Percy Fawcett

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Percy Fawcett
Fawcett in 1911
BornPercy Harrison Fawcett
(1867-08-18)18 August 1867
Torquay, Devon, United Kingdom
Disappeared29 May 1925 (aged 57)
Mato Grosso, Brazil
OccupationArtillery officer, archaeologist, geologist, explorer
Nina Agnes Paterson (m. 1901)
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1886–1910
RankLieutenant Colonel
UnitRoyal Artillery
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
3 × Mentioned in despatches

Lieutenant Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett DSO (18 August 1867 – during or after 1925) was a British geographer, artillery officer, cartographer, archaeologist, and explorer of South America. Fawcett disappeared in 1925 (along with his eldest son, Jack, and one of Jack's friends, Raleigh Rimmell) during an expedition to find "Z"—his name for an ancient lost city which he and others believed existed in the jungles of Brazil.[1]


Early life[edit]

Percy Fawcett was born on 18 August 1867 in Torquay, Devon, England, to Edward Boyd Fawcett and Myra Elizabeth (née MacDougall).[2] Fawcett received his early education at Newton Abbot Proprietary College along with Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Fawcett's India-born father was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS); his elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960) was a mountain climber, an Eastern occultist, and the author of philosophical books and popular adventure novels.[3]

Fawcett attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich as a cadet, and was commissioned as a lieutenant of the Royal Artillery on 24 July 1886.[4] On 13 January 1896, he was appointed adjutant[5] of the 1st Cornwall (Duke of Cornwall's) Artillery Volunteers,[6] and was promoted to captain on 15 June 1897.[7] He later served in Hong Kong, Malta, and Trincomalee, Ceylon,[8] where he met his future wife Nina Agnes Paterson, whom he married in January 1901 after having previously ended their engagement. They had two sons, Jack (born 1903) and Brian (1906–1984), and one daughter, Joan (1910–2005).

Fawcett joined the RGS 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 served for the war office on Spike Island, County Cork from 1903 to 1906, where he was promoted to major on 11 January 1905.[9] 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 (he was seconded for service there on 2 May[10]) when at the age of 39 he travelled to Brazil to map a jungle area at the border of Brazil and Bolivia at the behest of the Royal Geographical Society. 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. While on the expedition in 1907, Fawcett claimed to have seen and shot a 62 foot long giant anaconda, a claim for which he was ridiculed by scientists. 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, and the giant Apazauca spider which was said to have poisoned a number of locals.[11][12]

Fawcett made seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. He was mostly amicable 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 journey to Heath River (on the border between Peru and Bolivia) to find its source, having retired from the British army on 19 January.[13]

After a 1913 expedition, he supposedly claimed to have seen dogs with double noses. These may have been Double-nosed Andean tiger hounds.[14]

Based on documentary research, Fawcett had by 1914 formulated ideas about a "lost city" he named "Z" (Zed) somewhere in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. He theorized that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region and that isolated ruins may have survived.[15] Fawcett also found a document known as Manuscript 512 [pt], written after explorations made in the sertão of the state of Bahia, and housed at the National Library of Rio de Janeiro. It is believed to be by Portuguese bandeirante João da Silva Guimarães [pt], who wrote that in 1753 he'd discovered the ruins of an ancient city that contained arches, a statue, and a temple with hieroglyphics; the city is described in great detail without providing a specific location. This city became a secondary destination for Fawcett, after "Z". (See Fawcett's own book Exploration Fawcett.)

At the beginning of the First World War Fawcett returned to Britain to serve with the Army as a Reserve Officer in the Royal Artillery, volunteering for duty in Flanders, and commanding an artillery brigade despite being nearly 50 years old. He was promoted from major to lieutenant-colonel on 1 March 1918,[16] and received three mentions in despatches from Douglas Haig, in November 1916,[17] November 1917,[18] and November 1918,[19] and was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order in June 1917.[20]

After the war Fawcett returned to Brazil to study local wildlife and archaeology. In 1920, he made a solo attempt to search for "Z", but ended it after suffering from a fever and shooting his pack animal.[15]

Final expedition[edit]

In 1925, with funding from a London-based group of financiers known as the Glove,[21] Fawcett returned to Brazil with his eldest son Jack and Jack's best and longtime friend, Raleigh Rimell, for an exploratory expedition to find "Z". Fawcett left 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, and had brought equipment such as canned foods, powdered milk, guns, flares, a sextant, and a chronometer. His travel companions were both chosen for their health, ability, and loyalty to each other; Fawcett chose only two companions in order to travel lighter and with less notice to native tribes, as some were hostile towards outsiders.

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, in a letter to his wife delivered by a native runner, that he was ready to go into unexplored territory with only Jack and Raleigh. They were reported to be crossing the Upper Xingu, a southeastern tributary river of the River Amazon. The final letter, written from Dead Horse Camp, gave their location and was generally optimistic.

Many people assumed that local Indians killed them, as several tribes were nearby at the time: the Kalapalos, the last tribe to have seen them, the Arumás, the Suyás, and the Xavantes whose territory they were entering. The Kalapalo have an oral story of the arrival of three explorers which states that the three went east, and after five days the Kalapalo noticed that the group no longer made camp fires. The Kalapalo say that a very violent tribe most likely killed them. However, both of the younger men were lame and ill when last seen, and there is no proof that they were murdered. It is plausible that they died of natural causes in the Brazilian jungle.[citation needed]

In 1927, a name-plate of Fawcett's 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. However, 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. The compass was proven to have been left behind before he entered the jungle on his final journey.[22][23][24]

Dead Horse Camp[edit]

Dead Horse Camp, or Fawcett's camp, is one of the major camps that Fawcett made on his final journey. This encampment was his last known location.[25]

From Dead Horse Camp, Fawcett wrote to his wife about the hardships that he and his companions had faced, his coordinates, his doubts in Raleigh Rimmel, and Fawcett's plans for the near future. He concludes his message with, “You need have no fear of any failure...”[25]

One question remaining about Dead Horse Camp concerns a discrepancy in the coordinates Fawcett gave for the camp. In the letter to his wife, he wrote: "Here we are at Dead Horse Camp, latitude 11 degrees 43' South and longitude 54 degrees 35' West, the spot where my horse died in 1920" (11°43′S 54°35′W / 11.717°S 54.583°W / -11.717; -54.583). However, in a report to the North American Newspaper Alliance he gave the coordinates as 13°43′S 54°35′W / 13.717°S 54.583°W / -13.717; -54.583.[26]

The discrepancy may have been a typographical error. However, he may have intentionally concealed the location to prevent others from using his notes to find the lost city.[27] It may have also been an attempt to dissuade any rescue attempts; Fawcett had stated that if he disappeared, no rescue party should be sent because the danger was too great.[26]

Posthumous controversy and speculations[edit]

Henry Costin's opinion[edit]

Explorer Henry Costin accompanied Fawcett on five of his previous expeditions. Costin expressed his doubt that Fawcett would have perished at the hands of native Indians, as he typically enjoyed good relations with them. He believed that Fawcett had succumbed to either a lack of food or exhaustion.[28]

Rumours and unverified reports[edit]

During the ensuing decades, various groups mounted several rescue expeditions, without success. They heard only various rumours that could not be verified.

While a fictitious tale estimated that 100 would-be-rescuers died on several expeditions attempting to discover Fawcett's fate,[29] the actual toll was only one - a sole man who ventured after him alone.[30] One of the earliest expeditions was commanded 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 his story was unconvincing. From 1930–31, Aloha Wanderwell used her seaplane to try to land on the Amazon River in the Matto Grosso to find him. After an emergency landing and living with the Bororo tribe for 6 weeks, Aloha and her husband Walter flew back to Brazil, with no luck. A 1951 expedition unearthed human bones that were found later to be unrelated to Fawcett or his companions.

Villas-Bôas story[edit]

Danish explorer Arne Falk-Rønne journeyed to the Mato Grosso during the 1960s. In a 1991 book, he wrote that he learned of Fawcett's fate from Orlando Villas-Bôas,[31] who had heard it from one of Fawcett's murderers. Allegedly, 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 Rimell 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, activist for indigenous peoples, supposedly received the actual remaining skeletal bones of Fawcett and had them analysed scientifically. The analysis allegedly confirmed the bones were Fawcett's, but his son Brian Fawcett (1906–1984) refused to accept this. 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.[32] As of 1965, the bones reportedly rested in a box in the flat of one of the Villas-Bôas brothers in São Paulo.[33]

In 1998, English explorer Benedict Allen went 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 45 years before were not really Fawcett's.[34][35] Vajuvi also denied that his tribe had any part in the Fawcetts' disappearance. No conclusive evidence supports either statement.

Russian documentary[edit]

In 2003, a Russian documentary film, The Curse of the Incas' Gold / Expedition of Percy Fawcett to the Amazon (Russian: Проклятье золота инков / Экспедиция Перси Фоссета в Амазонку), was released as a part of the television series Mysteries of the Century (Тайны века). Among other things, the film emphasizes 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.[36]

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.[37] Williams explained his research in some detail in the preface to his play AmaZonia, first performed in April 2004.[38]

Grann's Lost City of Z[edit]

In 2005, The New Yorker staff writer David Grann visited the Kalapalo tribe and reported that it had apparently preserved an oral history about Fawcett, among the first Europeans 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 that if they went that way they would be killed by the "fierce Indians" who occupied that territory, but 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 known as Kuhikugu may have actually existed near where Fawcett was searching, as discovered recently by archaeologist Michael Heckenberger and others.[39] Grann's findings are further detailed in his book The Lost City of Z (2009).


  • 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

In popular culture[edit]



  • Arthur Conan Doyle based his Professor Challenger character partly on Fawcett, and stories of the "Lost City of Z" became the basis for Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World.[40]
  • A contemporary reviewer of Evelyn Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust suggested he may have derived the plot partly from Fawcett's disappearance.[41] The novel's hero vanishes into the Brazilian jungle and is kept prisoner there.
  • Fawcett has been proposed as a possible inspiration for Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist/adventurer.[42][43] A fictionalised version of Fawcett aids Jones in the novel Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils.[44])
  • Fawcett was a prototype of Percy Foster, a fictional explorer in the Russian-language novel The grave of Tame-Tung. There, Foster and his son became obsessed with riches of Indians and were killed by their former friend Raleigh Rimer (based on Raleigh Rimmel) to prevent pillaging.
  • According to an article in Comics Scene No. 45, Fawcett was the inspiration of Kent Allard, an alter ego of the Shadow.[34]
  • Director Pete Docter named Fawcett as one of the inspirations for the character Charles F. Muntz, the antagonist of the Pixar film Up.
  • David Grann's 2009 book, The Lost City of Z was optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures. James Gray directed the film of the same name (see The Lost City of Z (film) ) of the same name, which stars Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett and was released in April 2017. The film is a heavily fictionalised version of Fawcett's explorations, especially that of 1906 and the lead-up expeditions to the final one of 1925.
  • The Cruise of the Condor (1933), one of W. E. Johns' "Biggles" stories, is inspired by Fawcett's search for "Z".
  • Writers Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child mentioned in their books that Percy Fawcett was a great-great uncle of Aloysius Pendergast's on his mother's side.
  • The plot of the first episode of the television programme Hooten & the Lady is about the search for Fawcett's camp.
  • In Hergé's adventure of Tintin L'Oreille Cassée, Fawcett is believed to be the model for Ridgewell, an explorer who disappeared for ten years and became known as "the white old man", a member of the Arumbaya tribe.


  • The 2017 Osprey Games Eurogame The Lost Expedition, designed by Peer Sylvester with artwork by Garen Ewing, is based on Percy Fawcett's expeditions.[45]
  • In the video game Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft finds a white handkerchief with drops of blood on it and the initials PHF. She surmises that it must stand for Percival Harrison Fawcett. Through further exploration she also finds journal entries written by his son Jack.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heckenberger, Michael J. (2009). "Lost Cities of the Amazon". Scientific American. 301 (4): 64–71.
  2. ^ "E. Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960)". Keverel Chess. 10 August 2011. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012.
  3. ^ "Fawcett, E Douglas". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 18 January 2017.
  4. ^ "No. 25615". The London Gazette. 10 August 1886. p. 3855.
  5. ^ "No. 26703". The London Gazette. 24 January 1896. p. 424.
  6. ^ "No. 26705". The London Gazette. 31 January 1896. p. 589.
  7. ^ "No. 26869". The London Gazette. 2 July 1897. p. 3635.
  8. ^ Fawcett, Percy. Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z. The Overlook Press. ISBN 1590208366.
  9. ^ "No. 27792". The London Gazette. 12 May 1905. p. 3426.
  10. ^ "No. 27916". The London Gazette. 25 May 1906. p. 3657.
  11. ^ Fawcett, P. H. and Fawcett, B. Exploration Fawcett (1953)
  12. ^ "Apazauca spider". The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett.
  13. ^ "No. 28330". The London Gazette. 18 January 1910. p. 434.
  14. ^ "Double-nosed dog not to be sniffed at". BBC News. 10 August 2007.
  15. ^ a b c Grann, David (19 September 2005). "The Lost City of Z". The New Yorker. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  16. ^ "No. 31120". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 January 1919. p. 674.
  17. ^ "No. 29890". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 January 1917. p. 208.
  18. ^ "No. 30421". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 December 1917. p. 12912.
  19. ^ "No. 31077". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 December 1918. p. 14926.
  20. ^ "No. 30111". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 1917. pp. 5468–5470.
  21. ^ The London Illustrated News, 22 June 1924
  22. ^ Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Irving (1981). "History of the Search for Percy H. Fawcett, Part 2".
  23. ^ Cummins, Geraldine (March 1985). The Fate of Colonel Fawcett. Health Research Books. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7873-0230-6.
  24. ^ Basso, Ellen B. (22 July 2010). The Last Cannibals: A South American Oral History. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-79206-7.
  25. ^ a b "Colonel Fawcett's Last Words". Colonel Percy Fawcett's Search For the Lost city of Z. Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  26. ^ a b "Dead Horse Camp (Fawcett's Camp)". The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  27. ^ "The Continuing Chronicles of Colonel Fawcett". Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  28. ^ "Man Who Knew Fawcett". Lancashire Evening Post. 25 July 1931. p. 4. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  29. ^ Grann, David (2010). The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. New York: Vintage Books. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-4000-7845-5.
  30. ^ Hemming, John (1 April 2017). "The Lost City of Z is a very long way from a true story and I should know". The Spectator.
  31. ^ Falk-Rønne, Arne (2017-03-16). Dr. Klapperslange (in Danish). Lindhardt og Ringhof. ISBN 9788711714096.
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ "1953 Col. Fawcett Peru Bolivia Brazil South America Lost Expedition El Dorado". eBay. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  34. ^ a b Orcutt, Larry (2000). "Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett".
  35. ^ "Vajuvi said that they were the bones of his grandfather, Mugikia." Grann (2009) pp. 252–253
  36. ^ "Тайны века. Проклятие золота инков. Экспедиция Перси Фоссета в Амазонку" [Secrets of the century. The curse of the Inca gold. Expedition of Percy Fosset to the Amazon.]. (in Russian). 2011.
  37. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (21 March 2004). "Veil lifts on jungle mystery of the Colonel who vanished". The Observer.
  38. ^ Williams, Misha. AmaZonia (PDF).
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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
  41. ^ "The Times". 4 September 1934. p. 7.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ "Making Raiders of the Lost Ark". Raiders News. 23 September 2003. Archived from the original on 7 December 2003. Retrieved 14 October 2008.
  44. ^ MacGregor, Rob (November 1991). Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-29035-6.
  45. ^ "The Lost Expedition". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved 4 July 2017.


  • Falk-Rønne, Arne. (1991). Klodens Forunderlige Mysterier. Roth Forlag.
  • Fleming, Peter. (1933) Brazilian Adventure, Charles Scribner's Sons ISBN 0-87477-246-X
  • Grann, David (2009) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon ISBN 978-0-385-51353-1
  • Leal, Hermes (1996), Enigma do Coronel Fawcett, o verdadeiro Indiana Jones (Colonel Fawcett: The Real-Life Indiana Jones; Published in Portuguese)
  • La Gazette des Français du Paraguay, Percy Fawcett - Un monument de l'Exploration et de l'Aventure en Amérique Latine - Expédition du Rio Verde - bilingue français espagnol - numéro 6, Année 1, Asuncion Paraguay.
  • Scriblerius, C.S. (2015), "Percyfaw Code, the secret dossier" Published by

External links[edit]