James Fitzjames letters at the RGS, part 2

Continued from the last post.

[All I can say is if I don’t get employed I shall get married — and perhaps shall if I do. If any decent lady will have me. and clean. as I heard a man say the other day —]

This was also quoted in the Battersby but my transcription differs on a few key notes… (“shall” instead of “thank,” “lady” instead of “body”) so now it makes a little more sense.

[… he is just the man for an expedition – being active & energetic – a capital shot & a pleasant fellow – but he is no ‘ologist – he can’t stuff birds – give long names to shiny things – or put moss in blotting paper. However if I have a choice – he is the man – so pray put him down …]

Here we get into the Expedition Prep section of the letters. This is dated 2nd January 1845 and Fitzjames is far from assured of a position on the voyage, but he keeps up a constant stream of suggestions to John Barrow Jr. as to people he think would be a good fit to bring along – in this case a surgeon, Abraham Rose Bradford, at that time appointed to HMS Actaeon. Funny that he wanted to bring along a man who was “no ‘ologist” but ended up with Goodsir, the ologist of all time…!

[… and I have the humility to suppose that if the thing is to be done it will be done by Charlewood and myself — either together or under such a man as Sir John Franklin ]

Most of his letters of January continue in the same vein: suggesting men for the expedition, pleading with Barrow for news of the expedition’s commissioning, complaining that if the voyage isn’t confirmed soon they will be too late to sail, explaining that it’s important they sail this year because it ought to happen while Barrow Sr. is still in office, as a celebration of his service to the Admiralty, etc. He just wanted to go to the Arctic with all his bros :'(

[I shall be laid up for a day or two, vaccination having come out strong in my right arm.]


[In case it should turn out after all that Crozier does not go – I hope no one else will step in between me & the command of the second ship]

Ambitious to a fault, he is still angling to maybe SOMEHOW get in command of a ship, even though he’s already been confirmed as Sir John’s second on Erebus.

[There are few better walkers in the service than I have proved myself and I have some perseverance.]

This is in a letter where he’s trying to convince Barrow to get approval for him to literally WALK TO THE NORTH POLE. This guy…

[Hodgson volunteered to me on the express condition he was to be 2nd Lieut on one of the ships]

I always wondered how Hodgson, one of JFJ’s besties, ended up on Terror — and here’s the answer! Once Gore was appointed to Erebus, that made Le Vesconte 2nd Lieut, & so James made sure Hodgson’s condition was still met by transferring him over to Terror a.k.a The Bummer Boat. Maybe he should’ve just taken the demotion instead…

[… She ought to give Sir John Franklin his “broad pennant” – we should look very respectable I think amongst the ice ]

He’s talking here about hoping the Queen comes to visit the ship — she didn’t actually end up visiting, but a lot of the letters from around this time mention the possibility that she might. Goodsir in particular was very worried because he didn’t have the right clothes for such a formal visit and buying them was a bit out of his budget.

Also, look at those doodles! What even are they supposed to be…. it’s giving Quentin Blake, it’s giving Jules Feiffer.

[Mind I say, we shall get through the North West Passage this year, and I shall land at Petro Pavlovski and take you by the hand on the 22nd February 1846]

no comment, I am too busy crying

[And by the bye if you have an opportunity do put in a word for the most indefatigable hard working man I ever saw. The master of the monkey – Bryant]

I genuinely have no idea what this means. Was Bryant in charge of the monkey on Erebus? Is that a doodle of him there or a doodle of the Rattler (which James has just spent the prior page discussing, specifically in reference to its screw propeller) ?

EDIT: Thank you Logan for reminding me of a fact I’d forgotten— Monkey was the name of the steamer that towed out the Barretto Jr from Greenhithe, but had to be sent back from Aldeburgh and was substituted by the perhaps more remembered Blazer. This accords with the rest of the page of the above letter which is about the performance of the steamers in the rough seas in the trip up the coast.

[Why is Prince Albert’s Kiss like this ship? — cause it’s a hairy bus ]

“Buss” being slang for kiss… hairy bus… Erebus… and then a really silly caricature of Prince Albert. Need I say more.

3 Comments on “James Fitzjames letters at the RGS, part 2

  1. Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping for 1845 lists a schooner named ‘Monkey’. I believe that her master was R. Grant, about whom I know nothing.

    Perhaps the doodle is of a dog and Franklin’s “broad pennant”, though it resembles pair of thermal underwear pants. 🙂

  2. The ship in the other doodle appears to have a side paddle wheel like Ross’s Victory, not a propeller like Rattler.

    1. Yes, I’ve just added in an edit — Logan let me know he was likely referring to HMS Monkey, which was the paddle steamer that had to be replaced by Blazer a few days into the voyage!

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