Captain James Fitzjames was a British Royal Navy Officer and served as Sir John Franklin's first officer aboard the HMS Erebus as well as the third-in-command of the entire Franklin Expedition and is a major character on The Terror.
A charming and handsome young man, Fitzjames had no trouble making friends in the Admiralty, which led to his rapid rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy. As a result of his rapid rise, Fitzjames became arrogant and boastful despite his relative inexperience in both sailing and arctic exploration.
Aboard the Franklin Expedition he served as Sir John's closest confidante and as his right hand man. He seemed to admire and respect Sir John, as he always supported Sir John's decisions and believed in his optimistic plans to navigate the Arctic. This sentiment however began to change after Sir John's decision to continue around the Northwest coast of King William Island stranded both the ships in thick ice. Nevertheless he was a faithful friend to Sir John, and seemed incredibly upset at Sir John's death.
He disliked his immediate superior Francis Crozier whom he viewed as antisocial and disrespectful. However after the death of Sir John at the hands of the Tuunbaq Fitzjames and Crozier were forced to work together in their attempts to lead their men to safety, eventually leading to Fitzjames becoming instrumental to Crozier's efforts as well as becoming a good friend.
Little is known of James Fitzjames' past, except that he was well liked amongst his superiors in the Admiralty. In a flashback to a theater in London Sir John recalls seeing Fitzjames cheerfully conversing with the numerous Admirals and Captains in attendance. His rapid rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy due to simply being liked by his superiors has earned him the envy of other men, particularly Francis Crozier. Crozier, who was forced to work against a bias against his Irish heritage and who had struggled his whole life to get to his position, disliked Fitzjames' easy rise due to his looks and charm. Despite his high rank Fitzjames has little experience in sailing or in Arctic exploration, something that becomes evident as the Franklin Expedition begins to break down into disaster. He is forced to abandon his arrogant and boastful personality to begin learning command through genuine experience, eventually becoming a strong second-in-command to his former enemy Francis Crozier.
As Erebus' second-in-command Fitzjames worked closely with Sir John and acted as a good officer and friend to him, providing him counsel and advice. He disliked the second-in-command of the entire expedition however, Captain Francis Crozier of the HMS Terror, viewing him as antisocial and rude. This was due to the fact that Crozier himself did not like Fitzjames due to the fact Fitzjames had rather easily rose through the ranks only due to his luck and charm. This caused Crozier to be rude to Fitzjames, at one point interrupting one of Fitzjames' boastful stories to end it. Crozier also was disrespectful to Sir John, often alluding to Sir John's previous failed arctic expedition. This deepened Fitzjames dislike of Crozier, and at one point he even commented to Sir John that Crozier was "nobody's first choice for this position."
After Sir John's decision to continue West got both Terror and Erebus stuck in thick ice with no hope of sailing Fitzjames began to grow nervous as his inexperience in command becomes evident in the crisis. When Sir John was killed by the Tuunbaq Fitzjames was devastated, and even demanded that Crozier delay his rescue plans for a day to provide adequate time to mourn for Sir John, snapping at Crozier when he appeared to not care about Sir John's death. At the funeral of Sir John Fitzjames appeared very somber and grief-stricken, showing his devotion to Sir John.
Following the death of Sir John there was much tension between Crozier and Fitzjames, who found themselves forced to work together as Captain and First Officer. This tension eventually culminated in a confrontation after Fitzjames discovered Crozier had requisitioned numerous bottles of liquor from Erebus to feed his personal alcoholism. When Fitzjames confronted Crozier he punched Fitzjames and had to be restrained by the other officers with Thomas Blanky warning Crozier if he's not careful what happened to Sir John Ross at Fury Beach will happen to him. Fitzjames argued that Crozier needed to take command and avoid hiding behind his alcoholism and belief that the world has wronged him. This along with how Crozier's anger almost got Blanky killed by the Tuunbaq, eventually led to Crozier deciding to stop drinking in order to stop his alcoholism, giving command to Fitzjames while Crozier went through his alcohol withdrawal.
In January of 1848, he receives a report from Lieutenant John Irving regarding the remaining provisions of the expeditions and orders the cooks to being using up the salt meats and preserve the tins and everything else portable in preparation to abandon the ships and walk out. He speaks with Blanky about one of his previous expeditions under the leadership of Sir John Ross and regarding what happened at Fury Beach. Blanky informs him of how Ross's neglect towards his men made Blanky want to kill him and he recommends to Fitzjames giving the men something to look forward to as a way of creating morale and to stave off feelings of contempt before beginning the long trek south. Fitzjames discovers a bunch of theatrical equipment and decides to throw a carnivale to celebrate the first sunrise of the new year. While the construction is taking place Lieutenant Edward Little expresses concern too many supplies are being used but Fitzjames reassures him that they will not be able to carry it all come spring. While picking a disguise for the fair he notices blood dripping from his forehead and how the first signs of scurvy are setting in. Once the carnivale is complete Crozier attends and although he is disturbed by the lack of naval discipline Fitzjames apologizes and informs him of the plan to walk out which Crozier approves. Crozier decides to give a speech informing the men but is soon interrupted by a wounded Lady Silence and a mentally unstable Dr. Stephen Samuel Stanley immolates himself and sets everything on fire. After the fire Fitzjames is sorting through the rubble and trying to identify those who were killed.
Three months later in April the order is given to abandon both ships and Fitzjames expresses concern the men are packing too many impractical things but Crozier assures him the loads will lighten and it's better to get some miles behind them before they ask the men to start throwing away their personal belongings. Later on Sgt. Solomon Tozer and John Morfin discovers the remains of Lieutenant James Walter Fairholme's sledge party and reports it to Crozier and Fitzjames. The latter remarks that they only made 18 miles before being killed by the Tuunbaq and Crozier forbids anyone from speaking about it. Not long after they catch up with Little's sledge party team that had left earlier and Fitzjames is optimistic and they make camp. Later that evening Morfin is screaming in great pain and asks to be killed. He grabs a musket from a marine creating a standoff but Crozier tries to diffuse the situation. Fitzjames orders Morfin to lower his weapon but intentionally fires his weapon almost hitting Fitzjames in which Morfin is then kiled by Tozer. The next morning Fitzjames attends at meeting alongside his fellow officers in which Crozier informs them of the lead poisoning being caused by the canned food and hunting parties are to begin. In order to make up for a shortage of officers, Crozier promotes Thomas Jopson to Lieutenant which Fitzjames approves and gives him the official paperwork congratulating him.
Later that day Fitzjames and Crozier head out to update the note left in the cairn by Lieutenant Graham Gore the year earlier. Afterwards they discuss the nature of the Tuunbaq and Fitzjames recounts on some of his war experiences and how the symptoms of scurvy are worsening. Fitzjames tells him he was promoted to the rank of Commander and given a position on the expedition for simply saving Sir John Barrow's son from a scandal by chance in Singapore. He continues to talk about his father who was a consul general in Brazil and how he wasted his life away gambling and how the former's birth is a result of an affair between his father and a Portuguese woman in exile. Fitzjames tells Crozier his name was made up for his baptism and how after he joined the navy at age 12 and began he desire a life of glory in order so he wouldn't feel humiliated to live. However Fitzjames realizes and denounces his vanity to which Crozier replies he is free. Fitzjames asks if they are bonded as brothers now and Crozier affirms him.
Upon returning to camp they find it in a state of panic as Lieutenant John Irving and Thomas R. Farr was allegedly killed by the Netsilik according to Cornelius Hickey who was with them on a earlier hunting trip. Fitzjames elects to stay behind with Little while while Crozier, Blanky, Jopson, Thomas "Tom" Hartnell, Doctor Henry Goodsir, Lady Silence, William Pilkington and Cornelius Hickey go to the murder site. Fitzjames soon discovers his old war wound is opening back up due to the scurvy but manages to hold on. When Crozier and the rest return Fitzjames tells him the armory was opened up on Little's orders on insistence from Tozer and by the time Fitzjames stepped in 20 arms had already been issued. Fitzjames tells Crozier it's too dangerous for Lady Silence to enter the camp so Crozier lets her return to her people. Fitzjames is later present when Irving's stomach is cut open by Goodsir revealing the Netsilik fed him and asks Lieutenant George Henry Hodgson to confirm this contradicts Hickey's story as a lie which he does.
Both Hickey and Tozer are arrested and put on trial but shortly before Hickey is executed, the Tuunbaq attacks the camp and Fitzjames brings out the Congreve rockets and hits the Tuunbaq driving it away. After the attack Fitzjames informs Crozier that 32 are dead with 23 missing and how they cannot bury all of them. Crozier orders the bodies to be burned as he wants them to be kept warm and leave any extra supplies behind in a nice pile as an offering to bring any mutineers back and continue moving south. Fitzjames remarks Crozier loves his men more than God loves them echoing a similar remark he spoke of Sir John years prior. As he and the others tow the sledges he collapses due to the heat and exhaustion and is placed inside one of the boats. He apologizes for his lack of strength and how despite being shot 6 years ago, the injury is still going to kill him. Crozier tells him there's still time but as they continue to move forward the rough ride agitates his injuries to the point they must stop and set up camp. Fitzjames states he is not Christ and his body should be used to feed the men. John Bridgens tells Crozier Fitzjames's muscles are in spasm and starting to become rigid. Fitzjames requests to be euthanized to which Crozier reluctantly agrees and Bridgens bids his farewell and shows Crozier how to properly euthanize him.
After his death Crozier orders his body be to buried carefully and with respect so it would not be disturbed. However after Crozier is brought to Hickey's camp he notices Hickey wearing Fitzjames's boots indicating he found the burial site and stole it from him.
Commander James Fitzjames was incredibly young to be serving as commander of a ship. This was due to his charming and warm personality, as well as his good looks, which helped him make many friends amongst his superiors in the Admiralty. This earned him a rapid rise through the Royal Navy ranks, however his rapid rise left him in a position of command with little or no experience in sailing or in arctic experience. Despite this his high position left him with an arrogant and prideful personality. This would eventually change during the Franklin Expedition, which would force him to acknowledge and confront his lack of experience and abandon his former arrogant personality.
- Until 2009, very little was known of Fitzjames' life.
- Like other characters, Fitzjames fought in both the First Opium War and Second Egyptian-Ottoman War.
- Fitzjames published a poem called "Voyage of HMS Cornwallis" under the alias of "Tom Bowline" in 1842.