Anecdotes

A collection of interesting Fitzjames anecdotes that haven’t already been included elsewhere on this website.


William Francis Ainsworth

Ainsworth, William Francis A Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (1888)

Beginning of the Expedition aboard the George Canning, February/March 1835
We had by this time become acquainted with one another. I had a cabin aft with Lieutenant Murphy, R.E., our chief surveyor and astronomer. Fitzjames was the life of the party—ever on mischief bent—and looking upon me as a landsman, he somehow so attached a pair of boots to a string as to get them into the window, and rouse me from my sleep by a playful bumping on the head.
On passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, being his watch, he also roused us all to see Venus blazing by the side of Calpe. It was, however, a beautiful sight.


Centipedes, Autumn 1835
Every evening after sunset, the interior of the tent in which the officers messed was crowded with running, crawling, and jumping creatures. The first that began to creep up the canvas walls were a species of black cricket, which differed from the Gryllus campestris, in the under wings being folded into a spiral appendage which protruded beyond the body.
[…] Next in abundance were the centipedes themselves which clambered after dark upon the chairs and tables in search of prey, but being of larger size, were generally made away with. One day we were sitting at dinner when Eden exclaimed that a centipede had crawled up the sleeve of his coat. Fitzjames, with characteristic alacrity, jumped up to the rescue and began pulling off Eden’s coat, which he did so dexterously that the latter was not bitten.

[In his 1869 book, Edward Charlewood also recalls the centipedes and Henry Eden again being in need of rescue:
“Talking of reptiles in  Syria reminds me of the state we were in at “Mourad Pacha” one night when the rains were commencing, and the river rising.  Our tent was within a few yards of the banks of the river. We were sitting huddled together with one candle lighted, when, by the dim light, one of us observed a huge centipede crawling up his neighbour’s coat.    This made us on the alert, and, to our horror, we found the tent was literally alive with these insects crawling up and over us in all directions;  there must have been a nest of them underneath us, which the rising water had disturbed. We now occupied ourselves in looking out for,  and knocking them off from each other’s clothes. Our senior acting lieutenant [Henry Eden], who was everlastingly growling,  was always sure to suffer more than anyone; I caught sight of the tail of a very large centipede as it was crawling up the inside of his coat sleeve.  No time was to be lost.    I seized the loose part of the sleeve and held it tight, with the centipede all fast in it;  the piece of the coat sleeve was then cut out, and the lieutenant thereby saved from a  severe bite.  These centipedes were unusually large;   I caught two of them and put them into a bottle of gin to preserve them. A year afterwards, when at Bagdad, we were directed to hand over to Ainsworth, our naturalist, any specimens of insects, &c., we might have collected.   I accordingly produced my bottle of gin with the two centipedes; they were turned out upon a black tray, and left in the sun for the spirits to evaporate from them. An hour afterwards my astonishment was great at finding them both alive and crawling round and round the tray, after having been nearly one year soaking in a bottle of gin!  One of the centipedes was taken by the naturalist, the other died in the course of the day.”]


Francis Rawdon Chesney

Chesney, Francis Rawdon Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition: Carried on by Order of the British Government During the Years 1835, 1836, and 1837 (1868)
Chesney, Louisa Fletcher; O’Donnell, Jane Chesney Editor: Lane-Pool, Stanley The life of the late General F.R. Chesney, Colonel Commandant, Royal Artillery (1885)

Liverpool, February 1835
From Chesney (1885)

On arriving at Liverpool, Chesney found the George Canning engaged to take them out ; and both men and officers delighted that the expedition was to proceed. The former could not, they said, have faced Woolwich, if it was not to go on ; and Fitzjames, writing a few days later, says : “We are all-in good health and spirits at the prospect of embarking in an undertaking which, if it succeeds according to our expectations, will be the most useful as well as the most delightful and interesting expedition ever sent from the shores of England.” He little knew, poor fellow, how much arduous labour and suffering was in store for them, and how many of the party would never return to their country.


Baghdad, August/September 1836
From Chesney (1885)

While the steamer was making a round, and coming back almost to the place from which she started, along a horse-shoe curve, Chesney and a party landed to inspect the ruins of Ctesiphon, and the mounds of Seleucia, at which spot they reembarked, making sure of being at Baghdad by the afternoon. At that time, however, the steamer had grounded on a shoal, and all attempts to release her proved unavailing; so Chesney, with Estcourt, Fitzjames, and the dragoman, walked to the city, and arrived after sunset, when the gates were closed. They contrived, however, to hail someone who took a message in, and, a boat being sent after considerable delay, they arrived at the hospitable Residency, where a good supper and, what they prized much more, a mail from England, were awaiting them.
[…]
The Euphrates remained aground on a shoal in the Tigris for three days, but at last was got off and made her way up to Baghdad, when Colonel Taylor went on board and was received with eleven guns, which were returned by the Sepoys on the top of the Residency. Then the bridge was thrown open, and, with the Turkish ensign displayed, the vessel moved up almost to the citadel. “The whole population,” says Chesney, “lined the banks, and the sight was truly grand. One old man put his head between his hands and exclaimed, ‘ Has God only made one such creation !’ We anchored opposite the Residency and drank tea on the house-top. Rockets and bluelights to please the people.” Next day visits to the steamer began with the sun, and continued without interruption.
Fitzjames says :
“The Residency is a large building, with courts, a harim, &c. Ross (the doctor) and the dragomans’ houses near it, all facing the river, which in the high season rises up to the lower windows. Colonel Taylor keeps a capital table and lives in a fine style ; he has some good horses, and an ostrich, a lion, and a leopard. Mrs. Taylor appeared at times.” He goes on to add that she brought “an immense swarm of ladies” to see the vessel, who all unveiled, and some of whom were good-looking.
“The steamer,” he says, “is like a bee -hive, and completely surrounded with kufahs or round basket-boats full of people.”


The Lamlum marshes and the Mails, late October 1836
From Chesney (1885)

It was, however, a mistake to attempt to carry mails by a pioneer expedition. It would have been far better to have been contented with opening the way, leaving the actual transport for a future occasion, when proper arrangements should have been made. As it was, the difficulties experienced, and the unavoidable delays, were calculated to prejudice the Euphrates route in the public mind. Fitzjames expresses in his journal a very strong opinion on this point. [Which is alas omitted in the book!]
Whether Chesney ever came to the same conclusion we are not in a position to state ; but in this case we cannot but think that his eagerness to accomplish the impossible carried him too far. He had asked for a mail, however, and now he was on his way to convey it with all speed to Bales, whence it could be taken across country via Aleppo to the steamer awaiting it on the Mediterranean.
Trackers were needed to drag the steamer through the Lamlum marshes, at the entrance to which they had now arrived, for it was quite plain that her size and refusal to answer her helm in shallow water rendered it impossible for her to pass through the many sharp turns of the narrow channel by her own unaided power. Cleaveland, indeed, considered it impossible to pass the marshes in any way ; and even Major Estcourt tried to persuade the Colonel to give in. But. as Mr. Ainsworth remarks, he was a staunch adherent of the doctrine that nothing was antecedently impossible, and he resolved to go on until the impracticability of doing so should be actually demonstrated. In fact he considered he had no option. The Government had desired that he should ascend the river if he could. It must be proved that he could not, before he would put about his helm and turn downwards ; but he did go so far as to make preparations for despatching the mails through the desert in the event of failure.
The trackers came eighty of them and with forty on each bank the vessel started at half-steam.

Fitzjames writes :
We worked, tracked, anchored, weighed, grounded, backed, hove, yelled and screeched at times, till 12.30, when we anchored to dine, and the vessel had advanced two miles ! We found that the trackers were of no use, [Chesney himself says they were maliciously trying to impede instead of assisting,] as it was impossible to check her head in when the current took her at the sharp turnings, or even in the straight parts. We got 500 yards by evening, heaving hawsers and steam. Anchored at 5.10 near a ruined castle on left bank. Current three knots. Next morning commenced work at daylight by laying out hawsers ahead on the banks, and heaving and steaming up to them. This was hard work, and we only made about half a mile by dinner. In the afternoon made only a few yards, and discharged the trackers, who were beginning to be very insolent and troublesome.
27th October. Worked till noon, laying out hawsers and warping up to the bank, by which time we got twice the vessel’s length ahead, so that it will be almost impossible to warp through the marshes. Current three knots which takes her bow into the bank every minute.
28th. Worked all day steaming and heaving at the hawsers. Got 800 yards ahead.
29th. In cleaning the engines, found that the cross-head of the air pump of the larboard engine was broken, which stops us for the present.

This accident furnished good grounds, even in the eyes of Chesney, for abandoning the ascent, and although much disappointed, he had only to accept his fate and return to Basrah, first, however, despatching Fitzjames with the mails by the desert route. Seyd Ali and two servants were sent with him, and the passengers, Messrs. Stewart and Alexander, accompanied him also. They set off in a country boat for Hillah, whence they were to journey by land to Aleppo. Hearty good wishes went with the party, and all on board the Euphrates were sorry to lose the cheery young officer. Chesney owns that even he himself was downcast.

Fitzjames’s mission was one of considerable danger ; he was robbed and detained at Lamlum, and again stopped at Dewania, where war was going on between two Arab tribes. The mail-boxes were opened at Lamlum, but given back on being found to contain only letters. Finding no camels at Hillah, Fitzjames determined to go to Baghdad with the mails; and hearing at the latter place that no vessel was expected at Scanderoon, decided on changing his route, and taking that by Damascus to Beirout. Part of this journey, which led him through Palmyra and Baalbekk, was made with a large caravan conveying no less than four hundred camels for sale. He only reached Beirout on the 26th of December, Alexandria on the 7th of January, and Malta on the 14th, having been all but three months on the way.

From Chesney (1868):
We were all aware that the size of our vessel, her draught of water, and her failure in steering (especially in shallow places), must cause serious difficulties in getting through the marshes; but these once passed, we had anticipated no further obstacle to our successful ascent, and our disappointment was proportionally great on finding that it must be relinquished for the present.
My attention was at once turned to the question of forwarding the mails, and Mr. Fitzjames volunteered to undertake the difficult and almost solitary journey which their conveyance necessarily entailed. He set out on October 30, accompanied by our two fellow passengers, Messrs. Stewart and Alexander, and encouraged by hearty cheers from us all, which were kept up until they were quite out of hearing. Fitzjames and his companions accomplished their adventurous journey, but not without serious difficulty.


On winding up the affairs of the expedition
From Chesney (1868)

Early in 1838, the three naval officers, Messrs. Charlewood, Fitzjames, and Eden, received their promotion; that of Lieutenant Cleaveland was delayed to fill up his sea-time.
By the beginning of the new year the maps were far advanced, a complete account was rendered to the Treasury of the expenditure of 29,637L. 10s. 3.1/4d., with the exception of a deficit of 117L.* for which I enclosed a cheque, which was returned to me by the Lords of the Treasury; and I had the satisfaction of hearing that their Lordships considered some mark of approbation due to the Commander of the Expedition.
*Some years after this time, when reading over the journal of our lamented Fitzjames, this deficiency of 117L. was accounted for in a way which had quite escaped my memory. During our transport difficulties between Suedia and the Lake of Antioch, I had given Fitzjames about 100L. to pay our native workpeople their wages, the whole of which he lost through a hole in his pocket! He duly reported this to me, offering to write to his father for the amount. But this (though he says that the ‘Colonel was very angry at the time’) I could not allow, and replaced the money out of my own private funds.


Back in England, 1837-38
From Chesney (1885)

Arrived in town, Chesney took up his quarters at his old lodging in Down Street, Piccadilly, and there remained for almost two years, running over to Ireland occasionally to see his father and sisters, or to stay with his friend Shuldham, going down to Devonshire at intervals to visit his daughter at school, and now and then making a shooting excursion in Scotland or elsewhere. Such little interludes he found absolutely necessary to prevent his health breaking down, for his work in London was incessant.
His first object at this time was the promotion of his officers, and this he pursued with even more than his usual ardour, giving no one to whom he had access any peace if he had it in his power to do anything, either directly or indirectly, towards the attainment of that which he had so much at heart.
The visits paid, consultations held, and letters written on the subject would more than fill a volume, and as Estcourt, Fitzjames, Charlewood, Ainsworth, the Stauntons, and Rassam were all in town, he had them constantly with him, and spared no pains to introduce them to influential people, and to make their merits known. But, apart from such motives, it was natural that those who had shared so much peril and excitement together should like to be in each other’s company. A friend met them all one Sunday going to church near Kennington, and remarked that he did not expect to meet the Euphrates Expedition in that part of the world.