The Treaty of Not Fitzjames (1842)

Image credit: Platt, John, “To Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. This Print of The Signing & Sealing of the Treaty of Nanking. Is with Her Majesty’s permission humbly dedicated By Her Majesty’s faithful and devoted servant, The Proprietor” (1846). Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.

The First Opium War (1839-1842) can be roughly summarised as that in the early 19th century there was a trade imbalance between England and China, and to counter this imbalance England illegally traded opium in China. China wanted to put a stop to this, not least because of the worrying increase in opium addicts. They seized opium shipments and blocked foreign ships from entering their ports. England then declared war on China.1
Ultimately the English defeated the Chinese and a Treaty much to the disadvantage of the Chinese was signed on 29 August 1842. To commemorate this event a painting was made showing the attendees in the Great Cabin of the HMS Cornwallis right after the signing. Fitzjames was a Gunnery Lieutenant on HMS Cornwallis.

William Battersby: “The figure standing in the crowd, fourth from left, is a rather round-faced, smiling young man in a naval lieutenant’s uniform with his left arm clearly strapped up under his coat. He will look strangely familiar to anyone who has studied the famous daguerreotypes of the Franklin Expedition’s officers, taken just three years later. This was the 29-year-old James Fitzjames. […] This is the earliest known detailed portrait of him and he has not previously been identified in it. He had been shot in the arm and the back, and his strapped-up left arm is clearly visible under his coat.
Date: 1842. Artist: unknown.”3

Having read Fitzjames’ letters to his friend John Barrow from that time2, I did not see Fitzjames mention himself being present at the actual signing of the Treaty nor posing for the painting recording the event. Both of these things would be special occasions worth mentioning. He only says that the treaty is going to be signed and afterward that it was signed.

tomorrow 22nd [August 1842] — the visit will be returned on shore — and next day I believe they come off here again to sign the treaty. the despatches will then be sent by our Commander direct to the [?]. — and England. — When the treaty comes back from [?] (rectified I hope) it will be sent to England in charge of Major Malcolm — which will be in about 14 days.— I shall now close this long yarn […]—”


HMS Cornwallis Nanking 12th Septr 1842

My dear Barrow
You will all in England have been glad to hear of the glorious settlement of the China question, this goes by the Auckland, who takes Major Malcolm the Sec= of Legation with the treaty signed & sealed by the Emperor.”

The book May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition (2022) repeats the information from Battersby:
“[…] it was aboard his flagship HMS Cornwallis that the Treaty of Nanking was signed; a period print of the event shows both Le Vesconte and James Fitzjames to be present. (See Battersby […]).”4
Battersby does not actually identify Le Vesconte in the portrait. He seems to think that the following comment in his journal means that Le Vesconte was actually present at the signing of the Treaty and that he therefore must be somewhere in the portrait: “a limited number of officers from each ship was permitted to go on board the Cornwallis [to witness the signing of the Treaty] I was one of the fortunate number...”5

Having read the passage in Le Vesconte’s journal concerning the Treaty6, I do not see him mentioning being present at the actual signing. Battersby left out a sentence in the bit he quoted and added [to witness the signing of the Treaty] because that better fit his story or he simply misinterpreted the source entirely.
The passage in Le Vesconte’s journal says:

“— and on the 29th [August 1842] their Excellencies came for the last time on board the Cornwallis to sign the treaty [goes on to list the contents of the treaty] — A limited number of officers from each ship was permitted to go on board the Cornwallis. On the occasion of the signing of the treaty I was one of the fortunate number — [goes on to describe the Chinese officials’ arrival and appearance] — While the treaty was in progress we were allowed to roam about the country […]”

Le Vesconte does not mention being in the room when the treaty was signed, nor does he mention posing for a portrait. Again, two things that would surely be worth mentioning. He says that he was on board the Cornwallis when the Treaty was being signed. That is something else than being present in the room where it was signed and being included in the portrait painting.

In short, Battersby’s arguments for identifying this man as James Fitzjames are:
– Anybody who has seen the daguerreotype of Fitzjames will recognise the man in the Nanking portrait as being Fitzjames.
– The man in the Nanking portrait has his arm in a sling. Fitzjames was shot in the arm, so it must be him.

Fitzjames was not previously identified in this portrait because… he is not in it.
There is a key that accompanies the print, giving the names of everybody portrayed. Battersby conveniently disregards this or was not aware of its existence.
Something that stands out when browsing the list of names is that there are no Royal Navy officers under the rank of Commander on it (except for number 6 Frederick Kingcome R.N. whose father is number 31 Captain [John] Kingcome R.N.; Frederick would later tragically die while serving with his father as Midshipman in 1847.7) So there we have the principal impediment to Fitzjames (at the time the portrait was made still a Lieutenant, promoted in December 1842 to Commander) and Le Vesconte (Lieutenant) being in this portrait: they were not of the appropriate rank to be included.
The man who Battersby very confidently identifies as being James Fitzjames, is number 24.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

This Capt. Watson C.B. [Companion of the Bath] R.N. [Royal Navy] is Rundle Burges Watson (1809-1860), who was Commander of HMS Modeste during the war.8
Unfortunately I have not been able to find a (different) portrait of R.B. Watson, which would prove the misidentification 101%.

Just like Fitzjames, R.B. Watson was wounded during the taking of Ching-Kiang-Foo on 21 July 1842:
“Captain Richards had determined if possible to scale the walls, in the hope of forming a junction with General Shoedde’s brigade in the city ; and having fortunately discovered a heap of rubbish from which his ladders could reach the parapet (about thirty feet high) he was in the act of rearing them, when Commander Watson and Mr. Forster, master, with a boats crew and a small escort of marines joined him from the Modeste, which was stationed some miles higher up the river.
Lieutenant Baker, of the Madras artillery, Commander Watson, Captain Richards, and a private marine of the Modeste were the first who ascended. The two former were wounded, and the latter killed by the fire from the west gate, in this intrepid achievement ;”
wrote Vice-Admiral William Parker in a letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty.9

But to be honest I do not detect a sling. The man could simply have his hand on his hip.

In earlier online discussions on the accuracy of Battersby’s identification of Fitzjames in the portrait I have seen people say that “the key could be wrong”. The people in this portrait are all high-ranking officers, not anonymous seamen. The engraving was published only 4 years after the treaty was signed and the painting was made10, so most of the people in the portrait were still alive; if not, their families and friends would know the people in it. Fitzjames’ friend and relation Colin Campbell is in the portrait and he would surely have recognised the misidentification of Fitzjames. It would have been very strange indeed if care was not taken to assign the correct names to the people in the portrait.

Let us now analyse the skill of Captain John Platt of the Bengal Volunteers, the artist who made the painting. I think he is especially good at accurately drawing noses. Most of the people in the portrait have larger eyes than they would in real life, but otherwise I would say Platt did a fine job of portraying these men. Because the location of the original painting is unknown, all we have now is an engraving based on it. The colouring was done by another hand, so the hair colour etc. might not be accurate. For example, the National Maritime Museum Greenwich also has a coloured print and their version has different colours than the one at Brown University.11

Here are a few side-by-side comparisons, to show how accurately John Platt (or rather the engraver, I suppose) portrayed these men:

Right: Portrait of Colin Campbell (1792-1863), 1st Baron Clyde by Herbert Watkins
albumen print, late 1850s © National Portrait Gallery, London
Left: Sir Henry Kellett (1806-1875) by Stephen Pearce
oil on canvas, exhibited 1856 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Left: Viscount Gough (1779-1869) Daguerreotype, 1850
© Royal Collection Trust
Right: Robert Thom (1807-1846), Consul at Ningpo, China © British Library Board
Right: Sir Henry Pottinger (1789–1856), Governor of Hong Kong by Francis Grant, 1845
© Government Art Collection UK

Now that we have seen some comparisons it is time for the most important comparison of all. Even though Captain John Platt might not have been the best-skilled realist painter, he still could portray his subject in such a way that you can see who it is supposed to represent. So it is very hard for me to believe that he would turn Fitzjames into this (no offense, Mister Watson):

Right: James Fitzjames (1813-c.1848) Daguerreotype by Richard Beard, 1845
© SPRI Cambridge

To conclude, I think the most important argument against Fitzjames being in the Treaty of Nanking portrait is that he himself does not mention being present at the signing and due to his rank at the time also does not qualify to be in the portrait. Finally, the man Battersby identified as being Fitzjames does not look like him.

Fabiënne Tetteroo
12 August 2022


2. Fitzjames’ correspondence with John Barrow 1839-1845, reference: LMS F 6, Royal Geographical Society
3. Battersby, William James Fitzjames: the mystery man of the Franklin Expedition 2010 p. 134 and plate 27
4. Russell A. Potter, Regina Koellner, Peter Carney, Mary Williamson May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition 2022 p. 258
5. Battersby, William 2010 p. 133
6. Personal diary of Lt Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte HMS CALLIOPE, CORNWALLIS and CLIO, January 1841-October 1844, reference: JOD/89, Caird Library, Royal Museums Greenwich
9. Published in the London Gazette 24 November 1842, p. 3403
10. At the bottom of the engraving it says “Published 20 April 1846”. It was based on a painting (location unknown) made by Captain John Platt of the Bengal Volunteers.

Further reading:
Blog by Rudi Butt from Hong Kong, giving more information about the Chinese side of the war: