In May 1845, aboard the Erebus at Woolwich, James Fitzjames wrote his last will and testament. Instead of using a standard format, he used his own words.
It might have been a hasty last minute affair because the exact day hasn’t been filled out and no executor was appointed.
As his witnesses Fitzjames had his friends and Erebus Lieutenants Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte and James Walter Fairholme. The former also wrote his will aboard the Erebus on 15 May when the ship was at Greenhithe, but didn’t ask Fitzjames as his witness. It could be that Fitzjames simply wasn’t available that day. Le Vesconte also used his own words. By contrast, many other Franklin Expedition crewmembers used standard formats when writing their will.
(On the Arctonauts website you can read all of the available Franklin Expedition wills)
The official document is in The National Archives and it looks like this:
A legal clerk copied Fitzjames’ handwritten will. Also included is the affidavit sworn by William Coningham on 14 June 1854.
Fitzjames’ original handwritten will has been preserved, but the National Archives won’t allow the entire document to be posted online because they claim copyright.
I do however want to show some of it, for the purpose of historical research and education.
The following transcription is based on Michael King Macdona’s transcription of the official document (thank you, Michael!) and my transcription of Fitzjames’ handwritten original.
IN CASE OF MY DEATH during the voyage which I am about to undertake to the Arctic Seas – I hereby make my last Will and Testament, being now by God’s blessing in a sound state of body and mind –
The whole of my worldly property consisting of three thousand five hundred pounds £3500 In the consolidated three per cent annuities – the dividends for which are drawn by Messrs Hoare & Co Fleet Street London.
Together with such sum or sums as may be to my credit in the hands of the said Messrs Hoare & Co and together with any sum or sums that may be to my credit in the hands of Messrs Stilwell & Sons Arundel Street Strand, Navy Agents.
I hereby will without reserve to my best beloved friend William Coningham Esqr now residing at 42 Porchester Terrace Bayswater
or in case of the death of the said William Coningham at the time of my decease to his Wife Elizabeth Coningham – or in case of her
death at the time of my decease to their Son William Coningham
And all Goods and Chattels and property of any sort that I may possess I will as aforesaid to William Coningham Esqr or to Elizabeth his Wife or to their son William Coningham –
And any sum or sums that may hereafter be left to me by will or in any manner whatsoever and which I am not now aware of possessing or may not hereafter be aware of I leave as aforesaid to William Coningham Esqr or to Elizabeth his Wife or to their Son William Coningham –
And in case of the death of the whole of the aforesaid parties at the time that the News of my death may reach England Then I desire that all my property as aforesaid may descend in succession to the eldest living child of the said William Coningham.
And in case of my not having expressed myself clearly – I desire and wish that whoever may survive to claim the said property be considered in full possession of it without entail or hindrance –
And my hope is that William Coningham may live to claim all I may have to leave him –
In witness whereof I herewith subscribe my hand this [ ] day of May one thousand eight hundred and forty five
on board HMS Erebus at Woolwich
Commander Royal Navy
Witness to signature
H.D. Le Vesconte Lieut. R.N.
J.W. Fairholme Lieut RN
In the Goods of James Fitzjames Esquire (Deceased)
APPEARED PERSONALLY William Coningham of Brighton in the County of Sussex Esquire, and made Oath that the said James Fitzjames sailed from Woolwich in the County of Kent in the month of May in the year 1845 (the second in command of Her Majestys Ship Erebus) as one of the expedition under the command of Sir John Franklin for the exploration of the Arctic Seas, And he further made Oath that the said James Fitzjames in anticipation of the perils of the said intended voyage whilst on board the said Ship Erebus at Woolwich aforesaid in the said month of May but the date more particularly he cannot set forth made and executed his last Will and Testament (now hereunto annexed) in the presence of Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte and James Walter Fairholme the subscribed Witnesses thereto both of whom were Officers on board of, and belonging to the said Ship and also accompanied the said expedition that the said James Fitzjames delivered his said Will into the hands of this Deponent for safe custody on or about the day on which it was executed, And he further made Oath that the last Letters received from the said Ship were dated on or about the 12th day of July in the said year 1845, since which time the said James Fitzjames has not been heard of nor have any tidings been received from the said expedition, since the month of July in the said year, And he verily believes that the said James Fitzjames is long since dead, and he further made Oath that the said James Fitzjames died in or since the month of July one thousand eight hundred and forty five to the best of his knowledge information and belief
On the 14 day of June 1854 the said William Coningham was duly sworn to the truth of this Affidavit __William Coningham__
J. G. Middleton [Surrt]
W. F. Gostling [Noty Pubs]
ON the 26th June 1854 Admon (with the Will annexed) of the Goods Chattels and Credits of James Fitzjames late Commander in the Royal Navy belonging to Her Majesty’s Ship Erebus at Sea Esquire deceased, was granted to William Coningham Esquire the universal Legatee named in the said Will, having been first sworn duly to administer __No Executor__