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“You can’t get up that river,” “The savages are so bad that it’s certain death! I tell you you don’t see those savages at all--you don’t know they’re anywhere about until suddenly arrows are flying past your ears, slapping into the canoes and transfixing men right and left! Those arrows are poisoned, too; let one just scratch you and you’re done for!”  "It can’t be done, I tell you! To venture up into the midst of them is sheer madness.”                                            (from Heath River– Exploration Fawcett)

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a famous South American Explorer in the early 20th Century. His expeditions were followed worldwide until his dissaperance in 1925. He was the first to explore the Heath River from it's outflow up into the headwaters on his 1910 Heath River Survey Expedition. (described in Exploration Fawcett, chapter 12 Good Savage)


On his map of the Heath River Fawcett shows a spot marked as the source. However, he never set foot on the source but only reaching into the upper Heath headwaters before he was forced to retreat down the Tambopata River in 1910. He clarifies the confusion in a Royal Geographic Society meeting.



The Geographical Journal   Vol. 47, No. 4 (Apr., 1916), p. 317

CORRESPONDENCE.     The Source of the River Heath.

In Colonel Sir T. Holdich’s interesting paper on the “Peru-Bolivian Boundary Commission” in the February Journal, I notice (p. 110) that “Fawcett’s Survey of the Heath River… was accepted, but not his source of that river.”

                  Fawcett writes: "May I be permitted to suggest that there has been a misapprehension?

                  I never actually visited the source of the Heath, but only traced the river to the junction of two streams near the source, the actual point being indicated on my map of 1910. The remainder, dotted in the map, was purely supposititious, the course of the small streams having been estimated by the general contour of the mountains.

                  My work in 1910 was to trace the main course of this hitherto unknown river ; and not only were the experiences of the small party extremely exacting, as it always is in ascending small rivers, but the terms of the International Treaty governing this section of the frontier rendered any detail of the numerous small streams forming the head of the Heath quite unnecessary at that time ; whilst the lateness of the season, combined with  the need of reaching the junction of the Lanza and the Tambopata, and a subsequent descent of the latter to Astillero with a party rather the worse for its adventures, rather curtailed time for any attention to unnecessary detail.

                  The paper leaves the impression that surveys did not agree, whereas in point of fact I had not and never have actually visited the Heath above the last point of which I have recorded the geographical co-ordinates, which I put roughly as some 10 miles from the head of the largest stream which formed the river."

P.H. Fawcett (Lieut.-Colonel).


Percy Harrison Fawcett                                           was born on 18 August 1867

in Torquay, Devon, England,to Edward Boyd Fawcett and Myra Elizabeth (née MacDougall). He received his education at Newton Abbot Proprietary College alongside Bertram Fletcher Robinson, a future friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Percy Fawcett's Indian-born father was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). His elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866–1960) was a mountain climber, Eastern occultist and author of philosophical books and popular adventure novels.


In 1886, Percy received a commission in the Royal Artillery and he served in Trincomalee, Ceylon, where he also met his wife. He married Nina Agnes Paterson in January 1901. They had two sons, Jack (born 1903) and Brian (1906-1984). He joined the RGS himself in 1901 in order to study surveying and mapmaking. Later, he worked for the British Secret Service in North Africa while pursuing the surveyor's craft. He became friends with authors H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle; the latter used Fawcett's Amazonian field reports as an inspiration for his novel, The Lost World.

Early expeditions

Fawcett's first expedition to South America was in 1906 when at the age of 39 he travelled to Brazil to map a jungle area at the border of Brazil and Argentina at the behest of the RGS. The Society had been commissioned to map the area as a third party unbiased by local national interests. He arrived in La Paz, Bolivia in June. Whilst on the expedition in 1907, Fawcett claimed to have seen and shot a 62 foot long giant anaconda, for which he was widely ridiculed by the scientific community. He reported other mysterious animals unknown to zoology, such as a small cat-like dog about the size of a foxhound, which he claimed to have seen twice, or the giant Apazauca spider which was said to have poisoned a number of locals.


Fawcett made seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. He mostly got along with the locals through gifts, patience and courteous behaviour. In 1908, he traced the source of the Rio Verde (Brazil) and in 1910 made the Heath River Survey Expedition (on the border between Peru and Bolivia) to survey and attempted to find its source. Following a 1913 expedition, he supposedly claimed to have seen dogs with double noses. These may have been Double-nosed Andean tiger hounds. Based on documentary research, Fawcett had formulated his ideas about a "Lost City of Z" in Brazil by the time of the outbreak of World War I. At that time he returned to Britain for active service, volunteered for the front in Flanders, and led an artillery brigade despite the fact that he was approaching fifty years of age. After the war he returned to Brazil to study local wildlife and archaeology.

Final expedition

In 1925, with funding from a London-based group of financiers called the Glove, Fawcett returned to Brazil with his elder son Jack, and Jack's friend, for an exploratory expedition. He had studied ancient legends and historical records and was convinced a lost city existed somewhere in the Mato Grosso region, a city Fawcett named "Z." Fawcett left behind instructions stating that if the expedition did not return, no rescue expedition should be sent lest the rescuers suffer his fate.


Fawcett was a man with years of experience travelling with all the handpicked necessities, things such as canned foods, powdered milk, guns, flares, a sextant, and a chronometer. Also handpicked were his travel companions, both chosen for their health, ability and loyalty to each other—his eldest son Jack Fawcett and Jack's long-time friend Raleigh Rimmell. Fawcett chose only two companions in order to travel lighter and with less notice from native tribes, as some were hostile towards explorers; many tribes at the time still had not come into contact with white men.


On 20 April 1925 his final expedition departed from Cuiabá. In addition to his two principal companions, Fawcett was accompanied by two Brazilian labourers, two horses, eight mules, and a pair of dogs. The last communication from the expedition was on 29 May 1925, when Fawcett wrote a letter to his wife that he was ready to go into unexplored territory with only Jack and Rimmell, which was delivered by a native runner. They were reported to be crossing the Upper Xingu, a southeastern tributary of the Amazon River. A final letter, written from Dead Horse Camp, gave their location and was generally optimistic.

Many assumed that local Indians had killed them, as several tribes were nearby at the time: the Kalapalos, the last tribe to have seen them, or the Arumás, Suyás, or Xavantes tribes whose territory they were entering. Both of the younger men were lame and ill when last seen, and there is no proof they were murdered. It is plausible that they died of natural causes in the Brazilian jungle.

In 1927, a name-plate of Fawcett was found with an Indian tribe. In June 1933, a theodolite compass belonging to Fawcett was found near the Baciary Indians of Mato Grosso by Colonel Aniceto Botelho. However, the name-plate was from Fawcett's expedition five years earlier and had most likely been given as a gift to the chief of that Indian tribe. The compass was proven to have been left behind before he entered the jungle on his final journey.


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