Percy Fawcett

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Percy Harrison Fawcett
PercyFawcett.jpg
Fawcett in 1911
Born (1867-08-18)18 August 1867
Torquay, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Disappeared 29 May 1925 (aged 57)
Mato Grosso, Brazil
Occupation Artillery officer
Archaeologist
Explorer

Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett (18 August 1867 – in or after 1925) was a British artillery officer, archaeologist and South American explorer. Along with his eldest son, Fawcett disappeared under unknown circumstances in 1925 during an expedition to find "Z" – his name for an ancient lost city, which he and others[1] believed to be El Dorado, in the uncharted jungles of Brazil.

Biography[edit]

An adventurous father[edit]

Percy Fawcett was born on 18 August 1867 in Torquay, Devon, England, to Edward Boyd Fawcett and Myra Elizabeth (née MacDougall).[2] He received his education at Newton Abbot Proprietary College alongside Bertram Fletcher Robinson, a future friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Percy Fawcett's Indian-born father was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). His elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960) was a mountain climber, Eastern occultist and author of philosophical books and popular adventure novels.

In 1886, Percy received a commission in the Royal Artillery and he served in Trincomalee, Ceylon, where he also met his wife. He married Nina Agnes Paterson in January 1901. They had two sons, Jack (born 1903) and Brian (1906-1984). He joined the RGS himself in 1901 in order to study surveying and mapmaking. Later, he worked for the British Secret Service in North Africa while pursuing the surveyor's craft. He became friends with authors H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle; the latter used Fawcett's Amazonian field reports as an inspiration for his novel, The Lost World.

Early expeditions[edit]

Fawcett's first expedition to South America was in 1906 when at the age of 39 he travelled to Brazil to map a jungle area at the border of Brazil and Argentina at the behest of the RGS. The Society had been commissioned to map the area as a third party unbiased by local national interests. He arrived in La Paz, Bolivia in June. Whilst on the expedition in 1907, Fawcett claimed to have seen and shot a 62 foot long giant anaconda, for which he was widely ridiculed by the scientific community. He reported other mysterious animals unknown to zoology, such as a small cat-like dog about the size of a foxhound, which he claimed to have seen twice, or the giant Apazauca spider which was said to have poisoned a number of locals.[3][4]

Fawcett made seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. He mostly got along with the locals through gifts, patience and courteous behaviour. In 1908, he traced the source of the Rio Verde (Brazil) and in 1910 made a trip to Heath River (on the border between Peru and Bolivia) to find its source. Following a 1913 expedition, he supposedly claimed to have seen dogs with double noses. These may have been Double-nosed Andean tiger hounds.[5] Based on documentary research, Fawcett had formulated his ideas about a "Lost City of Z" in Brazil by the time of the outbreak of World War I. At that time he returned to Britain for active service, volunteered for the front in Flanders, and led an artillery brigade despite the fact that he was approaching fifty years of age. After the war he returned to Brazil to study local wildlife and archaeology.

Final expedition[edit]

In 1925, with funding from a London-based group of financiers called the Glove,[6] Fawcett returned to Brazil with his elder son Jack, and Jack's friend, for an exploratory expedition. He had studied ancient legends and historical records and was convinced a lost city existed somewhere in the Mato Grosso region, a city Fawcett named "Z." Fawcett left behind instructions stating that if the expedition did not return, no rescue expedition should be sent lest the rescuers suffer his fate.

Fawcett was a man with years of experience travelling with all the handpicked necessities, things such as canned foods, powdered milk, guns, flares and of course a sextant and a chronometer for gathering latitude and longitude. Also handpicked were his travel companions, both chosen for their health, ability and loyalty to each other—his eldest son Jack Fawcett and Jack's long-time friend Raleigh Rimmell. Fawcett chose only two companions, so they could travel lighter, and so they would travel with less notice from the tribes of the jungle, some being hostile towards explorers; many tribes at the time still had not come into contact with white men.

On 20 April 1925 his final expedition departed from Cuiabá. In addition to his two principal companions, Fawcett was accompanied by two Brazilian labourers, two horses, eight mules and a pair of dogs. The last communication from the expedition was on 29 May 1925, when Fawcett wrote a letter to his wife that he was ready to go into unexplored territory with only Jack and Rimmell, which was delivered to the outside world by an Indian runner. They were reported to be crossing the Upper Xingu, a southeastern tributary of the Amazon River. A final letter, written from Dead Horse Camp, gave their location and was generally optimistic.

Many presumed that local Indians had killed them, several tribes being posited at the time: the Kalapalos, who last saw them, or the Arumás, Suyás or Xavantes tribes whose territory they were entering. Both of the younger men were lame and ill when last seen, and there is no proof they were murdered. It is plausible that they died of natural causes in the Brazilian jungle.

In 1927, a name-plate of Fawcett was found with an Indian tribe. In June 1933, a theodolite compass belonging to Fawcett was found near the Baciary Indians of Mato Grosso by Colonel Aniceto Botelho. But actually the name-plate was from Fawcett's expedition five years earlier and had most likely been given as a gift to the chief of that Indian tribe. In case of the compass, it was proven that it was left behind before he entered the jungle on his final journey.[7][8][9]

Posthumous controversy and speculations[edit]

Rumours and unverified reports[edit]

During the following decades, various groups mounted several rescue expeditions, without results. They heard only various rumours that could not be verified. In addition to reports that Fawcett had been killed by Indians or wild animals, there was a tale that Fawcett had lost his memory and lived out his life as the chief of a tribe of cannibals.

An estimated 100 would-be-rescuers have died in more than 13 expeditions sent to uncover Fawcett's fate.[citation needed] One of the earliest was led by American explorer George Miller Dyott in 1927; he claimed to have found evidence of Fawcett's death at the hands of the Aloique Indians, but the strength of his story soon began to unravel. A 1951 expedition unearthed human bones that were later found to be unconnected to Fawcett or his companions. Kalapalo tribesmen captured a 1996 expedition, but released them days later when they gave up all their equipment and a $30,000 ransom was paid.

The Villas-Bôas story[edit]

Danish explorer Arne Falk-Rønne journeyed to the Mato Grosso in the 1960s. In a 1991 book, he wrote that he learned Fawcett's fate from Orlando Villas-Bôas, who had heard it from one of Fawcett's murderers. Apparently, Fawcett and his companions had a mishap on the river and lost most of the gifts they'd brought along for the Indian tribes. Continuing without gifts was a serious breach of protocol; since the expedition members were all more or less seriously ill at the time, the Kalapalo tribe they encountered decided to kill them. The bodies of Jack Fawcett and Raleigh Rimmell were thrown into the river; Colonel Fawcett, considered an old man and therefore distinguished, received a proper burial. Falk-Rønne visited the Kalapalo tribe and reported that one of the tribesmen confirmed Villas-Bôas's story about how and why Fawcett had been killed.

Fawcett's bones?[edit]

In 1951, Orlando Villas-Bôas supposedly received the actual remaining skeletal bones of Fawcett and had them scientifically analysed. The analysis allegedly confirmed the bones to be Fawcett's. But his son Brian Fawcett (1906–1984) refused to accept them. Villas-Bôas claimed that Brian was too interested in making money from books about his father's disappearance. Later scientific analysis confirmed that the bones were not Fawcett's.[10] As of 1965, the bones reportedly rested in a box in the flat of one of the Villas-Bôas brothers in São Paulo.[citation needed]

In 1998, English explorer Benedict Allen set out to talk to the Kalapalo Indians, said by Villas-Bôas to have confessed to having killed the three Fawcett expedition members. An elder of the Kalapalo, Vajuvi, claimed during a filmed BBC interview with Allen that the bones found by Villas-Bôas some 45 years before were not really Fawcett's.[11][12] Vajuvi also denied that his tribe had had any part in the Fawcetts' disappearance. No conclusive evidence supports either statement.

Russian documentary[edit]

In 2003, a Russian documentary film, "Проклятье золота инков / Экспедиция Перси Фоссета в Амазонку" (The Curse of the Incas' Gold / Expedition of Percy Fawcett to the Amazon), was released as a part of the TV series "Тайны века" (Mysteries of the Century). Among other things, the film focuses on the recent expedition of Oleg Aliyev to the presumed approximate place of Fawcett's last whereabouts and Aliyev's findings, impressions and presumptions about Fawcett's fate.

Commune in the jungle[edit]

On 21 March 2004, the British newspaper The Observer reported that television director Misha Williams, who had studied Fawcett's private papers, believed that Fawcett had not intended to return to Britain but rather meant to found a commune in the jungle based on theosophical principles and the worship of his son Jack.[13] Williams set out his research in some detail in the preface to his play AmaZonia, first performed in April 2004.[14]

Grann's The Lost City of Z[edit]

Main article: The Lost City of Z

In 2005, The New Yorker staff writer David Grann visited the Kalapalo tribe and discovered that it had passed down an oral history about Fawcett, among the first white men the tribe had ever seen. The oral account said that Fawcett and his party had stayed at their village and then left, heading eastward. The Kalapalos warned Fawcett and his companions not to go that way—that they would be killed by the “fierce Indians” who occupied that territory—but that Fawcett insisted on going. The Kalapalos observed smoke from the expedition’s campfire each evening for five days before it disappeared. The Kalapalos said they were sure the fierce Indians had killed them.[15] The article also reports that a monumental civilisation called Kuhikugu may have actually existed near where Fawcett was looking, as discovered recently by archaeologist Michael Heckenberger and others.[16] Grann's findings are further detailed in his book The Lost City of Z (2009).

Works[edit]

  • Fawcett, Percy and Brian Fawcett (1953), Exploration Fawcett, Phoenix Press (2001 reprint), ISBN 1-84212-468-4
  • Fawcett, Percy and Brian Fawcett (1953), Lost Trails, Lost Cities, Funk & Wagnalls ASIN B0007DNCV4
  • Fawcett, Brian (1958), Ruins in the Sky, Hutchinson of London

Influence in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Heckenberger, M. J. (2009). Lost cities of the Amazon. Scientific American, 301(4), 64-71.
  2. ^ www.keverelchess.com - E. Douglas Fawcett (1866-1960)
  3. ^ Fawcett, P. H. and Fawcett, B. Exploration Fawcett (1953)
  4. ^ "Apazauca spider". The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett. 
  5. ^ BBC News Double-nosed dog not to be sniffed at 10 August 2007
  6. ^ The London Illustrated News 22 June 1924
  7. ^ David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace. 1981. History of the Search for Percy H. Fawcett Part 2. Trivia-Library.com. [1]
  8. ^ Geraldine Cummins. The Fate of Colonel Fawcett. Pg 14
  9. ^ Ellen Basso, The Last Cannibals (University of Texas Press)
  10. ^ The upper jaw provides the clearest possible evidence that these human remains were not those of Colonel Fawcett, whose spare upper denture is fortunately available for comparison. Royal Anthropological Institute (London) (1951) "Report on the human remains from Brazil" as quoted by Grann (2009) p. 253
  11. ^ a b Larry Orcutt. 2000. Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett
  12. ^ Vajuvi said that they were the bones of his grandfather, Mugikia. Grann (2009) pp. 252–253
  13. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (21 March 2004). "Veil lifts on jungle mystery of the colonel who vanished". Guardian UK. 
  14. ^ Misha Williams. AmaZonia. 
  15. ^ David Grann. A Reporter at Large, "The Lost City of Z,". The New Yorker. 19 September 2005. [2]
  16. ^ For further info see the last chapter of Grann's book The Lost City of Z and Charles Mann's book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
  17. ^ Grann, David (2009) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. Doubleday, New York, pages 8 and 95, ISBN 978-0-385-51353-1
  18. ^ The Times. 4 September 1934. p. 7. 
  19. ^ Neither George Lucas nor Steven Spielberg—co-creators of the successful concept and franchise—have indicated that any specific individual inspired their character, other than the generic stock heroes popularised in the matinée serials and pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s they admired and wished to modernise, or later exotic-culture adventure films such as 1954's Secret of the Incas.
  20. ^ "Making Raiders of the Lost Ark" (archived web page). Raiders News. 23 September 2003. Archived from the original on 7 December 2003. Retrieved 14 October 2008. 
  21. ^ Rob MacGregor (November 1991). Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-29035-6. 
  22. ^ White, James (September 4, 2013). "Benedict Cumberbatch off to the Lost City of Z". Empire Online. Retrieved September 4, 2013. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]