Who was James Fitzjames’ mother?

When I published ‘James Fitzjames’ I knew that he had lived nearly all his life as a member of the Coningham family and was closely linked to them, but I wrongly believed that his mother was most likely Portuguese or Brazilian, based on the assumption this his father Sir James Gambier was living in Brazil at the time of his conception and birth.  Further research carried out – alas – after publication makes it absolutely clear that the Brazilian thesis was without foundation.

I continue to carry out research attempting to identify who is mother was.  This research has uncovered some extremely intriguing pointers but unless or until I feel that the evidence is strong enough, I will forbear to publish further information.  It should be clearly understood, however, that there is no longer any support for the idea that she might have been Brazilian.  She was very likely closely associated with the Coningham and Sterling family who brought him up but until proof can be obtained, all is speculation.

For a suggestion of how close Fitzjames remained to the Sterling family, and how he appeared in their highly intellectual circle, interested readers might study the character of ‘Hastings’ who appears in the roman à clef ‘The Onyx Ring‘, published by John Sterling in 1838. Sterling was a nephew of the Rev Robert Coningham, in whose household Fitzjames was brought up.  Hastings is described as ‘a traveller who had visited almost every part of the world.’ In a longer passage he was described as:

‘a man on whom twenty years of hardship and adventure sat lightly and cheerfully . His set, alert figure suited well with his lively, shrewd countenance. His conversation was in a great degree made up of common remarks upon uncommon things and people; and where he had only common objects to deal with, commonest of the common were all his views and feelings, But when he spoke of the Brazilian forests, the Steppes of Tartary, or the plains of Caffraria, the topic gave an interest which would never have arisen from the speaker. Light-hearted courage and good-humoured kindliness had been the ostrich wings to help him smoothly over the world. By profession a sailor, and still holding a lieutenant’s commission, he had spent the long intervals of his service in travelling. He had been present in the same year at the levees of the American President and the Persian Shah, and had made the Pope laugh by an anecdote which he had picked up a few weeks before in a Turkman tent In every land he had made friends of all he lived amongst, and even seemed to have formed an amicable acquaintance with the beasts and plants, and the very aspect of the different countries. He knew something of natural history, and had a collection of curiosities, some of which, as they happened to fall under his hand, he would carry with him for a week or two, wherever he might be, and then lock them up again in some huge sea-chest for another imprisonment of years. Men he knew superficially, but on many sides, and dealt with them by instinctive readiness and good-fellowship, rather than from any systematic views. No man moved more lightly within his own limits; but no limits could be more definite or impassable; and though they embraced the five regions of the globe, and all its seas, they were still narrow. All men, however, derived pleasure from so clear, self-possessed, and bright a presence. He was to many a cordial against that melancholy which he had never felt; for the first shadow of it drove him on new undertakings; and fresh scenes and objects were to him always delightful’.