Very little is known about Ernest Bramah’s life, and it was his lifelong wish that it be so. Throughout his professional life, he demonstrated a remarkable skill at avoiding personal interviews, preferring to keep his private life private. His publisher was compelled in a 1923 introduction to assert that, in fact, Ernest Bramah was a real person and not a pseudonym for another author.
He was born Ernest Bramah Smith in Manchester, England, and most sources give the date as either 1868 or 1869. From his autobiographical first book, English Farming and Why I Turned It Up (1894), it can be learned that he dropped out of high school to try his hand at farming. It was not a success. Bramah subsequently turned to journalism and became a correspondent for a small newspaper. Later, in London, he became secretary to the publisher Jerome K. Jerome and eventually joined the editorial staff of Jerome’s periodical, To-day. Bramah left To-day to become editor of a new trade magazine for clergymen, The Minister, and stayed there until the magazine folded.
It was at this point that he became a full-time writer for magazines, creating the Max Carrados and Kai Lung stories that were later published in book-length collections. Bramah’s first book of detective fiction, Max Carrados, was published in 1914, when he was in his mid-forties; his only Max Carrados novel, The Bravo of London (1934), appeared when he was in his mid-sixties.
In addition to his writing, Bramah had a great interest in numismatics (an interest shared with Max Carrados), and he is the author of a nonfictional book on British coins, A Guide to the Varieties and Rarity of English Regal Copper Coins: Charles II-Victoria, 1671-1860 (1929).
Bramah’s Kai Lung stories, and some of his popular articles, deal so convincingly with Asian geography and culture that it has often been speculated that he lived for a time in Asia. That may in fact be true, but there is no evidence to support it. A small and thin man, Bramah lived as a recluse in his later life. He died in Somerset on June 27, 1942.