From the files of the DIB…The man with thirty lives?

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2006), News, Volume 14

Herbert Pim (seated centre with beard) and Seán MacDiarmuida (to his right) pictured with Irish Volunteers, Cork, 1915. (Mark Wickham)

Herbert Pim (seated centre with beard) and Seán MacDiarmuida (to his right) pictured with Irish Volunteers, Cork, 1915. (Mark Wickham)

PIM, Herbert Moore (1883–1950), writer and political activist, was born 6 June 1883 in Belfast, son of Robert Barclay Pim and Caroline Pim (née Moore). The Pims were a leading Quaker business and professional dynasty; his father was secretary of the Friends Provident Insurance Company. Pim was educated at Friends School, Lisburn, and public schools in Chester and Bedford, then spent four years studying in Grenoble and Paris. He detested English schools and became a Francophile. On leaving school he became an insurance agent and an active member of the YMCA. He also dabbled in occultism. From the age of 17 he circulated manuscript annual collections of his stories and poems. In June 1903 he married Amy Vincent Mollan, daughter of a Presbyterian linen merchant. The son and only child of his first marriage, Terence (b. 1908), claimed that Pim published pornography and religious tracts simultaneously under pen-names; he certainly published two fantasy novels, A vampire of souls (1901) and The man with thirty lives (1903). Pim was persistently unfaithful and the marriage broke up in late 1916.
Initially conservative in politics, Pim developed liberal sympathies after meeting upper-class Belfast liberals, then joined the United Irish League (UIL), converted to Catholicism (1910), and joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians. By 1914 he was a prominent UIL activist and contributor to the Irish News under the pseudonym of ‘A. Newman’ (he had become ‘a new man’ on conversion). In 1914 he published The pessimist, a novel whose central character hopes to end suffering by the extinction of all life. He joined the Irish Volunteers; at the outbreak of war he declared himself a separatist and lost his job. He may have joined the IRB; he wrote regularly for the Irish Volunteer (as ‘A. Newman’) and published a pamphlet series, Tracts for the times. In Why the martyrs of Manchester died and The significance of Emmet in 1915 he preached blood sacrifice. Pim was one of four separatists imprisoned in July–September 1915 for seditious activities. Early in 1916 he founded a Belfast-based literary and political monthly, The Irishman. Joining the Volunteer muster in Coalisland at Easter 1916, he was arrested after the Rising and deported to Reading gaol. He was released in September 1916, restarted The Irishman as a weekly, and claimed to represent the prisoners. He set about reviving Griffith’s Sinn Féin party, circulating tracts on Sinn Féin policy, and claiming leadership. After internees were released in December 1916 Pim was marginalised, but remained politically active.
The Irishman combined Sinn Féin propaganda and campaigns against sexual immorality. Pim was joined in these campaigns by Lord Alfred Douglas; The Irishman published many of Douglas’s poems. In early 1918 Pim’s health broke down, and The Irishman was taken over by the Dublin Sinn Féin leadership. In June 1918 Pim and his mistress, Dorothy Hungerford, resigned from Sinn Féin and advocated conscription. He published Unconquerable Ulster (1919), arguing that Ulster unionists were of Gaelic descent while nationalists represented a pre-Celtic slave race. He unsuccessfully offered his services to the Ulster unionists, then left for London.
Douglas and Pim campaigned against an alleged German plot to corrupt the British upper classes by homosexuality. Douglas established a weekly, Plain English (1919–21), ‘die-hard, anti-Sinn Féin, and anti-Semitic’. Pim became assistant editor and serialised a self-glorifying memoir, Adventures in the land of Sinn Féin. He also published a pamphlet, Sinn Féin: an illumination, and Songs from an Ulster valley (both 1920) and joined the far-right Britons Society. Pim’s and Douglas’s next journal, Plain Speech (1921–2), accused Winston Churchill of manipulating war news to benefit Jewish speculators. This led to Douglas’s imprisonment for libel.
Pim took French citizenship and married a Mlle Dussotour. In 1927 his novel French love (a self-serving fabulation portraying his life as he would have liked it to have been) accused his first wife of unspeakable perversions and portrayed Pim as a devout Catholic and Ulster unionist who spends the war spying in Germany. It was banned in Ireland. Thereafter he produced pamphlets of doggerel verse and polemics expressing extreme right-wing views. After some years’ residence in France and Italy (where he dabbled in fascism) Pim returned to Britain by 1937 and died on 12 May 1950 at Hove, Sussex.

Patrick Maume is an editorial assistant with the Dictionary of Irish Biography.


Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568