Well, we have a title now. The book will be called "James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition" and I'm busy now editing, correcting, labelling maps and all the other manifold tasks that go into trying to make a book readable.
I thought it would be worth putting on the blog the draft text of the 'flyer'. People who read this blog already have an interest in James Fitzjames, which is of course because of his role on the Franklin Expedition. But having now researched his life I know that there is a lot more to James Fitzjames than the circumstances surrounding his death. He was a remarkable man and I prefer to celebrate his life rather than his death. The flyer is intended to reflect this. Anyway, here's the text and I trust it whets the appetite...
James Fitzjames was a rising star in early nineteenth century exploration. Apparently an establishment figure, he was tipped for great things and was talked about as possibly to be the first man to reach the North Pole. He had served with distinction on Colonel Chesney’s incredible 1830’s Euphrates Expedition, culminating in his own remarkable trek across 1,200 miles of desert and marsh in Iraq and Syria. By thirty he was both a war hero and a published poet. But his career and life were ended prematurely after he joined the disastrous 1845 Franklin Expedition as second in command of Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Erebus and was never seen again.
William Battersby, archaeologist and leading historian of the Franklin Expedition, has comprehensively researched this remarkable man’s life of adventure and recounts his gripping story in his new book ‘James Fitzjames: Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition.’ Fitzjames has been described as ‘well-educated, aristocratic, wealthy, of good family, Church of England, fast-rising in the service - and thumpingly, lispingly English to the core’ (Scott Cookman, Ice Blink), but Battersby’s book reveals that almost every word of this, and almost everything else written about Fitzjames, is wrong.
The real James Fitzjames was:
- Educated at home by an eclectic group of unconventional intellectuals.
- Flat broke nearly all his life.
- Baptised into the Church of England although almost certainly fraudulently.
- Not the beneficiary of a fast-track Royal Naval career but an outsider who exploited his superior education and personal flair to use loopholes in the rules which were designed to keep people like him out.
- Not 'thumpingly, lispingly English to the core’ but actually, in his own words, ‘thrown ... on the world by circumstances over which I have no control, without one friend in it … through no fault of my own’
James Fitzjames overcame all the prejudices against him and made a success of his life in a thoroughly modern way. He combined bravery and learning with a remarkable sense of fun - some of his wisecrack and jokes are still funny today. During his adventurous life he:
- Visited Babylon no less than three times
- Dived into the Mersey fully clothed to rescue a drowning man
- Adjudicated in a fight between merchant seamen on a gigantic island of dung off the coast of Namibia.
- In a Middle Eastern war first jokingly impersonated the aides of a Jewish millionaire engaged in a hostage rescue attempt and then landed in the midst of the Egyptian camp at night to harangue the enemy soldierly to desert.
- Escaped from this adventure with a price put on his head, personally, by the enemy General.
- Was severely injured while leading a highly unconventional street-fight in China – with rockets.
- Then with his pet cheetah sailed back to England via the Persian Gulf as captain of a Royal Navy sloop.
William Battersby’s book will reveal for the first time the truth of this charismatic man. You are unlikely ever to come across such an unusual biography. It will be required reading for all Franklin Expedition students, for anyone with salt-water in their blood who has read Forester or O’Brien, and indeed anyone who appreciates a rattling good yarn about a witty, engaging and talented outcast who makes good against prejudice.