A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 7 – 1884 – 1915


The last twenty years of Flashman’s life are very poorly covered in his memoirs, even by inference. Although by the time this period starts, with his being dragged off to the Sudan in the wake of General Gordon, Flashman is almost 62, he has not yet escaped adventure.
Boys of my generation were still being brought up on the myths of Empire, and I doubt that many of my time escaped seeing the illustrations of Gordon, befezzed, carrying a handgun, on the stairs in Khartoum where his command was besieged and massacred, without relief. Where Flashman was during that unhappy conclusion is only to be imagined, though we know Gordon used him for undercover work, but we can rest happy knowing that the old fox’s instinct for a bolthole in time of danger just got sharper and sharper.
Somehow, in some way, Flashman makes it back alive. We next have mention of him in 1887, being called in by Queen Victoria to advise on the display of the Koh-i-Noor diamond during her Golden Jubilee, which apparently inspires him to write the earliest of his private memoirs, almost a decade and a half before the majority of these papers are written. I have my doubt about that, but the Papers appear to be clear.
In 1890, the Flashmans join the house party at Tranby Croft at which Gordon-Cumming is accused of cheating. Flashman takes malicious pleasure in helping to forge the awkward compromise that blows up in everybody’s faces a year later, in the form of a libel case that damages the reputation of the Prince of Wales. When the matter is over, Elspeth Flashman reveals a completely unsuspected complicity.
Flashman’s last adventure of which we have any record takes place in London in 1894, and involves the re-emergence of Colonel Moran. Flashman is horrified to learn that the old roue is blackmailing his favourite Granddaughter, Selina, to sleep with him, but he cannot buy the man off: Moran was Spring’s cabin boy, nearly fifty years ago, abandoned in Gezo, and wanting revenge.
Flashman is forced to plot to murder Moran, but is spared this step when the Colonel is himself taken by murder, by a well-known London consulting detective, whose powers of observation and deduction, though exercised logically, do not penetrate Flashman’s identity! Sadly, for Flashman’s illusions, dear Selina proves to be no innocent, having already become mistress to the Prince of Wales.
Sometime too, in this decade, Flashman had a relationship with the famous Society Hostess, Alice Keppel, who became the Prince of Wales’ mistress in 1898: Flashman was first again!
Though we have absolutely no details of it, Flashman appears to have taken some part in the Mahdist War of 1896, a later phase of the Sudan War of 1884, having in his possession a medal issued in respect thereof.
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Flashman traveled to Pekin, calling in in South Africa during the Boer War either on the way out or home. He also revisited Patusan, in Sarawak, during this expedition. In Pekin, he met the Empress Yanavalona, who did not recognise him from their acquaintance in 1860, and was caught up in the British Embassy, winding up in charge of the defence during the 77 day siege, and still faking injury!
Once Flashman returns to England, he devotes himself to producing his unofficial memoirs, which appears to have taken up large parts of his time. In 1908, he travels to America, where he revisits some of the scenes of his travels on the plains, and meets his old friend, Geronimo, but this appears to be his last journey. We see him in his old age, interfering every now and then in his family’s affairs, and as an eminence grise of sorts to the American, Mark Franklin, in whose company we last see him, hobbling into Buckingham Palace to use the toilet, on the night the Great War is declared.
General Sir Harry Flashman died in 1915, in circumstances unknown, presumably damning his enemies, including the mysterious Iron Eyes, whoever he was. He was much mourned by his family – until they discovered his unofficial memoirs that is. These were hastily concealed in a chest of drawers, not to be seen again until 1966, by which time the Flashman family had dwindled, his only living relative being Mr Paget Morrison, of Durban, South Africa.
At this point, they were entrusted to George MacDonald Fraser, a newspaper editor…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 6 – 1876 – 1884



The next phase of Flashman’s career takes us from the end of one adventure to the beginning of another, from Flashman’s return from the aftermath of the Sioux War to his departure for the Sudan with ‘Chinese’ Gordon on another military campaign.
During this period, we do have some accounts of Flashman’s doings, though these are at least only partial. His memoirs give us no reason to doubt that he made a fairly prompt and incident-free return from America, as soon as Lady Flashman was free of any further involvement in the American Centennial celebrations, and he was followed to England the following year by now-ex-President Grant, after his term concluded in controversial circumstances, in March 1877.
Grant is visiting Europe and has been invited to France to meet Marshall Macmahon, the French President. At Grant’s request, Flashman travels to Paris with him, to act as the President’s personal interpreter, though he ends up having more of a conversation with Macmahon, thanks to their mutual past as Foreign Legionnaires.
Clearly, as some unspecified point, Flashman has been pardoned for his desertion (whether singular or plural).
Flashman also renews his acquaintance with the journalist Blowitz, which leads to the latter seeking Flashman’s assistance in 1878 to extract details of the Treaty of Berlin from the Congress being conducted under the aegis of Chancellor Bismarck. Flashman is a cut-out for messages being delivered to Blowitz by the delightful dancer and courtesan, Caprice. He enjoys the happy reward of her favours in return for passing messages that enable Blowitz to scoop everyone on the Treaty terms.
The following year, 1879, sees Flashman in Africa, traveling to inspect a mine inherited by Elspeth on the death of a cousin. Flashman is there for at least part of the short but intense Zulu War.
In circumstances unknown, Flashman makes the acquaintance of, and comes to like, King Keteshwayo of the Zulus. The War is more or less provoked by the British, and it resulted in an unexpected routing at Isand’lwhana, where the Zulu Impis, break the British resistance and invade the compound.
Flashman’s partial account of events begins with his presence, again in unknown circumstances, in Isand’lwhana, when the lines break. We know that he was there with Lt General Gordon-Cumming, an acquaintance of Elspeth, but it’s clear Flashman was not on military duty at the time. Notoriously, he recounts more than once seeing one such Impi led by a Welshman in a top hat, but does not go into further detail in his brief account. Presumably, this was part of the attack before the Zulus broke through the defences.
Flashman makes one of his uninhibited retreats, at high speed and without concern for those left behind. Travelling across the veldt, he meets and joins with a British Major, a cool customer and formidable sharpshooter, who helps him get as far as Rorke’s Drift, where the minimal forces there successfully defend the compound. His companion turns out to be named Moran, and he seems to know Flashman.
Rorke’s Drift is the turning point of the Zulu War, which involves two further battles but is quickly and successfully ended. Flashman comes to the public attention once more, though we are never told what for, nor whether he plays any further active part in the War. He certainly doesn’t see anything more of Moran.
There is a short gap here, until 1882, in which Flashman’s whereabouts and actions are unknown. He is almost sixty by now, and presumably has slowed down in all but vicious living.
In February 1882 he is in America, watching John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Mississippi City and winning a bet on the outcome with Oscar Wilde, who was not present. Flashman also mentions playing poker with guns on the blankets in a Dodge City livery stable: Dodge’s heyday was 1883/4, when we know Flashman to be elsewhere, but we have to assume his poker career in the town belongs to the same amorphous American tour.
Five months after the Sullivan/Ryan fight, he goes out to Egypt under Sir Garnet Wolseley, on what appears to have been the only incident free campaign of his career.
The last substantial account of his career begins the following year. Wolseley’s campaign has not quieted affairs south of Egypt, in the Sudan, and General Gordon is to be sent out. Flashman anticipates being summoned to the campaign, and looks for an excuse to absent himself from England when that happens.
As in 1847, Flashman receives a letter from a mysterious German lady, a Princess Kralta, summoning him to the Continent. In Paris, he is met by Blowitz, who has arranged a treat for him, as thanks for his assistance in the Treaty of Berlin business. This is a berth on the inaugural run of the Orient Express. The favours of Princess Kralta are a bonus.
Unfortunately, just as in 1847, the whole thing is a cover for a scheme of Bismarck, involving the next generation of the von Starnberg family, Willem. Flashman is being pressed into service to act as an unofficial bodyguard for Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph, against Hungarian separatists.
And once again, von Starnberg can’t be trusted, for he is the assassin, and Flashman again the patsy (though this time this is not what Bismarck has planned). Luck and experience enable Flashman to avert the assassination, but he is badly run through by von Starnberg and his life is only saved by the improbable but providential interference of Caprice, a French intelligence agent with a hatred for Germans.
At his age, Flashman’s recovery is long and slow, and is prolonged by a spell in Vienna with Kralta and her husband which proves to be just too decadent even for him. Unfortunately, his impatience is his undoing: he arrives at Charing Cross Station in early 1884, just as Gordon is leaving for the Sudan, and is pressed into service with him!

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 5 – 1868-1876


The next phase of Sir Harry Flashman’s career takes us from the end of his successful campaign in Abyssinia in 1868 to the long-overdue conclusion of his American escapades in 1876.
It’s a period that takes in several adventures that we know of only in passing, and seven years of Flashman’s middle age during which the pace at which he goes through escapades may well slow a little.
Flashman leaves Abyssinia in May 1868, and we have no reason to doubt that he returned home, with his usual urge to never leave again. In the summer, he travels to the Mediterranean to meet Emperor Franz-Joseph and Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to receive the Empire’s highest honour, the Order of Maria Theresa, in honour of his service to the Emperor’s late younger brother, Maximilian.
Mention should be made of Flashman’s reference to observing a battle from a Hot Air Balloon, which he did once, whilst in Paraguay. In the absence of any other information, Flashman aficianados have tentatively ascribed this to the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864 – 1870, and have suggested that this incident took place in 1868, though no-one has come up with any explanation for him being in South America at this time.
On the other hand, there is no mention anywhere in the Papers of any occurrences out of the ordinary in 1869. And Flashman does mention Elspeth developing a passion for travel somewhere in the years leading up to 1875. Though he only mentions European/Mediterranean destinations (the Black Forest, the Pyrenees, the Italian Lakes, the Holy Land, the Pyramids and Greece), it’s not implausible that this might have started with a trip to South America.
We do know is that Flashman was involved, in some unspecified capacity, in the ‘Franco-Prussian nonsense’ (July 1870 – May 1871), and was in Paris for at least some part of the lengthy siege of the City. During this period, he renewed acquaintance with his old Civil War comrade, General Philip Sheridan, and first met the journalist Stefan Blowitz.
Unfortunately, Flashman has also referred to acting as Deputy Marshall to James ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock, and holding the latter’s guns in the confrontation with the gunman, John Wesley Hardin, in Abilene (April – December 1871). How (and why) he got to Kansas from France is a perfect mystery, especially as he’s certainly not brought Elspeth along.
It would be nice to think that these incidents were followed by a peaceful period, indulging Elspeth’s travels. And these would, of course, be a perfect excuse for Flashman to be in Egypt whilst Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was securing the Suez Canal shares for Britain in 1875: Flashman is involved in some aspects of the negotiations, even if only as witness to what he openly suggests is double-dealing by the politician. Ultimately (but presumably much later), this would lead to the impounding by Bailiffs of all copies of Flashman’s official memoirs, Dawns and Departures of a Soldiers Life. Three volumes were written, and Flashman must have had some kind of leisure time in which to write these, very carefully.
Not all Flashman’s time is spent travelling. Among those of his conquests who retained his interests throughout his life was the actress and future Royal Mistress, Lily Langtry. Since Flashman boasts of ‘being aboard her’ before HRH, that relationship must have begun in 1874, placing our hero back in London for some time.
But by 1875 at least, Elspeth is definitely interested in travelling further afield, and so Flashman does take her to America, to the United States, where he finds his past catching up on him.
The Flashmans head first to Philadelpia, for Phil Sheridan’s wedding, allowing Flashman to reacquaint himself with various of his former Army colleagues, including George Custer, whom Flashman barely knew during the Civil War business, but who adopts him now.
Custer is, as usual, on the outs with Army authority, and especially his former Commander-in-Chief, Sam Grant, now President. Custer has no compunction about using Flashman against Grant, any more than Grant has about involving Flashman in the negotiations with the Sioux over the Black Hills of Dakota, where gold has been discovered.
The negotiations are not being carried out in good faith, except perhaps for the cynical Flashman, who counsels his old Indian contact, Spotted Tail, rather more honestly than anyone else on the white side does. When he’s not worrying about whether Elspeth is romping on the prairie with the old chieftain that is.
But Flashman has concerns of his own. A certain businesswoman, a Mrs Arthur B Candy, is attracting his lustful eye, with ostensibly a business proposition, calling on Flashman’s supposed influence with German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Flashman knows that he has absolutely no influence whatsoever, but is happy to go along if it will get him into bed with Mrs Candy.
He even allows her to lead him into the same territory as the Seventh Cavalry, complete with the unstable Custer, are entering, in pursuit of the Sioux. But this is a serious mistake, for Mrs Candy is now who she claims to be: she is Cleonie, Flashman’s lover and Susie Willinck’s whore twenty-five years ago, who he sold to the Indians. She has endured, hating him now as much as she loved him then, and now she’s discovered him back in America, she wants her revenge. Kidnap, and torture as only an Indian can, by her son.
Two factors disrupt Cleonie’s revenge. The Indian camp to which she has Flashman carried is that on the Little Big Horn river, the day of Custer’s fateful attack. And her son, who doubles between being an Indian Brave and an Army Scout of some repute, is not just her son, but Flashman’s, and he has a mind of his own when it comes to the old man.
So Frank Flashman Grouard rescues his father from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and nurses him back to health before delivering him to Deadwood to return to Washington. He rides away forever, leaving Flashman with a heartache that lasts all of sixty seconds.
Flashman wastes no time leaving Deadwood on the first stage, but first he bumps into his old friend, Wild Bill Hickock, to whom he tells the truth of his long American odyssey. It makes no odds: unknown to Flashman, as his stage leaves town, Hickock has been shot in the back in the saloon.

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career – Part 2 – 1847 – 1854


(Heh, heh, oops. Should have checked before posting part 3 whether I’d posted part 2. Just goes to show that none of you are paying attention, either.)

The next period of Flashman’s career occupies a relatively short space of time, but a tremendous number of events, as recorded in the Second, Third and Seventh Packets. It runs from Flashman’s return to London in ‘late 1847’ recovering from his wound, to his arrival in San Francisco in September 1850, at the (temporary) end of his American adventures.
Despite his long separation from Elspeth, Flashman finds London uncongenial, thanks to the presence of his in-laws, especially his father-in-law. Hence, when he receives a letter inviting him to supply a personal service to an unknown titled lady in Bavaria, complete with generous expenses, he overcomes his suspicions and travels to Germany.
There, he learns that the mysterious Countess is actually Lola Montez, mistress to the King of Bavaria, and seemingly having forgiven her resentment at Flashman. However, she is acting in concert with Flashman’s other victim of that time, Otto von Bismarck, now Chancellor of Prussia, and commencing the long process of manipulation that would lead to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Flashman is framed on a trumped up charge of rape, forcing him to agree to Bismarck’s scheme
As a forerunner to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question, Bismarck is focused on the tiny Duchy of Strakenz, whose young ruler, Duchess Irma, is shortly to marry Danish princeling Carl Gustaf. But Carl Gustaf has apparently contracted a sexual disease and cannot marry until he is disease-free. Since Flashman is his virtual double, he will marry the Duchess in Carl Gustaf’s place.
To Flashman’s dismay, the plot is a set-up, with the intention that he be killed and framed as an English spy. he manages to escape Bismarck’s men, but is forced into rescuing Carl Gustaf from execution. This accomplished, he is allowed to ride for the border but, being Flashman, he rides via the Treasury and removes as much as he can carry.
Flashman’s escape route takes him back through Bavaria, and into the 1848 revolution, which overthrows both the King and Lola Montez. Flashman hitches a ride out of Bavaria with Lola, only for her to rob him of his ill-gotten gains. Flashman returns to London empty-handed, in time for the Chartist Riots.
These frighten his father-in-law John Morrison into wanting to raise a group of MPs to protect his interests. Flashman is amenable to becoming an MP, especially if it will keep him away from battlefields, but on his ‘launching’, he encounters an old enemy that he has cheated, who retaliates by framing Flashman for cheating at cards.
Flashman compounds his disgrace by attacking his former friend, and almost killing him. He is rushed out of the country by Morrison, under the control of Captain John Charity Spring, a defrocked Oxford Don and a near-madman. His ship is also in the Slave Trade, which Flashman doesn’t learn until it is far too late.
Spring’s ship stops first at Dahomey in West Africa, to buy slaves from King Gezo. His attempt tp buy one of Gezo’s Amazon, in exchange for the ship’s cabin boy, has consequences in both the short and long-term. Second Mate Beauchamp Comber is fatally wounded n the escape. before he dies, he confesses to Flashman that he is a Navy Officer engaged in spying, and entrusts his papers to Flashman. When the ship is taken by the American navy, Flashman uses these to impersonate Comber, taking in everyone except an obscure member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln.
‘Comber’ is much in demand but Flashman’s biggest concern is having to testify in New orleans, against Spring and his men, which will lead to his imposture being detected. He takes refuge in a whorehouse, playing up to its Madam, the mature Susie Willinck, who arranges passage for him on an England-bound ship. However, ‘Comber’ has been watched by the Underground Railroad, who want him to escort a slave north to freedom. Lacking alternative, Flashman has to accede.
Unfortunately, his charge is unable to play the part of a slave, leading to the pair’s exposure. Flashman escapes by diving into and swimming the Mississippi, after which he takes a job as a slave overseer at the Mandeville Plantation, under the name Tom Arnold. This cushy berth is disrupted when he is caught screwing the owner’s wife, Annette Mandeville, and is punished by being sent into slavery himself, in the Deep South, where he will never be found.
Flashman travels with another slave, Cassieopia, who assists him in overcoming and killing their guards. Under the name of James Prescott, Flashman takes Cassie north on the Mississippi towards freedom, but is careless enough to get the pair turned round and heading south again.
They are forced to run across the ice to the north shore, chased by slave-stealers, who wound Flashman in the buttocks, and are only saved when Lincoln faces the stealers down.
But ‘Comber’ now has to return to New Orleans and testify. Being Flashman, he steers between all the traps, telling the ‘truth’ but not incriminating Spring or himself. Having put up the backs of the US Navy, Flashman offers Comber’s papers to spring in return for passage to England.
Unfortunately, despite his protestations of a higher moral code, Spring tries to play Flashman false, starting a brawl in which Spring runs through a planter who has recognised one of Flashman’s aliases. With spring on his tail, Flashman tries to hole up with Susie Willinck again, but is shocked to find her closing her establishment, intent on transporting it across the continent to California, and the Gold Rush. Susie is willing to take ‘Comber’ with her, as her husband, and to dope Spring and ship him out of the way, to South Africa.
Flashman ends up in nominal charge of the Willinck wagon train, heading westward under the guidance of Richard Willens. They encounter Indians on a couple of occasions, the second group have cholera. Woollens is affected and Flashman has to lead the train. They are forced to take refuge in Bent’s Fort, a famous trading post that has been abandoned, and only the intervention of a band of trappers saves them from massacre.
The caravan travels as far as Sante Fe, where Susie decides to stop for a couple of years. This does not suit Flashman’s plans so he sells one of the whores, Cleonie, with whom he has been sleeping, to the Indians, and sets off on his own. Unfortunately, he falls in with an infanmous band of Scalphunters and is forced to join in one of their raids. This captures several Indian women, who are to be enjoyed before being killed and scalped. Because Flashman prefers not to crudely rape his woman, who happens to be the daughter of Mangas Colorado, the mountainous leader of the Apaches, he is spared, and ends up going through his third bigamous marriage in the last twelve months, marrying Takes-Away-Clouds Woman.
After wintering with the Apaches into 1850, Flashman takes advantage of the first Spring raiding party to break away. He is pursued relentlessly, but is rescued by the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson. Carson secures Flashman’s safety and, in slow stages, he is able to make his way to San Francisco by September, in order to depart America.

We now reach the most substantial gap in Flashman’s early career. At the end of ‘The Forty-Niners’, he confirms that his American adventures had come to an end, at least for the next quarter century. Most readers have taken that to mean that Flashman does, finally, return to England. I doubt it was that simple.
When next we hear of Flashman, it is early 1854, and he has already assessed the prevailing sentiment of the times and secured a sinecurial position at the Board of Ordnance that he intends will keep him from active service in the War with Russia that he foresees.
This means we have some three years to account for, although on this occasion we have the advantage of one confirmed but unchronicled adventure in this period. We know that Flashman was in Australia during their Gold Rush: officially this could mean any time between 1851-54, but most chronologies I’ve seen agree on dating this to 1852. He plays nap with pinches of gold dust from the diggings, and spends his near-customary time in prison in Botany Bay.
We also have undated incidents in the South Pacific: Christian Missionary in the Fly River country, west of Papua New Guinea, and Lottery Supervisor in Manila, in the Philippines. And we have Flashman’s mention of undergoing a shipwreck and failing to have sex with a fellow refugee in a lifeboat.
Given the distance from England to Australia, and that travel there and back represented a massive commitment in time (the Flashmans take more or less a year from England to Singapore in 1843-44) it seemed logical to me to collate Flashman’s other adventures in the South Pacific into this period, rather than have to find another trip around the world to accommodate them. This means a somewhat erratic course about the South Pacific, which is not an objection in itself, but there is a later placing for one of these incidents that seems to me to make better sense, so I exclude it and suggest the following:
In San Francisco, Flashman seeks passage to England. This would be by ship, either round Cape Horn, or by passage to Panama, crossing the isthmus on foot and catching a shop for England on the Atlantic side. The third alternative, crossing the Pacific and returning round the globe, seems an unlikely choice, given the length of time involved. Of course, he could always have done his usual trick of having gotten involved with a married woman whilst waiting, and having to leave in haste, on which case he may have had to catch a ship heading towards the Far East.
Whatever his course, Flashman takes up with a woman on board but, just when he’s about to commit the capital act in his or her cabin, the ship is either attacked or springs a leak but either way, it is shipwrecked and Flashy heads for the lifeboats. His amour gets there under her own steam, but in a crowded lifeboat, consummation proves impossible.
It may be that the lifeboat comes to land on the South American continent, giving Flashman his experience with hearing drums in the jungle on that continent. However, that I think is pushing it a bit, so: Flashman drifts at sea until the lifeboat is discovered and everybody is rescued (knowing Flashman, by this point everyone may well consist of him alone). But, for one reason or another, the rescuing vessel is heading outwards across the Pacific, and will not take him back to the Americas.
Flashman winds up in Australia, initially at Botany Bay, where he ends up in the lock-up, before going on to the Gold Rush, where he has the adventures Fraser envisioned. After leaving Australia, Flashman arrives in the Philippines, where he is robbed of any gold that he has got away with and earns his passage home by taking on his Lottery Supervisor role. From this successful venture, he finally manages to return to England, after having been absent for four years. His reunion with Elspeth produced their first child, Havvy…
We will never know.
Incidentally, implausible though it may seem, and extremely so, the most likely period for Flashman’s offhandedly mentioned encounter with the famous Italian liberator and statesman, Guiseppe Garibaldi, is in this blank period. Garibaldi’s peripatetic career seems to always place him in other parts of the world to Flashman, except in 1852-3, when he is trading in China and the South Pacific…

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s Career, part 4: 1860-1868


We have now reached the hinge-point in Sir Harry Flashman’s career. Up till now, we have had a fairly consistent account with occasional breaks. From here, we have little but hints and references, with the occasional account. I propose to continue by using actual recorded events as the punctuation point between phases.
We left Flashman falling unconscious in the whore-house in Hong Kong being run by the Reverend and Mrs Carpenter. Flashman has attempted to blackmail Phoebe Carpenter into bed and she has retaliated by having him drugged, preparatory to his being shipped out somewhere.
When I first read the Eighth Packet, I naively assumed that Flashman would be spirited away to America, there to commence his long involvement in the Civil War. However, it’s now been reasonably established that Flashman did not become involved until 1862, at the earliest, so some other destination was involved.
I had originally intended to place Flashman’s Solomon Islands/Fly River country experiences alongside his visits to Australia and the Philippines, between 1850 – 1853, purely on geographical grounds, until I made the connection. According to his Who’s Who entry, Flashman was acting as trader and Christian Missionary during his time in that area, west of Papua New Guinea.
The connection with a shanghaing by a Christian Minister is too obvious to ignore. Flashman is shipped out to the Solomon Islands or Fly River, where he sees the jungle, before escaping and finally making his way back to England, and Elspeth, presumably in 1861. He holds a blackjack bank at one point, on board the South Sea Trader!
We have his offhanded mention to confirm that, early in 1862, he was at the Curragh, assisting HRH The Prince of Wales inspecting troops. Flashman has not mentioned acquaintance with the Prince at any earlier stage, and I would assume the appointment to have been organised by Victoria herself. This incident is infamous: Prince Albert himself came out to inspect his son’s progress, but contracted an illness that killed him shortly thereafter. Victoria blamed her son for the rest of her life and withdrew from public view for a long time. Does anyone else suspect that Flashman may have had a poltroonish role to play in all this?
Now we come to the great Lost Adventure, the one all Flashman fans wanted to read but which, unaccountably, Fraser became unwilling to write. When it comes to considering this, Flashman has given away more hints about his involvement in the American Civil War than any other unchronicled aspect of his career, enough for us to build a decent outline.
According to Flashman’s Who’s Who entry, he joined the Union Army as a Major in 1862, in circumstances unknown, but you can bet that it wasn’t willingly. Flashman does mention being blackmailed (presumably over his escapades as Beauchamp Comber) by President Lincoln into ‘saving his Union and risking my military reputation’. Given that the Union Army and its Generals prosecuted a poor campaign for at least the first two years of the war, Lincoln may simply have forced Flashman to sign up to the Army to improve its fortunes.
Or, which I find marginally more likely, the blackmail may have been to force Flashman to enter Confederate territory as a spy, travelling to the Southern White House in Virginia, i.e. the home residence of the South’s only ‘President’, Jefferson Davies.
We know from numerous references that Flashman was found on the roof of the building, but that he successfully persuaded Davies and his staff that he was there to repair the lightning conductor, escaping the consequences of being discovered as a spy, and subsequently receiving a handwritten letter of thanks from Davis!
Flashman went on, in 1863, to serve as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, under, so far as we know, his own name. How this was reconciled with his impersonation of a handyman we can only imagine, but in this role he served directly under Robert E Lee, at Gettysburg, hinting that his military advice was the main reason why this was not a massive military victory for the South, and the taking of Washington.
He was also present at the earlier Battle of Chancellorsville, where famously ‘Stonewall’ Jackson died as a result of friendly fire (undoubtedly thanks to Flashman).
At some point, Flashman was imprisoned in the infamous Confederate Prison, Libby Prison. As this had been reserved exclusively for Union officers since 1862, we have two options for when this occurred. Either Flashman was captured at some point in 1862 as an open Union officer, or, which I personally find more likely, he was exposed as a Union officer at some late point in 1863 and imprisoned then.
This would place him in custody at the time of the notable Libby prison Escape of February 1864, when a hundred Union officers escaped and returned to Union lines. Certainly, Flashman has several times referenced accompanying General Sherman in his devastating March Through Georgia, to the sea, that accelerated the end of the War, which took place between November and December that year. His appearance at Yellow Tavern took place earlier that year.
From there to the end of the War, Flashman has left no notes of his whereabouts or doings. We know him to have been present at Appamattox Courthouse, and to have witnessed Lee’s formal Surrender to Grant, and to have been back in Washington a few days later – presumably as part of the delegation sent to report victory to President Lincoln – where he had a private audience with the President. It appears, however, that Flashman arrived there with Lee’s hotly-pursued delegation, which indicates that he was back on the Southern side of affairs again!
Flashman was also present at Ford’s Theatre, though it seems to be beyond Fraser’s powers to have placed him in the Presidential box for Booth’s actual shot, and we may assume he was close at hand until Lincoln was declared dead, but we have no further evidence of his presence in America at this time.
Flashman implies at one point that he returned to England for brief reunions (plural: at least two) with Elspeth during the five years from 1862 to 1867. It is more than likely that once the Civil War was officially over, and Lincoln, the only other man to know the full details of Flashman’s service was dead, he returned to England.
Whether he returned during the Civil War is entirely speculative. The only time there seems to have been room for such a visit would be the 1864 – 1865 period, but the problem with this is that, having escaped from American, what could have got him back to the New World when the War was still in progress?
After the Civil War, Flashman returns to England and is reunited with Elspeth, albeit for a fairly short time. His next known adventure is in Mexico, as aide de camp to the Emperor Maximilian, towards the end of his short reign.
Fraser has supplied a surprising amount of detail about this escapade, though most of it is concentrated upon the fall-out, and Maximilian’s execution. What we do know is that he joins Maximilian in February 1867, on the run from the Foreign Legion, who want him as a deserter, and that prior to joining Maximilian, he took part in a bandit raid organised by Jesus Montero, who is under the impression that Flashman knows the whereabouts of Montezuma’s Treasure.
We know the end: can we suggest a plausible beginning?
I have already tentatively assigned Flashman a period in the Foreign Legion twenty years previously, with his bullet wound incurred during desertion. Once more, this is being made up out of whole cloth, but what if…?
Flashman has once again left the country, perhaps for recreational purposes, possibly France. There, his vicious tastes lead to an encounter with an old adversary, someone who was his superior during his previous service with the Legion, and who, perhaps, was punished for allowing Flashman’s desertion.
This adversary is supervising a fresh shipment of Legion troops to join those currently in Mexico, supporting Maximilian. Flashman is seized and transported back to the Americas.
How does Flashman escape the Legion a second time? We know he was with Jesus Montero’s bandits for a time, so I’m positing that the Legion platoon Flashman was with was ambushed and slaughtered by the bandits, but that Flashman survived by promising Montero to lead him to Montezuma’s treasure.
During his time with the bandits, Flashman takes part in an attack on Maximilian and his train, possibly when they are en route to Juarez, where Maximilian removed his court in February 1867. As Flashman was sentenced to execution, and was even led out to face the firing squad during his time in Mexico, it would seem he was captured. However, he somehow convinces Maximilian that he was aiding his men, which presumably leads to his letter of reprieve (and the oft-mentioned San Serafino Order of Truth and Purity). In gratitude, Maximilian appoints Flashman aide de camp, and when the Legion come to demand his return, the Emperor refuses. This may prove to be a factor in the Legion withdrawing from Mexico, leaving the Emperor vulnerable.
Flashman remains in Juarez until the end. He encounters,and is unable to seduce, Princess Agnes Salm-Salm. The Republic overwhelms and captures Maximilian.
Flashman then joins in the near-successful attempt by Aggy Salm-Salm and Montero (an unlikely pair: I’m not even going to try to guess how they come together, though I’d be surprised if Montero wasn’t still playing for the Treasure). However, Maximilian refuses to escape, as being below his royal dignity, and Flashman watches the execution from concealment on a nearby roof.
He is then chosen to escort Maximilian’s body home, to Trieste, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which leads to his next recorded exploit. Anxious to escape the consequences of seducing the Captain’s teenage daughter, Flashman agrees to escort British funds to Egypt, where General Sir Bob Napier is mounting an expedition into Abyssinia, to recover British hostages help by its mad Emperor, Theodore.
Unfortunately, his fame having traveled before him as usual, Flashman is persuaded into another intelligence role, keeping distant of the main advance on a cross-country trek to the Galla tribe, where he is to persuade them to cut off Theodore’s escape routes. It is his first military service for his country since Pekin.
Flashman is successful, at the cost of alienating his native guide, Uliba-Wark (trying to kick people over waterfalls can do that). When she spirits him away to exact revenge, he falls into the hands of Theodore, and witnesses the end of the campaign, and Theodore’s suicide, from inside the fortress Magdala. Still, he survives, with his undeserved credit further advanced, still hoping for peace and quiet.

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 3 – 1854 to 1860


The third section of Flashman’s career, as recorded in the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Packets, once again gives us a complete record of Harry’s movements, this time from his ensconcement at the Board of Ordnance in late 1853/early 1854, to his hasty ejection from a Baltimore-bound train in America in October 1859 and, after a brief but puzzling gap, his adventures in China in 1860.
At the beginning, Flashman has secured his post at the Board of Ordnance to ensure he is not called up for active service in the war he can see coming with Russia, eventually taking place in the Crimea. However, his taste for vicious amusement, at the expense of a young and naive German princeling, backfires when the lad turns out to be a cousin of Prince Albert. Flashman is promoted to Colonel and installed as William’s mentor, but this means going to War.
In the Crimea, Willi’s impulsiveness and naivete quickly gets him killed, with Flashman not straining at the leash to save him. In disgrace, he is laid low with dysentery, brought on by drinking stale Russian champagne, returning to duty, fatefully, on the day of the Battle of Balaclava.
Flashman features in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, the Thin Red Line and the Charge of the Light brigade, which latter action he helps to bring about, trying to get Lord Cardigan to somewhere here he will be shot at. Flashman survives the Charge but is captured by the Russians and, in the absence of an equivalent prisoner to exchange, is taken inland to the estate of Count Pencherjevsky. There he is re-united with his old Rugby schoolmate Harry ‘Scud’ East, now an Intelligence Officer.
Flashman is happy to remain indefinitely, especially as he is conducting an affair with Pencherjevsky’s daughter, hoping to impregnate her at the Count’s urging. This unusual idyll is interrupted when the Englishmen discover plans for a Russian Army to take advantage of the distraction of Crimea, to invade India through Central Asia.
East insists on an escape but Flashman is recaptured, and dragged with the Russian Army under the heel of Count Nikolas Ignatieff. However, in Central Asia he is rescued by the men of Yakub Beg, a rebel leader and, full of hashish induced courage, he succeeds in destroying the Russian supply ships, halting the advance.
Flashman reaches India but is laid low by a serious bout of cholera, delaying his return to England until the latter half of 1855. he is not home for long before he is sent back to India, as Palmerston’s agent, to investigate signs of an impending mutiny.
Flashman’s first role in India is as a Political Agent, sent to the Maharani Lakshmibai, in Jhansi, to attempt to seduce her into accepting the influence of the Raj. Flashman may or may not have been successful in the former aspect, but he is exposed to enemies, and drops out of sight, joining the Army as Iqbal Khan. In. his undercover role, Flashman sees the events that led to the start of the Mutiny building.
When it all begins, Flashman is shocked by the brutality displayed, and also wounded in the head, leaving him incapacitated. He return to his wits for some time, during which his old comrade, Ilderrim Khan guides him towards Cawnpore, where the British are besieged. Among the other officers present is Scud East.
Flashman plays a part in negotiating an agreed British retreat, but the Rebels play false and the British contingent are slaughtered. Both Ilderrim Khan and East are killed, the latter in Flashman’s arms, though he is one of a handful who escape down the Ganges.
Returning to the fray after several months convalescence, Flashman finds himself again besieged, in Lucknow, and guides out the man who can bring the British Army in to relieve the siege.
But his worst moment comes when he is sent into Jhansi again, to try to get Lakshmibai out unharmed. Instead, he is imprisoned for months, and she uses the fake escape plan to effect a real escape, but not for long. Flashman, in native garb, is witness to her death, and is taken himself as an agitator. He wakes to find himself strapped across a cannon’s mouth, and gagged, but manages to get himself freed.
For his efforts in the Mutiny, Flashman is both knighted, and awarded the Victoria Cross, though his triumph is spoiled by discovering that Tom Brown’s Schooldays has been published, identifying him as a school bully.
Flashman leaves for England, going ashore at Cape Town, where he is invited to dinner at the Governor-General’s palace. There, he rudely encounters his old enemy, John Charity Spring, seeking revenge for his humiliation a decade previously. Spring tempts Flashman with an opportunity to seduce his teenage daughter (which Flashman achieves, not that Spring knows) but it is a trap. Flashman is drugged and sent to sea with one of Spring’s cronies.
Spring’s revenge is to deliver Flashman to Baltimore, abandoning him ashore, without funds or friends, with the Police alerted to the return of the still-wanted ‘Beauchamp Comber’.
But Flashman is being watched by three disparate organisations, with different intentions but the same outcome in mind. These are the Underground railroad, anxious to see a blow struck against slavery, the Kuklos, a secretive organisation dedicated to preserving the South’s way of life and facilitating secession, and Pinkerton’s Detectives, on behalf of US Intelligence, who wish nothing to happen.
However, all three want Flashman to join with the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, on his much-touted, supposedly secret invasion of Virginia. Brown needs a militarily competent Lieutenant, either to make his raid succeed, or else demonstrate just how impossible it is. And, if necessary, shoot him in the back.
Flashman is forced to go through the whole matter, under the watchful eye of a fanatical black supporter of the Kuklos, who is a mole in the Underground Railway. The raid on Harper’s Ferry goes ahead, with Flashman an unwilling witness as usual, and things fall out as they do.
Flashman, having killed the Kuklos agent, is spirited away by Intelligence, on a train to Baltimore where he will board a ship to England. But there is another Kuklos agent watching him, who decides to warn him. He decants from the train, along, friendless and hunted, one stop short of Baltimore…
In complete contrast to the previous breach in Flashman’s career, this final break is very short, a mere five months. Given that it starts on the East Coast of America and ends in Hong Kong, in completely the opposite direction from the one in which Flashman was travelling, I think we can safely say that our hero spends most of the period in transit, with little or no time for adventure.
But why and how are questions to which we have no answers. It’s completely inexplicable how Flashman ends up going in the wrong direction, and not enough to say that, having found himself lost and friendless on American soil, and hunted by the Kuklos, he had very little choice in where he went, and may even have deliberately chosen to go in a direction his pursuers wouldn’t expect.
Even so, and even with five months to play with, this means Flashman has got to get across the American continent and across the Pacific, with time to spare to hang around in Hong Kong. Even if we posit that Flashman somehow got down to Panama and crossed the isthmus, it’s hard to believe that he could make it in time.
Personally, I put it down to Fraser being so determined to throw in John Brown that he wasn’t concerned about joining up the dots with the Eighth Packet, but we can’t actually use that as an excuse to ignore the problem.
This is another point at which Flashman may have heard his South American jungle drums, if his flight took him below the Equator, but it’s hard to imagine how he’d have time.
Nevertheless, to Hong Kong he comes, planning to sail on further west and return to Elspeth via India, picking up the route he was following two years previously. Instead, whilst trying to fill in the time by seducing a clergyman’s wife, Flashman finds himself conned into running guns to the Taipeng Rebels, and, after bluffing his way out, finds himself revealed to the authorities, and despatched to join General Napier’s march on Pekin.
First, Flashman is put back on Intelligence, in which capacity he is despatched to see the Taipeng from the inside, hoping to divert them from attacking Shanghai. In this he fails, but gets away sufficiently to warn the authorities of the army on his tail, and army that is turned back, but not before Flashman is diverted to his real task on Napier’s staff.
He joins the March on Pekin, getting captured and subject to both torture and the ministrations of the Emperor’s preferred concubine, and future Empress of China. Escaping her custody, Flashman rejoins the Army as it takes Pekin, and plays his part in the still-controversial decision to destroy the Summer Palace.
Heading home at last, he runs into Phoebe Carpenter again, and intends to complete his seduction by blackmail. Unfortunately, she has him drugged, and he finds himself shanghaied to parts unknown…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 2 – 1847 to 1854


The next period of Flashman’s career occupies a relatively short space of time, but a tremendous number of events, as recorded in the Second, Third and Seventh Packets. It runs from Flashman’s return to London in ‘late 1847’ recovering from his wound, to his arrival in San Francisco in September 1850, at the (temporary) end of his American adventures.
Despite his long separation from Elspeth, Flashman finds London uncongenial, thanks to the presence of his in-laws, especially his father-in-law. Hence, when he receives a letter inviting him to supply a personal service to an unknown titled lady in Bavaria, complete with generous expenses, he overcomes his suspicions and travels to Germany.
There, he learns that the mysterious Countess is actually Lola Montez, mistress to the King of Bavaria, and seemingly having forgiven her resentment at Flashman. However, she is acting in concert with Flashman’s other victim of that time, Otto von Bismarck, now Chancellor of Prussia, and commencing the long process of manipulation that would lead to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Flashman is framed on a trumped up charge of rape, forcing him to agree to Bismarck’s scheme
As a forerunner to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question, Bismarck is focused on the tiny Duchy of Strakenz, whose young ruler, Duchess Irma, is shortly to marry Danish princeling Carl Gustaf. But Carl Gustaf has apparently contracted a sexual disease and cannot marry until he is disease-free. Since Flashman is his virtual double, he will marry the Duchess in Carl Gustaf’s place.
To Flashman’s dismay, the plot is a set-up, with the intention that he be killed and framed as an English spy. he manages to escape Bismarck’s men, but is forced into rescuing Carl Gustaf from execution. This accomplished, he is allowed to ride for the border but, being Flashman, he rides via the Treasury and removes as much as he can carry.
Flashman’s escape route takes him back through Bavaria, and into the 1848 revolution, which overthrows both the King and Lola Montez. Flashman hitches a ride out of Bavaria with Lola, only for her to rob him of his ill-gotten gains. Flashman returns to London empty-handed, in time for the Chartist Riots.
These frighten his father-in-law John Morrison into wanting to raise a group of MPs to protect his interests. Flashman is amenable to becoming an MP, especially if it will keep him away from battlefields, but on his ‘launching’, he encounters an old enemy that he has cheated, who retaliates by framing Flashman for cheating at cards.
Flashman compounds his disgrace by attacking his former friend, and almost killing him. He is rushed out of the country by Morrison, under the control of Captain John Charity Spring, a defrocked Oxford Don and a near-madman. His ship is also in the Slave Trade, which Flashman doesn’t learn until it is far too late.
Spring’s ship stops first at Dahomey in West Africa, to buy slaves from King Gezo. His attempt tp buy one of Gezo’s Amazon, in exchange for the ship’s cabin boy, has consequences in both the short and long-term. Second Mate Beauchamp Comber is fatally wounded n the escape. before he dies, he confesses to Flashman that he is a Navy Officer engaged in spying, and entrusts his papers to Flashman. When the ship is taken by the American navy, Flashman uses these to impersonate Comber, taking in everyone except an obscure member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln.
‘Comber’ is much in demand but Flashman’s biggest concern is having to testify in New orleans, against Spring and his men, which will lead to his imposture being detected. He takes refuge in a whorehouse, playing up to its Madam, the mature Susie Willinck, who arranges passage for him on an England-bound ship. However, ‘Comber’ has been watched by the Underground Railroad, who want him to escort a slave north to freedom. Lacking alternative, Flashman has to accede.
Unfortunately, his charge is unable to play the part of a slave, leading to the pair’s exposure. Flashman escapes by diving into and swimming the Mississippi, after which he takes a job as a slave overseer at the Mandeville Plantation, under the name Tom Arnold. This cushy berth is disrupted when he is caught screwing the owner’s wife, Annette Mandeville, and is punished by being sent into slavery himself, in the Deep South, where he will never be found.
Flashman travels with another slave, Cassieopia, who assists him in overcoming and killing their guards. Under the name of James Prescott, Flashman takes Cassie north on the Mississippi towards freedom, but is careless enough to get the pair turned round and heading south again.
They are forced to run across the ice to the north shore, chased by slave-stealers, who wound Flashman in the buttocks, and are only saved when Lincoln faces the stealers down.
But ‘Comber’ now has to return to New Orleans and testify. Being Flashman, he steers between all the traps, telling the ‘truth’ but not incriminating Spring or himself. Having put up the backs of the US Navy, Flashman offers Comber’s papers to spring in return for passage to England.
Unfortunately, despite his protestations of a higher moral code, Spring tries to play Flashman false, starting a brawl in which Spring runs through a planter who has recognised one of Flashman’s aliases. With spring on his tail, Flashman tries to hole up with Susie Willinck again, but is shocked to find her closing her establishment, intent on transporting it across the continent to California, and the Gold Rush. Susie is willing to take ‘Comber’ with her, as her husband, and to dope Spring and ship him out of the way, to South Africa.
Flashman ends up in nominal charge of the Willinck wagon train, heading westward under the guidance of Richard Willens. They encounter Indians on a couple of occasions, the second group have cholera. Woollens is affected and Flashman has to lead the train. They are forced to take refuge in Bent’s Fort, a famous trading post that has been abandoned, and only the intervention of a band of trappers saves them from massacre.
The caravan travels as far as Sante Fe, where Susie decides to stop for a couple of years. This does not suit Flashman’s plans so he sells one of the whores, Cleonie, with whom he has been sleeping, to the Indians, and sets off on his own. Unfortunately, he falls in with an infanmous band of Scalphunters and is forced to join in one of their raids. This captures several Indian women, who are to be enjoyed before being killed and scalped. Because Flashman prefers not to crudely rape his woman, who happens to be the daughter of Mangas Colorado, the mountainous leader of the Apaches, he is spared, and ends up going through his third bigamous marriage in the last twelve months, marrying Takes-Away-Clouds Woman.
After wintering with the Apaches into 1850, Flashman takes advantage of the first Spring raiding party to break away. He is pursued relentlessly, but is rescued by the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson. Carson secures Flashman’s safety and, in slow stages, he is able to make his way to San Francisco by September, in order to depart America.

We now reach the most substantial gap in Flashman’s early career. At the end of ‘The Forty-Niners’, he confirms that his American adventures had come to an end, at least for the next quarter century. Most readers have taken that to mean that Flashman does, finally, return to England. I doubt it was that simple.
When next we hear of Flashman, it is early 1854, and he has already assessed the prevailing sentiment of the times and secured a sinecurial position at the Board of Ordnance that he intends will keep him from active service in the War with Russia that he foresees.
This means we have some three years to account for, although on this occasion we have the advantage of one confirmed but unchronicled adventure in this period. We know that Flashman was in Australia during their Gold Rush: officially this could mean any time between 1851-54, but most chronologies I’ve seen agree on dating this to 1852. He plays nap with pinches of gold dust from the diggings, and spends his near-customary time in prison in Botany Bay.
We also have undated incidents in the South Pacific: Christian Missionary in the Fly River country, west of Papua New Guinea, and Lottery Supervisor in Manila, in the Philippines. And we have Flashman’s mention of undergoing a shipwreck and failing to have sex with a fellow refugee in a lifeboat.
Given the distance from England to Australia, and that travel there and back represented a massive commitment in time (the Flashmans take more or less a year from England to Singapore in 1843-44) it seemed logical to me to collate Flashman’s other adventures in the South Pacific into this period, rather than have to find another trip around the world to accommodate them. This means a somewhat erratic course about the South Pacific, which is not an objection in itself, but there is a later placing for one of these incidents that seems to me to make better sense, so I exclude it and suggest the following:
In San Francisco, Flashman seeks passage to England. This would be by ship, either round Cape Horn, or by passage to Panama, crossing the isthmus on foot and catching a shop for England on the Atlantic side. The third alternative, crossing the Pacific and returning round the globe, seems an unlikely choice, given the length of time involved. Of course, he could always have done his usual trick of having gotten involved with a married woman whilst waiting, and having to leave in haste, on which case he may have had to catch a ship heading towards the Far East.
Whatever his course, Flashman takes up with a woman on board but, just when he’s about to commit the capital act in his or her cabin, the ship is either attacked or springs a leak but either way, it is shipwrecked and Flashy heads for the lifeboats. His amour gets there under her own steam, but in a crowded lifeboat, consummation proves impossible.
It may be that the lifeboat comes to land on the South American continent, giving Flashman his experience with hearing drums in the jungle on that continent. However, that I think is pushing it a bit, so: Flashman drifts at sea until the lifeboat is discovered and everybody is rescued (knowing Flashman, by this point everyone may well consist of him alone). But, for one reason or another, the rescuing vessel is heading outwards across the Pacific, and will not take him back to the Americas.
Flashman winds up in Australia , initially at Botany Bay, where he ends up in the lock-up, before going on to the Gold Rush, where he has the adventures Fraser envisioned. After leaving Australia, Flashman arrives in the Philippines, where he is robbed of any gold that he has got away with and earns his passage home by taking on his Lottery Supervisor role. From this successful venture, he finally manages to return to England, after having been absent for four years. His reunion with Elspeth produced their first child, Havvy…
We will never know.

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 1 – 1838 to 1847


From the First, Second, Sixth and Ninth Packets of the Flashman Papers we have a comprehensive record of Harry Flashman’s career from his expulsion from Rugby School in 1838, to his near-expulsion from the Punjab, on the orders of Sir Henry Hardinge, in February 1846.
On leaving Rugby, Flashman returned home, intent on having his father, Buckley Flashman, buy him a commission in a prestigious regiment who are not going into active service anytime soon. Flashman senior is initially reluctant, but apparently decides that having his son and his mistress in the same household is not a wise idea, and purchases Harry a Lieutenancy in the future 11th Husars, under Lord Cardigan.
Initially, Flashman is a favourite of Cardigan’s for his appearance and horsemanship, but his taste for vicious amusement betrays him, not for the last time by any means, and after his notably public participation in a duel with a fellow officer, and his ill-advised seduction of and forced marriage to Elspeth Morrison, daughter of a Glasgow mill-owner, Flashman is sent overseas, to India in 1840.
There he attracts attention for his genuine skills with horses and languages, and is attached to the Army of the Indus, under Lord Elphinstone, stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Flashman endures hair-raising adventures in Afghanistan, but ultimately, through what will become a pattern of good luck, dissemblement and the Victorian desire to see heroism wherever it goes, he wins his first undeserved honours and recognition, for apparently defending a strategic post, at Piper’s Fort, whereas he had been completely laid out with cowardice, and was the last man standing by default.
Flashman returns to England in 1842, recuperating from his wound and enjoying his laurels. He enjoys the good life, including an affair with the woman who will one day represent herself as the famous dancer, Lola Montez. He arranges for the humiliation of the bumptious and self-satisfied Otto von Bismarck at the hands of a retired pugilist, sets up Lola Montez’s public exposure as a fake and enjoys a purple patch, from 1842 to 1843, as a fast bowler at cricket.
In 1843, he also pursues an affair with Fanny Paget (who may or may not be a relation on his mother’s side) whom he is sharing with Lord Cardigan. He is nearly caught by Cardigan, who is in turn caught by a private detective, whom Flashman bribes to give a false name to Lady Cardigan, which she records in her memoirs.
Though a sinecure post has been obtained for him, Flashman ends up making England too hot for himself, between Montez’s desire for revenge and the real threat from a bookie, whose money he has taken, and who he has offended by failing to throw a single-wicket cricket match he should win easily: hence Mr Tighe’s desire to ‘fix’ the outcome.
The match is against the far Eastern merchant, Don Solomon Haslam, who is playing to take Elspeth on a cruise to his plantations. Flashman having lost the bet, takes the obvious option of accompanying Elspeth, and her miser father, John Morrison, on the cruise.
The voyage is leisurely, and it is deep into 1844 before Haslam’s party reaches Singapore. There he reveals his true colours, kidnapping Elspeth and attempting to have Flashman killed. Flashman is rescued by James Brooke, the White Raja of Sarawak, in Borneo. Haslam is identified as river pirate Sulemain Usman, and Brooke mounts an expedition against the pirates, with Flashman as part of his crew.
The expedition puts the pirates down for a time, but Flashman is wounded and captured by Usman, who sails away into the Indian Ocean. Flashman’s reunion with Elspeth convinces Usman that his chances of winning her are non-existent, and he claims to be looking for somewhere to put the Flashmans ashore, where they (and he) will be safe. Flashman does not believe this: under the impression they are at the British possession of Mauritius, he escapes ashore and claims sanctuary. However, this is Madagascar, where whites are slaves: the pair are taken from the ship.
Whilst Elspeth is kept safe, and completely unaware of any danger, Flashman finds himself enslaved by the mad Queen, Ranavalona. He becomes both her lover and Sergeant-General to her army.
Flashman remains in captivity into 1845, when he is reluctantly impressed into a plot to overthrow Ranavalona. The plot is uncovered, and he and Elspeth flee, fortuitously arriving at the coast during a bombardment by British and French ships, on which they leave.
Whilst Elspeth returns to England, Flashman, against his will, is sent to India, where he is required on Army service in the Punjab. At first, this is as a political officer, charged with finding away to prevent the overwhelmingly powerful Sikh Army from attacking the British. Instead, in his relationship with the semi-drunken Maraharani, Mai Jeendan, he becomes involved in her plot to break the arrogant, powerful Khalsa, who control the Army.
Flashman’s enforced tinkering with the Sikh Army’s plans arouses the wrath of Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge, but proves to be effective in Britain’s ultimate victory. He even comes into possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which he hands over, flippantly, to Hardinge, literally minutes before his departure, on Hardinge’s orders.

Flashman is next seen in England, in ‘late 1847’ (not so late that he does not become aware of the fashion debate between ‘stripes’ and ‘checks’). He is still recuperating from being shot in the back. Fraser later refines this wound into a shot on the side that burrowed towards Flashman’s back, but otherwise gives us no other information as to who, what, when, where or why.
Indeed, in later years, Fraser showed no intention of clearing the gap up, even with one of Harry’s celebrated asides. As the books progressed, his Explanatory Notes grew more dismissive about the very idea of filling these in.
By exploring negative information, we can exclude further British military action: Flashman specifies that the First Afghan War and the First Sikh War are his only pre-Crimea campaigns. Similarly, I would exclude a wound from any kind of duel, since Flashman does not refer to taking part in any other than the celebrated affair with Lieutenant Bernier.
However, I have a theory that, without any evidence to support it, fits neatly with the time-frame.
Flashman leaves the Punjab in February 1846 to return to England, a journey that will take a couple of months, given that Africa lies in between. After the Great Mutiny, his voyage home was via the Cape of Good Hope, where he meets John Charity Spring in Cape Town, but there is no mention there of any previous visit to the city.
Let us posit that, on this occasion, Flashman’s journey home is via the Red Sea, and an overland trek, by camel, to the North African coast.
What if the caravan is attacked, by Tuaregs or other bandits? Flashman escapes but finds himself stranded in the Sahara desert, over at least one night of moonlight. Before he can die of thirst, he is found by a petrol from the French Foreign Legion, who take him back with them into Algeria where, lacking any other support, he joins the Legion.
Now in the Twelfth packet, Fraser makes it clear that Flashman was in service with the French Foreign Legion twenty years later, in Mexico, but even he hints, in a footnote, that this may not have been Flashman’s only period in La Legion Etranger. The French president, MacMahon, does refer to being an old Algeria hand as if the pair had shared service.
We can imagine Flashman not planning to make Legion service a long-term affair, and taking the first opportunity to desert, perhaps disguised as an Arab Sheikh. The Legion naturally take a dim view of this and, in fighting their way out, Flashman is shot in the side, the bullet burrowing into his back.
This narrows down the time this adventure takes. Whilst he speaks of his ability to bounce back quickly from wounds, because of the nature of this wound, Flashman would have needed an extended recuperation before he was even able to travel back to England, relatively unaffected and probably not even admitting his wounding to Elspeth: would she have so blithely let him leave the country so quickly afterwards if she knew he’d had that kind of wound?
To me, this is entirely plausible and decidedly Flashmanesque, though there isn’t a scrap of evidence to make it more than a hopefully educated guess.
Of course, Flashman has confirmed that he was serving with the Foreign Legion twenty years later, in Mexico, and that Emperor Maximilian rescued him from the Legion, who were pursuing him as a deserter. That seems to rule out the idea of an 1847 tour of duty. Or does it? Flashman does not actually say that he was serving with the Legion: in fact, he was reluctantly a part of Jesus Montero’s bandits at roughly the same time. Besides, in what circumstances, in his mid-Forties, within eighteen months of his service (distinguished and otherwise) in the American Civil War, does Flashman end up impressed into the Foreign Legion and taken to Mexico?
I would go out on a limb, again unsupported by evidence, that Flashman undergoes another of those hellish coincidences that dog his life, to the extent that you might almost believe in divine intervention and punishment, Flashman encounters his former drill sergeant, or someone of similar authority, from twenty years ago, is recognised as a deserter, and is dragged back to the Legion and into service in Mexico. From which that adventure flows as we shall see later.
It’s an interesting question to wonder if Fraser knew what this incident was about when he referred to it in Royal Flash? Did he have a general plan for Flashman’s career, or was it a bit of ‘colour’, designed to thicken Flashman’s world, a trailer left for Fraser either to exploit, if he came up with a good and timely idea, or otherwise to be left as something Flashman never lived long enough to relate?
I wouldn’t like to guess.

A Brief Speculation on Flashman’s career – Introduction


Taking a broad look at the Flashman Papers, it is easy to divide Sir Harry’s career into two unequal phases. In the first of these, from his expulsion from Rugby School in 1838 to his shanghaing to sea in the wake of the Pekin Expedition in 1860, we have a full account of his career, with three breaks, of varying length.
But from 1860 onwards, we have only three distinct and separate episodes, and nothing but hints and traces of where and what else Flashman was doing.
Naturally, the rest of Flashman’s career has been the subject of speculation and argument amongst his fans for literally decades. I’ve read several chronologies, at least one of which is still accessible on-line. Now I’m going to have my own attempt at constructing Flashman’s career, especially in those lost periods.
Given the length of that career – Flashman died in 1915, in circumstances unknown but presumably related to his age (he would be aged 92/93 that year) – this is not the subject of a single essay. At first, I propose to summarise Flashman’s known career, up to one of the notable gaps, and then speculate as to what he may have been doing then. In short, I’ll be trying to outguess George MacDonald Fraser, so nothing ambitious then.
In no particular order, we have to find times and, in some cases, places, for the following:
– A slew of references to the South Pacific: Gambling on a South Sea trader, the Australian Gold Rush, including a jailing in Botany Bay, witnessing dawn over the South China Sea, being a Lottery supervisor in Manila and a Trader and Missionary in the Solomon Islands and Fly River country.
– Service with the French Foreign Legion – either immediately prior to or at the start of Flashman’s involvement with Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, or in Algeria. Flashman sees moonlight over the Sahara
– Mexico: deserting from the Legion, being aide-de-camp to Maximilian, jail, being sent to the firing Squad and being reprieved. Jesus Montero’s bandits and Princess Aggie Salm-Salm.
– American Civil War: service for the Union in 1862, the Confederates in 1863. Various battlefields. Jefferson Davies’s lightning concuctor. Libby Prison. Blackmailed and pardoned by Lincoln. At Appomattox, apparently with Lee. In Washngton with Lincoln on the day of Ford’s Theatre
– Deputy Marshall to Wild Bill Hickock, facing John Wesley Hardin. Poker in a Dodge City livery stable
– February 1882 – watching John L Sullivan box in America
– 1846-7 – shot in side by pistol ball burrowing into back: recovery and recuperation before returning to London
– Affairs with Lily Langtry, Alice Keppel, Fanny Paget (Cardigan’s mistress)
– Meeting Garibaldi
– The Zulu War 1879, Isandlwhana, Rorke’s Drift, Little Hand. Meets and likes Keteshwayo
– Hearing Garryowen sung on the African veldt
– Pekin Embassy seige during the Boxer Rebellion 1900
– Cholera attack 1855 – 56
– Impersonating an Arab Sheikh
– Surviving in a lifeboat after shipwreck
– Hearing Jungle drums in South America
– Accompanying Chinese Gordon to the Sudan
– Khedive – Sudan 1896
– Shanghaing by Fanny Duberly
– The Franco-Prussian War 1870
– Receiving the Order of Maria Theresa, summer 1868
– Desert camel passage Alexandria to Cairo
– Iron Eyes
– Watching a battle from a hot air balloon
I don’t promise to get everything right, but I do promise to enjoy the guesswork.

The Flashman Papers: 1867-1868 – Flashman on the March


In the very beginning, George MacDonald Fraser claimed that the Flashman Papers, discovered concealed in a chest of drawers accidentally broken at a Leicestershire auction, consisted of a dozen or so Packets. Nearly forty years after he first conceived of Harry Flashman and his splendid dual-character, public and private, Fraser wrote his final Flashman book and, in keeping with that distant pledge, the Twelfth Packet turned out to be the last.
Though I can’t recall where I read it, I remember an interview about this book in which Fraser confirmed that he had had three possible subjects, one of which being Flashman’s Mexico adventure of 1867. Instead, influenced by contemporary events, and his deep disgust at the military  escapades launched by the Blair Government, Fraser chose to relate Flashman’s part in an obscure, long-forgotten British action, in Abyssinia, in 1868, which he held up, in his Explanatory Note, as an example of a time when British Governments acted with some honour, and did not carelessly send British troops to their death.
The Abyssinia Campaign, and Flashman’s almost complete detachment from it, were an unusual, and in many ways downbeat and minor-key ending to the Flashman saga, especially given the stories left untold: the Australian Gold Rush, Mexico, the Sudan, the Boxer Rebellion and, of course, the American Civil War. It is not a grand climax. Much is left unrelated. But it was what Fraser wanted to write about, so, considering the volume of work and research that underpinned each volume, and given that Fraser was now over eighty, it deserves to be respected.
Nevertheless, it’s an odd choice of subject, and an odd approach to the subject, in essence an admission that the military action did not provide any material for the traditional kind of Flashy escapade. It doesn’t help that Fraser starts his story by seguing out of the Mexican adventure, with enough details of what has been going on for us to take a fair stab and constructing the unwritten chronicle, especially as that detail only serves to emphasise how much more interesting the Mexican adventure would have been.
The Abyssinia expedition, under General Sir Robert Napier, was to rescue a small number of British citizens taken prisoner by the mad Emperor Theodore. The hostages are held at his seemingly impregnable citadel at Magdala, and Napier’s expedition faced a long approach, with stretched supply lines, through difficult and mountainous country.
But between Napier’s skill and experience as an Engineer, and his careful husbanding of his Army, a badly outnumbered force in hostile country and inhospitable conditions got to Magdala and defeated the Abyssinian Army without a single fatality in battle and only two deaths in the entire campaign. It’s an incredible record, but it’s also not very interesting in Flashman terms.
So what Fraser does is to send Harry off on an undercover, intelligence mission, bypassing the entire Army approach, using Flashy’s ability to impersonate native characters. What Napier wants is a secret agent who can pass undetected through a land filled with spies, to make contact with the Galla tribe and induce them to surround Magdala and cut off Theodore’s retreat. For guide, he will have the beautiful Uliba-Wark, younger sister (and threat to the throne) of the Galla Queen, Masteeat, who appears to have been created by Fraser out of a mystery Princess whose name is not known.
So Flashy’s adventure is a journey in three uneven parts. The first is undercover with Uliba-Wark, across the wilds of Abyssinia, experiencing the horrific slaughters perpetrated by Theodore, dodging gangs of thieves, screwing every night (naturally) and gradually getting closer to Galla territory, where Uliba confidently expects to overthrow her sister.
Unfortunately, Theodore’s got a very efficient spy organisation and the secret travellers are caught at the outflow of Lake Tana and have to take to the waters. The waters immediately before the Tisisat Falls, which are only about eight feet shorter than the Victoria Falls. Down which Flashy and Uliba are likely to go.
It’s his last betrayal, but it’s a doozy: Flashman’s on the boat, Uliba’s trying to join him, so he kicks her in the face to keep her off. It makes no difference: she struggles to shore and he goes over the falls, but survives, for no real reason other than Fraser needs him to. No-one believes him anyway.
Unfortunately, the experience rather puts Uliba off her lover/charge, not that this makes a difference to her elder sister Masteeat, who’s a damn sight smarter than her little pet. The Galla are happy to help out Napier’s army, and Masteeat is happy to sample Flashy’s charms, but Uliba’s a bit less keen and has him kidnapped out of the Palace for torture etc.
The problem for Uliba is that her merry little band are surprised by a merry little band of Theodore’s amazon warriors, who rescue Flashman but spear the historically doubtful Uliba somewhat comprehensively. And things only get worse when Flashman realises this little band are being led by none other than the mad king himself. This third phase is as Theodore’s prisoner.
We are used, by now, to Flashman spending time in the custody of both enemy and friend, and the volatile Theodore swings from one to another in his quite spectacular insanity, which Fraser portrays with no softening whatsoever. But it only lasts until Napier’s army arrives, ahead of schedule, and puts the Abyssinian defence to the sword. Theodore commits suicide, in accordance with history’s record, though Napier and his staff are convinced that Flashy has done his British duty (which he hasn’t) for which his only kudos are private ones since the record can’t show that a British officer put paid to a foreign ruler, eh, what?
And that, essentially, is that. Fraser’s commitment to a theme obviously personal to his interests cannot ultimately override the fact that the Abyssinian march of 1868, though unique, does not provide the material for a novel: another ‘Road to Charing Cross’, perhaps, but even there Fraser made more of a purely fictional adventure than he does here in one based in real life.
So now it was over. There were no more packets. A couple of years later, George MacDonald Fraser wrote his last book. It was not a Flashman novel, but rather a sequel to the splendidly outlandish The Pyrates, which once he told me was the favourite among his books (and it is a complete joy). That, too, was a disappointment, a dying fall, unfit to cap out his career.
Flashman on the March isn’t in that class. I’d rather have it than not, whereas The Reavers was utterly dispensable. But it was not the ending most of us would have wanted, not with so many other stories left unexplored. The Welshman in a top hat, leading a Zulu impi? Just how did Flashy persuade Jefferson Davies he was there to fix the lightning rod?
This is the last of the books but, like many before me, after one final History and Memories section, I’m going to make my own guesses as to the missing elements of Flashman’s career.

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
Pp4-5. Flashman gives a neat little summary of the highlights of his 1867 adventure with Maximilian in Mexico, confirming that he had, amongst other things, been in service with the French Foreign Legion, pressed into service with Jesus Montero’s bandits, who believed him to know the whereabouts of Montezuma’s treasure, deserted from the Legion, been Maximilian’s aide-de-camp under false pretences, failed to persuade the emperor to escape, watched him being executed, been rescued by Princess Agnes Salm-Salm and eventually left the country as escort for Maximilian’s body, being returned to Trieste. Enough said.
P15. Flashman travels by sea from Trieste to Alexandria, in Egypt, accompanying General Napier’s warchest. From there, he travels by rail to Suez, via Cairo, but comments on having previously done the journey by camel back. When this took place, and in what circumstances, is not specified.
P33. Flashman confirms himself as retired from the Army, having seen no service for his country since China in 1860. Little does he know.
P35. Another reference to Flashman accompanying General Sherman on the drive through Georgia.
P105. Ditto.
P131. Flashman refers, not for the first time, to conversations with the celebrated Traveller, Richard Burton, here described as the ‘Great Bore of the Nile’. I have not mentioned any of these references previously as none of them indicate that Flashman and Burton ever met outside of London, in places such as the Travellers Club, but Burton should be mentioned at least once in relation to the unchronicled aspects of Flashman’s life.
P134. A first mention outside the Who’s Who entry of Flashman’s time in the ‘Fly River country’ and it references only travelling in jungle.
P135. Fraser footnotes Flashman’s reference to having been parted from Elspeth for five years now, which places his departure from England and the start of his involvement in the American Civil War to 1863. Flashman references Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Yellow Tavern, Civil War battles all, Ford’s Theatre (the scene of Lincoln’s assassination) and Queretaro (where Maximillian was first besieged, then captured and executed). Flashman refers to seeing Elspeth at brief, ‘ecstatic’ intervals, which Fraser notes implies at least two visits. Flashman may well have returned to England after the Civil War, once or even twice, but even Fraser has his doubts about any earlier return. Fraser dates this uncertain period as being from April 1865 to March 1867, but if Flashman joined Maximillian on the run from the French Foreign Legion, presumably this latter date has to be pushed forward.
P257. Flashman imagines his death-bed and the cry he plans to make excoriating the failure of his enemies to do for him. One such is Iron Eyes. Whoever he was. Appropriate for the last such reference to be so complete a mystery.