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R. S. Surtees Biography

Robert Smith Surtees was a novelist and an editor. His most famous work included a character named Jorrocks, invented by him. His character was good-hearted but vulgar mouthed. He published his work under the name R. S. Surtees.

Early Life and Education

Robert was born in 1805, May 17th, his father was Anthony Surtees, Durham family’s member. He got his education at Ovingham School and later he went to Durham School.

R. S. Surtees - Robert Smith Surtees
Robert Smith Surtees


Robert was married to Elizabeth Jane Fenwick in 1841. She was Addison Fenwick’s daughter. They had three children together including two daughters and a son. Their son Lord Gort, later became a commander in BEF in 1940.

Literary Career of Robert Smith Surtees

Robert wanted to study law and he left London to do that. He faced financial difficulties to proceed with his career, so he started working for the Sporting Magazine. In 1831, Robert and Rudolph Ackerman founded N.S.M (New Sporting Magazine), Rudolph was the publisher of that magazine and Robert became the editor.

He started publishing his novels sometimes in N.S.M and sometimes some other magazines in parts. After finishing the complete novel, he would combine them and release as a book

In 1835, Robert stopped working as a lawyer, and later in 1838, his father died and he inherited Hamsterley Hall and moved there. He started hunting and riding, it was his passion and most of his works includes hunting and riding horses. He continued writing and publishing anonymously.

Jorrocks by R. S. Surtees

Jorrocks is one of the characters invented by Robert Smith Surtees’ novels. Jorrcoks is the most famous of all the characters he invented. In 1838, Roberts published Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities as a novel and before it was published in parts in N.S.M.

Jorrocks was a character with a good heart but a person with a very vulgar way of talking. It made a great success, it was soon very famous. So Robert continued using Jorrocks in his upcoming novels.

Jorrocks appeared in many of his novels such as Plain or Ringlets?, Ask Mamma, Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour, Hawbuck Grange, Hillingdon Hall, and Handley Cross. These were the novels published from 1838 until he died. Mr. Romford’s Hounds was released after the demise of Robert. John Leech was the illustrator of many of these novels.

Soapey Sponge character by R. S. Surtees

One more character invented by Robert was Soapey Sponge. Soapey Sponge appeared in Mr. Sponge’s Tour. This character was a hero and is known to be Robert’s best work ever.

After Robert moved to his inherited family house, Hamsterley Hall, all of his novels were written there. He had a habit of writing while standing. He would just stand in front of his desk and write. Another writer known to have the same style of writing is Victor Hugo.

Robert’s novel had characters that were not friendly, his characters were mostly filled with ignorance, greed, and envy. He was known as a satiric writer. When he described England and its food, discomfort, and ill manners, it was admired by the readers. But the thing that most people admired was his way of describing hounds running around in the open countryside.

Robert did not use places that were known to local people, mostly the places he used in his novels would be from North-East such as Winford Rig and Howell. His novels had very sharp observations form social issues around him, some might say that he had a keener eye for observing than Charles Dickens.

R. S. Surtees

Later Life and Death

Robert was friends with Ralph Lambton, lived in Durham, and had headquarters in Sedgefield County Durham. In 1856, Robert became Durham’s, Lord High Sheriff. He spent his final years there until he died in 1864, March 16th, in Brighton. His burial took place at Ebchester Church.

Legacy of Robert Smith Surtees

In 1979, a society in the honour of Robert was founded after his demise. The objectives of this society were mainly to promote the literature by R.S. Surtees and to promote his art to everyone.

Society would if deemed necessary, publish his biographies or other works produced by him. If any work produced by him is found, which is yet not published, society will raise funds to publish it. If the society wants to republish any work done by Robert, the committee will have to approve and later it will be republished.

As of now, the novels by Robert are no longer read so society aims are to maintain the writer’s reputation and to develop an interest in his works.

Rudyard Kipling published a novel in 1899 as Stalky and Co., in the novel, the main character was Stalky and he used many lines and quotes from Robert’s novel Handley Cross.

Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Dalloway had this line about Robert’s different characters saying, “There were Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities; there were Soapey Sponge and Mrs. Asquith’s Memoirs and Big Game Shooting in Nigeria, all spread open.”