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Fawcett, Lt Colonel Percival Harrison

Category: Explorer or adventurer

“Perry Harrison Fawcett was considered the last of the individualist
explorers-those who ventured into blank spots on the map with little more
than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose.
He is seen here in 1911, the year of his fourth major Amazon expedition”

Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett (18 August 1867 – in or after 1925) was a British artillery officer, archaeologist and South American explorer.

Fawcett, like many other Victorian explorers, was not only a geographer and archaeologist, he was a talented artist (his ink drawings have been displayed at the Royal Academy) and shipbuilder (he had patented the "ichthoid curve," which added knots to a vessel's speed).

Fawcett disappeared under unknown circumstances in 1925 during an expedition to find "Z" – his name for an ancient lost civilisation, in the uncharted jungles of Brazil.  Fawcett had chosen only two people to go with him: his twenty-one-year-old son, Jack, and Jack's best friend, Raleigh Rimell. Although they had never been on an expedition, Fawcett believed that they were ideal for the mission: tough, loyal, and, because they were so close, unlikely, after months of isolation and suffering, "to harass and persecute each other”-or, as was common on such expeditions, to mutiny.  All disappeared.

This disappearance has tended to overshadow his other achievements, which were all related to mapping the world, not just exploring it; and setting new higher standards in how to treat the people who live in these regions.

ln 1916, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him, with the blessing of King George V, a gold medal "for his contributions to the mapping of South America." And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack into the Society's hall to hear him speak. Among them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was said to have drawn on Fawcett's experiences for his 1912 book The Lost World.

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

 

He was fifty-seven years old and stood over six feet, his long arms corded with muscles. Although his hair was thinning and his moustache was flecked with white, he was so fit that he could walk for days with little, if any, rest or nourishment. His nose was crooked like a boxer's, and there was something ferocious about his appearance, especially his eyes. They were set close together and peered out from under thick tufts of hair. No one, not even his family, seemed to agree on their colour- some thought they were blue, others grey. Yet virtually everyone who encountered him was struck by their intensity: some called them "the eyes of a visionary." He had frequently been photographed in riding boots and wearing a Stetson, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, but even in a suit and a tie, and without his customary wild beard, he could be recognized by the crowds on the pier. He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.

Alexander Hamilton Rice, Fawcett's main rival
was a millionaire and used planes and radios

He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public's imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranhas, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the "David Livingstone of the Amazon," and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death.

Fawcett and the anaconda from the popular press of the day

An American explorer described him as "a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless"; another said that he could "outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else."

The London Geographical Journal, the preeminent publication in its field, observed in 1953 that "Fawcett marked the end of an age.  One might almost call him the last of the individualist explorers. The day of the aeroplane, the radio, the organized and heavily financed modern expedition had not arrived. With him, it was the heroic story of a man against the forest."

 

The last great wilderness

At the time Fawcett was exploring South America it was unknown to any but the people who lived there – the indigenous tribes, many of whom had died as a result of early contact with explorers and settlers, from diseases like smallpox and measles and from unbelievable brutality and cruelty on the part of these so called ‘pioneers’.  These indigenous people had retreated into the jungle; where it has to be said, many of them still remain, in order to escape the barbaric almost inhuman invasion they suffered, and as a consequence and quite understandably, the natives ‘were not friendly’. 

 

Nevertheless, Fawcett managed to either avoid or even make friends with the indigenous tribes simply by never showing aggression, being brave but open and learning their languages.  And through this respect for his fellow man he managed to explore the Amazon, a wilderness nearly the size of the continental United States.  The Amazon was, at the time, as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. As Sir John Scott Keltie, the former secretary of the Royal Geographical Society and one of the world's most acclaimed geographers at the time, noted, "What is there no one knows."

And it appears they still do not know, because anthropologists like Michael Heckenberger who lived in the Amazon for many years, have discovered that before the barbaric men from the east came and decimated the population, the Amazon was full of very beautiful cities, connected by causeways and wide paths just like the Mayan civilisation once was.  He has discovered that there were once probably millions living very successfully and at one with Nature in the Amazon, but jungle is very effective at reclaiming its territory and all lies hidden covered in undergrowth.

The Lost City of Z

Fawcett appears to have ‘known’ this.  He partly knew because in his explorations he had seen the remains of an ancient civilisation that far surpassed anything that people had thought possible:

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

It dawned on Fawcett that in regions far from the major rivers, where most European travellers and slave raiders went, tribes were healthier and more populous. Physically, they were less decimated by diseases and alcoholism; culturally, they remained vibrant.  "Perhaps this is why the ethnology of the continent has been built on a misconception," Fawcett said.

 

The Maxubis, in particular, showed evidence of a sophisticated culture, he thought. They made exquisite pottery and had names for the planets. "The tribe is also exceedingly musical," Fawcett noted. Describing their songs, he added, "In the utter silence of the forest, when the first light of day had stilled the nightlong uproar of insect life, these hymns impressed us greatly with their beauty."

It was true, he wrote, that he had encountered some tribes in the jungle that were "intractable, hopelessly brutal," but others, like the Maxubis, were "brave and intelligent," "utterly refuting the conclusions arrived at by ethnologists, who have only explored the rivers and know nothing of the less accessible places."  What's more, many of these tribes told legends about their ancestors who lived in settlements that were even grander and more beautiful.

 
 

THERE WERE OTHER clues. On rocks throughout the jungle, Fawcett had observed what appeared to be ancient paintings and carvings of human and animal figures. Once, while climbing a desolate mound of earth above the floodplains of the Bolivian Amazon, he noticed something sticking out of the ground. He scooped it into his hand: it was a shard of pottery. He started to scour the soil. Virtually everywhere he scratched, he later informed the RGS, he turned up bits of ancient, brittle pottery. He thought the craftsmanship was as refined as anything from ancient Greece or Rome or China. Yet there were no inhabitants for hundreds of miles.

Where had the pottery come from? To whom had it once belonged?

Even as the mystery seemed to deepen, some patterns were emerging. "'Wherever there are 'alturas,' that is high ground above the plains" in the Amazon basin, Fawcett told Keltie, "there are artefacts." And that wasn't all: extending between these alturas were some sort of geometrically aligned paths. They looked, he could almost swear, like “roads" and "causeways."


 

He partly knew because the very early Amazon river explorers recorded that as they went up the Amazon, the banks were lined with people, millions of people, and that when they went ashore they saw marvellous cities.  But these reports had been dismissed as the fabrication of people who were simply seeking more funds to explore further, and at the time Fawcett was exploring not a trace remained on the river banks of this ‘civilisation’.

But know he did.

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

Fawcett was certain that the Amazon contained a fabulous kingdom, and he was not another soldier of fortune or a crackpot. A man of science, he had spent years gathering evidence to prove his case- digging up artefacts, studying petroglyphs, and interviewing tribes. ……….. Fawcett had determined that an ancient, highly cultured people still existed in the Brazilian Amazon and that their civilization was so old and sophisticated it would forever alter the Western view of the Americas. He had christened this lost world the City of Z. "The central place I call 'Z'- our main objective-is in a valley . . . about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barrelled roadway of stone,” Fawcett had stated earlier. “The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple”.


 

This is not just imagination, this is a vision – Fawcett had ‘seen’ this city, he knew it existed or had existed because he had ‘been there’. 

The problem with visions and out of body experiences is that the one can be indistinguishable from the other.  Visions can be so totally convincing you feel you are there, but the vision is a construct of our composer, and even in out of body experiences you don’t know whether you are visiting the current layer or the past, you could have slipped back several layers and be exploring way back, hundreds or even thousands of years ago [see exploring group perception].

It is notable that the ‘barrelled roadways’ still exist under the sea, visible on google maps, as such it could even be so far back that it had sunk under the sea – like Atlantis.

The spirituality of Colonel Fawcett

Looking at the upbringing and life of Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett, one might believe that a more unlikely man for any form of spiritual experience couldn’t exist. 

Percy Fawcett was born on 18 August 1867 in Torquay, Devon, England, to Edward Boyd Fawcett and Myra Elizabeth (née MacDougall). His father, Captain Edward Boyd Fawcett, was a somewhat interesting man.  Years later, a relative, straining to describe him in the best light, wrote that Captain Fawcett

"possessed great abilities which found no true application-a good man gone wrong. . . A Balliol scholar and fine athlete. . . yachtsman, charmer and wit, equerry to the Prince of Wales, he dissipated two substantial fortunes at court, neglected his wife and children and, in consequence of his dissolute ways and addiction to drink at the end of his short life, died of consumption aged forty-five."

His mother too was unusual.  Percy later confided to Conan Doyle, with whom he corresponded, that his mother was “all but -hateful." 
"Perhaps it was all for the best that my childhood . . . was so devoid of parental affection that it turned me in upon myself."

He was sent to a particularly brutal public school, though Fawcett insisted that his frequent canings “did nothing to alter my outlook".  He was described as “Reclusive, combative, and hypersensitive”.

He served in the army and received military training. 

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

Already uncommonly tough, Fawcett was made even more so when he was dispatched, at the age of seventeen, to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Although Fawcett had no desire to be a soldier, his mother apparently forced him to go because she liked the splendid uniforms. The coldness of the Academy supplanted the coldness of his home. … if the cadets violated the code of a "gentleman cadet" they were flogged.  "The fashion of torture was often ingenious, and sometimes worthy of the most savage races," a historian of the academy stated.


Madame Blavatsky
 

But Percy Fawcett's father had been born in India and his elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960) was a mountain climber, Eastern occultist and author of philosophical books.  He was also a Theosophist.

Edward was perhaps more spiritually inclined than Percy.  He had been a child prodigy and published an epic poem at the age of thirteen, but Percy idolised his brother and was under his spell.  It was Edward who helped Madame Blavatsky research and write her 1893 magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine.  In 1890, Edward travelled to Ceylon, where Percy was then stationed, to take the Pansil, or five precepts of Buddhism.  An Indian newspaper carried an account of the ceremony under the headline "Conversion of an Englishman to Buddhism":

In 1886, Percy had received a commission in the Royal Artillery and was serving in Trincomalee, Ceylon, where he also met his wife. [He married Nina Agnes Paterson in January 1901].   Sri Lanka is a home to Shaivism as well as Buddhism and Percy studied the beliefs of this country avidly.  He realised he was no killer of men, no army man, and joined the RGS in 1901 in order to study surveying and mapmaking instead.  His army training was a great help, but ultimately Percy Fawcett was a pacifist with a great interest in Buddhism, Shaivism and Theosophy.

Recognition

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

In early 1911, at a lecture before the Royal Geographical Society, where he presented his findings, dozens of scientists and explorers from across Europe crowded into the hall to glimpse the "Livingstone of the Amazon." Beckoning him to the front of the hall, Charles Darwin's son Leonard, who was now the Society's president, described how Fawcett had mapped "regions which have never before been visited Europeans" and had traveled up rivers that had "never before been ascended by one." Darwin added that Fawcett had demonstrated that there was still a place "where the explorer can go forth and exhibit perseverance, energy, courage, forethought, and all those qualities which go to make up the qualities of an explorer of the times now passing away."

 

Although his deeds lacked that the sort of headline impact that comes with reaching the North Pole or the top of Mount Everest – towards the end of his life, before the ill fated final expedition, many more were starting to recognise the extraordinary achievements of Colonel Fawcett. 

Amazonia defied such triumphs: no single person could ever conquer it, but Fawcett, progressing inch by inch through the jungle, tracing rivers and mountains, cataloging exotic species, and researching the native inhabitants, had explored as much of the region as anyone before him and probably since.

 

And up to that point he had almost totally avoided any violence.  The one contre-temps he had had where he had had to defend himself with arms, he regretted for the rest of his life and regarded it as a complete failure on his part.

William S. Barclay, [a member of the RGS]

"I have for years regarded him, as one of the best of his class that ever lived."

A man who knew his destiny.

 

 

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