious Mummy and The Leopard-Couch .

At the time he was known to readers as either A. Sarsfield Ward or Arthur Sarsfield Ward. He did not publish as Sax Rohmer until 1912. It was with Rose’s strong encouragement that he use his nickname on the story The Sins of Severac Bablon accepted by Cassell’s Magazine.

Sax Rohmar was an name he used gathering research. He had evolved Sax from Saxon meaning ‘blade’ and rohmer equalling to ‘roamer.’ He had liked the idea of being a ‘bladerunner’ for a free lancer.

He was commissioned by a magazine editor to write up an article about ‘the Asiatic colony’ in Limehouse, and in particular, investigate a purported criminal mastermind suspected of being behind all the nefarious activity rumoured to be centred there. Limehouse drew him like metal fillings to a magnet. Rohmer became fascinated with the narrow, fog shadowed streets as he spent long nights in research along the cobbled lanes of West India Dock Road, Pennyfields, and Limehouse Causeway. Rose became concerned for his safety even thought she was well aware he had established contacts within the Metropolitan Police, who were in the midst of conducting their own investigation into this rumoured criminal organization. But, when the K Division’s investigation into the alleged mastermind came to naught, Sax turned his notes into a successful serialization, which became known as The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, published in 1913.

He remains fascinated even now by the Limehouse slums and occasionally rents a room there, still seeking the mysterious mastermind of the criminal underworld, which he has begun to suspect reaches far beyond Limehouse or the English shores, like Doyle’s Moriarty or his own Fu Manchu.

Sax Rohmer

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