Timeless Travels Magazine

INTREPID TRAVELLER

Right: Arthur Abbott, Consul General, São Paulo interviewing Stefan Rattin. Far right: Jack Fawcett on the 1925 expedition to Brazil (All images: (except book cover) RGS:IBG)

Left: Cover of Brian Fawcett’s book, Ruins in the Sky Below: Jack Fawcett and Raleigh Rimmell, 1925.

two others is as much of a mystery as it ever was. Is it possible that the riddle may never be solved?” Colonel Fawcett’s interest in the occult also ensured a steady flow of more esoteric accounts. Chief among themwas Geraldine Dorothy Cummins’ The Fate of Colonel Fawcett: A Narrative of His last Expedition (1955 ), based on her supposed psychic contacts with the Colonel up until 1948, when she claims he reported his own death to her. As late as 1934 Fawcett’s wife Nina also claimed to have received telepathic messages from her husband, and the family are said to have employed a medium to analyse a scarf once worn by the colonel: in a trance the medium clearly saw the party murdered and their bodies dumped in a lake. Ruins in the sky Prompted by the discovery of the alleged skeleton of his father by Villas Bôas, Brian Fawcett embarked on two of his own expeditions into the Mato Grosso, in an attempt to solve the mystery for himself. He bore a striking physical resemblance

whose territory Fawcett was unwisely entering) or else friendlier ones, like the Kalapalo, who were probably the last to see the men alive and subsequently reported that the two younger members were lame. Or they might have been murdered for their rifles by renegade soldiers roaming the forest in the wake of a recent revolution in the area. Disease or some accident might also have been to blame, although starvation seems less likely given Fawcett’s longstanding expertise in living off the land. It is also unlikely that the expedition got lost. In 1948 another expedition, the Xingu- Roncador Expedition, was laying out airfields in the territory of the Kalapalo Indians. They won the confidence of Kalapalo Chief Ixarari, who claimed to have killed Fawcett and his two companions after Jack Fawcett had fathered a child with a local girl. This bolstered rumours circulating since the mid-1930s of a young pale-faced Indian seen in the area (another expedition had recently returned with an albino boy named Dulipé, who its leader insisted was Jack’s son). The chief went on to say that the three bodies were then weighted with stones and thrown into the Tanguro River. Fearing detection, however, he claimed the bodies were later retrieved and left on the bank to be scavenged, after which the bones were dispersed. In 1951 Brazilian activist Villas Bôas produced a skeleton said to be that of Fawcett but subsequent bone analysis disproved his claim. By bringing closure to the story albeit spuriously Villas Bôas wanted to protect the Indians from further external intrusions. With so little to go on Fawcett rumour- mongering continued unabated. Author Harold T. Wilkins in his extraordinary book Secret Cities of Old South America (1950) related how an anonymous informant had told him that a German

anthropologist by the name of Ehrmann had seen Fawcett’s shrunken head in a village in the Upper Xingu in 1932. Apparently the Colonel had died defending his son Jack, who had broken some sort of tribal taboo. So the rumours kept coming. Into the story now steps Fawcett’s other son, Brian. Too young to have participated in his father’s fateful expedition, he had made a life for himself as a draughtsman on the Peruvian railways. To set the record straight once and for all he compiled his father’s reports and letters into a book (according to Fawcett, the manuscript of his own planned book to be called Travel and Mystery in South America was lost in 1924, whilst doing the rounds of potential American publishers). The result was the bestselling Exploration Fawcett (1953). This thrilling and highly readable re- telling of his father’s jungle adventures is peppered with Brian’s own expertly drawn maps and illustrations. Yet still no answer was provided as to the fate of the expedition: “Up to the time of writing these words the fate of my father and the

important. Was good quality writing (and a little healthy debunking) perhaps a way of getting even with them by achieving something neither of them were now able to do? Or was there something more sinister at play? The Colonel comes of age Fast forward forty years and the Fawcett story was in the news once again. In 1996 a television expedition put together by a Brazilian banker, James Lynch, set off into the Mato Grosso to search for any remaining traces of the Fawcett party. It didn’t get far. Kalapolo Indians stopped the group and held them hostage for several days, only releasing them after confiscating $30,000 worth of equipment. Rather more successful was a one-man expedition undertaken two years later by maverick adventurer and anthropologist Benedict Allen, who filmed his progress as part of the BBC’s Video Diaries series. In exchange for an outboard motor he was told by the chief of the Kalapalo that his tribe had nothing to do with the expedition’s demise, and that Fawcett and his two companions died four or five days east of Kalapolo territory, at the hands of the aggressive Iaruna tribe. Allen was also told that the Villa Bôas skeleton was certainly not that of Fawcett but rather that of the chief’s own grandfather. With the start of a new millennium the Fawcett legend came of age with probably the most extraordinary twist yet in its very long tale. In 2002 a Czech theatre director

to his father and was a tough traveller in his own right. The result was his book Ruins in the Sky (1958). Although once again no answer was given to the fate of his father, Brian did manage to throw some much-needed light on the lost city of “Z”. Using the reported sighting of a lost city by one Colonel Francisco Barros Fournier in the Review of the American Geographical Society for 1938, he was able to fly over an area six kilometres west of Pedra da Baliza in the Brazilian state of Goiás, which is sandwiched between Mato Grosso and Bahía. Fournier’s walls and towers were nothing more than a naturally eroded series of ridges, exactly like those of the Sete Cidades, a group of seven alleged ‘lost cities’ Brian had visited in the far north of Piauí state. Might “Z” therefore have been nothing more than a geological formation glimpsed fleetingly by his father? In his book Brian wrote sceptically of reports that his father and brother Jack were living in a secret underground city from where the world was ruled by Madame Blavatsky’s superior Elders, a fantastical notion that still helps sell esoteric books to this day. Of his father’s historical methodology he also casts some doubt, claiming to have no idea “how much was based on research, how much on personal knowledge, and how much on the babblings of clairvoyants.” Compared with his older brother Jack, apparently his father’s favourite, Brian perhaps felt less

called Misha Williams informed the press that the Fawcett family had granted him exclusive access to their archives. What he claimed to uncover was a revelation. Brian Fawcett, it seems, in collusion with the rest of the Fawcett family had deliberately obscured his father’s tracks in the book Exploration Fawcett by including false coordinates for Fawcett’s last known position (Dead Horse Camp). The reason for this, Williams claimed, was that the family had always known that Fawcett never intended to return and instead hoped to set up a Utopian commune deep in the jungle, part of what he called his “Great Scheme”. And why not? After all, “The English go native very easily,” the Colonel once wrote, “there is no disgrace in it.” This new society, according to Williams, would be founded on Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical principles, which the Colonel had been busy perfecting over the years, with the help of a spirit entity he called “M”. The reason for the Fawcett family’s reluctance to divulge the truth, Williams contended, was that the world was not ready for such sensational news. Just as soon as they heard from him, the remaining Fawcett family members would pack their bags and join the Colonel and Jack. If Williams’ claims are true, it is little

Timeless Travels • Autumn 2017

Timeless Travels • Autumn 2017 

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