(1867 – c 1925)
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).
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’.
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.
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
account of American George Dynot’s real-life search for the missing explorer in 1927.
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.
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
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