by Roger Harris


 A restored copy of an original John Hamilton ‘wrap-around’ dust jacket for ‘The Cruise of the Condor’ – this one has been repriced at 4 shillings, rather than showing the original price of 3shillings and 6 pence


'The Cruise of the Condor' was the second Biggles book published by John Hamilton.  The story was then later published in 'Modern Boy' Magazine in seven parts under the title “Wings of Fortune” from issue 340 (dated 11th August 1934) to issue 346 (dated 22nd September 1934).  The book was later published in the Boy’s Friend Library Series, as issue 617, “The Cruise of the Condor”, dated 7th April 1938 and this version has a lengthy added passage at the end – more of that later!


The book itself was published by John Hamilton Ltd, in August 1933, with the British Library receiving their copy on 5th September 1933 (so it must have been published earlier than this date). 


The Cruise of the Condor was published in at least half a dozen editions by John Hamilton and was the first full length book to feature Biggles.


The price of the book was 3 shillings and 6 pence and all editions of the book were published as part of the John Hamilton "Ace" series.  Just a brief note about "old money".  Prior to decimalisation there were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound - so there were 240 pence in a pound.  3 shillings and 6 pence was therefore 42 pence (pence was referred to by the letter "d" in old money).  On decimalisation, a shilling became 5 new pence so in "new money" the book would have cost 17.5 pence.


The pages of my first edition are tinted blue along the top.  I have displayed photographs of my original first edition to show the dimensions of the book and also to show what the first few pages look like to assist people in identifying first editions of the book.


Above you can see three pictures showing the size of the first edition book cover.  The book is 190 millimetres long and is 50 millimetres wide.  The depth is 124 millimetres from the back of the spine to the tip of the cover.


You can also see pictures showing the covers of the book and the first few pages of the book showing the other titles in the “ACE” series listed. 



As with all of the John Hamilton books, there is no publication date.  The first edition of the book was “Made and Printed in Great Britain by The Camelot Press Ltd, London and Southampton”




Although generally speaking, it is hard to determine the different John Hamilton editions of "The Cruise of the Condor", as the books were undated, the first edition had no catalogue in the back of the book.  The book itself has blue boards and the titles are on the front cover and on the spine in gold gilt (although on my copy this has obviously faded over the years).  The book has 256 pages and the Sundial logo is at the base of the spine followed by the words “John Hamilton”.  The book has a colour frontispiece and four other illustrations by Howard Leigh.



And finally, here is a real treat for Biggles fans!   When the book was printed in the Boys’ Friend Library, number 617, dated 7th April 1938, there was a lengthy additional passage added.

The big mystery is was this added by W. E. Johns himself, or by an editor of the Boys’ Friend Library?  Opinions differ – but does it really matter?  Here is that passage, following on from the last line in the book          …………….. “THEN YOU’LL NEED A MECHANIC, SIR,” MURMURED SMYTH SOFTLY.



Biggles looked thoughtfully at his old comrade.  Dickpa’s rugged features reminded him in some ways of a rather amiable walnut.  “I am sure of one thing,” said Biggles, “and that is that we haven’t by any manner of means said the last word about Brazil and the Matey Grocer.”  “There’ll never be a last word said about Brazil,” murmured Dickpa, a faraway look in his eyes.  Biggles grinned.  “That friendly beggar at Mollendo said ‘Hasta la vista,’ which might stand for ‘make haste back and see what’s in the wind,’ or might not; but, speaking for myself, Dickpa, your fancy little trip to the Amazon country has interested me very greatly.  It has tickled my curiosity, as it were.  Of course, when you are back in London you will be slipping into a clean boiled shirt and getting on your feet at dinners to tell ‘em all about Brazil ----.”  “Not on your life!” growled Dickpa.  “Oh, yes, you will, and you’ll be writing in the papers about poor old Attaboy’s ancient stronghold and all that; but, though you may do justice to Da Silva’s crowd and our adventures, you won’t manage the rest.”  “The rest?” queried Dickpa.  “Yes; I mean the secret of Brazil --- the mystery of the land which nobody knows, the tangled beauty of its forests, the grandeur of it all, the brilliant colour and its dreams.”  “Not turning poet, are you?” said Dickpa anxiously.  Biggles shrugged.  “Nothing of the poet about me,” he said; “but there are some things about Brazil which fairly baffle the understanding and give the imagination a bit of overtime to do.  I’m bitten by it, I admit, and I’m not thinking of the great ants and uncles.  In fact, I feel ready to excuse fifty percent of the horrors up that river where it was touch and go with us.  There was a chap who once said ‘Ex Africa, semper aliquid novi.’  But he had better have said it of Brazil.”  Algy laughed.  “Great snakes, if Biggles doesn’t mean to go back!” he cried.  Biggles ignored the remark.  “Dickpa will tell you -----.”  I certainly shall not!” snapped Dickpa.  “What I mean is,” said Biggles, “that the whole place gets you, just as you explained to us at your country place over the cold beef and pickles.  It’s Brazil calling, and somehow one doesn’t want to ring off.  I heard a chap lecture on Brazil once.  Seems he had been to Rio, had a cup of coffee, and come back; but he didn’t know as much about Brazil as the brass monkey over the door of that shop in Houndsditch where they sell junk.  It’s the astounding wonder of the country which gets me.  We managed to get a peep behind the curtain and saw a trifle more than most.  That was our luck!”  “He calls it luck!” mused Algy; but Dickpa was thinking too hard to say a word.  “When you come to think of it,” continued Biggles, “You can’t help feeling sheer amazement.  The Portuguese got in at the front door of the country, but they have never been farther.  The civilisation they brought is just a fringe along the coast, and these conquistadores who have been billed so tremendously, but who were not such great shakes as they made out, they merely nibbled from the other side.  The point is that nobody has really touched Brazil – the immensities of the hinterland, the vivid colouring, the totally unexpected, the surprise-packet of sensations which meet you at every step.  The old explorers scratched the coast-line and ----.”  “Don’t talk about scratching --- have a heart!” pleaded Algy.  I was bitten till there was practically nothing left.”  “Oh all right – all right!” grunted Biggles, as he dropped into a deck-chair and lit a cigarette.  “I was only thinking of some of the wonders we saw, and of those we did not see.  There are a few.  And, personally, I want to have another go – I don’t know when, or how.  It’s like having a magic forest at the end of the garden with a fence placarded with notices, ‘verboten,’ ‘defense de passer’ all the lingos – don’t seem in nature to hold back.  And, what’s more to the point, I feel convinced in my own mind that, apart from the beauty of it, the giddy transformation scenes of all the rainbow hues, there’s locked up away there in those majestic vastnesses a something – a something ----.”  “Yes,” murmured Dickpa eagerly, as he leaned forward, a new light in his eyes.  “You say a something ----.”  Biggles flicked the ash off his cigarette.  “I mean,” he said dreamily, “that there may be something there which would act as the key to lots of our old problems – something that’s been lost in the limbo of the past; something so much worth having that even to dwell on it may well make one feel a bit squizzly about the eyes.  I mean something of splendour which was swept away when some of the ancient civilisations went down to the dust.  But ideas don’t perish, you know, any more than thought itself.  It is merely a matter of finding the way back and retrieving the treasure, picking up a thread, as it were, resuming work on jobs left unfinished by some of the grand old fellows who had made something of their beautiful country and were doing very well.”  Algy gave a chuckle.  “He means it!” he exclaimed, giving vent to a mock groan.  “He isn’t satisfied yet!” There was silence.  “Well, well, well,” said Dickpa, “let’s take things as they come.  We’ll get home first and run over what we have done.  Plenty of time – some day!”  Biggles nodded shortly.  “One of these fine mornings!” he said with a smile.