Chapter 5 Mexico


Rider Haggard:  His Extraordinary Life and Colonial Work. A Literary Critical Biography.

The Online Publication

By Geoffrey Clarke.

Chapter 5 Mexico

Image of Mexico-Tenochtitlan from the Codex Mendoza

 The aristocratic class in England would leave their children in the care of nannies or friends and travel on holiday and follow their life styles wherever it took them.   Rider Haggard was no exception, for he travelled to Mexico in 1891 at the age of thirty-three.  This visit led to the writing of Montezuma’s Daughter,[i] published in 1893.  Tragedy hit the family when, after six weeks, they received news by a telegraph message that their son, Jock, aged nine, had contracted and died from the measles.  Having “passed away peacefully”, he was to be buried in Ditchingham churchyard at the ‘chancel door’.  The Hagggards took the decision to remain in Mexico City and continue with their holiday and not to return forthwith to Norfolk, for “what was the good of returning home?”[ii]

 The Haggards travelled through the South of America over rough and dangerous terrain, sometimes attacked by marauding bands of Indians, and beset by disease, influenza and heatstroke.  Eventually, Haggard’s health suffered and ultimately he returned to Norfolk to write the romance that he had researched.  Travelling by sea via Liverpool, and by train arriving at the newly constructed Charing Cross station,  (see illustration Mary Evans ©) and Liverpool St. Station, they continued their journey after one night by hansom cab and rail, via Norwich, Beccles and the branch line, despondent and exhausted to Ditchingham Station, only to see the grave of their loved and lost child.


Rider and Louis were thrown together after the death of Jock and their love grew stronger.  Letters from Haggard to Louis show the depth of his affection for his wife, and omit any feelings for his former love Lillith.  Back in the fire of early love they could write endearing words of love:

Rider and Louis were thrown together after the death of Jock and their love grew stronger.  Letters from Haggard to Louis show the depth of his affection for his wife:

"My Dearest Louie;  A week ago you were scarcely a name to me, today you are more than all the World.... My own sweet love, you can never know what a rest and happiness this is to me... my past life has been so very lonesome and unhappy, that the prospect of your sweet companionship, of your true love, seems almost too good to be true.  It is like coming out of the darkness into light. Dearest and best you shall never regret this step if I can help it; if it is in the power of a man to make you happy you shall be happy.”[i]

Writing again in the same vein when apart Haggard declares that Louie is his true companion: 

My own sweet Louie… I have learnt to love you so very dearly, sweet Louie that it is a great trial to me being away from you… I can hardly realise that you have promised yourself to me to be my very own, my wife, my sharer of all my hopes, of all my joys and sorrows, giving your sweet companionship and comfort to my life… If anything were to take you away from me now, I don’t know what I should do.  I don’t indeed.  Sweet my love, it shall be my life’s endeavour to make you happy, and to prove to you that your hand rested on no broken reed.[ii]

Louie replied in similar affectionate terms writing her confirmation of her bond with Rider Haggard:

My Dearest Rider, Dear, your words of love and trust are doubly precious to me.  I am so thankful for them; and more than ever I feel that I can give myself up to you without one shadow of fear or regret and God helping me  "I will do you good and not evil all the days of my life."[iii]


There is nothing of Louie in public, nor of Carrie Kipling, nor a great deal of Blanche Leonora Alleyne (Mrs Lang). Yet Louie subalterned herself in domestic hobbies and entertainment.  She put on plays and tableaux vivants one of which was based on Montezuma's Daughter, and another, grander one - a performance in Ipswich of of The Pearl Maiden for charity.  Louie used her extensive community networks to provide the actors and singers.  She enjoyed croquet, again exhibiting her class preferences, and played tennis on the grass courts at Ditchingham House. 

On the occasion of Rider Haggard 's knighthood, she received a letter from her cousin-in-law condemning the Haggard family in round terms:

"My dear Louis, I am so delighted to hear of the very well deserved honour that has come to you and Rider... He stood out conspicuously in the list as the most distinguished man of them all and I have repeatedly heard it said in our rough Lancashire way that "they were a rotten lot, only Haggard" - after all they know a man when they see one ... You! Dear old Louie have done your part too none the less nobly and you have, as we say in cricket, "kept up your end" splendidly whatsoever came along - with dauntless courage and ability... I hope we shan't be struck off the visiting list!!! But we must be very circumspect when we do visit Sir Henry and her Ladyship."[iv]

A slightly ironic and quietly mocking, self aware, recognition of Louie's continued support and help to Haggard as a true helpmeet; yet suggesting that all was not what it seemed in the Haggard household....

Resulting from the visit of Rider and Louie to Mexico, Montezuma’s Daughter is the outcome.  Again, the perennial theme in Haggard’s Montezuma’s Daughter is of a man torn between two lovers, as Haggard declares through the voice of Thomas Wingfield:"she knew well that yonder across the seas I had children whom I loved by another wife, and though they were long dead, must always love … That I had been the husband of another woman she could forgive, but that this woman should have borne me children whose memory was still so dear, she could not forget…"[iii

 A great and moving love story that is shadowed in many of the narratives that Haggard produced, reflecting his emotional life torn between two women and needing to forget his great and abiding passion.

In Montezuma’s Daughter there existed another suitor, Geoffrey, just as Victoria Manthorpe has revealed about the Haggard brothers, his older brother in Ditchingham, and Andrew Haggard’s involvement with Louisa.[iv]  It appears that Andrew was in love with and was actively negotiating an engagement with Louisa prior to Rider’s acceptance in marriage.  In the text, this causes a rift between the two brothers, but to follow Manthorpe this was not the case with Andrew and Rider Haggard.  There is a dead baby, son of Thomas and his wife, Otomie, to assuage Haggard’s tragic loss of his own son, as it were.

It is revealing that Thomas’s love should be called Lilith, reflecting Haggard’s own life – his love for Lilith Jackson.  There are rumours, started by Sydney Higgins, that Haggard had relationships with African women whilst in Natal, and that he had always loved Lilith Jackson.  D S Higgins discovered her death certificate at the General Register Office in London in her married name of Elizabeth Archer.  In his autobiography Haggard recounts that “[I ] was present at her death-bed - for happily [I] was able to be of service to her in later life.”[i]  Mrs Nada Cheyne, Haggard’s granddaughter, opined that "if [Haggard] had a strong love in early life that would have explained" [it].  She added that “one’s first love is always the strongest.”[ii]  

The author of Early Days in East Africa, Frederick Jackson, the first Governor of Uganda, who is the brother of Mary Elizabeth Archer. wrote a letter to his cousin, Arthur C. Hunter, giving the revealing information that  "[I] have been away, staying with Rider Haggard and Lilly since the second and only returned last night."  Lilly cannot surely refer to Louie, but assuredly, in its family terms, refers to Elizabeth Jackson.  Does it mean staying with them together, or visiting them separately?  Higgins does not say.  It seems unlikely, with Rider Haggard's children born eighteen years before, that this speculation can be true  [i]

Thomas wears the mantle of Teule, a Spanish descendant of the god, Quetzal.  Captured in the early part of the novel by priests of Anahuac or Mexico, Thomas is saved from a cannibalistic ritual to Quetzal by Marina, the future mistress of Cortes.  He goes on to marry the daughter of the king, Montezuma, and becomes integrated into Aztec society until the war with the Spaniards intercedes.

It is singular that Thomas Wingate should have joined forces with a cannibalistic group of savages, yet Haggard appears to have an awareness that his character has sided with a nation whose savagery, slavery and brutality were legion and allows him to return to England to marry (again) and settle down. 

Haggard’s search for Aztec treasure whilst in Mexico had emanated from his friendship with Gladwyn Jebb, who had Information about a sulphur mine at the bottom of which a great treasure trove including “the golden head of Montezuma and jars of treasure”[i]  was reputed to be hidden.  Although mining attempts were made, and some minor finds obtained, he never discovered the treasure hoard of the Aztecs, and after the death of his son the search was discontinued.

 The examples of life drawing from his personal experiences are clear throughout the novel, for example, his perennial search for lost kingdoms and Aztec gold; but it is difficult to see where Lang’s input has much influence on the plot, except perhaps for the incidences of ring giving throughout the narrative.

One of the many friends that Haggard made was Sir Gladwyn Jebb. He was recommended to Haggard by someone in the City of London and subsequently became a close friend and had continued their friendship in Mexico where they searched for Montezuma’s treasure.  Haggard used the introduction to his biography, written by his widow[i]  to praise and regard Gladwyn Jebb in the highest light:

"But his record remains, the record of a brave and generous man who, as I firmly believe, never did, never even contemplated, a mean or doubtful act. To those who knew him and have lost sight of him there remain also a bright and chivalrous example and the memory of a most perfect gentleman."

When they were in Mexico they were attacked at night by a band of robbers who attempted to climb up to the bedroom where Glebb was sleeping.  He was fearless and did not even call the Haggards, who were staying, to help him and coolly waited in his bedroom with loaded pistols until, because of the barking of their guard dog and some loose plaster, they failed to scale the walls and enter the unsecured window.  As Haggard  remembers:

"I remember thinking, and I still think, that this conduct showed great courage and great unselfishness on the part of Mr. Jebb. Most people would have retreated at the first alarm; but this, with the utter fearlessness which was one of his characteristics, he did not do, since the dollars in his charge were too heavy to carry, and, before men could be found to assist him, they would have been secured by the robbers, who knew well where to look for them."[ii]

Haggard’s interest in myth had taken him to Mexico, where there existed a long held belief in a divinity in the shape of a crocodile.  In other places, including Egypt, it was the long lost story of an ancient reptile that possesses divine powers. Haggard considered that the reptile featured in his story The People of the Mist, 1894, was regarded as a god by some of the inhabitants of a far-flung province of Mexico called Chiapas.[i]  Originally imagined as a snake, [see The World’s Desire where the snake or the star are the binary choice] the creature is changed to a crocodile to obtain more literary credit for the author.

 In the Introduction, he explains that an editor of a South African newspaper called “The Zoutpansberg Review” wrote that the people of the district venerated the crocodile as a god and worshipped its image:“a holy crocodile which they name the snake, the biggest crocodile in the whole world, and the oldest…”[ii]  This suggested to Haggard that his own imagination, as we saw with Peter Brome in Fair Margaret, was often linked to actual events in real life of which he could have had no knowledge.

 Leonard Outram remains the younger son of Sir Thomas Outram, falls in love with and is engaged to the lovely Jane Beach, but is not expected to inherit money due to the family’s financial crash.  (Young men being lost in their fortunes being a common theme from Dickens’s Oliver Twist onwards, and also with Haggard, reminding the reader of his family circumstances.)  Rejected by Jane’s father, he vows to return to Jane a rich man again.  Leonard determines to make a fortune elsewhere – as with Rider – gold mining with his elder brother, Thomas, in Africa.  Haggard’s treasure was always organic and mineral – ivory,ostrich feathers, diamonds and gold.  In 1892 the Kalinin diamond had been found by the de Beers Company under Cecil Rhodes.  Weighing 600 grams,(1 pound 5.16437720ounces) it presented as off coloured, irregular and huge.  Subsequently, it was offcut into many other saleable diamonds.  Of gold there was much, but it needed to be separated from the quartz, requiring advanced mining skills.

 With Thomas dead from fever and toil, Leonard survives to carry on his vow to obtain wealth and return to find and marry Jane.  He composes a document that promises to reward him, on finding the treasure of the people of the mist, with a ruby that would make his fortune.  When he has written the document, “perhaps one of the most remarkable that were ever written since Pizarro drew up his famous agreement for the division of the prospective spoils of Peru”,[iii]  they proceed on the long journey along the Zambezi to the mountains where the rubies are to be found.

 After much slaughter and human sacrifice the ruby is won, and Juanna and Otter, the two main activists, can supply the reader interest further until Leonard can return home to England with Juanna as his wife and Otter still in tow.  Fortune rests on Leonard's shoulders once again as a legacy comes into his hands and he can discover the news that Jane has died, and her fortune and ancestral property is passed by a will made to him.

 The romance has the usual features of a Haggard story, despite turgid, lengthy passages of pointless, potboiling page filling to remind the reader of the "Two Minute Haggard" with its resemblance to the Haggard personal life history thus: Protagonist in love with local maiden - Travels to Africa to find fortune - Beautiful native girl falls in love with him -Difficulties, hardships and major fighting with local warriors- Finds subterranean passage/underground river leading to the gold  - Ancient ceremonies, human sacrifice and killing with the protagaonist saved - Fills pockets with treasure - Leaves Africa and returns to marry local maiden and live happily ever after.

The lost world story The People of the Mist had been published as a serial in the magazine Tit-Bits Weekly from December, 1893 to August, 1894.  The first book edition was a little later brought out in London by Longmans in October, 1894.  In a later revamp as a paperback by Ballantine Books, its importance was proven as the 63rd volume of the renowned Ballantine Adult Fantasy editions in December, 1973.

© British Pathe - for preview only. Licence to be applied for.

Romantic stories from Haggard are autobiographical, sentimental and often follow a similar pattern where two sisters are involved and the romantic interest revolves around a lost fortune retrieved through travel, adventure and success in life. 

In Beatrice a middle-aged barrister, Geoffrey Bingham, out shooting for curlew and duck at the water’s edge becomes trapped by the tide.  Our heroine, Beatrice, the local schoolteacher, saves Geoffrey by taking him on board her paddling canoe. Geoffrey takes over the paddle but it breaks in the storm leaving them in danger of drowning.  But they land upon an open flat rock known as Table Rock and are then thrown into the water.  Washed nearly ashore, with Beatrice holding up the drowning barrister they are saved by a rescue party that had set out in a boat.

Geoffrey is married to Lady Honoria and the autobiographical element can be seen in Haggard’s love affair with another woman, Lilly Jackson.  Honoria is a cold, hard woman leaving her child and Geoffrey for three weeks as boarders in the Bryngelly vicarage where the two sisters, Beatrice and Elizabeth live. Haggard inserts a premonition at this stage that someone would be surely drowned in the stricken canoe.  

 Squire Owen Davies, the local landlord of the castle who has returned from sea as a wealthy man with an inheritance is in love with Beatrice but she rejects his proposal of marriage and has eyes now only for Geoffrey. Also Elizabeth is in love with Owen, and this leads to rivalry between the two sisters: “… so brooded Elizabeth in her heart, madded with malicious envy and passionate jealousy.” And later in the narrative: “Elizabeth’s jealousy was indeed bitter as the grave.”[i]

Unlike Rider Haggard, Geoffrey Bingham becomes an MP by only 10 votes (Haggard lost by a couple of hundred only) and takes solace in work and a furtive correspondence with Beatrice, who provides wisdom and counsel in his endeavours.  The quality of their letters is remarkable and provides the opportunity for Haggard to show his intellectual capacities and spiritual and moral power to the full: “But what are letters! One touch of a beloved hand is worth a thousand letters…”[i]  Indeed Beatrice loves him, yet it is not possible for the late-Victorian novelist to bring to completion an affair with a married lover, nor for early twentieth century novelists either, due to the moral code of the period. “Oh! What a position was hers.  And it was wrong, too.  She had no right to love the husband of another woman.  But right or wrong the fact remained: she did love him.”[ii]

Geoffrey and Beatrice meet again and express their own undying love for each other.  Sleepwalking, anonymous letters and a threat of divorce from Honoria complete the tale, but the only solution possible for the author is the death of the heroine who paddles out to sea never tor return so the story ends in Beatrice’s suicide at sea in her lonely and fated canoe.

As mentioned previously, Haggard believed that in previous incarnations he had been a Norseman, an Icelandic warrior, an Egyptian royal and a Restoration gentleman. In When the World Shook his character claims that he was a descendent of his father, the Rev Humphrey Arbuthnot, who had an ancestral connection with what he terms the Carolian times, because his ancestors had lived in that time [of Cromwell] and had given support to the parliamentary side.[i]

 Wishful thinking takes a great part in Haggard’s writing, for a resemblance exists between the actual recorded biographical details and the plot of When the World Shook. Humphrey Arbuthnot becomes a rich man and a successful author, and one can relish the idea of Haggard, as if he were writing autobiographically, sitting down to compose this self-congratulatory passage:

 "A marvel came to pass; my first book was an enormous success.  The whole world talked of it.  A leading journal, delighted to have discovered someone, wrote it up, other journals followed suit to be in the movement.  One of them, I remember, which had already discussed it with three or four sneering lines, came out with a second and two- column notice.  It sold like wildfire and I suppose had some merit for it is still read, though few knew that I wrote it, since fortunately, it was published under a pseudonym.["ii]

Lost treasure and lost worlds were the preoccupation from Mexico, South America and the Andes to Spanish gold and Montezuma’s silver.  In The Treasure of the Lake there exists a lake named Mone to be found in the secret land of the Dabanda of the holy lake, which lay beyond the Ruga Ruga mountains.  The main object of the journey is to visit Engoi on the island formed in the lake for “she is the shadow of the Engoi upon Earth” [i]  and is the reason Haggard names her Engoi or Shadow, and to carry the authorial centre of the story as ‘Lord Macumazahn’ - Allan Quatermain.   Other minor characters he draws are Hans and White Mouse.  

White Mouse is the romantic interest, for she is pretty and vivacious.  She is captured by the party that Haggard terms ‘the Arabs’[i] and when asked to hand her over to Allan Quatermain the group reply that she is  a witch and has changed into the shape of an owl and escaped from them to “Satan, her Master”,[ii]  thus introducing the occult into his stories again.

 There are also the early versions of Tom and Jerry, who are reputed to recall the famous “gay dogs” of the eighteenth century in England.  Two exciting episodes relate to the terrifying storm that breaks over the land, and the second is about the elephant dance.

 From the forest in front of us… they came into the moonlit open space and marched towards the mound with their regulated tread …there were at least a thousand of them…The herds arrived.  They arranged themselves in a semicircle, deep, curved lines of them…The bulls massed themselves together… and charged past the mound from right to left, trumpeting as they charged.  Then began a kind of dance, so swift and intricate I could not follow it, a kind of unearthly quadrille… Perhaps it was some kind of ceremony of betrothal, I do not know.[iii]

Proceeding through a long tunnel and finally emerging, by using a rope, through a steep funnel–shaped hole in the terrain Kaneke, Hans and the narrator Macumazahn continue on the usual Haggard adventure, only to be chased by elephants and to run back to camp with the ignominy for Quatermain of being the great white hunter who fled.  

Haggard imagines a white man named Arkle, who had had a vision in Trafalgar Square of a beautiful woman to be found in an island on a lake behind some mountains formed from an extinct volcano.  Pursuing his vision and dream of a soul mate, Arkle travels with Quatermain to the lake to the north of the Congo, where he finds the beautiful woman named Shadow, who confirms that she is the one claiming to be his soul mate in the vision he had in London.  Finding a lost African soul mate for the English adventurer, like Ayesha and Foulata, is an infrequent occurrence in Haggard.  And so as an Allan Quatermain novel it is fresh and vigorous for a posthumous publication - 24 September, 1926.

The novel was issued with a dust wrapper, plus it was also issued in Hutchinson’s Adventure Story Magazine as a serial from February 1926 to May 1926.  It sold seven thousand copies.  A second edition was produced in 1971 by Hutchinson, yet before that there existed an American edition from Doubleday, Page and Co in New York with the slightly different title of Treasure of the Lake - 1926.  Hutchinson’s Adventure Story Magazine issued stories of African adventure, thrillers and “stirring stories from all parts of the world”[ii]  There was also Hutchinson’s Mystery Story Magazine which merged with it a year later to become Hutchinson’s (Adventure and) Mystery Story Magazine.  There was also a colourful and luridly illustrated front cover to the issue, which Haggard had contributed to at the very end of his career


[i] Rider Haggard, Montezuma’s Daughter, (London: Longmans, 1893).

[ii] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 14.

[iii] Haggard, Montezuma’s Daughter, 8.                      

[iv] Victoria Manthorpe, Children of the Empire The Victorian Haggards, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1996) 98.

[i]  Letter Haggard to Louie Margitson, 29. 11. 1879.  Cheyne Family Collection.  

[ii] Letter Haggard to Louie Margitson, 9. 12. 1879.  Cheyne Family Collection.  

i] Letter Louie Margitson to Haggard,   3. 4. 1880.  Cheyne Family Collection.

[1] Mrs Nada Cheyne, interview Ditchingham Lodge, 30. 06 12.

[i] Letter in Royal Commonwealth Society, 15 January 1899.  D S Higgins, Haggard’s Secret Love, London Magazine, February 1987, Volume 26, No. 11, 38-45.

[v] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 14. 

[vi] Mrs Gladwyn Jebb and H. R Haggard. A Strange Career: Life and Adventures of John Gladwyn Jebb (London and Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1894).

[vii] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 15.

[i] Rider Haggard, When the World Shook, Being an account of the adventures of Bastin, Bickley and Arbuthnot.(London: Cassell 1919).

[ii] Haggard, When the World Shook, 155.

[i] Rider Haggard, The People of the Mist published as a serial in the magazine Tit-Bits Weekly from December, 1893 to August, 1894.  (London: Longmans 1894) 2.

[ii] Haggard, The People of the  Mist, 45.

[iii] Haggard,The People of the Mist, 105.

[i]  Rider Haggard, Beatrice (Kessinger Publishing, 2004).

[i] Haggard, Beatrice  136.

[ii] Haggard, Beatrice  140.

[i] Rider Haggard, The Treasure of the Lake (London: Hutchinson, 1926).

[ii] Hutchinson’s Adventure Story Magazine (London: Hutchinson, 1926).

[i] Phrases such as ‘half-breed Arab’, ‘Arab villain’ and ‘their religious practices’ serve to 'Other’  the group of combatants in the adventure.

[ii] Haggard, The Treasure of the Lake, 93. 

[iii] Haggard, The Treasure of the Lake, 103.