Friday, 9 July 2010

The book has been published...

Well, I am absolutely delighted to say that my book, 'James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition' has been published.

I am so grateful to Simon Hamlet, my publisher at The History Press for taking the book on. Not every publisher was willing to entertain a book by someone who had never written before. Thanks Simon! And Abbie Wood, who designed the book and has also done a great job.

It is also great news that Dundurn in Canada has taken the book on as that gives it great coverage on the left hand side of the pond.

I'm going to be fascinated by the response to it. I still feel reluctant to discuss the outcomes of my research publicly, which is rather a strange reacon given that the book describes them in great detail and is available for the world to buy. But I do feel deeply, deeply privileged that I was the person who was able to get close to this fascinating, but ultimately cursed, young man James Fitzjames. For the truth was that he was anything but the privileged young aristocrat of Franklin Expedition mythology. Heavens, he wasn't even genuinely English! He struggled and fought for the position he craved in the Royal Navy, and it is very unfair that ever after he has been held up as someone who didn't need to. And far from being the favourite of Sir John Barrow, the relationship with Barrow was much stranger than anyone ever realised.

I hope that the book has two results. The first is that I trust that people can start to look again at 'The Men who Sailed with Franklin' as men, and not as stereotypes. Just as the baddie of the story, Charles Dickens, ridiculously traduced the Inuit families who met the Franklin survivors, and even tried to help them, as 'savages', I think it is no longer fair to look at Franklin's men as stereotypical imperialists either. I believe when we analyse them we find that many were men much closer to the margins of their society than popular myth would allow. Men like Fitzjames and Gore, for example, had very peripatetic backgrounds. The second result, I hope, is that the tragedy of James Fitzjames will be recognised as a sad human story in its own right. How cruelly ironic that just as he had won the position in English society that his shameful origins had earlier denied him, and as soon as he had gained a really powerful source of patronage, he should use that to participate in the greatest disaster in British exploration history! I am sure this was an irony NOT lost on him in his last months.

Anyway, I'll be fascinated to hear your feedback to the book, which you can buy at

Let me know what you think.

Incidentally I've set up a website

Which I'll be using specifically to support the book. I'll locate here any additional references which people want. Perhaps there are other things we can do.

Anyway people, over to you know - let me know what you think....


  1. Congratulations William. You are inspiration to us amateur non-academic historians and followers of polar exploration.

    Can't wait until Dundurn releases in Canada.

    Your point about the expedition officers being on the margins of society as opposed to aristocrats merely looking for glory is something that rings very true. Recent biographies of Franklin and Crozier would support that as well.

    One thing that seemed to strike me as well, but only as a passing possibility, is that there seems to be some parallels in Barrow's personal life and Fitzjames'. Both from relatively humble beginnings relying upon their personal skills to climb the social and professional ladders rather than blood and connections. In fact, after the early searches of Ross and Parry, it seems a bit like Barrow either had surrounded himself with those who were not elites at the centre of aristocratic "Society" or was left with only such personalities as the romance of Arctic exploration had faded.

    Incidentally, you may want to prepare an entry for Wikipedia for James Fitzjames as there is, surprisingly, no entry for him. (Could also be used to promote your book if you footnote sources back to Mystery Man!!)

  2. I pre-ordered my copy from Borders Books here in the US, with a tentative delivery date sometime in August! I eagerly await my copy, and wish I could be in London later this month for your official book launch.

  3. I will certainly purchase the book. I am sure that many points will be enlightening with respect to the "traditional" interpretations of Fitzjames' reaction to the difficulties found.
    My congratulations for this deep research.