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.

The Flashman Papers 1845-1846: Flashman and the Mountain of Light


I only met George MacDonald Fraser once, touring a new Flashman in hardback. I’m ninety-five percent certain that it was Flashman and the Mountain of Light, the Ninth Packet, though there’s a possibility I’m wrong and it was the next volume.
I’d done several Author Events by then, and expected the usual reading from the book, followed by a Q&A, but Fraser simply hauled himself onto a stool and began to tell stories and anecdotes, nothing to do directly with his new novel.
One of the things he talked about, whether off his own bat or in response to a question later on, was how he wrote a Flashman novel. Basically, it was that he would choose an historical event or period that interested him, spend about nine months researching, cramming in everything he possible could, and then write the book in a three month period.
It’s easy to tell from the title what the focal point was for the Ninth Packet, for the ‘Mountain of Light’ is the literal translation of the Koh-i-Noor diamond (though I learned that bit of historical detail from reading this book, rather than any pre-existing knowledge).
After the somewhat overt contrivance of Flashman and the Dragon I found the Ninth Packet to be dissatisfying, for other reasons. It’s something of a reversion: to Flashman the tyro, to India, even to a significant element of the plot that ‘repeats’ a previous set-up that, chronologically, comes a dozen years after this incident, which somehow never came to Flashy’s recollections when the ploy was duplicated ‘later’.
Flashman and the Mountain of Light doubles back on Flashman’s career, taking up immediately after the events of Flashman’s Lady, concerning itself with the much-mentioned First Sikh War. Harry and Elspeth have been transported from Madagascar to Mauritius, but whilst Elspeth is returning home on a French ship (much to Flashy’s consternation), he’s shipped off to India, and the North Western frontier.
Flashman’s arrival is greeted enthusiastically by his old connection, George Broadfoot, who has great plans for him as a Political. Until the recent Afghan War disaster, Britain’s north west frontier was fairly secure but now the Punjab, home to the Sikhs, lies between it and the Khyber area. The Sikhs are the biggest, most formidable and best-trained and disciplined army in India and, under its Khalsa, its ruling order, it has screaming for the chance to attack British India since the death of the Punjab’s Rajah, Runjeet Singh.
The current Rajah is seven year old Dalip Singh, the only ruler Britain is prepared to recognise, but power is held by his mother, the Maharani Jeendan, a seriously elevated dancing girl, notorious drunkard, debaucher and a strong-mindedly determined to control her country in the face of near-rebellion by the Khalsa.
The problem is right there in that Broadfoot wants Flashy to go in there and work his charms on the Rani, to ensure that the Khalsa does not start a war against the British. In strict chronological terms, it’s twelve years before Flashy does exactly the same with Lakshmibai, but we have already had that story, and the changes Fraser rings upon it are not enough to disguise the fact that he’s mining old territory.
Flashy is to go in as ostensibly a lawyer, to hear arguments over the ultimate disposal of the late Rajah’s fortune, currently at British disposal and consisting of more gold coins than you could shake a really big stick at. And given that Mai Jeendan and her brother and co-regent Jawaheer Singh are into spending money like waterfalls, they have an interest.
Whilst Broadfoot would deny it, even to himself, Flashy’s job is basically to screw Mai Jeendan into complaisance. Unlike Lakshmibai, she is a former dancer, a slut and a drunkard, so the screwing part passes off well and quickly and frequently. But, like Lakshmibai, she is an intelligent, powerful, wilful woman. Flashman is hardly settled in when her brother is publicly slaughtered by the Khalsa in front of her, and his, eyes and she both shames the army and swears to bring about its destruction.
And here we see the other major problem with the overall story. The Khalsa, in its arrogance, wants war with Britain. It vastly outnumbers the British Army, it is one of the most efficient and best-drilled armies in existence and one of the best fighting armies that the Nineteenth Century British Army ever has to face.
And once it has been defeated, or rather the Khalsa leaders are defeated, thanks to the machinations of Mai Jeendan and, in his own small, but vital way, Flashman, it will become a British Army, utterly loyal and utterly effective for the remainder of the Victoria Century.
But, with one notable exception, Flashman has very little, indeed almost nothing to do with it. The course of history flows without Flashy’s input, and for the most part he is a passive observer, overshadowed by two unlikely, mostly forgotten, but real historical figures, Americans Alick Gardner, who is devoted to Mai Jeendan’s service, and Josiah Harlan, who is Flashy’s secret bodyguard and a bit of a self-serving rogue and huckster.
Flashman has a cushy number, confined to the Palace and to a life of feasting and fornicating (when Mai Jeendan isn’t available, her chief slave and confidante, Mangla, has a similar amount of hots for Harry), but he has nothing to do but watch, and wait, as events roll along without him.
Fraser enlivens the middle portion of the story, as this waiting goes on for months, by a long and elaborate luring of Flashy into a trap at the hands of the Khalsa, trying to provoke war earlier than suits Mai Jeendan, from which he is rescued by the intervention of Goolab Singh, former pretender to the throne and now looking to establish his bona fides with the British, but in terms of influencing the narrative, it is nothing more than an interlude, a fill-in.
Which is the problem. Harry Flashman has nothing to do with the story, except in one crucial moment. Mai Jeendan has installed her lover and her underling, Lal Singh and Tej Singh, in charge of the Army. Both are arrant cowards whose job is to mislead, misdirect, hinder and delay the Army for the benefit of its British opponents, under the Generalship of Sir Hugh (‘Paddy’) Gough.
The big problem is that not only are the Khalsa extremely suspicious of this incompetent pair, and liable to throw them out at any moment they decide that this faffing around is down to actual sabotage, but that Tej and Lal are shit-scared of that happening at any moment.
So Flashy, an inexperienced young Lieutenant, with only one disastrous campaign under his military belt, finds himself with the awesome responsibility of directing the forces of the most powerful Army in India against his own side, in such a way as to ensure that despite massive, indeed overwhelming advantages, they lose.
And, with his funk at its highest, but in the grandest of all military traditions, Flashy does the job. Which leads to one of the best reverses in the book as, once he has regained his own lines and explained what he has done, Sir John Littler, the local General, reprimands him severely, reminds him that if it blows up, he faces one mother of a Court Martial, and promises his most ardent support for Flashman’s actions being in the highest traditions of the service!
But that’s it. That aside, Flashman is nothing but a spectator, especially of battles with twists that everyone but serious students of history have forgotten. Even battles for which he is present, he is nothing but a watcher, without serious risk of being dragged into panicky situations.
His only other contribution to the course of the history is again a ‘repeat’ of the superior Lakshmibai story. Flashman is sent back in, in native disguise, to help Mai Jeendan smuggle out her son, Dalip. There’s no Count Ignatieff on hand to make it personally perilous, and whilst Flashy ultimately fails to bring the Prince back to British lines, he at least sees him in the safety of Goolab Singh, who is out to show his value to the British.
There is at least a twist to the story that ensures it doesn’t too closely echo the Lakshmibai ‘original’, which is that Mai Jeendan is prepared to entrust her son to Flashman because she believes him to be true to her: true to the extent of marriage! That’s not on, even if Flashy does devote a few moments fantasising to the prospect. But he’s had enough of India, he wants home, he wants to get back to Elspeth.
Which leads to an intriguing ending. The war is won, the Khalsa destroyed, the Sikh Army conjoined to the British. There is a peace treaty negotiated by Hardinge, who has by now demonstrated a complete loathing of our hero and everything he’s done, especially because it’s worked. On the other hand, his chief Political, Henry Lawrence, wants Flashman to stay, as a Political, and is willing to fight Hardinge over it. Thank heaven then for the embarrassment of a certain lady’s honourable intentions towards our man…
So Flashman is to go. Out of spite, Hardinge has orders for his removal from service publicly delivered, intent on humiliation. But never try to humiliate Flashy. Not when your precious peace treaty requires the Sikhs to hand over the Koh-i-Noor. Not when you don’t know who’s pocket it’s hidden in…
Overall, a disappointing volume. But it does contain my favourite Flashman put down of all time, that I have longed to find a context to use for over twenty years: ‘Why, thank ye, Sir Henry, and I hope your rabbit dies and you can’t sell the hutch.’

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.
P11. There is a major continuity issue at the very beginning. According to Fraser, Flashman began writing his memoirs in or about 1901, ‘breaking the habit of a lifetime’ by being absolutely honest about his dissolution etc. But here, Flashman clearly states that he was reminded to write this adventure by an enquiry from Queen Victoria about the proprieties of wearing the Koh-i-Noor Diamond as part of her dress for her Golden Anniversary, which Flashman specifically records as being in 1887. This is thirteen years at least before the other memoirs are written, when Flashman is still protective of his reputation, and before the end of his physical adventures: and in a completely consistent style to the Papers supposedly written so much later. Fraser is too good for this kind of slip, which makes this setting irreconcilable with the other Papers.
P16. “Where the deuce had I been in ’52?” – where indeed? The Queen reads from a letter dated 9 February that year from Colonel Mackeson, referring to Flashman. Mackeson fought in the First Sikh War and remained in service in the Punjab until his assassination in 1853. His letter is about the Koh-i-Noor and these Papers about Flashman’s connections with it, so we can’t read into it any inferences about Flashman’s service that year. Note that Mackeson refers to Flashman as a Lieutenant, whilst by the beginning of the Fourth Packet, in early 1854, he’s a Captain.
P57. Another reference to Flashman’s undetailed participation in the Zulu War, recalling Cetewayo’s legions overrunning Little Hand.
P86. Flashman’s first encounter with Mai Jeendan leads to another recollection of other beauties of his experience, this time including the Empress of Austria as a ‘classic creature.. appeal(ing) to the baser aesthetic senses’. This encounter will be referenced in the Eleventh Packet.
P101. Another reference to the sadly unrecorded Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu impi. It’s terribly frustrating.
P234. Flashman’s medals include ‘Khedive Sudan 96’ – another unrecorded campaign, and an impressive one, given that he would then be seventy-three: a little old for active service.
P318. Flashman refers to his granddaughter Selina and how she almost led him to commit murder, an incident at this stage confined to the Sunday Times 1972 short story that will not become canon until the Eleventh Packet.
P326. One of the most intriguing references in the entire Flashman Papers, Flashman approvingly cites a hot air balloon as the ideal vantage point for watching a battle and mentions doing this is Paraguay once. This has had Flashman scholars puzzling for years, and dubiously suggesting the War of the Triple Alliance, though Flashman’s participation in this affair (1864 – 1870) is difficult to reconcile with his known movements in this period.

The Flashman Papers 1856-1858: ‘Flashman in the Great Game’


Flashman in the Great Game is taken from the Fifth Packet of the Flashman Papers and, as both the title, and its historical proximity to the previous volume would indicate, concerns Flashman’s involvement in the Indian Mutiny.
It’s the longest book to date in terms of its history, and in order to keep the book at a manageable length and still include all the various incidents that went to make up the history of the Mutiny, Fraser has to develop a piecemeal approach, with Flashman taken out of action for months at a time, in order to elide the times when there is nothing for him to get directly involved in.
Before dealing directly with the story, I’d like first to comment on the success of Fraser’s approach to these books, which is demonstrated beautifully in both this and the preceding chapter of the Papers. By this point, Fraser is in full flow: his research is comprehensive and convincing, and his eye for stringing incidents together without undue contrivance, to place one individual in all the significant places, is operating smoothly. Flashman in the Great Game covers more than two full years, yet reads as a continuous story, in the way that Flashman at the Charge (for all its merits) fails to do.
But then, the Indian Mutiny was an enormous thing, and an enormity, and Fraser, though Anglocentric by his nature, makes sure to let us see both sides of it.
What most distinguishes this book, and which will remain uninterrupted until the end of the series, is Fraser’s wholesale mastery of Flashman’s voice. We never forget that we are reading private, and honest memoirs, told in a conversational manner by a natural raconteur. Every phrase, every sentence, is characteristic of Harry Flashman, his upbringing, his times, his thoughts and his self-obsessions. There are no ordinary, simple, declarative sentences, confined purely to fact . Every word is written to be read aloud: Flashy may be recollecting from an immense distance in time, but his memories are clear, usually impeccable, and when he walks among them, he is there in his own past.
Older and wiser Flashman may be, but even in his dotage he remains what he has always been, a cad, a scoundrel, an out-and-out bounder, and unashamed. His spirit fills every word. I doubt that any of his imitators, post-Fraser, writing series featuring the historical adventures of other members of the Flashman family, can incarnate time, place or person remotely like Fraser.
Let us then look at what befalls Flashy, both upwards and downwards, in this latest packet.
It begins at Balmoral, where Flashman and Elspeth are welcome guests: Flashy’s golden- (and empty-) headed wife is a great favourite of Victoria, whilst the shooting-obsessed Albert seems to have completely forgotten that our hero was supposed to kept his young cousin, William, from getting his head blown off.
It’s all very comfortable but trust us, that isn’t going to last, and for once – he is almost indignant in his surprise at the turn of events – it’s not Flashy who brings things down about his ears but rather the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. Old Pam is concerned about reports of cakes passing among Indian hands, chapattis, rather, whose appearance is linked historically to periods of unrest and a prophecy that the Raj will end on the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Plessey – the following year.
Flashman might have put paid (temporarily) to Russia’s military schemes through Central Asia, but his old pal Count Ignatieff is still active subversively. Flashman knows Ignatieff, and he knows India, and how to go underground, where Ignatieff is working. Who better a man to go to India, ferret out the conspiracy and put Ignatieff in his place, eh?
Practically anybody but the coward Flashman, really, but there’s no point in trying to even state that case. This is not the junior officer, full of funk, but a seasoned campaigner, who has been lionised in the public eye for fifteen years now (and who has gained certain things from the experience). Flashy’s name is cemented in place: not even he could convince anyone else that he was a coward.
So, India it is to be, most unwillingly but unresistingly. But not before the horrible shock of Ignatieff himself turning up at Balmoral the next day and, during a day’s shooting, trying to mistake Flashy for a stag. Oh yes, the Great Game is afoot.
As the chapattis have started passing in Jhansi, a province now under direct rule by the Raj after shunting aside the widow of the previous Maharajah (and his son who she has adopted), Palmerston directs Flashman to Jhansi. The Ranee, Lakshmibai, is old by Indian standards (conjuring up visions for Flashy of a wizened old woman) and she’ll no doubt be persuaded to moderate her demands for restitution in the face of such a manly hero as our Flash.
Flashy is not convinced, especially as the feather-brained Elspeth has already informed Ignatieff of his destination. India is India, familiar at once, though much changed since Flashman’s early heroics here (he has been back in one of those as-yet-unexplored gaps in his memoirs, but for the reader this is a first return to familiar ground and Fraser makes full use of the contrast between the bumptious nineteen year old tyro and the much more experienced thirty-four year old Colonel.
There are direct reminders of that early time, figures Flashman met fifteen years before, who are still in India and with whom he renews acquaintance, though not without his telling us of how they will not survive the coming conflict. One who does not have this sentence of death hanging over him is Ilderrim Khan, son of a long-deposed Afghani chieftain, blood brother to Flashman from ages gone. Ilderrim has a role to play in this new drama: Flashman does not tell us of his fate so soon…
Flashy’s plan is simple: get out to Jhansi as soon as he can, get himself introduced to the army and politicals on the ground, get in to see this ancient old bint and, at the first sign of trouble, disappear underground, using his ability to impersonate Pathans and Indians to survive. He quickly prepares the ground, lightly talking about going up against Ignatieff in secret, when all he plans to do is lay low and surface when it’s safe with some suitable story about getting so close but the luck running against him.
It’s a fine, Flashy plan, but it runs up against a massive hurdle early on, when our favourite rake actually meets Rani Lakshmibai.
For, whilst Lakshmi may be old by Indian standards, that only means that she’s a luscious, haughty and altogether alluring beauty aged twenty-nine, exactly the kind of woman to make Flashman’s whiskers stand on end and his mind start to run in old, familiar grooves.
Indeed, Lakshmibai is one of the few women of whom Flashman thinks with more than mere lust: even at the end of his life, writing these memoirs, he is still faintly misty at the thought of the Rani, and his adventures with her.
Of course he’s been sent here to seduce the Rani into compliance with the dictates of the Raj, but now Flashy’s out to seduce Lakshmibai in a much more earthy manner. And being Flashy, he gets his way after weeks of patient diplomacy in which Lakshmi reveals herself as every bit as expert as her pursuer.
This is where Flashman’s problems really start. Lakshmibai is passionate about her kingdom, her people, her wealth and India’s customs, whilst Flashy is passionate about her. Whether because she’s responding like any normal woman, or out of political calculation (or both). Lakshmi manipulates Flashman into a bit of snogging and grappling, and late at night summons him to a river pavilion in which the dirty is done in exhausting fashion. And hardly has the Rani slipped out than three Thuggee killers slip in, and it would have gone ill for our hero if his blood brother Ilderrim Khan hadn’t been suspicious and followed.
Now it’s time for Flashy to go underground, and he does so with a vengeance. With Ilderrim’s assistance, he transforms himself into Makarram Khan, a former India police officer but lately despatched by Ilderrim and, to occupy his time, he joins the British Army!
This shifts the scene to Meerut City, and places Flashy on the spot for the beginning of the Mutiny itself. There is still some time before this happens, time that Flashy occupies in his regiment along with his fellow sepoys, listening and learning their concerns and the ever-advancing rumours of things being done that will ultimate lead to the uprising, things that he (privately) dismisses.
It’s a fantastic deception, but Flashman is aided by it being immediately obvious that Makarram Khan is no new recruit, and has considerable army experience. Having caught Flashman out in a small deception – which the army doesn’t care about – they are far less concerned in exposing the bigger deception.
Indeed, one of Flashy’s slips leads to his being taken up by Colonel Duff Mason and made major domo (effectively, head butler) of his home, a position that, involving kicking backsides and sleeping with the prettiest chambermaids, is up Flashy’s street. He even attracts the attention of Mason’s widowed sister, Mrs Leslie who, once assured that Makarram Khan is practically Jewish, shows an inordinate interest in the ruined temple with the erotic friezes and an enviable appetite for emulating them, one-by-one.
It all makes for a long, slow, confident build-up to the meat of the story which, when it happens, comes overnight and is horrendous on and on until the end of the story.
What it boils down to is a lack of confidence between the men and the officers. The proximate cause is a new issue of ammunition, a paper cartridge issued to the troops, which is to be ripped open and poured into their rifles. The cartridge is waxed, but the men have come to believe, immovably, that it is greased, and greased with animal fats and bones that will break their castes. Added to this a pig-headed insistence on trying to convert the men from Hinduism to Christianity, and India is ripe for a rising against their British masters.
The cartridge in the flashpoint. The doctrinaire Colonel Carmichael-Smith insists on issuing them. Ninety-five percent of his men refuse it and are court-martialled and broken. The Mutiny begins as an uprising to free the prisoners: it rapidly becomes a shocking atrocity. All the Britons – including wives and very young children – are slaughtered with terrible viciousness. Flashman, forgetting he is in native garb, attempts to assist his kind but is mistaken for a rebel, and receives a head wound that incapacitates him.
This is the first of a number of hiatuses. The injury addles Flashman’s wits for long enough to get him away from doomed Meerut and, slowly, back to Jhansi and Ilderrim’s protection, and the delay is long enough to cover the dramatically uninteresting developments of the Mutiny, until its next flashpoint, in Jhansi.
By the time Flashman reaches Jhansi, its terror has already taken place, and Lakshmi has placed herself, with finality, among the rebel leaders. Flashman refuses to believe her part in the Massacre, which equals that already experienced at Meerut, but there is nothing for him here. he and Ilderrim set off with a small band to contact the Army (though Ilderrim’s men quickly slip off to enjoy the chance to play bandit in this now lawless country).
This leads to an amusing, but at the same time extremely telling interlude when Flashman and his companion fall in with Rowbotham’s Mosstroopers. These latter are a band of civilian horsemen, under the command of the eponymous Rowbotham, touring the country and killing mutineers. They are ordinary men, with no military background, and no real discipline: just ordinary men who have seen horrors no-one should experience, and who have reacted with their own horrors.
The Mosstroopers are based off Cawnpore, which they regard as a safe stronghold, but this is a colossal delusion: their approach coincides with a night raid by the sepoys, the Mosstroopers are slaughtered, and Flashy gets behind the lines with a severely sprained ankle that would normally mean days of immobility but which here gets him fifteen seconds grace before he’s firing back. Cawnpore is under siege, and its defenders are dying by inches.
There is an immediate shock for Flashman when he recognises one of the other trapped defenders: it is ‘Scud’ East again, part of the reinforcements transferred from the Crimean area once the Mutiny began. And it is a very penitent East, seeking absolution from Flashman for abandoning him in the previous book, and confessing that, yes, indeed, he would not have cut out on Flash without the spur of hatred of the latter’s treatment of blonde and naked Valla.
This flabbergasts Flashman, and he is cold and cutting with East, despite the probability that both will soon be dead. East wants to be forgiven for something Flashman has no reason, nor intention, of forgiving him. Indeed, in his usual manner, Flashy quickly lets the encampment know that he was abandoned, left to the Russians.
Death is inevitable but, mysteriously, the Mutineer’s leader, Nanna Sahib, offers a truce, a chance for the British to leave, unharmed, their wives and children untouched. It is a suspicious offer, but Flashy strains every sinew to have the offer accepted: trusting the Mutineers is extremely doubtful, but refusal is certain death.
And the truce is a trap, a deceitful, horrific trap. Ilderrim Khan, insisting on wearing his uniform, is slaughtered before ever getting near the boats, one of many picked off by unanswerable treachery. And then, with everyone of the banks of the Ganges, the Mutineers open fire.
One of the four boats gets away, only one. Flashman is aboard, still in native dress. So too is East, but East has been bayoneted in the back, and is dying. His end is the same that Thomas Hughes wrote for him. His final words are delivered to Flashman, and they are ‘Tell the Doctor…’, but it is a doctor a long way away and no longer of this life, and whilst Flashman has no time for East or his kind, he too feels the loss of someone he knew as a weakling schoolboy, forever trailing gamely behind…
The treachery of Cawnpore, and the news of the utter massacre that followed, is another flashpoint in the story. Flashman’s escape accords with the actual events that that boatload experienced, but his reward is to spend several months recuperating in the house of a loyal Prince: recuperating mentally as well as physically, as the daily events of the Mutiny move forward, and the Army begins the long process of rolling back the rebels and restoring the control of the Raj (though this time it is of the British Government, not the East India Company, a point that Flashman (understandably) and Fraser (surprisingly) more or less omits.
He returns to the fray at Cawnpore again, after it has been recaptured by General Havelock (whom Flashy has nicknamed the First Gravedigger). It’s a time of general security for him, busying himself with intelligence and avoiding the fighting, which has now begun to swing decisively in the British favour. The hiatus is furthered extended after the Army moves on to retake Lucknow, where Flashy is laid up for months with cholera, and for once genuinely too ill to participate, or even take in what’s going on around him.
By the time he’s up and about again, typically slowly, Lucknow is under siege but, unlike at Cawnpore, awaiting relief from the main forces led by Colin Campbell, the commander-in-chief. Flashman finds himself conscripted to take part in a wholly unbelievable, but completely accurate incident where Irish Civilian  T. Henry Kavanaugh, a supposed expert on Lucknow street geography, blacks up (literally) and passes through the crowds to guide Campbell’s men in by the best route.
It’s a comic interlude of jaw-dropping fatheadedness, and all of it true, except perhaps for Flashman getting a quick screw out of it from a compliant young lady, for five rupees (provided by Kavanaugh).
But the tide has now turned with a vengeance. The Mutiny is being swept backwards: it is only a matter of time, and Flashman will be allowed to go home. But the story isn’t complete. Flashy was sent to India to deal with Lakshmibai, and at the last he still has to face that task. Leaders like Tantia Tope and Nanna Sahib can, and will, be killed or executed, but Britain wants the Rani alive. She’s young, she’s famous, and despite the intensity with which she has fought the British, there is a British squeamishness about making war on women.
So Flashman must go underground in Jhansi, and contact Lakshmi, to offer a chance to live with honour. An attack can be made, but it can be undermanned by a specific exit, out of which the Rani can escape into protective custody.
Flashy’s perfectly willing to renew acquaintance with the lovely Lady, though not under these specific circumstances, thank you very much. Nevertheless, his reputation depends on tackling the commission, and he gets in easily enough and gets a suitably cryptic message taken to the Rani. Or so he thinks, until the message is interrupted. By Count Nicholas Ignatieff.
Within moments, Flashman is being stretched on the rack, but his torment is only momentary: he has not even had chance to blurt everything out when Lakshmi herself intervenes, ordering his release, castigating Ignatieff and dismissing him, never to cross Flashman’s path seriously again. As soon as they’re alone, she’s all over our hero, kissing him, weeping on his limbs, the full works, but as soon as he’s stumbled out his message, he’s imprisoned, and held again for several weeks, wondering what the hell is going on.
Ultimately, he’s released, but he remains a prisoner, part of the Rani’s party as they use the escape loophole provided by Flashman’s plan. But there is no rendezvous with British pickets: Lakshmibai has used the pot to her own ends, going on the run with Flashman still her captive.
Not for long though. There is little room for manoeuvre: Lakshmibai releases her English captive, her may-have-been lover, freeing him to go back to the Army. Half in love with her, Flashman pleads with her to come with him, to surrender and spare herself. But the Rani cannot and will not surrender, and Flashman does not leave: the camp is attacked by British cavalry, and Lakshmi is killed before his eyes. He is holding her body when he is knocked unconscious.
Flashman wakes to find himself in the single most perilous moment of his life.  His arm is broken, and his scream of pain sees him brutally gagged, but that is far from the worst of it. In his native dress, he’s been mistaken for a rebel, and he is strapped to the mouth of a cannon at Gwalior. When it is fired, the ball will smash him to pieces.
It’s the most desperate moment of his life, but this is no longer the panicky tyro. A memory of Rudi von Starnberg helps settle Flashman’s mind into a cold calmness, and he is able to attract the attention of an officer, who halts the firing, removes the gag, and goggles at what Flashy tells him. Yet Fraser is able to end this mercifully short sequence with one of his most uproarious jokes: as soon as he is free, Flashman – who outranks everyone as Colonel – orders the other rebels strapped to cannons to be freed. This provokes a manly tear from those around, at the Colonel’s compassion: not a bit if it, Flashy says, the way things are being run around here, one of them’s bound to be Lord Canning.
It’s all but over now. Flashman has once again survived. His service is over, he’s gathered enough loot to build himself a country house in Leicestershire, and had a gushing letter from Elspeth, though that’s clouded a little by her enclosing a book gifted by the odious Lord Cardigan. Apart from that, Flashman’s not got a lot out of his Indian adventure, not when you look at the honours being handed out to all and sundry.
But that’s before a presentation from Lord Canning, the Governor-General, of the Victoria Cross. On top of which, though it’s not official until he gets back to England and is properly invested, Victoria has been tasteless enough to knight him! Two in one go: Sir Harry and Lady Flashman, hey?
All in the garden is well, but Flashman adventures don’t end like that, do they? After all, there’s that book, very popular in London it is. Which book would that be, pray? Why, none other than Tom Brown’s Schooldays, by ‘an Old Boy’. Featuring, who’s that? Notorious school bully Harry Flashman?
With a shriek of outrage over this traducing of his reputation, the fifth Packet ends.
It’s a lovely, gorgeous book, steeped in the details of the infamous Mutiny and, within and even above the limitations of Flashman’s British viewpoint and obvious prejudices, is as fair as it can be to both sides. Flashman’s lack of any real concern about anything not directly affecting him underpins his often scrupulous honesty and accuracy, and whilst I can’t see the story finding favour with a sub-Continental audience, Flashman in the Great Game wears no open prejudices on its sleeve, and is careful to point out how and where British reactions to the Mutiny could have been far less restrained than, in fact, they were.

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.
P14. Flashman explains the lapse of time between the conclusion of his activities in Central Asia as being down to contracting cholera from the cooking of an Afghan lover, which put him on his back for several months, bringing us to summer 1856.
p57. Flashman refers to ‘tight corners’ in Afghanistan, Madagascar, Russia and St Louis. The Madagascar reference is yet to be explained.
P126. A list of impersonations Flashman has performed includes Danish Prince, Texas slave-dealer, Arab Sheikh, Cheyenne Dog Soldier and Yankee navy lieutenant. The first two of these have been featured in the Second and Third packets but none of the others will be explained. At no point does Flashman ever get near Arabia, although the Cheyenne reference may be accounted a slip in light of the Seventh Packet. Improbable as it may sound, Flashman’s term of navy duty may be yet another element of the great and much-regretted American Civil War adventure that Fraser had no interest in writing.
P258. ‘Hellish experiences’ – Flashman ranks the Siege of Cawnpore alongside Balaclava, Kabul, Greasy Grass and Isandlwhana. The first two we have seen, Greasy Grass will be recounted in the Seventh Packet but Isandlwhana belongs to the Zulu War, only a fragment of which (excluding that experience) was written, in the title story if the Eleventh Packet.
P261. ‘the slow boom-boom of drums’ in the forest night. Flashman recalls hearing it in Dahomey, South America and Borneo. The first of these refers to the Third Packet and the last will be disclosed in the Sixth but there are no references to assist us in determining where, when or why Flashman was in South America.

The Flashman Papers 1848-49: Flash for Freedom


The third packet of The Flashman Papers, published as Flash for Freedom in 1972 covers the years 1848/49, and takes up almost directly where Royal Flash leaves off. Once again, Flashman’s adventures involve no military campaigns and gain him no honours, but George MacDonald Fraser uses this book to send Flashman to America for the first time, and to focus his story upon the contentious issue of the Slave Trade.
I say contentious, and I mean contentious. This book was written over forty years ago, by an author who had no truck in later life with Political Correctness. It’s about a subject with very deep racial aspects, and it’s narrated by a man of the early-to-mid Nineteenth Century with an already well-established set of Victorian prejudices, overlaid by an innate lack of concern for his fellow man save as he can serve Flashman’s purposes.
This is not going to be a book in which comfortably liberal sympathies as to the horror of Slavery are going to be expressed.
Yet Flashman is honest, and Fraser is an honest historian. From both of them we get the Slave Trade seen from more practical angles than most contemporary histories are prepared to give. Fraser doesn’t pretend that the Slave Trade was anything but horrific, but neither does he shy away from plain speaking, pointing out that the trade could not have existed, let alone proliferated without the active participation of black chiefs herding and selling their beaten enemies and their surplus young tribesmen and women to the white traders.
And he cannot help pointing out that the anti-slavery campaigners may have been hot against the trade as it applied to poor black tribes, but that they were perfectly willing, and sometimes actively engaged in allowing the working class of their own country to work in conditions of abject poverty, cruelty, misery and despair: in short, an effective slavery that was less escapable than the ‘official’ Trade.
Fraser adopts a similar structure to Royal Flash to set up his story: there is an early phase, two, in fact, one minor, one major, this time without the separation in time, before he finally gets to the meat of his story a third of the way into the novel.
It all starts from Flashy’s return from Europe, where the Revolutions of 1848 have been chasing each other across the continent. In Britain, this doesn’t get further than the great Chartists’ Petition, which has its absurdities that Fraser and Flashman both highlight.
But whereas Flashy can’t take the Chartist Petition seriously, his miserly Scottish father-in-law does. He’s in terror of the revolutionary ingratitude of the working class (oh, he’d have been voting for Margaret Thatcher all right) and he’s thinking of buying himself a dozen MPs in order to be as reactionary as is humanly possible. And he’s considering Flashman as one of them.
Considering his recent experiences, Flashman, despite being wholly apolitical, is perfectly willing to set himself up in the House of Commons, away from being shot at, so Morrison arranges a weekend away at a political house party to set Flashy up.
It’s intolerably boring, the only interest being in the prospective conquest of Miss Fanny Locke (who will shortly become Mrs Fanny Duberly, who will write books about British Army campaigns that are still highly regarded today). But there’s a fly in the ointment in the shape of Bryant, Flashy’s old toadie from the 11th Hussars, who pimped and such for him and who ensured that when Flashy took part in his famous duel, his opponent didn’t have a ball in his pistol.
And over a friendly card game in the evening, Bryant frames Flashy as a card cheat, at which Flashy loses his head, knocks Bryant down the stairs and fractures his skull.
So much for politics: what Flashy needs now, once it’s clear he’s not actually killed Bryant, is to be hied away elsewhere until the scandal dies down. That a furious Morrison, complete with threats to completely cut him off from Elspeth (who is pregnant) and, more importantly, money, undertakes by sending Flashy to the South Coast to await the arrival of Captain John Charity Spring, defrocked Oxford Don with a thirst for the classics (in Latin, naturally), who is to taken Flashman onto his ship, Bailliol College, as supercargo.
It isn’t until Flashy has boarded off Dieppe, off the coast of France, and is under way, that he twigs why the ship has such a large hold consisting of shelves with chains attached…
And Flashman so does not want to be part of any such thing, not for any ethical reasons, because Flashy doesn’t have any, but sheer, naked fear of the potential outcome if they’re caught. And you know that, despite the profusion of testimonials Captain Spring has from all sides as someone who does not get caught, that sooner or later it’s going to happen, simply because Flashy is on the ship.
Fraser has ample time to educate us as to the realities of the Slave Trade as it was being practiced, and even Flashman confirms his disgust at the process, and regards it as hell, though he is also critical of the fact that, by sheer weight of numbers, the slaves could at any time have overcome the slavers and killed them all, but that they lacked the mentality to do so.
Spring himself is an object of fascination: a tyrant, a madman, an obsessive, and altogether someone who simply sails outside the bounds of rational humanity, but who Fraser brings to life as someone as real as any of the madmen he has already portrayed in the series, and who have been historical figures that have been drawn from life. There is no difficulty in taking Spring for what he is.
Two other crew-members ought to be mentioned. One is the ratty little cabin boy, who gets left behind with King Gozo of Dahomey. He’ll be referred to later in the penultimate book, but in a story finally published in book form after being commissioned for the Sunday Times in 1972, making it contemporaneous to this novel.
The other, and of more immediate importance, is third mate Beauchamp Comber or, to give him his full title, Lieutenant Comber of Her Majesty’s Navy, an undercover agent set on exposing the slave trade. Flashy knows the type, one of Arnold’s boys, the little Christian heroes, like Brown and East (whose death Flashman foreshadows without at this point revealing that he was present). But Comber gets a native spear under the ribs and, mistaking Flashman for someone who cares, confides his role, and his papers to him, expecting Flashman to use them to bring the slavers to justice. Flashman’s intention is to use them to blackmail his father-in-law, who is incriminated up to the eyeballs.
On the other hand, when the Balliol College is attacked in the Caribbean by the American Navy, and attacked successfully despite Spring’s record, Comber’s papers and his ID come in very handy to identify H Flashman Esq. as a Royal Navy undercover agent.
Naturally, the US Navy is delighted to welcome Lieutenant Comber, and even more so the information he can give them to enable them to put an end to this accursed trade. So Flashy has the unenviable and hugely amusing task of steering between proper, many, modest acceptance of his lionisation, fear of discovery of his real identity, and honourably refusing to give Brother Jonathan (a pre-Uncle Sam term for the Americans) any concrete information whatsoever.
Being Flashy, he manages it beautifully, though there is one figure in Washington who seems to see straight through him and finger him for a rogue who has never been anywhere near any Navy. This is a Member of Congress, a tall, ugly-looking fellow with deep-burning eyes, a lantern jaw and a cowlick of black hair falling across his forehead. We do not need Flashy’s confirmation of his name to recognise him immediately as Abraham Lincoln.
Still and all, maybe only Lincoln spots Flashy’s pretences but the Navy aren’t letting him out of their sight whilst there’s the chance of him providing any information. Besides, they’ll need him in New Orleans for the trial, eh, which is the last thing Flashy wants to appear at. So, the first opportunity he gets, our hero ducks out and goes to ground.
Here follows a spot of useful advice for handsome young men needing a bolthole in a strange town. Tour the brothels until you find a specific kind of Madam: late-Forties, a bit over-fleshed but still interested in handsome young men. Flashman winds up hanging around in the establishment of Mrs Susie Willinck, who is soon sufficiently impressed with his, ah, stamina, to arrange passage out of town onto a ship for England.
Needless to say, Flashy doesn’t get there.
Fraser is having the time of his life, throwing in obstacle after obstacle to Flashman’s simple return to civilisation. The next one is the Underground Slave Railway, in awe of Lieutenant Comber’s activities, and kidnapping ‘him’ to escort a prominent black slave/philosopher, George Randolph, and run him up the Mississippi to freedom.
Flashy has no recourse but to accept this unwanted burden, which becomes all the more unwanted the moment he sets eyes on Randolph, who is cold, aloof, demanding and self-entitled. It’s a controversial section: Flashy doesn’t start off with any sympathies towards Randolph, and the latter surely doesn’t improve on that basic indifference: he is completely unable to accept that his escape relies upon his playing the part of a subservient slave until he is on safe ground, and his constant demands that Flashy acts completely and exaggeratedly out of his supposed character as a slave owner risks drawing attention at every moment, and ultimately draws exactly the wrong attention from the wrong man, one Peter Omohundro, a former owner.
Randolph is exposed exactly as Flashman warned he would be, and gets a shot in the back. Flashy takes a dive off the Riverboat into the Mississippi, still no nearer to getting out of the South, let alone onto a ship to England.
His next phase is to change his name again (to Tom Arnold), and fetch up as an overseer at a cotton plantation where he stays the winter, into 1849. It’s an easy life, especially for someone with Flashy’s bullying steak, but unfortunately, the plantation owner’s wife, the diminutive Annette Mandeville, decides that overseer Arnold would be better off screwing her than the slaves.
But this is the point where it all turns deadly serious, in a blackly humorous way. Mandeville’s first reaction is to beat his overseer to a pulp, whilst simultaneously denying that his darling wife had any part to play in this: it was a ravishment, d’you hear? His cronies, whilst professing to believe that, have a rather more cynical punishment. One is returning a runaway slave to Alabama: he offers to take Flashy with him – as a black slave.
It’s a moment of doom for our hero, a fate that, once commenced, is literally inescapable and, given his involvement in and around the Slave Trade, however reluctantly, one that’s oddly justified. But all is not yet lost for Flashman: his fellow ‘slave’ is a resourceful young woman named Cassie (Cassiopeia) who is prepared to tempt their transporters into screwing her, so that she can get to a knife and a gun and kill both.
So it’s back to the Mississippi for Flashman, or James Prescott as he now is (names are an ever-changing business in this book). All Mr Prescott has to do is get his slave-girl Cassie upriver but, despite her co-operation and acquiescence in her role, he’s no more successful than he was with George Randolph. By an accident due to inattention and comfort at the fact that he’s screwing his way up the river with Cassie, Flashman manages to book tickets on a downriver steamer, back into slave territory.
The pair head north again, though by now the pressure is telling severely on Cassie. Ultimately, in sight of freedom, but on the wrong bank, she snaps. The pair have to run, and run across the ice, jumping from floe to floe, with slave-stealers on their tails – literally in Flashman’s case as he is shot in the buttock!
It’s all very Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fraser suggests in the footnotes that, like Royal Flash, this is probably the original source for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic book. But the climax is reached when, having got to the town, Flashman and Cassie seek refuge, only for the slave-stealers, as they are legally entitled to do, to invade the house of their helpers, threatening to drag them back.
Until they’re confronting by one of the guests, who faces them down in a stirring manner, showing the force within him: shortly to leave office congressman Lincoln.
It’s a classic confrontation, and in any other book it might be the finale, bringing Flashman’s panicky adventures up and down the Mississippi Valley to a secure end. But of course that’s not it: Tom Arnold, James Prescott, Mr Lincoln knows our hero as Beauchamp Comber, RN, and there’s the small matter of a trial down in New Orleans, for which Comber’s evidence is required…
So all that running around, and Flashy hasn’t got away after all. It’s enough to make you believe in God after all, but the old rogue isn’t dead yet, nor is he identified as his real self either – so long as the evidence he gives in a New Orleans court doesn’t convict John Charity Spring and his ship.
Once again, it’s a juggling match of considerable skill and cunning on Flashman’s part, to only give non-incriminating evidence without arousing the suspicions of the Navy that he’s been nobbled. And Flashy being Flashy, in a brilliant but draining performance, he gets away with it.
Of course, that doesn’t resolve Flashman’s overwhelming problem: getting the hell out of America before anyone asks him a question he can’t answer. On the other hand, there’s a ship leaving New Orleans very very shortly, and if it means sacrificing the precius information he was going to use to blackmail Morrison (he’s always got the knowledge) to pay for his passage, well, it’s worth it. So he asks Captain Spring for passage!
That’s not quite the end, though it would be years and another four books before we would realise how not the end it was, but in the meantime, Fraser, recognising and respecting a gigantic punch-line when he writes one, left it there, but for a ‘clipping’, attached to the final page, setting out the obituary of John Morrison, in January 1949, whilst Flashman was bigging it up at the Mandeville Plantation.
I thoroughly enjoy Flash for Freedom for its fast pace and its ever-extending series of absurd situations that Flashman falls into in his desperate attempts to avoid the consequences of his own failings. It’s a far better structured book in that its separate phases are consecutive, and there is no awkward time-lapse as in Royal Flash. On the other hand, I wasn’t impressed by Fraser re-using the notion that Flashy’s ‘real’ adventures are the basis for a piece of famous fiction.
This was not a trope that would be repeated, for which I am grateful, as it tended to cheapen the books by emphasising points at which Fraser was borrowing from older, more respected fiction.
What’s also very noticeable is a motif that Fraser introduces to this volume, and which he then hammers constantly, and that is that Flashman is the engine of all his own travails. Constantly, Flashy is shown as making decisions, some important, most comparatively trivial, that with the benefit of his considerable hindsight, will lead him into disasters and terrible times. Laziness, complacency, even quaking cowardice, the list of factors is unending, but with an inevitability that suggests the presence of some kind of tutelary deity, time and again, it’s Flashman’s own fault that he is shrieking with terror once more.
But, inevitably, we must come back to the underlying theme of Slavery. In an era when liberal sympathy insists that the depiction of such horrible things not be attempted without a clear, accompanying condemnation of it, usually through the person of the hero himself, Flash for Freedom will inevitably attract harsh words.
I’m not saying that they aren’t deserved: Flashman is not an abolitionist and when he is placed in command of slaves, his worst traits come out like the swallows returning from Capistrano. There is even a moment, when he seduces Cassie, and she gives herself freely, the first man to whom she has not surrendered under coercion, when she describes Flashman as kind, and he mocks her, albeit gently, as being such an innocent that she cannot (yet) distinguish between kindness and the absence of cruelty.
But good historical fiction is an accurate reflection of its time. It does not superimpose anachronistic liberal ideals onto a time that had no conceptions of them, it does not portray the Twentieth/Twenty-First Century as existing long before it came about. It is honest to the times it depicts, and to the thoughts and actions of the men and women of that time, and it should be possible for the intelligent mind to condemn slavery for the abomination it was and still is, without the requirement that the men and women of a slaving society condemn it as well.
Unless you can read Flash for Freedom with that in mind, I would advise you not read it at all. After all, the very title is a complete irony: nowhere in this book is Harry Flashman concerned for anybody’s freedom except his own..

History and Memories
This little section will follow each blog. It will focus 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.
P75. Flashman compares the meeting in Captain Spring’s cabin, professionally and impersonally discussing the exact requirements for transporting adult slaves across the Atlantic with other, equally astonishing meetings he’s witnessed: General Grant and General Lee at Appamatox farmhouse, Lords Cardigan and Lucan at Balaclava. This latter will appear in his next book, but like the many, myriad references to the American Civil War down the years, we will never learn how these glimpses cohere in a story.
P139. Flashman, not necessarily meaning it as a compliment, comments that the simplistic decency of Captain Abraham Farebrother (who captures the Balliol College) could have been used by Dr Arnold at Rugby School and several of him by ‘Young Chard’ at Rorke’s Drift. Flashman’s adventures in the Zulu Wars are another gap in the Packets.
P194. Flashman, steaming up the Mississippi on a riverboat, refers to many years later, ‘booming’ down it with the Union Army.
P295. Flashman initially meets Abraham Lincoln in Washington, on p147, but their second meeting is of far greater import, as Lincoln’s natural combativeness, not to mention curiosity about ‘Beauchamp Comber’ (beach comber?) leads him to rescue Flashman from the slave-stealers, before despatching him to New Orleans. Flashman comments that he was not to see Lincoln again until that ‘fateful night’, fifteen years later, when, as President, he ‘bribed and coerced’ Flashy into ruining his military reputation and risking his neck to rescue Lincoln’s Union. That would make it 1864. Later references to Flashy’s Civil War experiences will suggest that Lincoln pushed him into service at an earlier stage than this.