When doing historical research you are reliant upon contemporary accounts. These accounts depend on the perception and motives of the narrator.
The same incident can be retold in different ways.
The following incidents that occurred during the Euphrates Expedition are seen here through the eyes of different eyewitnesses. It is also interesting to see how the historian or biographer chooses to interpret these accounts. When there is only one book on a certain subject it can be quite problematic because you only get one interpretation of the story. That is why it is important to never simply trust what an author writes and examine original sources yourself when possible.
All excerpts taken from their respective publications, see Bibliography
Saving Captain Henderson from drowning (13 April 1836)
Rough weather coming on, it had become very difficult, and at times it was dangerous, to pass the bar of the Orontes, and the Expedition narrowly escaped a serious calamity just as the landing was all but completed. On April 13, when Captain Henderson, with his usual daring, was passing through the surf on the bar his gig was upset. Mr. Fitzjames happened to be on the bar at the moment, but with most inefficient means of assistance at hand; of these, however, he made the best possible use, and, as it proved, successfully. I give the incident in his own words :
— ‘At about 4 p.m., as I was landing through the surf in the launch, I observed astern the Captain of the “Columbine” in his gig, with four men pulling with difficulty through the surf, and at last a sea struck and turned her over. We instantly hauled astern, but the current had swept them all to the southward, and out of our reach. I saw two of the men land on the bar and walk to a low point near it, while the other two held on to the boat, but Captain Henderson came close to us, and seemed nearly overpowered. I threw him two oars, and he fortunately grasped one of them. We could not go to his assistance, as we had no oars, and had we let go the rope,*’ [*The laden boats did not row, but were hauled along the line from the ‘George Canning’ to the shore.] ‘we should have been swamped also. It would have been madness to have jumped after him. We suffered the most intense anxiety, hearing his call for help, and not being able to do anything, till a boat from the “George Canning” picked him up completely exhausted. The “George Canning’s” crew picked up the two seamen, going with great difficulty through the surf. The “Columbine’s” boat was washed ashore, and we all felt thankful that no life had been lost. Of course (the intrepid Fitzjames adds) no more work was done that evening.’
The support of the oar would have proved insufficient if nothing more had been done, but Mr. Charlewood, seeing from the deck of the ‘George Canning’ what was taking place, caused a boat to be lowered and manned (so speedily that he scarcely knew how it was done), and hastened to the spot. He, however, was barely in time to rescue Captain Henderson and his crew from a watery grave. But the ‘Columbine’s’ gig was righted, and Captain Henderson returned to his ship. His first thoughts, after his own fortunate preservation, being for others, the signal of ‘Bar impracticable’ was immediately sent up.
The bar at the mouth of the Orontes occasionally had a fearful surf on it, and twice at least I had the satisfaction of being the principal means of saving life upon this bar, but in neither case did I receive the slightest thanks from the persons saved. A captain of one of the vessels stationed on this coast attempted to cross the bar at a time when I felt certain his boat would be swamped. I accordingly had a large boat hauled up alongside the “George Canning” transport, and manned. The captain’s boat had no sooner entered the surf than, as anticipated, she was instantly swamped. The boat at once started to the rescue from the ”George Canning,” and it was not a moment too soon, for when we got to the captain he was all but exhausted, and lay at the bottom of the boat when we hauled him in. We were in considerable peril ourselves, but got outside the surf again before the boat was quite full of water. The crew of the captain’s boat was also saved.
The next day—there was no time lost with Colonel Chesney—not a minute if it could be gained—preparations were made for landing the heavy weights and stores by affixing a hawser to the shore not far from the mouth of the Orontes, the transport to be effected by means of rafts hastily constructed for the purpose, and taken by hand to the shore. This was a laborious work, superintended by the naval officers, and took a long time to carry out. One day Captain Henderson’s gig was upset on the bar of the Orontes, and the Captain would probably have been drowned had not Fitzjames thrown him an oar to assist him. The latter could not let go the hawser, or he would have gone to his assistance.
Four days later Captain Henderson, skipper of Columbine, was almost drowned. He was rescued by Fitzjames, making him the second man to be saved from a watery death that year.
After having read these exact same accounts, Battersby’s conclusion is that Fitzjames singlehandedly saved Captain Henderson. While Fitzjames certainly was instrumental in saving Henderson and crew, it was Charlewood who ultimately went out into a boat to pick them up.
Ainsworth says that Fitzjames throwing the oar is what saved Captain Henderson. Of course, if Fitzjames hadn’t thrown the oar Henderson would surely have drowned, but like Chesney says if nothing else had been done the oar alone ultimately would not have saved Henderson.
It seems that Battersby mostly went with Ainsworth’s account, because it proclaimed Fitzjames to be the hero of this incident. Fitzjames certainly was a brave man who always seemed ready to help others, but giving him the sole credit for something that was a team effort just so that it fits the ‘hero narrative’, is not correct.
Charlewood was displeased that he apparently was not thanked for his help at the time, and now his name is not even mentioned in Battersby’s version of events.
‘Admiral’ of the flat boat (17 April 1836)
March 24 – […] The flat boat, the impedimentum ex malitia of the Colonel, which was in advance of us, was to precede us under command of Fitzjames ; but when the cable by which she was fastened was loosed it appeared that the water had fallen, and the clumsy, heavily-laden boat stuck fast.
April 2 – […] Towards evening we were agreeably surprised by the sight of the flat boat. The clumsy craft is difficult to turn, and the strong current would certainly have carried it beyond us, if it had not run upon a sandbank not far from the steamer.
The brave Fitzjames at once came on board, and gave us a humorous and picturesque description of his Argonaut voyage without a rudder.
For six days the boat had been fast upon sandbanks, different ones, but always at least one a day.
It had struck upon rocks, sprung leaks, which had to be stopped with earth and cotton, and had twice been attacked by Arabs in mid river, who, however, had not courage to stand to English shot. The crew had had to endure hunger, heat, cold, and wet, and now at last they had to stick fast with us.
April 18 – […] We lay to near shore to take in the coal, heavy tackle, &c., which had been unladen. In this the Arabs, who had come running up, were very helpful ; amidst frightful yells, they drew along the chain cables, leaped into the water, and worked well, naked as they were, for over an hour.
Just as we were about moving off our brave Fitzjames and his crew arrived on foot ; he brought the bad news that the flat boat had got stranded and had sunk. The clumsy craft had not been able to withstand the current near Kara Bambuge. The river there, in winding between the last high chalk cliffs, forms a remarkable pass, which is important for physical geography ; the land is more level further down and the hills are of a different formation ; the current dashes on the rocky shore, and sets with great force on the opposite side. Every effort to guide the craft in this dangerous pass was fruitless, with a loud crash it dashed upon the rocks, so that the crew had scarcely time to save themselves, first by means of the cotton bags and then in the boat.
The Expedition sustains a great loss by this misfortune. Fifteen tons of coal, the life-blood of our engine ; barrels of flour, provisions, and weapons of all sorts, clothing, &c., have sunk in seven fathoms of water, and nothing will be able to be saved, even by the aid of our diving bell. The gentlemen think much less of their own losses ; Major Estcourt, who lost a considerable part of his baggage, said laconically, ‘One must be prepared for such disasters beforehand.’
Mr. Fitzjames had been paying us a visit as his raft passed downwards towards Kara Bambuge, a little short of which place she got upon the shoal, and he found her full of water, and all her provisions floating about. The river rose so much during the evening of the 17th as to sweep her off the shoal and enable him to bring her up under the chalk bank.
His account of her ultimate fate shall be given in his own words :—
‘The river here’ (at Kara Bambuge) ‘makes an abrupt turn to the right, the current setting along lofty chalk cliffs into a deep bay, terminating at a rocky point from which the current sets to the opposite shore at another rocky and perpendicular cliff. Here the river is about 400 yards broad, and the remains on each side seem to show that a bridge at one time stood here. At the first point all our efforts to get the flat-bottomed boat off being unavailing, we stood forward and endeavoured to place bags of cotton between her and the rocks, as she swept along them at the rate of seven knots. But with one crash, she sent her whole bow up, and down she went head-foremost in seven fathoms water, leaving barely time, by means of the cotton bags in the first instance, and eventually by the boats, to save ourselves. We saved, however, two casks of provisions, but my clothes were lost, and, what was still more serious, fifteen tons of coals for our voyage—the mooring-chains — also a number of rings, the jumpers, and some firearms also.’
Mr. Fitzjames landed about five miles lower down, and walked up to join us with the unwelcome intelligence of the loss of the coal-raft, which was a serious one to the Expedition. We were just entering the passage where this accident had happened.
No sooner had the Euphrates been refloated than Fitzjames’ barge was upended when it hit what he thought was a submerged bridge pile. He lost all his clothes and 15 tons of the precious coal.
It is curious that Battersby mentions the flatboat’s journey so briefly, for it was quite perilous and it would have been a great example of Fitzjames’ capability as a leader and sailor. Even though the flatboat crashed and sunk, Fitzjames did the best he could and got all of his crew to safety.
Also, he had not only lost his clothes and the coal, but very nearly lost something more precious: his life. It would have been a nice opportunity to quote Fitzjames’ own account of the incident, too.
Fitzjames breaks his leg (23 April 1836)
Thunderstorms and heavy rain prevented us from doing much before the 24th, when the proceedings of the Arabs attracted our anxious attention. Our confidence in them, which had hitherto been unshaken, was now somewhat staggered. Corporal Greenhill, of the Sappers, while employed in planting a station-flag in the vicinity, was suddenly seized by three mounted Arabs, who jumped from their horses, put their lances to his throat, and proceeded to cut off his brass coatbuttons, which they no doubt took for gold. Having obtained the coveted booty, they released the Corporal, and hastened away lest they should be seen from the steamer. Such conduct could not be left unchecked, and Captain Estcourt, Lieutenant Cleaveland, Mr. Fitzjames, and fourteen men moved up the adjoining ravine, where they encountered a strong party of the Aniza, apparently preparing to retreat, although this was evidently only a feint; for the Arabs, who were mounted on horses and dromedaries, endeavoured to intercept our party, and would probably have succeeded in doing so, had not Captain Estcourt at once perceived their purpose, and with admirable presence of mind, made a rapid demonstration in light infantry order, which checked them, and gave his own party time to reach some ground, rather difficult of access, and within range of the steamer’s guns and rockets. This affair, which had threatened to be serious, ended without anything more than an accident to Mr. Fitzjames, who, in his extreme zeal, broke his ankle in leaping from a height.
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.
April 23 – There was a slight skirmish to-day. Corporal Greenhill was busy driving in a station flag for the survey, not above 200 yards from the Tigris, when several Arabs rushed upon him, pointed their long lances at his throat, and made signs to him to take off his coat. Being so near the steamer he was unarmed and could not defend himself. The thieves took off his blue coat, and eagerly cut off the brass buttons with their sabres, no doubt taking them for gold. They then made him a polite bow, jeerlingly handed him back his mutilated swallow-tail, and made off as fast as they had come. This insult was too much for a Briton. Breathless, and trembling with rage, Greenhill came back to the steamer, and pointing to his coat, disfigured by holes instead of adorned with buttons, he demanded satisfaction for the insulted honour of England. In order to avenge him, and still more to inspire the Arabs, who were getting too bold, with proper respect, a detachment of well-armed men was quickly despatched, under command of Major Estcourt, to pursue and, if possible, capture the thieves.
Lieutenant Cleaveland climbed the nearest hill to see which direction they had taken, and at about eighty paces off he saw a troop of Arabs approaching. Without thinking he fired at them.
They were startled and stood still; but when Cleaveland, who is nearsighted, took out the long telescope which he always carries with him, to see that his shot had taken effect, they beat a hasty retreat, probably taking the telescope for a powerful rifle. Several of us, myself among the rest, hastened to his assistance. We rallied round his awe-inspiring tube, as if it had been the green banner of the Prophet, and it was borne by Sergeant Quin before us in triumph.
Thus we joined Major Estcourt. He had seen spies on all the hills, and numerous hordes of Arabs, probably Aniza, in the distance, but none of them ventured nearer. As it was not our purpose to pursue them farther, after we had occupied the hill for an hour in pouring rain (a phenomenon at this time of year), he allowed the men to march back in two columns in military order. Corporal Greenhill was of course very much put out.
In spite of this peaceful termination of the affair, we had a man severely wounded. The brave Fitzjames fell down the slippery descent, and broke his leg just above the ankle. He was carried back to the steamer unconscious. Happily he is of such cheerful temperament that when he was hardly come to himself, and only just informed of what had happened, he began to arrange his toilet, even while his leg was being set, in order, as he said, that he might be fit to receive visitors.
29 April: […] They [Arab guests visiting the ship] saw Fitzjames in passing, stretched upon his couch, and expressed polite regrets at his accident. They recommended eating lamb as the best means of curing a broken bone.[…]
The Arabs at Balis were an unsocial and thievish set —probably outcasts of some of the great tribes. On one occasion two or three of these bold marauders sprang out of the sedges and captured the person of Corporal Greenhill, who was taking a walk not far from the steamer. The corporal, being unarmed, was bereft of his regimental brass buttons, which the Arabs no doubt thought might be made of gold.
A sad accident occurred upon another occasion. There were some low rounded hills at the head of the channel we were anchored in, between it and the chalk cliffs. An alarm being given one day that the Arabs were among these hillocks, a party turned out, myself among the number, to drive them away. This was soon accomplished, but Fitzjames, who was playfully running down a hill side, twisted his foot and broke the small bone of his leg. We had to have him conveyed on board ship, where he lay disabled for a long time, and what was worse, the usual results of confinement manifested themselves in a bad attack of malarious fever.
At Beles, Chesney halted the expedition so the steamers could be repainted and serviced. […] Corporal Greenhill, while assisting a surveyor, was suddenly seized by three mounted Arabs, who jumped from their horses, put their lances to his throat and cut off his brass coat buttons, which they apparently thought were gold. Greenhill at least had not adopted local dress. Greenhill escaped and Fitzjames, having raised the alarm, marshalled a few men and rushed to rescue him. Unfortunately, while returning to the steamer Fitzjames slipped – some said larking about – and broke his leg. This was a serious injury, although Fitzjames made light of it. Helfer remembered that Fitzjames was ‘of such a cheerful temperament that when he was hardly come to himself, and only just informed of what had happened, he began to arrange his toilet, even while his leg was being set, in order, as he said, that he might be fit to receive visitors.’
- According to Battersby “Fitzjames, having raised the alarm, marshalled a few men and rushed to rescue him.” However, the one commanding the rescue, or rather, revenge mission, was actually James Bucknall Estcourt. Maybe it was, as Charlewood says, Fitzjames who saw the attack on Greenhill and gave the alarm. But Greenhill came back to the steamer by himself, according to Dr Helfer, and therefore he did not need to be rescued anymore. Chesney says “Such conduct could not be left unchecked, and Captain Estcourt, Lieutenant Cleaveland, Mr. Fitzjames, and fourteen men moved up the adjoining ravine”, while Charlewood says “Fitzjames had seen the attack, gave the alarm, and with two or three others ran to the rescue”. 17 men in total and two or three others is quite a discrepancy. Was Charlewood even present when this occurred?
- How did Fitzjames break his leg? Chesney says he jumped from a height. Charlewood and Dr Helfer say he slipped down and fell.
Battersby says it happened when ‘some said larking about’. Who is ‘some’, exactly?
Ainsworth is the one who says Fitzjames was ‘playfully’ running down a hill. But Ainsworth also says that the attack on Greenhill was on another occasion than the time when Fitzjames broke his leg. This while he says he himself was a member of the revenge party… Ainsworth does not seem to be a reliable narrator here. He published his account some 50 years later, so it is no surprise if he does not remember everything correctly.
Mrs Helfer almost abducted / Robbery (15 June 1836)
We had hardly landed when the people crowded round us, and a brisk trade began, which, welcome as it had been in other places, made us fear here that it would excite the natives’ cupidity. Colonel Chesney knew them to be arrant thieves, from having been here in 1831. […]
During the night, therefore, there were guards appointed on board, as well as on shore, to keep off unbidden guests. The stifling heat in the cabins made the nights a torment ; sleep was out of the question. We had, therefore, for several nights slept on deck. With all our clothes on, and wrapped, heads and all, in linen sheets to protect ourselves from mosquitoes, and our eyes from the bright moonlight, we lay on narrow cabin mattresses, and thus found the longed-for rest.
That night my imagination had been excited by tracks of lions having been seen, and I dreamt about them. All at once it seemed to me that a lion was seizing me with his four paws and dragging me away. I could not disentangle myself from the folds of the sheet, and called out, ‘a lion, a lion!’
Helfer awoke, but swathed up in like manner he could not tell for a moment what was going on. He grasped my arm, still I was dragged farther towards the edge of the deck, not yet provided with any balustrade. Just then a shot was heard, then another, I heard a splash into the water, I was released.
It was all the work of a few minutes, the whole crew were alarmed, and were by our sides. No one could account for the incident till Major Estcourt, who had spent the night on shore, came on board, and told us that a robber Schiah had tried to steal his clothes from under his head ; it had awoke him ; he had shot at him, and then fired at another thief whom he thought he saw on board. But there was no trace of a lion. My assurance that there had been one, and that he had begun to drag me off, was of course ascribed to a lively imagination, in spite of my assertion that he had sprung upon me, and that I still felt the clutch of his claws. Ashamed of having been caught in this weakness I held my peace, until daylight solved the mystery, and relieved me of my mortification.
It appeared that one of these amphibious Arabs had got on board, in spite of the watch, probably under water, and through one of the cabin windows. He had stolen a chronometer, pulled about everything of a glittering nature, and tried to get hold of it. Alarmed by the shot on shore, he must have rushed up the cabin stairs, and probably tried to jump into the water from just the spot where I was lying. In doing this, not being able to see me, he must have fallen upon me with hands and feet, got entangled in the sheet, and pulled me along with him. But he even exercised his thieving propensities in this hasty flight, and stole Fitzjames’ tarbush. So, though there had been no lion, there had been something which it was no wonder that at the moment I took for one, and my cries for help were justified.
After the chronometer had been restored, on our energetic remonstrances to the Sheikh, and proper respect impressed on the robber crew, on June 16, we left this singular place with its queer inhabitants. […]
My experience with the Shiahs, in 1831, caused us to be greatly on our guard whilst we were among them. They are of Persian origin, and still retain many characteristics of their ancestors, who quitted Persia at a very remote period. Their descendants have ever since occupied their present isolated position in the midst of the Lamlum marshes. On our arrival, we opened intercourse with them by barter, of which they eagerly availed themselves ; but this had also, unfortunately, the effect of arousing their cupidity to a great extent, and led them to all kinds of attempts to get possession of more than was intended for them.
A clammy oppressive heat, and swarms of mosquitoes of unusual size, caused us all to sleep that night on deck, with the exception of Major Estcourt, who had made his shake-down on the adjoining bank. We had three sentries on the alert, and therefore felt secure from all surprise and depredations. Towards morning, however, we were roused by a shot, followed by a wild scream; then another shot, telling us there must be some cause for alarm. In a moment all were at their posts, and we soon ascertained that Madame Helfer’s scream and alarm had been caused by her feeling that she was being dragged away, by (as she supposed) a lion, or some ferocious beast of prey. No traces of any animal were, however, to be seen; but the mystery was soon explained by Major Estcourt, who had been awakened by the attempts of a thieving Shiah to draw away the clothes on which he was sleeping. He sprang up and fired his pistol at the man, as he was making off; and immediately afterwards discharged a second shot at another fellow, whom he saw making his way among the sleepers on our deck, and who was over the side in an instant. This clever and active Khezail had crept into the vessel under the cover of her overhanging stern, and had thus escaped the vigilance of our sentinels, with the intention of supplying himself comfortably while we slept ; but on hearing the shot, he made his escape with all speed, luckily carrying off nothing but Fitzjames’s watch—for he failed in his attempt to pull away Madame Helfer’s cloak, or to steal the chronometers, which he had also evidently intended to appropriate.
The next morning (June 16) we took the necessary steps with the chief of the Khezail to ensure the restoration of the watch, and then steamed off through the bazaars and remaining habitations of this singular people, which lined the river’s banks.
Mrs. Helfer nearly came to grief at the town of Lemlum, in the marshes of that name. The stream was little more than the width of the steamer, and it being nearly dark, we were obliged to secure the vessel alongside the banks close to the town. The Arabs were intent upon plundering us, we were therefore obliged to keep strict watch all night, expecting an attack every moment. One party kept watch on shore, alongside the vessel, and a few walked the deck, whilst the remainder lay down upon the deck, Dr. and Mrs. Helfer amongst the latter. In the middle of the night, Captain Estcourt, who was keeping watch outside, came on board to report that the Arabs were advancing. This alarmed a rascally Arab who had adroitly dropped, or rather floated, down the stream alongside our vessel, and had entered the after-cabin through one of the windows, which were close to the water’s edge. In the cabin he set to work, plundering everything he could get hold of, amongst other things a silver pocket chronometer, and he also tried to wrench off the gold fingers from the other chronometers. Estcourt coming on board alarmed him; he rushed on deck, seized Mrs. Helfer, or the cloak she was lying in, and dragged her to the stern, Dr. Helfer holding on by her legs, and another man holding Dr. Helfer by his legs. The Arab must have been a strong fellow, for he dragged all three to the stern, and then leaped over, still holding and dragging poor Mrs. Helfer. At Iast Estcourt came to the rescue, ran to the stern, and fired his pistol at the man, who at once let go his hold, and dropped silently into the water. We did not discover whether he was wounded.
Of course, when the affair was all over, Dr. Helfer gave it out that the Arab wanted to steal his wife’s cloak, and it was tacitly agreed that such was the fact ; but some of us wicked youngsters could not help remembering the leering looks with which a number of the Arabs treated Mrs. Helfer during the evening, and we came to the conclusion amongst ourselves that it was Mrs. Helfer herself, and not her cloak, that the Arab was trying to walk off with.
Early on the ensuing morning the steamer was got free of the mud by carrying out an anchor and hawser astern and backing up her paddles ; and we returned to Lemlun, lying to at the further end of town, near where the few last reed huts terminated in a grove of date trees.
The Khazailees, who now grouped around us in crowds, adsorbed our whole attention. Their ignorant astonishment and laughing wonder were only exceeded by their restless mischievousness and daring cupidity. […] Some stood in groups laughing and jeering at us, and pushing one another towards the ship, which lay close to the bank, but from which they were speedily repelled by sentries on duty.[…]
But there were others who looked on in silence, with their brows contracted, and an expression of infinite malignancy. They were balancing the means of offence and the chances against them, brooding mischief, yet undetermined how to proceed about it. Others again, among the most active and daring, were prying into holes and corners, and laying plots, as we shall see, for further action. One thing above all others attracted their attention. This was Mrs. Helfer, the young and fair wife of the learned doctor of that name. To avoid impertinent curiosity and to favour the European habit of moving about in freedom, Mrs. H. had, as is frequently the case in the East, adopted an Egyptian costume which might be termed half masculine and half feminine, yet which is solely used by the males. But the quick-witted Khazailees soon distinguished her from others, and as she stood with the officers looking at and enjoying the turbulent proceedings of the crowd, the greater admiration that dark and swarthy people are said by some to entertain for females of their own colour met with a practical contradiction, and their admiration, like their cupidity, was so great and under such little control, as to be manifested by looks and actions which admitted no misinterpretation.
I was a little annoyed during the course of the day that madame proposed to Fitzjames a stroll in the date grove, and he, seeing the inadvisability of the proceeding, asked me to accompany him. I could not refuse so pointed a request, and we went forth into the shady grove. Happily, however, the Khazailees did not molest us. My impression was decidedly that they would make an attempt to carry her off ; but where to in these frightful marshes it would be difficult to conceive. […]
The feelings of the Khazailees in regard to their British visitors had been so hostile all day, and their anxiety for mischief so clearly manifested, that when night came on, precautions were taken to prevent robbery or sudden surprise, and a sentry was placed on shore in addition to the usual one on deck. The weather was hot, and most of the officers, as also Dr. and Mrs. Helfer, and part of the crew, took up quarters on deck. Colonel Chesney, Murphy, and myself took to our cabins, as the after-deck was rather crowded. Estcourt, as was frequently his custom, persevered, notwithstanding the thieving propensities of the natives, in carrying the few matters which constituted his bed on shore. As a guard was mounted there, his position was not so bad as it might have been, yet he had not been long asleep before he was awoke by a tug, and found to his mortification that his silken coverlet had made its disappearance. He resigned himself, however, to his loss, and tried again to go to sleep, when he was once more awoke by a tug at his pillow ; this second pull he endeavoured to resent by pulling a pistol from beneath, but the Khazailee was too quick for him, and was in a moment lost in the obscurity.
At or about the same, a loud shriek from Mrs. Helfer awoke almost the whole of the ship’s company. Colonel Chesney and myself jumped up at the same time, and seizing our fowling-pieces met in the passage. ‘What is the matter?’ said the Colonel. ‘Oh! They are carrying off Mrs. Helfer!’ answered I, half awake, and with the memory of the day’s occurrences faintly gleaming through my somnolence, and in less than a minute we were both on deck.
In the meantime, Estcourt, wearied at the tugging at his bed-clothes, had got up from his berth on shore, and taking his traps under one arm, and with a pistol in his other hand, had proceeded to make good his retreat on board the steamer.
At the very moment he stepped on deck, he distinguished, but indistinctly in the dark, a Khazailee threading his way amid the crowd of sleepers towards the openings of the bulwarks, and who, before making a flying descent into the river, appeared by a sudden dip and a clutch at the clothes of Mrs. Helfer, to have had some hopes of carrying her into the water with him.
As the miscreant plunged into the river, Estcourt rushed forward and fired at him, but unsuccessfully. Others followed in the rear, but masked by the dark waters, and almost as practised in one element as in the other, his dive was so prolonged that he was not in the obscurity seen to rise again, so there was no opportunity for the pops that awaited his appearance.
When we were sufficiently recovered from our surprise to be able to coolly examine into occurrences, it was found that this daring Khazailee must have approached the ship by water, so as to escape observation on the part of the sentry on shore ; he had then slunk along the water line under the bulging part of the stern, so as to not be seen from the deck, till he reached the porthole of the main cabin, into which he had by great dexterity introduced himself.
Here he endeavoured to take away one of the box chronometers, and he had actually bent the hands to a point, so as to give him a hold by which to draw it from its box, but being unsuccessful in this, he had appropriated to himself a watch belonging to Fitzjames, which unfortunately hung by the chronometers for comparison. He had then passed along the passage between Colonel Chesney’s and my cabin, had ascended the companion stairs and gained the after deck, where he made his last strange and desperate attempt to initiate Mrs. Helfer into the art of Khazail diving.
The report of this daring exploit roused the whole town as well as the ship’s company, and the night passed in unwonted excitement. The Khazailees lit fires, danced around them, and sang their songs of triumph and chants of war and defiance ; and we expected every moment to be attacked – a most undesirable solution of the outrage – for a few rockets would have fired the whole town of reed huts in a few minutes ; but although they did not know this, the sight of our guns acted as a charm, and they found a safety valve to their hostility in dances and songs.
It was in vain that we threatened and blustered next day, and demanded of the Sheikh that the watch should be returned, or we would visit the town with condign punishment.
‘Where am I to seek for it?’ asked the wily chieftain, who no doubt had it by that time in his possession. ‘Surely, if you, who are so well armed, cannot take care of your things, how can I be expected to do so?’
The Sheikh had decidedly the best of the argument. We had unquestionably been outwitted, and we had to quit this strange place, and its still more peculiar inhabitants, without any satisfaction being obtained.
They eventually freed the steamer by paying out an anchor and hawser and backing her paddles, while the men hauled the anchor in with a windlass. They returned to Lemlun and tied up for the night.
Here Fitzjames lost another watch in sinister circumstances. On another stifling night tormented by mosquitoes, the officers tried to sleep in blankets or on rugs on the deck, while the men slung their hammocks in the rigging again. Ainsworth, Chesney, Helfer and Charlewood all left slightly different accounts of what happened, but Charlewood’s has the ring of truth:
[Begins the quote with ‘The Arabs were intent upon plundering us, we were therefore obliged to keep strict watch all night, expecting an attack every moment.’, leaving out the actual beginning: ‘Mrs. Helfer nearly came to grief at the town of Lemlum, in the marshes of that name. The stream was little more than the width of the steamer, and it being nearly dark, we were obliged to secure the vessel alongside the banks close to the town.’]
The only loss to the expedition was the ‘silver chronometer’ which turned out to be Fitzjames’ and was presumably a replacement for the one ruined when he jumped into the Mersey to save the customs man’s life.
As news of the dramatic event spread, the town rose up in defiance. Chesney refused to sail away without attempting to extract satisfaction. More bloodshed was avoided because, Ainsworth said ‘the sight of our guns acted as a charm, and they found a safety valve to their hostility in dances and songs’.
The following day Chesney demanded the return of Fitzjames’ watch from the Sheikh. But the Sheikh replied: ‘‘Where am I to seek for it? Surely if you, who are so well armed, cannot take care of your things, how can I be expected to do so?’
Chesney admitted defeat and eventually the Euphrates steamed off. Ainsworth concluded his account by saying that ‘The Sheikh had decidedly the best of the argument. We had unquestionably been outwitted, and we had to quit this strange place’.
- The following seems like an interesting situation, what was the dynamic between Fitzjames and Mrs Helfer?
“I was a little annoyed during the course of the day that madame proposed to Fitzjames a stroll in the date grove, and he, seeing the inadvisability of the proceeding, asked me to accompany him. I could not refuse so pointed a request, and we went forth into the shady grove.” Why was Fitzjames so adamant to not be alone with Mrs Helfer that he implored Ainsworth to accompany them under the pretext that Fitzjames needed reinforcement in case Arabs attacked them? If reinforcement was needed, why ask Ainsworth while there were plenty of military men on the expedition? Perhaps Fitzjames felt uncomfortable being alone with Mrs Helfer, or he was afraid them going on a walk alone would be seen as inappropriate.
- Battersby says that all eyewitnesses left slightly different accounts, but that Charlewood’s “has the ring of truth”, so that is the one he quotes. But he does not present any arguments as to why Charlewood’s account should be more truthful than the others. The accounts all mention the same principal course of events. The only thing the different eyewitnesses do is add their own little details and personal observations. So I see no reason to prefer one account over the others in terms of truth here.
- The watch presumably being a replacement for the watch he lost when jumping into the Mersey is not relevant as Fitzjames needed a watch to do his job. As Ainsworth says: “he had appropriated to himself a watch belonging to Fitzjames, which unfortunately hung by the chronometers for comparison.” Mentioning Fitzjames’ heroic deed again is another addition to the ‘hero narrative’ of Battersby’s book.
- An interesting discrepancy is that Chesney and Mrs Helfer say that Fitzjames’ watch was retrieved from the Sheikh, while Ainsworth says that they asked but did not get the watch back. Charlewood does not mention the supposed return of the watch at all.