THE LIFE OF JAMES FITZJAMES
27 July 1813
Born in Devon or London
24 February 1815:
Baptised at St Marylebone Parish Church, London
1815 – 1825:
Taken in by Robert and Louisa Coningham (presumably his uncle and aunt). Lives with them in Watford, Hertfordshire and later Rose Hill estate, Abbots Langely, Hertfordshire
1825 25 August – 15 September 1828: HMS Pyramus
Enters the Royal Navy as a Volunteer of the Second Class
Its first Captain was Robert Gambier, Fitzjames’ second cousin. When Gambier left because of a family emergency, he was replaced by Captain George Rose Sartorius. The mission was diplomatic and its port of calls were Barbados, New York, Malta and Portugal. Young Fitzjames was fluent in Portuguese and could also speak French, plus a little Spanish and Italian.
19 February 1828:
HMS Terror (yes THAT one) wrecked at Portuguese coast and Fitzjames and crew were sent to help
1 July 1828:
Promoted to Volunteer of the First Class by Captain Sartorius
1828 September – December 1830:
Returns to live with the Coninghams and receives a private education together with his cousin William
23 January 1829:
Has his silhouette portrait done together with William and Robert Coningham in London
1830 15 December:
Enters as a Volunteer Second Class on the HMS Vincent in Portsmouth
Resigns from HMS Vincent because he needed to be Midshipman instead
Gets position of Midshipman on HMS Asia
Due to change in flag ship HMS Asia crew switches to HMS Vincent
1831 March – May 1834: HMS Vincent
Based in Malta, HMS Vincent was the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean flagship and spent most of the time in harbour.
Lent as Midshipman to the HMS Madagascar. The ship was to bring Prince Otto of Bavaria to Greece to be crowned its King.
Present at the coronation in Athens. As was John Irving of HMS Edinburgh, he who would join the Franklin Expedition. It doesn’t appear he and Fitzjames met.
28 October 1833:
Stars as Queen in a play called Chrononhotonthologos: the most tragic play that was ever tragidized by any company of tragedians
1834 June – September:
Stays in Portsmouth to recruit men for his new commission on the HMS Winchester.
1834 25 October:
Resigns from the Winchester to join a much greater adventure: the Euphrates Expedition
1834 November / January 1835:
Moves to Birkenhead to oversee construction of two steamboats for upcoming Euphrates Expedition. Lives on Church Street with Edward Philips Charlewood, who becomes his close friend and is his colleague on the Expedition.
1835 1 February:
Saves a customs officer from drowning in the River Mersey, Liverpool. Receives the Freedom of the City, a silver medal and a silver cup in recognition of his bravery. The cup and medal are now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.
Read more about the incident HERE.
1834 25 October – 30 October 1836: THE EUPHRATES EXPEDITION.
HMS Euphrates and Tigris
Mate on Euphrates
Under the command of Colonel Francis Rawdon Chesney, the objective of the Expedition was to establish the river Euphrates as a major mail and trade route by steamship between Europe and Asia. The Expedition was not exactly a success and endured much hardship and disease.
The Euphrates river flows through Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
10 February 1835, Liverpool
The George Canning, with onboard the Expedition’s crew, supplies and stores, sails for Malta
4 April 1835
Arrival at the Bay of Antioch, where at Suedia (present-day Samandağ) they set up their camp which they named ‘Amelia Depot’
16 March 1836, Port William near Birecik, Turkey
The Euphrates embarks on her maiden voyage
21 May 1836, near Anah, Iraq:
Wreck of the Tigris in a hurricane. The Euphrates narrowly survives.
23 May 1836:
Death of his uncle Robert Coningham in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire
30 October 1836:
Leaves the Expedition and begins 1000 mile (1609 km) largely overland journey to personally deliver India Office mails from Iraq to London.
Held hostage by a Sheikh, robbed, forced to walk many miles across country and a 500 mile (804 km) uncomfortable camel ride.
26 December 1836:
Fitzjames and the letters safely reach Beirut
4 January 1837, Beirut:
Boards ship home to England
Arrives back in England
1837 rest of the year: lives in London.
Went to a reception at Kensington Palace hosted by the Duke of Sussex with Euphrates buddies Charlewood and Andrew Staunton, where the three of them got into a pillow fight with red velvet cushions while a ‘solemn-looking old Bishop’ looked on in disgust.
1838 26 January: attains the rank of Lieutenant.
Starts training at the Naval School of Gunnery aboard HMS Excellent, a shore establishment in Portsmouth
Together with Edward Charlewood
17 October 1838:
Finishes Naval School of Gunnery with distinction
1838 18 October – 24 April 1841: HMS Ganges
Mission in short: defending allies Lebanon and Syria against Egyptian takeover
10 February 1839:
HMS Ganges leaves Portsmouth for coast of Lebanon and Syria.
Also serving on this ship was Mate James Walter Fairholme (later Lieutenant on the Franklin Expedition).
HMS Ganges is flagship of the fleet blockading Egyptian forces at Beirut
29 May 1840:
Funeral of his aunt Louisa Coningham in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
September 1840, Beirut:
Volunteers to go ashore and distribute a proclamation to disperse to the Egyptian soldiers. Makes it back safely to the Ganges, but an angry General Soliman Pasha puts a price on his head
Peace with Egypt declared, mission completed
1841 1 June:
arrives back in England
1841 6 June:
features in the first census of England and Wales while staying with William Coningham and his wife Elizabeth at 11 Cumberland Terrace, London
Besides William and Elizabeth there are three servants living at the address; Francis Clark, Eliza Dolby and Mary Ruttle.
Source: The National Archives
1841 29 May – 29 December 1842: THE FIRST OPIUM WAR. HMS Cornwallis
In short: the British attack China to secure the opium trade
3 July 1841:
HMS Cornwallis leaves England. George Henry Hodgson (later Franklin Expedition Lieutenant) serves as Mate.
Charles Frederick Des Voeux (later Franklin Expedition Mate) was traveling on the Cornwallis to join his appointed ship HMS Endymion.
11 November 1841:
Cornwallis arrives at Singapore and stays for 5 days. Here Fitzjames became involved in a shady affair concerning George Barrow, son of Sir John Barrow.
14 March 1842:
Cornwallis arrives at Ningbo, China and takes part in the fighting soon after. Fitzjames was firing Congreve rockets ‘with excellent precision’.
20 July 1842:
Battle of Zhenjiang, where a musket ball went through his arm and into his back. He had to be evacuated and operated on.
As written to the Admiralty by Vice-Admiral William Parker, from The Nautical magazine and Naval Chronicle 1842
29 August 1842:
Fitzjames was recovering very well. The war is won by the English and the Treaty of Nanking signed aboard the Cornwallis.
Henry T.D. Le Vesconte of the HMS Clio (which was to be Fitzjames’ next ship) was one the attendees.
18 November 1842:
Arrives in Hong Kong and stays there for the next few months
30 December 1842:
Promoted to the rank of Commander, and given command of his own ship, the HMS Clio
Fitzjames wrote a very long poem about his Chinese adventure, entitled ‘Voyage of the HMS Cornwallis’. It was published under the pseudonym of Tom Bowline in The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle. Read it HERE.
1842 30 December – 10 October 1844: HMS Clio
But where is the ship??????
Travels from Hong Kong to Calcutta, India where the Clio was last sighted. When he arrived it had already sailed to Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
8 August 1843:
After waiting around for news, travels to Bombay and upon arrival on 27 August finds the Clio and formally takes up his Captaincy.
His First Lieutenant is Henry T.D. Le Vesconte (who would later join the Franklin Expedition).
19 May 1844:
Sails from Bombay to Trincomalee to deliver Queen Victoria’s signed Treaty of Nanking to Sir William Parker of HMS Cornwallis
From newspaper Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service 10 August 1844
5 August 1844:
Death of his birth father James Gambier in London
August 1844, Ichaboe Island, Namibia:
aka ‘the Father of all dung hills’
The Clio was called upon to settle disputes between merchant vessels loading valuable guano.
Extract from The African Guano Trade (1845)
Fitzjames’ account of the visit to Ichaboe:
From The Nautical magazine and Naval Chronicle, 1844
August 22 1844:
After visiting the island of St Helena (where Napoleon spent his last years) it was homewards to England
2 October 1844:
Back in England. For what turned out to be the final time…
Moves in with William Coningham, his wife Elizabeth and their two children in Brighton, address 13 Royal Parade
1844 22 November, London:
William and Fitzjames open a bank account at Hoar & Co (which can still be found at the same address of 37 Fleet Street) in Fitzjames’ name
Fitzjames has his mind set on joining a North West Passage expedition. He is busy writing letters to Sir John Barrow trying to put himself forward as the leader and recommending fellow officers from his circle of friends. Edward Charlewood was one of them.
1845 4 March – ….. The Arctic Expedition. HMS Erebus
Commander / Captain (December 1845)
Later known as ‘The Franklin Expedition’
Objectives: completing the Northwest Passage and scientific research in the Canadian Arctic
HMS Erebus (Captain Sir John Franklin)
HMS Terror (Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier)
Fitzjames has been privately informed of his appointment as Second in Command to Sir John Franklin on flagship HMS Erebus.
He is Third in Command of the Expedition entire, with Captain Crozier of Terror being Second.
4 March 1845:
Official announcement of Fitzjames’ appointment.
Moves out of the Coningham home in Brighton and moves into rooms at 14 Frances Street, Woolwich, London.
March – April 1845:
Fitzjames is in charge of the recruitment of officers and men,
although this doesn’t mean he had the final say
8 May 1845:
From the Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service of 10 May 1845
Fitzjames spends much time in Woolwich to practise magnetic and navigational techniques.
Even though Captain Crozier of the HMS Terror was much more experienced and a member of the Royal Geographical Society besides, Fitzjames was put in charge of the magnetic observations on the expedition.
Excerpt from Franklin’s official orders from the Admiralty:
“13. […] The only magnetical observations that have been obtained very partially in the Arctic Regions, are now a quarter of a century old, and it is known that the phenomena are subject to considerable secular changes. It is also stated by Colonel Sabine, that the instruments and methods of observation have been so greatly improved, that the earlier observations are not to be named in point of precision with those which would now be made ; and he concludes by observing, that the passage through the Polar Sea would afford the most important service that now remains to be performed towards the completion of the magnetic survey of the globe.
14. Impressed with the importance of this subject, we have deemed it proper to request Lieut.-Colonel Sabine to allow Commander Fitzjames to profit by his valuable instructions, and we direct you, therefore, to place this important branch of science under the immediate charge of Commander Fitzjames; and as several other officers have also received similar instruction at Woolwich, you will therefore cause observations to be made daily on board each of the ships whilst at sea (and when not prevented by weather, and other circumstances) on the magnetic variation, dip and intensity, noting at the time the temperature of the air, and of the sea at the surface, and at different depths; and you will be careful that in harbour and on other favourable occasions those observations shall be attended to, by means of which the influence of the ship’s iron on the result obtained to sea may be computed and allowed for.” Source
Friday 16 May 1845
Commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin, the officers of HMS Erebus and only Captain Crozier of Terror had their Daguerreotype portrait taken by Richard Beard. Fitzjames (and a few other officers) had two portraits taken. Location: the docks at Greenhithe or aboard Erebus?
©SPRI and ©NMM
Saturday 17 May 1845:
Aboard the Erebus. Writes a thank you letter to Sir John Barrow, in which he basically says he owes his advancement in the Navy to him.
Sunday 18 May 1845:
Sir John Franklin conducts divine service for the entire crew on the deck of the Erebus
Monday 19 May 1845:
Erebus and Terror sail out from Greenhithe, leaving England forever
Accompanying them are the steamers HMS Rattler and HMS Monkey (later on in the journey substituted by HMS Blazer), meant to tow the Erebus and Terror until they left British waters. Plus transport ship Barretto Junior, carrying extra provisions to be transferred to the ships when they reached Greenland.
Saturday 24 May 1845:
A drawing of Fitzjames’ cabin on Erebus gets published in the Illustrated London News
The portrait above the table is of William Coningham, but the ILN engraver seems to have drawn a woman in a dress…
A storm forces the ships to anchor at Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Saturday 31 May 1845:
Erebus and Terror arrive at Stromness, Orkney, Scotland
Tuesday 3 June 1845
The ships leave Stromness and set sail for the Whale Fish Islands, Disko Bay, Greenland
Saturday 7 June 1845
“The steamers Ratler and Blazer left us at noon yesterday, near the Island of Rona, seventy or eighty miles from Stromness. Their captains came on board and took our letters; one from me will have told you of our doings up to that time.” Fitzjames in his 8 June letter to Elizabeth Coningham
3 July – 12 July 1845
Stay at Whale Fish Islands, Disko Bay, Greenland
13 July 1845
Barretto Junior left for England the day before.
Erebus and Terror set sail for Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound.
circa 25 July – 31 July 1845
Baffin Bay. Waiting for break-up of the ice to resume journey, together with whaling ships Prince of Wales and Enterprise.
Last contact with the outside world.
Winter 1845 – 1846
Overwintering at Beechey Island
31 December 1845
Promoted to the rank of Captain, but he never learned of this
The Naval and Military Gazette 3 January 1846
The voyage continues down the East side of Prince of Wales Island
12 September 1846
Ships trapped in pack ice off the North Western coast of King William Island
Winter 1846 – 1847
Second Winter in the ice
Monday 24 May, 1847
“Party consisting of 2 officers [Lieutenant Graham Gore and Mate Charles Des Voeux] and 6 men left the ships” (presumably) to complete the Northwest Passage on foot and to deposit an Admiralty form filled out by Fitzjames
Friday 28 May 1847
Form deposited in a cairn at Victory Point, King William Island
Later known as the Victory Point Note, it gives a brief account of the expedition thus far. Fitzjames writes optimistically:
“Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well“
11 June 1847
Death of Sir John Franklin. Fitzjames becomes Captain of the Erebus and Second in Command of the expedition entire.
Captain Crozier assumes the role of Commander of the expedition.
Third Winter in the ice
Sunday 22 April 1848
Erebus and Terror are deserted in an attempt to reach help overland on foot
Wednesday 25 April 1848
Victory Point Note retrieved by Lieutenant John Irving of Terror and brought to Fitzjames and Crozier.
Fitzjames writes an update on the margins of the message written a year earlier.
“… deaths in the Expedition has been to this date 9 officers & 15 men
F.R.M. Crozier Captain & Senior Officer / James Fitzjames Captain H.M.S. Erebus
and start on tomorrow 26th for Backs Fish River”
THIS MESSAGE IS THE LAST DEFINITIVE TRACE OF JAMES FITZJAMES