Russell Thorndike was the author of a series of novels featuring the Rev Dr Christopher Syn, the smuggler hero set in and around Romney Marsh.
Russell Thorndike was born on 6 February 1885 in Rochester. His father was the Rev Arthur J W Thorndike and his mother, Agnes Macdonald Bowers. His father, who became Hon Cannon of Rochester, had two sisters Sybil and Eileen and a brother Frank. Russell attended St George’s School Windsor followed by King’s College, Rochester and Ben Greets Academy. Religion, Music and Drama were his main interests.
Russell Thorndike’s first appearance on stage was in Cambridge in 1904 and he went on to tour various countries acting.
He joined the army as a trooper in the 1st Westminster Dragoons between 1914 and 1916 but was invalided out after being wounded. In 1916 he returned to acting and in 1922 played the leading man in his own Dr. Syn play. He played many parts in West End productions and films as well as writing several stories before his Dr. Syn books.
Russell Thorndike c1925 (Ack. 39)
Russell was a frequent visitor to Dymchurch where his mother owned a cottage in Marine Terrace. He particularly enjoyed village life and was keen to help with local activities.
The novels of Dr. Syn were written by Russell during his visits to Dymchurch. He would sit on the sea wall and write his stories using fact and fiction, local names and local places.
Russell Thorndike passed away in Norfolk on 10th November 1972, aged 87.
Russell wrote seven novels featuring Dr Syn. The first was in 1915 and was first intended to stand alone. Indeed, the narrative takes place over a span of years and ends with Dr Syn's death. However, public demand for more such tales proved so great that Russell resurrected Dr Syn twenty years later with six more books, all 'prequels' telling of his earlier adventures. The seven novels are:
Dr Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh
The first Dr Syn novel written in 1915, we are introduced to the complex Christopher Syn, the kindly vicar of the little town of Dymchurch.
Dr Syn on the High Seas
The second in the series written in 1935, the story recalls his early life as a young Oxford scholar who cast aside the Bible for the sword. In his quest for revenge he takes to the sea to find his enemy and he became Captain Clegg.
Dr Syn Returns
Dr Syn returns to become the vicar of Dymchurch along with Mr Mipps who became the village Sexton and undertaker. He occupied the pulpit by day and rode the marshes by night as a smuggler, the scarecrow with his demon riders.
The Further Adventures of Dr Syn
This details Syn’s adventures as leader of the gang loyal to his King. He aided the destruction of French privateers in the Channel.
The Courageous Exploits of Dr Syn
Dr. Syn, leader of the nightriders, meets his most dangerous enemy, Captain Blaine of the Royal Navy. The scarecrow becomes a national hero.
The Amazing Quest of Dr Syn
Welshman arrives in Dymchurch to identify Dr Syn to inform him he has inherited a vast sum of money. He is then sought by a villain who plans to kill him and obtain his money.
The Shadow of Dr Syn
Once again the Reverend Dr Syn, the notorious smuggler rides as the scarecrow at the head if his nightriders on the Romney Marsh. Dr. Syn’s real identity comes to light when the King’s men come to Dymchurch. The strange part he played in the mystery of Romney Marsh makes Dr Syn a decidedly unusual and thrilling story.
Russell Thorndyke's 'Dr Syn' bookcover
Dr Syn was also filmed in 1937 as Doctor Syn, remade in 1962 as Captain Clegg and again in 1963 as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.
Russell Thorndike also wrote 'The Slype', a mystery adventure novel set in southern England in 1923. Set after the Syn novels, this story is tangentially related, and features an erstwhile cameo by one of the Doctor Syn characters.
For more information please visit our Dr Syn page.
The Book of Syn: Russell Thorndike, Dr Syn and the Romney Marsh by Keith Swallow