Sunday, 28 February 2010

Raising Ghosts

When I started researching the life of James Fitzjames one of the things I always found odd was that he had no known date or place of death and no known date and place of birth. The earliest acknowledged date associated with him is his baptism on 27th February, 1815. That was the day, one hundred and ninety five years to the day yesterday, when 'James Fitzjames, gentleman' and 'Anne his wife' baptised their baby James at the Church of St. Mary-le-Bone in London.

Last year I spent a long time at the London Metropolitan Archive trying to track down any evidence relating to these parents. Like every other researcher into Fitzjames I could find nothing more about them. But from completely different lines of research, I now know the truth about Captain James Fitzjames, RN. I now know who he REALLY was, who his true family were and where he was born. Release of all of this information - and more - will have to wait until 'James Fitzjames, the Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition' is published in July.

Yesterday being the 195th anniversary of this baptism, I made a little private pilgrimage to the grave of James Fitzjames' true father. I made the same journey to this grave that Fitzjames himself must have made in those brief months he had in England between returning with HMS Clio in late 1844 and departing on the Franklin Expedition on HMS Erebus in 1845. He had never been able to acknowledge his father, so sharing this secret and this journey with his memory made for a slight, strange bond between author and subject. I wondered what he must have thought and felt, and whether his shoes got as wet as mine on the ill-drained soil.

After paying my respects at this place, the closest thing Fitzjames has to a grave, I made my way, deep in thought, to the Church of St. Mary-le-Bone. Here this man, whose grave I had just visited and who called himself 'James Fitzjames, gentleman' had baptised his little child one hundred and ninety five years ago to the day. Round the corner, having eaten a beautiful roast pork sandwich from a Hogroast in the Churchyard (recommended,, I made my way to the Prince Regent pub. There I drank a private toast to the memory of Captain James Fitzjames, RN with a pint of excellent, and appropriately named, Adnam's Broadside ale.

I cannot help feeling that if ghosts exist I must have disturbed, if not raised, a few who must have felt that no mortal would ever stick his nose into their affairs again.


  1. William, wish I could have joined you there to raise a glass for Fitzjames! As ever, your blog postings pique one's interest in your upcoming book -- how much longer must we wait?

  2. In my local pub, I raised a glass of Fuller's London Pride to him on that day. Beautifully written - I too can't wait to read your book.

  3. Hi Russell, hi Peter,

    Thanks for your comments.

    The book will be published in August in the UK and September/October in Canada and the US. I'm hoping to launch it with a public lecture in London in July - which will be around the time of James Fitzjames' 195th birthday...

    Best regards,