Fitzjames met Edward Philips Charlewood (1813-1894) when they both signed up for the Euphrates Expedition in 1834. They became close friends and kept in touch after the expedition. Charlewood had hoped to join Fitzjames on the Franklin Expedition in 1845 as Captain of HMS Terror, but this position was ultimately taken up by Francis Crozier.
In 1869 Charlewood’s ‘Passages from the life of a Naval Officer‘ was published, but according to the preface written by his brother Henry this book was not intended for the general public:
“During a visit in the month of June, 1868, to my Brother, Captain EDWARD PHILIPS CHARLEWOOD, R.N., residing at Durrant, near Bideford, I was more than ever impressed with the graphic manner in which he narrated various incidents of his life, and the extremely interesting character of those incidents. I requested him to jot down for me, in a book, such anecdotes as from time to time occurred to him. There was some hesitation, but he kindly consented, and after a few months’ interval sent me a book in which he has recorded many of the anecdotes and incidents alluded to.
It is with my Brother’s sanction that I have printed, for private circulation among the members of our Family, the following extracts; but inasmuch as the identity of some of the persons unfavourably alluded to in the extracts cannot be concealed, he has expressly stipulated that the book is not to be distributed beyond our immediate family circle.”
Thankfully we can all read it now, because there are some interesting anecdotes about Fitzjames in there. I do recommend reading the entire book (see Bibliography), as Charlewood had an adventurous life and is an entertaining storyteller. However, if you just want to read the parts about Fitzjames, I have gathered them here.
Passages from the life of a Naval Officer
Fitzjames, my dearest friend (who afterwards perished in the ill fated Franklin Expedition), was about six months older than myself, and I was a month senior to him in the Navy. We arrived in Birkenhead about the same time, to superintend the building of the two steamers for the Euphrates, and the supply of stores required for them. We took lodgings in Churchstreet, Woodside, about half a mile from where Mr. John Laird, the builder of the steamers, resided. And a noisy pair we were, as the following anecdote will show. Mr. Laird one day wished to invite us to dinner, and sent for his confidential old servant, William, when the following took place :-
Mr. Laird. – “William! go down to the young gentlemen’s lodging, and find out if they are at home : if they are, ask them to come and dine.” William departed, and in a quarter of a minute returned to the room, and informed Mr. Laird that the young gentlemen were at home.”
Mr. Laird .- “Why, William ! how on earth can you know they are at home? You have only just left the room!”
William .- “Oh, Sir, there was no occasion for me to go to their lodgings ; I just listened at the front door, and heard them a-larking at their lodgings!”
And we did indeed play all sorts of pranks whilst at Woodside, especially upon a growling mate [Henry Eden], who was also appointed to the expedition.
Here let me record a most gallant act of poor Fitzjames. We were at anchor in the river Mersey, with a steamer alongside, with the powder. I was employed stowing it away in the hold, and Fitzjames was on deck, superintending the getting it on board. Suddenly I heard a considerable noise on deck, and rushed up in time to see Fitzjames floating away some distance astern, holding up a man. The tide was running a good five miles an hour. A boat was quickly lowered, both were picked up, and in the course of time were safe on board. It appeared that a Custom-House officer, in crossing from the steamer to the transport, missed his footing and fell overboard. Fitzjames instantly jumped after him, and had he not done so, the man would have been drowned, for he could not swim. The Corporation of Liverpool presented Fitzjames with a silver cup and the freedom of the town, and the Shipwreck Society sent him their silver medal.
Mr. William Ainsworth, the Surgeon and Geologist of the Euphrates Expedition: “Full well do I remember the centipedes at Mourad Pacha. We were sitting at dinner, and one got up the left sleeve of Eden’s coat; Fitzjames, who was sitting on that side, was lucky enough to get the coat off without its biting him.”
Mrs. Helfer’s failing was evidently her stomach. Our fare was, generally speaking, rather ordinary, but occasionally we managed to buy a sheep from the Arabs, and then Mrs. Helfer made little arrangements with Mr. Rassam, our interpreter, &c., a most excellent fellow, who had a similar weakness. These two individuals managed to get the liver, and have a good tuck out together. Rassam had at one time made a delicious pudding, which he carefully concealed, and (as he considered) safely deposited it in his cabin; he then went off for Mrs. Helfer, who was walking about on shore, the steamer being alongside the bank. Unfortunately for them, Rassam’s movements had been watched by one of the officers, who quickly discovered the pudding hidden in the cabin. Fitzjames and myself were called, and in three minutes every atom of the pudding had vanished down our throats, and we stowed away our persons in convenient places to watch the result. Mrs. Helfer and Rassam were sadly taken aback when they found the pudding was gone ; the former seemed to make up her mind at once that a trick had been played upon them, and quietly sneaked away. Not so Rassam, who grew very angry, and at last finding Fitzjames’ hiding-place, gave full vent to his wrath, and declared he was a thief, &c. This pudding story soon got wind, and was a joke against the two for a considerable time.
One of our engineers was taking a walk some distance from the steamers ; he was dressed in an old blue coat with brass buttons. Some Arabs had evidently been watching him, and when he was quite clear of all chance of a rescue they pounced down upon him, cut off all his buttons, and then bolted. This was a complete take in for the thieves, who evidently thought the buttons were gold! This incident led to an unfortunate accident. Fitzjames had seen the attack, gave the alarm, and with two or three others ran to the rescue, when, returning, he slipped down and broke his leg. Poor fellow! This broken leg gave him intense pain, for he had ague at the same time, and when the shivering came on it was impossible to keep the leg still, and the broken edges of the fracture jarred against each other, making him cry with agony.
Travelling upon camels is very unpleasant to a novice, and indeed for the first few days is most painful from the excessive working backwards and forwards of the back. I heard that the first day Fitzjames travelled on his journey home, some months before us, he suffered very much, and when in the evening the halt came he was unable to dismount from his camel, and upon being taken off he fainted away.
We had an Indian mail on board, so the colonel decided to send Mr. Fitzjames with it across the desert from the place we then were (not far from Lemlum) to Damascus and Beirout. Accordingly, away he started, with Said Alli for an interpreter. We all felt very anxious about him, especially when news arrived, some weeks after, to the effect that he had been robbed at Lemlum, and the mail boxes opened to ascertain their contents, but that the Arabs, having discovered that the boxes only contained letters, had allowed Fitzjames to pack them up again and proceed with them on his journey. Beyond this we heard nothing of him for a full year, and our anxiety was very great. At last, upon our arrival at Palmyra, on our journey across the desert homewards, I went into one of the towers which had been used for burial places. (The inhabitants of Palmyra, instead of being buried under ground, were placed in niches arranged up the inner sides of high towers.) After examining it for some time, the thought flashed across my mind that if Fitzjames had succeeded in reaching Palmyra he would certainly have visited this the largest tower, and very probably (Englishman-like) have written his name in one of the niches. Accordingly, I hunted about, and there to my delight I actually discovered his name in his well-known handwriting, and Said Alli’s name underneath, with the date. This gave me great joy, for we now had reasonable hope that he had long since arrived safely in England. Of course I added my name and the date underneath. Perhaps they may still remain there, as a memento for one of my sons to discover years hence. They are written in a niche on the right-hand side as you enter the tower, and on a level with the breast.
And now we have once more arrived in dear Old England, and found that Eden, our senior Acting Lieutenant, who was sent home after the wreck of the “Tigris,” had been promoted. But no promotion was forthcoming for either Fitzjames or myself. We were, however, feted in all directions.
The Duke of Sussex invited us to a conversazione, and Lord Lansdowne to dine with him, &c. Colonel Chesney most disinterestedly refused all rewards until his officers were promoted. He declined knighthood, a sum of money to pay his expenses, public dinners, &c. His glorious perseverance at last succeeded for us, but no honours or rewards were again offered to himself.
An evening spent at the Duke of Sussex’ was rather amusing. Fitzjames, A. Staunton (a young Artillery Doctor) [Andrew Staunton, assistant surgeon on the Euphrates Expedition], and myself arrived at Kensington Palace in a cab. Upon alighting, we ascended some steps leading up to a long corridor, along which, powdered footmen were posted, to call out the names of the guests as they arrived. Fitzjames led the way, and the lackey at the head of the steps demanded his name, &c. Fitzjames replied, in a very modest tone, “Lieutenant Fitzjames ;” upon which the servant roared out, in a stentorian voice, “Captain Fitzjames ;” and so along the corridor right up to the Duke, “Captain Fitzjames'” name was passed. Staunton’s turn now came, and to prevent any mistake, he presented his card to the servant, on which was inscribed the name “A. Staunton, R.A.” The fellow, I am sure, had a spice of fun in him, for on looking at the card, he roared out “Rear Admiral Staunton,” and away the newly-dubbed Admiral – a red-headed boy without a beard, and perspiring with nervousness, as if he had just been dipped in a bath – had to march up to the Duke. The Duke received the “Admiral” with a merry wink in his eye, talked to him for a few moments, and then passed him along. I was more fortunate; I gave my name and rank distinctly, and passed the Duke, after the usual common-place civilities. We three youngsters, how ever, behaved very ill at this reception, for after strolling about for some little time, we got into a small ante-room by ourselves, and were surprised, in a bolstering match with red velvet cushions in which we were engaged, by a solemn-looking old bishop, who looked at us as if he would eat us up, and then left in disgust.
Fitzjames, from first to last, during the Euphrates expedition, maintained a happy, good-tempered disposition. He was the general cheerer-on when in difficulties; perhaps not physically capable of hard work himself, but still no one looked for that in a man who did so much good in other ways. He was terribly given to practical jokes, of which more hereafter. Even when we were first together in our lodgings in Church-street, Woodside, Birkenhead, his practical jokes were endless.
In the dead of the night he would come to my room with his pillow, and belabour me wofully, until I was sufficiently awake to defend myself. Upon one of these occasions I had succeeded in mastering him, but he would not give in. I bolstered him out of the room, and then following it up, with a heavy bang forced him against the opposite door; it burst open, and our fight continued. At last I knocked him upon the bed in the room ; there was some one in it! We begged pardon, and were retreating, when our landlady, with her husband alongside her, began laughing, told us not to mind, and assured us no damage had occurred!
We had a sad loss at these lodgings. Fitzjames kept all his money locked up in his desk, and one morning we found the desk broken open, the money (£80.) gone, and the servant vanished. We gave chase instantly, but she had sailed in a Scotch steamer an hour before. There were no telegraphs in those days.
An amusing scene occurred with this said servant a few days before she bolted. Upon receiving our weekly bill, we found that we had consumed butter at the rate of 11b. each per diem. This appeared most unreasonable, and it was decided to appeal to the landlady. She assured us she never interfered with our provisions, and that she had no doubt the servant stole the butter. Upon this it was decided to have the servant in, and Fitzjames to be the spokesman. Accordingly, when she appeared, Fitzjames put on a very fierce face, and demanded what she did with our butter. The woman set up a howl, and wiped her nose with her great fat, red arm, commencing at the bend of the elbow and drawing it along under her nose to the tip of her thumb. She then blubbered out “I’m sure I never eats nothing luscious.” The scene was so ridiculous, we both burst out into a roar of laughter, and pelted her out of the room with boots and books. She rewarded Fitzjames a few days afterwards by robbing his desk, as stated above.
I must now pass on from the Euphrates expedition to H.M.S. “Excellent”, the gunnery ship at Portsmouth, to which both Fitzjames and myself were appointed,-in the first instance as mates, and then as lieutenants. This was a happy time: we worked like Trojans, and both passed out with A 1 certificates,- a most difficult class of certificate to obtain; I think only about six had previously been awarded.
Fitzjames, as usual, was the life of our mess, and out of working hours, always up to some practical joke. Upon one occasion, after my watch on deck, I came down to dinner, and was comfortably enjoying myself, when the sentry came in and announced, with a queer look, that a “person” wished to see me. I directed him to be shown in, and, to my disgust, in walked a most objectionable looking fellow, with a mean pock-marked face, a dirty white choker, and very seedy clothes. He spoke to me quite familiarly ; represented that he was a great friend of my brother George, who had recommended him to come down from London to Portsmouth, for change of air, and was sure that I should be glad to see him and be kind to him. There could be no mistake, for he had brought a letter from my brother, in which he spoke most highly of his friend Mr. Dent, who was a well-principled and religiously disposed person, whose conversation would be most beneficial to me. Mr. Dent evidently knew the contents of my brother’s letter, for he quoted Scripture and talked religion, until I was most thoroughly disgusted. My mess-mates, too, began to notice him, and I could hear sly jokes cracked at my expense. I passed a most uncomfortable evening ; the fellow ate and drank most heartily, and as the time went on gave no sign whatever of going ashore. At last the sentry came, at 10 p.m., and announced that the last boat was going, so I told my friend that he must depart. Great, however, was my disgust when he announced that he contemplated sleeping on the floor of my cabin. This was more than I could stand. I got up and told him that he must go on shore ; so away he went, showering down upon my head all sorts of blessings, and prayers for my welfare. He remained at Portsmouth, at a little pot-shop, for nearly a week, and at last, finding he could get nothing out of me, wrote a pitiable note, saying he had fallen short of money , and asking me to lend him £3. until he got to London. I sent him the money, thankful to get rid of him. A week afterwards a policeman came on board to see me. He brought a bill from a small tavern in Rycle, amounting to £4. 10s., principally for brandy and water, which Mr. Dent had obtained on the strength of his being “my friend.” At last he bolted without paying, and stole a silk handkerchief from the chamber-maid. I told the policeman Mr. Dent was no friend of mine ; but that I knew where he came from, and would try and get the bill paid. Accordingly I sent it to my brother George, who at once paid it; and I believe in the course of time forgave the penitent Mr. Dent.
My mess-mates, of course, soon heard all the history about Mr. Dent, and were eternally chaffing me and asking after my “swindler friend.” And now for the sequel to my story. About three months after the above occurrence we had a large party of friends dining with us. After dinner a circle was made round the fire, and we all sat there enjoying our wine and dessert, and a very merry and happy party we were. Presently the sentry appeared, and called, “Mr. Charlewood, a person wishes to see you.” The “swindler friend” had by this time apparently been nearly forgotten; so without thinking much about it, I asked if the stranger appeared to be a gentleman. The sentry replied rather doubtfully; but I nevertheless directed him to show the person in. Judge of my horror upon beholding another fellow of evidently the same stamp as my late “swindler friend !” He was dressed in a rusty black suit, dirty white neckerchief, spectacles, hair parted down the middle and plastered with grease, a huge gingham umbrella, and dirty finger nails. I could have sunk through the deck as this fellow approached me, every person maintaining a dead silence. The officer next me got up to let my visitor sit by me, so there was nothing for it. I asked him to sit down, which he did, holding his gingham out most conspicuously, as if he were proud of it. It was most provoking ; no one would speak ; all were too evidently waiting to hear the conversation between this new friend and myself. After he was seated, I asked him if he wished to speak to me, when he told me in a sanctified voice that he had just arrived from Manchester,-that he was an intimate friend of my brother Henry, who had told him by all means to call upon me as he was going to Portsmouth. He then mentioned various little matters, which fully satisfied me that he really was acquainted with my brother Henry. I then asked him to partake of some dessert and a glass of wine. He declined the wine, and in a disgustingly sanctimonious tone “trusted I also eschewed all intoxicating liquors.” My misery was extreme ; all were listening intently to our conversation, and some one now called out-“I say, Charlewood, rosin your friend up a little; he doesn’t drink wine, for he wants a glass of grog.” Of course my friend professed not to know what grog was, and I had to explain. At last some one called out-“That’s all d–d humbug; he knows well enough what grog is!” Upon this my friend exclaimed with a shocked tone-“Oh, my dear friend, I trust you do not follow that wicked example of swearing !”
Whilst this went on my mess-mates were getting unruly, and showing symptoms of unhandsome joking towards my friend. Some called out-“Twig his spectacles !” others expatiated upon his handsome umbrella ; some flipped nuts at him, and indeed matters were looking serious. I begged and implored them to be quiet, first in an undertone, and then angrily. At last the crisis came. Moorman (now a Captain, R.N.) had dined after us, it having been his watch on deck, and he was sitting by himself on the opposite side of the table, eating his dessert. He now cut an orange in half, and threw it at my friend: it hit him plump on the cheek, and squashed all over his face. This was too much! I sprang up, threw myself across the table, smashing wine glasses, decanters, dessert dishes, &c., and seized Moorman by the collar with one hand, and with the other I was about to give him a blow which would never have been forgotten by him had he received it, for there was no mistake, rage had given me the energy and strength of a madman.
But my mess-mates saved me, and Moorman also. Some one leaped upon me, and squeezed me flat down upon the table, my nose being forced tight down, as well as my body ; others got hold of my arms and legs : so here I was pinned down, with no end of broken glass under me. It was a mercy I was not seriously hurt. At last I managed to move my head to see who it was who so energetically pinned me down to the table, and was astonished beyond measure to find it was my sanctified friend, and the gingham umbrella was lying on the table by my side. My position now became unbearable ; I was nearly stifled, and I roared out “Let me go, or I shall be suffocated !” Upon this my friend slowly and cautiously eased himself off my body, and I was allowed to turn round and sit upon the table, my arms and legs being still kept in prison. My friend now stood before me, gave a grin, tore off his dirty white choker, pitched off his black coat, and put on a uniform coat, threw off his spectacles, pushed up his hair, and lo and behold, my hateful, sanctified friend was transformed into my dear old expedition companion, Fitzjames ! The roars of laughter at the success of this deception upon me may well be imagined. It appeared that this had been planned for weeks before ; and I remembered that Fitzjames had latterly been asking me all sorts of questions about my brother Henry, and by this means he had been enabled to satisfy me as to the fact of the “sanctified friend” coming from Manchester. I was most truly thankful to find that all was really a joke, for my shame and misery were intense. My mess-mates would not let me pay for the breakages, as it was considered a mess joke.
Captain Trotter’s expedition up the river Niger was at this time being prepared, and he applied to Fitzjames and myself to go with him. We declined, and of course concluded that the matter was ended, but we ascertained that he afterwards applied to the Admiralty for us to be appointed.
The Admiralty declined, on the ground that we had become gunnery officers, and must consequently remain where we were. And most thankful am I that I had nothing to do with that expedition, mismanaged from first to last. I remember going on board the principal steamer, when she was just ready to start from Woolwich. The upper deck had a number of placards stuck about it with texts of Scripture, and the sailors were sitting on the forecastle, some of them drunk and singing hymns.
In looking back upon the wonderful hair-breadth escapes I have repeatedly had, the thought has often occurred to me,- For what purpose have I been saved in so many remarkable ways? Already I have given two or three instances in point ; and I will allude to another. My friend Fitzjames had been appointed as Commander of Sir John Franklin’s ship, H.M.S. “Erebus”, about to proceed upon his last and ill-fated expedition to discover the North-West passage. I was most anxious to obtain the command of the second vessel, H.M.S. “Terror”, and, as no polar man of note had come forward, I received private intimation from the Admiralty that I was to be appointed. At the eleventh hour, Captain Crozier, an old polar officer, who was then at Naples, observing in the newspapers that this expedition was fitting out, at once posted home, and proceeding to the Admiralty, claimed the right, as an old polar officer, to be appointed. The Admiralty felt the justice of the claim, and, about the day I expected the appointment to be finally made out for me, a note came to say that as Captain Crozier had tendered his services, the Admiralty felt bound in justice to appoint him. Poor fellow! He, Sir J. Franklin, Fitzjames, and all hands belonging to both ships have all perished in those dreary regions; and here I, who bitterly deplored my hard fate at losing the appointment, am still alive, some twenty-three years after these vessels left the shores of Old England.
Before leaving the subject of the Polar expedition, I must copy my dear old friend Fitzjames’ last letter to me, written shortly before he entered the ice of the polar regions :-
“My dear Charlewood,-
I blame myself for not having given you a line since we left Woolwich, but you must lay my negligence to press of business. The papers will have told you that we got into a gale off Aldborough, and the Fern Islands, of Grace Darling notoriety; and we certainly did pitch at our anchors tremendously, so much that the steamers called us ‘our friend and pitcher.’ With the assistance of the ‘Blazer’ and ‘Rattler’ (‘Monkey’ having been sent back from Peterhead nearly disabled), we got on to Stromness (Orkneys) on the 31st, ‘Erebus’, ‘Terror’, and transport ‘Baretto Junior’.
I need not say we are all very happy, and full of confidence of success. Sir John is delightful, and full of energy; having left off snuff, he is a better man than he was. I have dined with him every day since we left, and it appears he intends I always should do so; which will make our grub last longer. The ‘Rattler’ towed us and the ‘Terror’, against a head sea and wind, 3 knots and in smooth water 6½. We left Stromness yesterday morning, and are now off Rona, 75 miles from it. ‘Rattler’ and ‘Blazer’ are going back immediately. I shall write again when the transport leaves us, at Whale Fish Island, near Disco. After which you will not hear till we get through the North-West passage, which will be this summer, no doubt. Write four (?) months hence to Panama and the Sandwich Islands, as, if we do get through, it will be delightful to have letters.
I hope my god-daughter and your other birds are well. Give my love to Mrs. Charlewood, and believe me always your sincerely attached friend,
Erebus, 4th June, 1845.
Le Visconte desires his kind regards.”
It is strange that amongst all the relics of this ill-fated polar expedition, nothing has been brought home which belonged to Fitzjames. Knowing his immense energy, although, perhaps not capable of much hard work, my impression is that he probably led a separate party to push their way, possibly towards the North West passage, and that the traces of this party have never yet been discovered.