Percy Fawcett The Lost Explorer

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L O C A L   S T U D I E S   E D U C A T I O N   S E R I E S   


(1867 – c 1925) 



Percy Fawcett 

(1867 – c 1925) 

Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett DSO was an artillery officer, 

archaeologist and South American explorer. Born in Torquay, on 31 August 

1867, at the Villa Devonia, (later demolished and now the site of Shirley 

Towers, Vane Hill Road), Fawcett was educated at Newton Abbot College, 

then given a commission in the Royal Artillery at the age of 19. He became 

a spy for the secret service in North Africa and served for many years in 

Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where he developed an interest in archaeology, before 

leaving the army to take up exploration on behalf of the Royal Geographical 

Society. Fawcett made seven expeditions to South America between 1906 

and 1924 – interrupted by the Great War when he volunteered to lead an 

artillery brigade in France for which he was awarded the Distinguished 

Service Order (DSO). His marriage to Nina Paterson produced a daughter 

and two sons. The eldest child 

Jack was with his father when they 

disappeared under unexplained 

circumstances during an 

expedition searching for an 

ancient lost city in the uncharted 

jungles of Brazil in 1925. Percy 

Fawcett’s manuscripts and 

documents were later compiled by 

his younger son Brian and 

published in the best-selling book 

Exploration Fawcett (1953). 

The Search for the Lost City of Z 

Percy Fawcett made his final journey to South 

America in 1924, accompanied by his son Jack, 

who also took along his best friend Raleigh 

Rimmell. Their aim was to search for what Fawcett 

termed the ‘Lost City of Z’ – a mythical civilisation 

referred to by Spanish conquistadors as ‘El 

Dorado’. Fawcett had become convinced, through 

reading ancient legends and historical records, that 

Z must lie somewhere in the Matto Grosso region 

of Brazil. However, nothing more was heard from 

the three men after journeying deep into the jungle 

and dismissing the native guides on 29 May 1925. 

During the following decades, various searches, 

including two led by Fawcett’s youngest son Brian, 

were unsuccessfully mounted to trace the missing 

explorers. It is estimated that 100 would-be-rescuers 

died in more than thirteen expeditions sent to 

discover Fawcett’s fate. Rumours emerged that 

Fawcett’s party had been killed by cannibals. In one 

of his last letters written before he left this country 

for Rio, Fawcett revealed that he was concerned 

about the dangers of his mission and the effect that 

failure might have on his loved ones at their home in 

Stoke Canon near Exeter: ‘Physical death has no real terrors for me. I only 

am anxious about the family – and I know if I fail it probably means death’.  

Fawcett in Fiction and Film 


ir Arthur Conan Doyle acknowledged that his friend Percy Fawcett was the 

inspiration for the character Professor Challenger in his novel The Lost World (1912). 

The first of several film adaptations of the book starred Wallace Beery and was 

produced for the silent screen during the year that Percy Fawcett disappeared - 1925. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Percy 

Fawcett DSO 

Percy Fawcett's wife, Nina 

The Cruise of the Condor (1933), one of W.E. Johns’ stories about fictional pilot and 

adventurer Biggles, was inspired by Fawcett’s search for the Lost City of Z. A 

screenplay entitled Find Colonel Fawcett evolved into a safari spoof starring Bing 

Crosby and Bob Hope in the comedy movie Road to Zanzibar (1941). Then came 

Manhunt in the Jungle (1958), featuring James Wilson as Percy Fawcett, a dramatized 

account of American George Dynot’s real-life search for the missing explorer in 1927.  

Percy Fawcett has been proposed as the main inspiration for the hero of the successful 

adventure series starring Harrison Ford as ‘Indiana Jones’ A spin-off series of novels 

written by Rob McGregor features a story where Jones locates and joins forces with 

Percy Fawcett in Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils (1991).  Director Pete Docter 

confirmed that Percy Fawcett was the main inspiration for the character Charles F. 

Munz (voiced by actor Christopher Plummer) the antagonist in the computer-animated 

comedy-drama Up released by Walt Disney Pictures and nominated for five Academy 

Awards in 2009. 

Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt produced a big budget movie, The Lost City of Z in 

2016 starring Charlie Hunnam and Sienna Miller as Percy and Nina Fawcett. The film 

is based on David Grann’s 2009 best-seller of the same name – published with the 

cooperation of Percy Fawcett’s grand-daughter Rolette de Montet-Guerin - who gave 

the author access to the explorer’s logbooks and diaries. These are now housed in the 

Torquay Museum collection. 

Text by Mike Holgate  

Leaflet produced by  

Torbay Civic Society, Torbay Libraries and Torquay Museum.  

139 St Marychurch Road Torquay TQ1 3HW  01803 522025  

529 Babbacombe Road Torquay, Devon, TQ1 1HG  01803 293975  

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