Mary Fortune

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Mary Fortune
Born 1833
Died 1911
Pen name Waif Wander
Nationality Australian
Genre crime fiction
Spouse Joseph Fortune
Percy Rollo Brett

Mary Helena Fortune (c. 1833 – 1911) was an Australian writer, under the pseudonyms Waif Wander and W.W. She was one of the earliest female detective writers in the world,[1] one of the earliest women to write detective fiction, and probably the first to write from the viewpoint of the detective.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Fortune was born around 1833 in Belfast, Ireland, she traveled with her father to Canada. In Melbourne, Canada, she married Joseph Fortune on 25 March 1851 and had one son. When her father left Canada for the Australian goldfields, she followed him, leaving her husband behind and traveling to Australia with her son, she arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, on 3 October 1855.

In November 1856, she gave birth to a second son; in January 1858 her elder son died. On 25 October 1858, Mary married Percy Rollo Brett (possibly bigamously) at Dunolly, Victoria.[1][2]

A prolific storyteller, she wrote in all over 500 detective stories over 40 years, most featuring Detective Mark Sinclair.

During her lifetime, she was popular enough to have a racehorse[3] and greyhound[4] named after her.

She died an alcoholic and was arrested several times for public drunkenness,[5] her death passed without public notice, in part because she wrote under pseudonyms.[6] For example 'Waif Wander'.[7] Author Lucy Sussex discovered Fortune's unmarked grave in 2016.

Her horror fiction story "The White Maniac: A Doctor's Tale" (included in James Doig's anthology Australian Ghost Stories (2010)) verges on being a tale of vampirism, but its theme is in fact anthropophagy.

The Detective's Album[edit]

She is best known for The Detective's Album, the longest-running early detective serial anywhere in the world.[8] Narrated by detective Mark Sinclair, The Detective's Album was serialized for forty years in the Australian Journal from 1868 to 1908; in 1871, seven of the stories were published as a book, as The Detective's Album: Tales of the Australian Police.[9]



  • Bertha's Legacy (1866)
  • Clyzia the Dwarf : A Romance (1866)
  • The Secrets of Balbrooke : A Tale (1866)
  • The Bushranger's Autobiography (1872)
  • Dan Lyons' Doom (1884)
  • Dora Carleton : A Tale of Australia (1886)

Short story collections[edit]

  • The Detective's Album : Tales of the Australian Police (1871)
  • The Fortunes of Mary Fortune (1996) edited by Lucy Sussex
  • Three Murder Mysteries (2009)

Poetry collection[edit]

  • Cooee and Other Poems (1995)

Examples of her work[edit]

Online resources[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sussex, Lucy. "Fortune, Mary Helena (c. 1833 – c. 1910)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Bryan's Memoir: Mary Fortune. 'Waif Wander' and the Kelly Gang- About Father. Part 1". Lockwood Seasons. Blogspot. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "Kingston Turf Club". The Argus. Melbourne. 20 March 1891. p. 10. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Queanbeyan Coursing Club". Queanbeyan Age. 14 September 1887. p. 2. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  5. ^"Mary%20Fortune"&searchLimits=exactPhrase=Mary+Fortune|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1866-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||l-advstate=Tasmania|||l-advcategory=Article|||l-advcategory=Law%2C+Courts%2C+And+Crime|||l-advcategory=Arts+And+Culture|||sortby
  6. ^ Sussex, Lucy. "A Woman of Mystery: Mary Fortune". The Lucy Sussex Home Page. Lucy Sussex. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Doig, James (June 2011). "Australian Ghost Stories". The National Library Magazine: 22–24. ISSN 1836-6147. 
  9. ^ Lemon, Barbara. "Fortune, Mary Helena (c. 1833 – 1910)". Australian Women's Archives Project. The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) and University of Melbourne. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 

External links[edit]