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Major A. Griffiths

(1838—1908) inspector of prisons and author


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(1838–1908). Born at Poona, India, the son of an army officer, he was educated at King William's College, Isle of Man. He joined the 63rd Manchester Regiment in February 1855, saw the fall of Sebastapol during the Crimean War, and served in Nova Scotia and Toronto. He rose to the rank of brigade-major during his term in Gibraltar (1864–70). While stationed there he edited the Gibraltar Chronicle (1864), contributed to other journals, and was military correspondent for the Times. Griffiths retired in May 1875, was appointed to the Prison Service, and eventually became Inspector of Prisons (1878–96) and a well-known penologist. He represented Britain at an international conference on criminal anthropology in Geneva in 1896. He edited (1901–4) the Army and Navy Gazette, and at other times Home News, the Fortnightly Review, and the World. Griffiths popularized criminology with a series of sensational works: Secrets of the Prison House (1893), A Prison Princess (1893), Criminals I Have Known (1895), Mysteries of Police and Crime (1898), and The Brand of the Broad Arrow (1900). His reminiscences, Fifty Years in the Prison Service (1904), shed an interesting light on Victorian penology. The knowledge gained during his prison work was put to good use in a series of highly popular crime stories. The Rome Express (1896) was one of his most successful books; other detective novels were In Tight Places (1900), Tales of a Government Official (1902), The Silver Spoon (1903), and Thrice Captive (1908). Military tales such as The Queen's Shilling (1873), The Thin Red Line (1900), and Before the British Raj (1903) were far less popular. Agony Terrace (1907) is the name of a remote room in the select Cynosure Club, a ‘place of penitence’ where many secrets are revealed and scandals rehearsed. Captain Macgregor, who has helped to resolve some of them, provides a selection. Griffiths also wrote serious historical works, including a contribution to the official History of the War in South Africa (1889–1902) (4 vols. 1906–10).

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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