The Pothunters

The Pothunters is a 1902 novel by P. G. Wodehouse. It was Wodehouse's first published novel, and the first of several school stories, this one set at the fictional public school of St. Austin's.

The Pothunters
First edition
AuthorP. G. Wodehouse
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreComedy novel
PublisherAdam & Charles Black
Publication date
18 September 1902[1]
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)


First edition copies of the book in good condition are highly prized by collectors, and can change hands for over $10,000.

The story was originally printed as a serial in Public School Magazine, commencing in January 1902, but when the magazine ceased publication in March that year, the remainder of the plot was summarised in the form of a letter from one of the characters.

The Pothunters is dedicated to Joan, Effie and Ernestine Bowes-Lyon, first cousins to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Plot summary

The novel follows the lives of several of the schoolboys as they study, take part in their school sports (particularly boxing and running), and enjoy tea in their studies. After the school's sports trophies ('pots' in contemporary slang) are stolen in a burglary, the boys, their masters, and the police join in the hunt for the 'pots'.


The advance of technology has made part of the story opaque to the modern reader. "On Sunday we jellygraph it", writes Wodehouse without explanation. Jellygraph was a method of making a limited number of copies, about 20 to 80, from a master copy written with a special type of pencil containing jellygraph pigment. These special pencils are referred to in the story: "How many jelly machine things can you raise?" The master copy—on paper—was placed face down in a pan whose bottom was covered in a special gelatin, to which the pigment was transferred as a mirror image. The copies were then made one at a time by placing blank sheets of paper onto the gelatin after the master copy was removed. Although a reasonably simple, if slow, method, the copy produced had text (and figures) in a pale coloured ink that was hard to read.

More stories about St. Austin's school can be found in Tales of St. Austin's (1903).

In chapter 11, one of the characters quotes a Latin phrase (attributing it to Thucydides):

Conscia mens recti, nec si sinit esse dolorem sed revocare gradum.

This is a joke: Thucydides wrote in Greek, not Latin (as Wodehouse would have expected the reader to know) and the quoted phrase is in fact a mixture of lines from Ovid and Virgil.


  1. McIlvaine, E., Sherby, L.S. and Heineman, J.H. (1990) P.G. Wodehouse: A comprehensive bibliography and checklist. New York: James H. Heineman, p. 11. ISBN 087008125X

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