Tuesday, 30 January 2018


Strange Company features a rather moving and motivational review of a 2006 book on the life and times of a former Royal Navy lieutenant named James Holman who refused to let his handicap define him. Son of a chemist in Exeter who specialised in exotic imports of any substance (medical or otherwise) that could be dried, powdered or prepared for transport from afar, Holman was enchanted from childhood and hoped that a career in the navy would have shown him these remote places.
Though stricken with total blindness at the age of twenty-five after an exhibition in the Arctic in 1810, Holman refused charity and first pursued a course of study in medicine and literature in Edinburgh before departing solo on a classic Grand Tour of Europe, quite confident in his ability to navigate through echolocation. While abroad for three years, he acquired a rather mysterious travelling companion—who was hearing-impaired but also quite the rambler—who made periodic reappearances throughout his life and made some instrumental arrangements that allowed him to continue his journeys. Once back home, his Wanderlust could not be contained for long and penning a travelogue to help finance his adventures, he set off to circumnavigate the Earth, taking whatever means of conveyance that availed itself, and visited every continent except for Antarctica over the next five decades. His description of the flora of India are even cited by contemporary explorer Charles Darwin. Holman’s determination and bravery are pretty outstanding and inspirational, especially at a time when the fully able-bodied would be challenged to face such daunting adventures unscathed and at a time when the blind or the otherwise impaired were dismissed and marginalised by society and his story is one worth retelling.