James Fitzjames letters at the RGS, part 1

(Excerpts posted as an “educational work” in accordance with Wiley Digital Archives’ terms of service.)

These excerpts are all from his letters to his friend John Barrow (son of Sir John Barrow), over a period of time spanning from 1839 on the Ganges to July 1845 at Disko on the Erebus.

The very first one starts off with a bang:


[My dear Barrow

You will by this packet be astonished to hear of Leigh’s misfortunes. Nothing certainly could be more perverse. The facts I believe are these. It was his first watch and he went below at 11 o’clock to have a caulk. The Captain who was up at Smyrna & gave out that he would be some 5 or 10 days came back in the night – & not only found Leigh off deck but the sentries asleep. Of course Leigh was put under arrest &c – The next morning Leigh sent for me (as I had been speaking to him some days before about being careful in his behavior) but I could not do so soon as I wished – …]

The rest of the letter details Fitzjames’s attempts to help his friend, but to no avail. I couldn’t find any record of Leigh’s court martial, though so perhaps it didn’t end up happening after all. Anyway, “have a caulk” ! I will be haunted by that forever. Apparently, it’s naval slang for “take a nap” !


[Simon’s Bay 7th Sept

I this day rode up between 12 & 1 and visited the burying ground which is situated about ½ a mile from the town to the SE on the slope of a hill overlooking the fort and the bay beyond — The grave is in good order. In fact time has worked no change in it except that the flowers now bloom in the low walled enclosure which surrounds it. & the trees which have been planted to protect it from the SE trades flourish & are now nearly my height. I send you a sprig of one of the trees and a couple of the flowers though perhaps you will not thank me for them — but I did as I felt at the moment. ]

This was written while HMS Cornwallis was stopped in Cape Town. Earlier in the letter Fitzjames had said he wasn’t sure if he would be able to get leave to visit the grave of Barrow’s brother as he’d promised, but he ended up being able to. As Sir John Barrow the elder was married in 1799 and only lived in Cape Town until 1804, the brother in question must have died as a child, before the younger Barrow was even born—hence the height of the trees.


[I entered Ching-Kiang over the walls and having lost the scabbard literally “sword in hand” and really mentally repeated “Caesar having crossed the Rubicon &c” but whilst the sword was in position a marine behind me was shot through the head and effectually knocked all thoughts of Caesar out of mine.]

This was quoted in the Battersby, but what he didn’t include was that Fitzjames turned the “ing” of “having” into a little doodle of himself with his scabbard-less sword in his hand!


[The fact is that Kerbela is not in the Persian territory, never has been Persian since the time of Xerxes – and Inshallah never will be Persian.]

This comes in the midst of arcane political talk about the situation in Persia as he was sailing the Persian Gulf on the Clio, but it’s not the only time in these letters he says “Inshallah” which I assume he picked up on the Euphrates expedition!


[I took refuge in Copa Pequena 2 days & got here this morning having lost the flue of an anchor]

This letter was sent from Ichaboe aka Birdshit Island. “Hey diddle diddle” is written over the missing part of the anchor :’)

Part 2 with excerpts from preparing for the FE coming next!

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