Open main menu

HOLMAN, JAMES (1786–1857), the blind traveller, was the fourth child of a chemist and druggist of Fore Street, Exeter, where he was born on 15 Oct. 1786. He entered the navy as a first-class volunteer on board the Royal George on 7 Dec. 1798. From September 1799 until April 1805 he served in the Cambrian on the home and North American stations, and subsequently was employed on the Leander and Cleopatra, of which last frigate he was appointed lieutenant on 27 April 1807. From October 1808 to November 1810, when he was invalided, Holman served on board the Guerrière, stationed on the coast of North America. At the age of twenty-five he became totally blind, and soon afterwards went to Edinburgh University to study.

On 29 Sept. 1812 he was appointed a naval knight of Windsor, but, finding the quietude of the life there intolerable, he obtained leave of absence in order that he might travel abroad. The titles of his books appended below sufficiently indicate the course of his first three journeys. His fourth and last journey was made through Spain, Portugal, Wallachia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Syria, and Turkey. While occupied in preparing the journals of this journey for the press he died at his lodgings near the Minories, London, on 29 July 1857, leaving his manuscripts to a literary friend who had assisted him in the compilation of his former works. These manuscripts still remain unpublished. Holman was a man of remarkable energy and perseverance, of cool intrepidity and restless curiosity. Though in London he was always attended by a servant, he was accustomed to go without one abroad, travelling generally alone and trusting to his own sagacity and the sympathy of others. A portrait of Holman, by George Chinnery, belongs to the Royal Society (of which he was a fellow). There is a folio mezzotint of Holman by J. R. Jackson, after J. P. Knight (Evans, Catalogue of Portraits), and several portraits are prefixed to his books.

He was the author of:

  1. ‘The Narrative of a Journey, undertaken in the years 1819, 1820, and 1821, through France, Italy, Savoy, Switzerland, parts of Germany bordering on the Rhine, Holland, and the Netherlands,’ &c., London, 1822, 8vo (with portrait).
  2. ‘Travels through Russia, Siberia, Poland, Austria, Saxony, Prussia, Hanover, &c., undertaken during the years 1822, 1823, and 1824, while suffering from total blindness, and comprising an Account of the Author being conducted a State Prisoner from the eastern parts of Siberia,’ London, 1825, 2 vols. 8vo (with portrait); 3rd edition, London, 1832, 2 vols. 8vo; 4th edition, London, 1834, 2 vols. 8vo.
  3. ‘A Voyage round the World, including Travels in Africa, Asia, Australasia, America, &c., &c., from mdcccxxvii to mdcccxxxii,’ London, 1834–5, 4 vols. 8vo (with portrait).
  4. ‘Travels in Madeira, Sierra Leone, Teneriffe, St. Jago, Cape Coast … Prince's Island, &c.,’ 2nd edition, London, 1840, 8vo (with portrait). This is a reprint of the first volume of the ‘Voyage round the World,’ with a new title-page.

[Jerdan's Men I have Known, pp. 256–67; O'Byrne's Naval Biography, pp. 530–1; Gent. Mag. 1857, pt. ii. 341–2; Annual Register, 1857, App. to Chron. pp. 322–3; information from Winslow Jones, esq.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.