James Fitzjames was an extraordinary and mysterious man. He was of illegitimate birth, and as this was frowned upon and damaging, much of his life was kept a secret. No one really knew about his past or upbringing until the late William Battersby conducted painstaking research and released Fitzjames' biography in 2010.
Fitzjames joined the Royal Navy at the age of 12 and had an illustrious and intense career. With encounters more military than exploratory, Fitzjames took on missions in Syria, China, and Egypt. He took part in the Euphrates Expedition, and fought in the Egyptian-Ottoman and First Opium Wars before joining the Franklin Expedition as third in command in 1845. Fitzjames was in charge of selecting the majority of the crew of HMS Erebus, where he was stationed under Sir John Franklin, and that of her sister ship, HMS Terror.
Fitzjames wrote a good deal of the men he selected. Of Harry Goodsir, the main character of In Eternity, Fitzjames wrote: "He is perfectly good humoured, very well informed on general points, in natural history learned, was Curator of the Edinburgh museum, appears to be about twenty-eight years of age, laughs delightfully, cannot be in a passion, is enthusiastic about all 'ologies, draws the insides of microscopic animals with an imaginary-pointed pencil, catches phenomena in a bucket, looks at the thermometer and every other meter, is a pleasant companion, and an acquisition to the mess."
James Fitzjames appears in In Eternity and Homeward.