Balladeer’s Blog’s reviews of my picks for The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels are still getting more than their share of attention. (Click HERE )
Before I move on to review the other Flashman novels I decided to instead speculate – in total fanboy mode – on what we readers missed out on with those Harry Flashman adventures referred to but not completed before author George MacDonald Fraser passed away in 2008.
Projected Title: FLASHMAN DOWN UNDER
Time Period: The early period of the Australian Gold Rush (1851-1852)
The Set-Up: The “Forty-Niner” section of Flashman and the Redskins ended in the Spring of 1850 with Harry and Kit Carson riding off into the sunset. Our antihero planned on at last completing his journey toward the California gold fields after all his misadventures along the way.
The Potential Story: Some members of the Australian outlaw gangs who would achieve large-scale fame during the Aussie Gold Rush got their start as failed prospectors turned criminals during the California Gold Rush. Once word got around about the Victoria finds many of the Australians abandoned California and sailed home hoping to strike it rich there.
After the thrilling Jornada del Muerto Desert finale to Flashman and the Redskins Harry was already in New Mexico so presumably he would have made it to California with at least half of 1850 still to go. Our protagonist’s usual boozing, gambling and whoring could easily have gotten him entangled in some way with a few of the shadier Aussies in the Golden State at the time.
Once word reached California about Australia’s very own Gold Rush, Harry could have boarded a ship for Down Under either along with some of the Cali Aussies OR trying to slip away from them for his usual reasons – having slept with some of their women, conning them out of money, etc.
Arriving in Australia, it’s safe to assume Flashman would still disdain the thought of actually working to strike it rich and would have settled in at first trying to con money from successful prospectors or winning it from them at the card-table. (In Flash for Freedom Harry mentioned playing cards in Australia with bags of gold dust as the stakes.)
Eventually the blackguard might have slyly joined up with Gold Commissioner John Richard Hardy’s mounted force assigned to collect prospectors’ licensing fees, maintain order and ensure fair play was observed while the Gold Rush raged … which with Harry is like having the proverbial fox guard the henhouse.
Some of the mounted officers were suspected of taking bribes of various forms from prospectors to look the other way if their license wasn’t fully paid or was illegitimate. Abusing their official position to help smuggle out gold from certain claims or help conceal a lucrative strike from other prospectors was among the additional wrongdoing sometimes attributed to a few of those same men.
Flashman surely would have warmed to abusing his position like that, Captain Renault in Casablanca style. He might have even found himself reluctantly pressed into service by Hardy, delighted at having “the hero of Piper’s Fort” on hand. That reluctance would fade, of course, as Harry began taking advantage of the situation.
And we know from Flashman’s casual remarks in other stories that his presence in Australia during the Gold Rush was publicly known. He even wrote – in bowdlerized form – about his travels Down Under and in America, at the behest of his friend Sir Richard Burton, the real-life explorer.
Gold-digging and social-climbing beauties soon flocked to the region, too, intent on pairing up with some of the nouveau riche prospectors, and Harry would certainly have found those women a pleasant diversion. The Bendigo Ladies were known for serving as “a gentleman’s wife” for extended periods at certain prices.
Further complications could have arisen if Harry’s path eventually crossed once again with some of the Aussie outlaws or desperadoes that he ticked off back in California.
For that or other reasons Flashman would likely have somehow ended up participating – against his will, of course – in the real-life robbery of the ship Nelson. Twenty-five thousand Pounds (In 1850s money) in gold were stolen by a gang of 22 violent men while the vessel was at Hobson’s Bay. A few of the robbers were convicts who had just escaped from Van Diemen’s Land and that escape could be another incident Harry was forced to abet.
The gang used swords and firearms and had boarded the ship after stealing some rowboats from the docks. Most, but not all, of the men were subsequently captured and the gang’s flight could be another event described up-close and personal by our favorite British blackguard. Flashy could even give us readers details about the suspected mastermind of the operation: a shady Melbourne businessman who successfully got away after paying the brigands a cut rate for the stolen gold.
The robbery of the Nelson happened in April of 1852, leaving plenty of time for Harry and any accomplices to flee the authorities (maybe even by heading into the Outback), wrap up his Aussie adventures and still get back to England in time for the Crimean War in Flashman at the Charge.
Of course the backdrop to it all would be the usual for a Flashman tale: the grittier and uglier side of human nature, here taking the form of the goldfield violence, crooked gold assessors with their rigged scales, outlaw gangs and the tragic misfortunes suffered by the only thing standing between the Empire and this bullion bonanza: the native inhabitants.
As ever, Harry’s many offenses would wind up seeming trivial compared to history’s real-life atrocities like the fate of the Aborigines, letting the character retain his charm no matter how low he stoops.
P.S. Yes, my fellow Flashman fans, I know that Harry’s old flame from Royal Flash, the real-life Lola Montez, toured the Australian gold camps, but she did not arrive Down Under until August of 1855 by which point Harry was heavily involved in his Crimean-War Era exploits. +++
II. Projected Title: FLASHMAN IN THE OPIUM WAR
Time Period: Late in the Second Opium War in China (1859- 1860)
The Setup: In Flashman and the Dragon (1985) readers learned that our antihero Colonel Harry Paget Flashman had been serving in Hong Kong and mainland China long enough to become fluent in the language. Flashman in the Opium War would detail Harry’s adventures in the closing period of the Second Opium War up until the start of the Anglo-French military expedition to Peking.
The Second Opium War is still an incredibly controversial conflict from Queen Victoria’s reign. Even at the time passions ran very much against the war AND against the fact that HMG was seen as accommodating the opium trade in Chinese ports.
To the most critical eyes – then and now – the Empire seemed to be facilitating the market in opium so that certain British businessmen could get rich and if the drug’s use had a very negative, epidemic downside for the Far Eastern customers, that was callously perceived to be a fringe benefit.
As I say, that is the most critical view. More sympathetic figures point out that in the 1800s the world did not have the same derogatory view of the drug trade as now and the drug trade was LEGAL in the Far East. If it hadn’t been British merchants making money off the opium trade then any gaps would have been filled by the Chinese merchants who had been dealing in drugs for centuries.
The Story: We know from off-hand references in other Flashman novels that the amoral Cavalry officer lent his name to Flashman and Bottomley, Ltd, whose ventures included the opium trade during Harry’s time in the Far East.
Usually in Flashman’s dark-humored adventures the swashbuckling rogue’s pursuit of loot is separate from the particular historical atrocities being depicted. In this case Harry’s pursuit of a fortune in opium is so tangled up with the outrages to be chronicled that it would surely have tested Fraser’s storytelling abilities to the utmost to maintain Flashman’s charm.
At any rate, I don’t know how Fraser planned on getting Colonel Flashman from America to China in 1859 to serve in the closing months of the Second Opium War proper.
Harry being Harry, he no doubt would have been happy to abuse his military role to help his and Bottomley’s opium business against their Chinese competitors, both legit and the Triads. (Remember, Fraser mentioned that Flashy’s familiarity with China and the Triads would need to be explained in a future volume of the Flashman Papers. )
The historical backdrop of Hong Kong that early in British control would be fascinating on every level. Harry would no doubt make himself well-known among the prettier British wives in Hong Kong and at the kinkier brothels.
The consistent thread throughout the story could be Flashman and Bottomley, Ltd’s attempts to compile a genuinely huge bonanza of opium to make a really big score of Superfly proportions.
Since it would not go over well with modern readers for Harry to become a successful drug magnate the tale would need to end with Flashman and his partner getting gypped out of their opium treasure. It would be something like the end of Royal Flash when Lola Montez runs off with the Crown Jewels of Strackenz which Harry had stolen.
And from there the stage would be set for Flashman and the Dragon‘s account of the Anglo-French expedition to Peking.
Miscellaneous bits of business Flashman could witness or take part in that would fit the book and the location and the wartime backdrop:
*** At times in the cities where British troops were stationed the Chinese people there would throw bags of gunpowder or smoky lantern stink-bombs at British soldiers walking along. Some soldiers suffered severe burns from assorted attacks like this prompting British reprisals against the entire street everywhere the incidents happened. Eventually this stopped the random attacks but added to the air of tension.
*** The five canals of Swatow would make a fitting setting for a chase or running battle between Harry and the legion of enemies he makes in his travels. According to some contemporary accounts Swatow and vicinity’s entire economic base lay on the opium trade.
*** In 1859-1860 on nearby Double Island, a veritable Boom Town/ Island, there were between 20-30 Europeans involved in human trafficking or “the Coolie Trade” as it was called. Such figures were frowned upon by the British army because of the way they gave outside businesses in the area an even blacker eye than the opium business. These people would be ideal foils to help Flashman look not so bad to readers.
*** Further fueling resentment to the European presence on Double Island was a local superstition claiming that the typhoons of the past few years had been caused by the fact that a European had built a lighthouse on the island.
*** Around Fuchau were a few asylums for lepers and the mistaken Chinese belief that leprosy was immediately communicable made those asylums feared places. One could imagine Harry or his competitors thinking the asylum would be an ideal hiding spot for various contraband, on the assumption that it would be safe from the locals.
*** There were also hot Sulphur springs around Fuchau.
*** Nearby Macao, because of its milder climate, was a frequent temporary destination of merchants and importers. Its sights and air of intrigue would make it ideal for a clandestine meeting or two as Flashman juggled his military duties with his illicit side venture.
*** Famed Royal Navy Doctor Charles Courtney could be one of the real-life historical figures Harry interacts with in this tale.
III. Projected Title: FLASHMAN AND THE KINGS
Time Period: The Taranaki War (1860-1861)
NOTE: The title refers to the Maori King Movement, which began during this period and whose descending line of a designated “King of Kings” has survived to this very day with the current Maori King in New Zealand.
From 1860-1861 the Maori King Movement proved to be the most battle-savvy and politically shrewd opponents the British would face until the First Boer War of 1880-1881. If the native inhabitants of other regions around the world had been this proficient and coordinated, the Colonial Powers of the European and Muslim Empires might have been dealt such massive setbacks that the course of history would be fascinatingly different.
The Set-Up: As of the finale of Fraser’s Flashman and the Dragon we readers were left guessing exactly what Harry was being dragged into by blonde, luscious Phoebe Carpenter and her husband.
In Flashman and the Dragon the Carpenters were shown to be smuggling guns to the Taipingi rebels in China, so my speculation would be that they were also involved in smuggling guns to the Maori forces in New Zealand. The Taranaki War had been raging between the Maori and British colonial troops since March of 1860.
The Carpenters had been posing as Christian Missionaries as cover for their smuggling operation in FATD so they might well have been using that same cover for their dealings with the Maori King Movement. Flashman’s standing as a storied, active duty British Colonel could be exploited to their advantage through their extortionate hold on our antihero.
FATD ended in October of 1860. The Taranaki War lasted until March 18th of 1861 so Harry could be on hand for the last several months of the conflict. As usual he might well end up with undeserved military honors from his misadventures, caught up in the martial action while striving to free himself from his entanglement with Phoebe and her husband.
The Story: It has been definitively established that the Maori insurgents were buying black market weapons in Auckland, Waiuka and Kawhia on New Zealand’s North Island. Flashman, Phoebe and her husband could arrive in one of those port cities – preferably Auckland – with their contraband. Harry could give us readers a first-hand account of a clandestine meeting among some of the Kingite leaders and the Carpenters.
From there the Carpenters and their fellow fake Missionaries could transport their weapons to their Maori contacts, using Colonel Flashman as their “beard,” to vouch for their alleged authenticity to the unsuspecting British authorities. Harry’s excuse for accompanying them to the Taranaki District could be a supposed willingness to present himself for consultation purposes to General Thomas Simson Pratt.
General Pratt had replaced the disgraced Colonel Charles Emilius Gold and was gearing up for his major offensive against the Maori forces. Naturally he’d not only welcome a “consultation” with an experienced Colonial officer like Flashman but he’d draft him into his operation, much to Harry’s displeasure.
In real life Pratt was resented by the colonial settlers for his slow, meticulous and cautious campaign against the Maori. After some of the British humiliations in the field prior to his arrival, the General was determined not to underestimate his foes like his predecessor had.
Pratt was known to be at odds with New Zealand’s Governor Thomas Gore Browne over Browne’s treatment of the Maori in the Taranaki District. Rumors held that this was part of the reason for General Pratt’s slow and methodical offensive, since he supposedly was hoping for peace negotiations to work out before many more battles had to be fought.
Needless to say this would make Pratt Flashman’s kind of General. Reasonably portioned risk plus Harry would have a lot of free time between battles to romance assorted pretty ladies among the French and Portuguese settlers in the region. (One of the shrewd moves of the Maori Kings was preventing their troops from attacking or molesting any non-Brits. It was made clear that the Maori’s grievances were with the British alone. Maintaining discipline to prevent random violence against the other Europeans in New Zealand kept the Maori King Movement on good terms with those settlers. French and Portuguese families remained in the District even after British settlers were evacuated or their towns burned.)
While the roguish Harry whiled away the months in this manner – mostly drinking and humping – he would periodically encounter the Carpenters. Since both parties had dirt on the other he would have to avoid quick accusations about their real activities and just bide his time waiting for an opportunity to ruthlessly eliminate these two foes as he had so many others.
Some of the military actions Flashman would be on hand for:
*** General Pratt’s weeks-long sapping campaign against the Maori defensive line called Te Arei (“the barrier”).
*** The New Year’s Eve capture of the Pa (L-shaped Maori fortifications) at Kairau.
*** The January 23rd, 1861 British defense of Redoubt Number Three.
By the March 18th cease-fire partly negotiated by heretofore neutral Kingite Chief Wiremu Tamihana the British sappers had been facing day and night fire since late January.
If Flashman hadn’t already engineered the deaths of the Carpenters by war’s end we could have a climactic clash with them and their co-conspirators in Auckland (or maybe New Plymouth). Harry could manipulate events to make it seem like the couple perished in the chaos of him putting the kibosh on an illegal gun-running operation he’d “stumbled upon.”
Another real-life figure Harry could interact with in this tale would be Sergeant John Lucas, who won a Victoria Cross for his heroics in literally the final moments before the cease-fire on March 18th.
With this conflict over it would be back home to England and his wife Elspeth for Flashman. At least until his adventures in the U.S. Civil War beginning at some point in 1862. +++
IV. Projected Title: THE BATTLE CRY OF FLASHMAN
Time Period: Part of the U.S. Civil War (1862-1863)
Some readers and fellow Harry Flashman fans reacted to my speculative look at what George MacDonald Fraser might have had in mind for Flashman’s U.S. Civil War adventures by asking me how I’d have handled it. Some were just curious, others were ticked off that I dared to criticize what I saw as Fraser forcing Harry into WAY too many Civil War incidents. So here we go with how I’d have handled it:
I would have limited Harry’s involvement to part of 1862 and part of 1863. I would also have avoided having Harry – a British Cavalry Officer – outrightly joining American armies.
THE SET-UP: In February or March of 1862 Flashman has been back in England with his wife Elspeth since the spring of 1861, following his involvement in the Taranaki War in New Zealand.
Queen Victoria’s government is pondering whether or not to recognize the Confederate States of America, which broke away from the Union nearly a year earlier. The fate of nations hangs on this. Official recognition of the Confederacy may well enable them to win, just like the original 13 Colonies were helped against England by recognition from France.
We all know politics: Great Britain does not want to ruin their still barely friendly relationship with the U.S. if the Confederate States don’t really have a chance in hell of victory. If you’re not familiar with military history I’ll point out that during any war nations often allowed select officers from friendly neutral nations to travel with units in their army to observe the most up to date weaponry and general tactics.
For instance the U.S. was not involved in the Crimean War but some of our officers like a young George McClellan (a General by the time of the Civil War) were observers in the field. In fact Crimea is where Flashman – a British Cavalry Colonel in that war – first met McClellan.
Needless to say there was always an unspoken element of spying to such observer operations. Queen Victoria and Lord Palmerston could tell Flashman they’ve selected him to be one of Great Britain’s observers with the Confederate Army. His REAL mission would be to gauge whether or not the South had an actual chance for victory. If they do, then England will recognize the Confederate government.
THE STORY: Arriving in American waters by ship, Harry could have been secretly intercepted by Alan Pinkerton and his nascent intelligence operation. Pinkerton and President Lincoln would make it clear to Flashman that they know his real mission and would use Harry’s illicit actions in America back in 1848 and 1849 to blackmail him.
(In Flash For Freedom Flashman referred to Lincoln as “that genial blackmailer” who forced him into a certain intrigue to preserve “his precious Union.”)
Back in the late 1840s neither Harry nor Lincoln were as big as they would become and Flashman had much less to lose back then. NOW, in 1862, he is SIR Harry Flashman, with fame, fortune and a certain international reputation. Rather than risk exposure our antihero would yield to Lincoln’s demand.
That demand? To make sure Great Britain does NOT recognize the Confederacy no matter what. From a storytelling angle this would stay true to the spirit of The Flashman Papers by having history hinging upon the hidden actions of our favorite British blackguard.
Flashman could be on hand as an observer with the Confederates at Shiloh. After that loss Harry would wind up moved to Virginia for the Seven Days Campaign and would naturally grow more and more panicked as McClellan pissed away every opportunity to destroy Robert E Lee’s forces. If the Confederates keep doing well it may become impossible to convince HMG to not recognize the CSA, meaning Pinkerton and Lincoln will ruin Harry for life.
As always, with his own interests at stake Flashman will rise to the challenge. He’ll come up with some inspired, devious ways to subtly sabotage the Confederate forces – with a little occasional help from Pinkerton’s network of spies.
As the months go by the lustful Flashman would naturally find time to oink and boink with Confederate First Lady Varina Davis, spy Belle Boyd and maybe even with Mrs Mandeville from earlier stories. (In other novels Flashman referred to covering up a tryst with Varina Davis by telling her husband he was a laborer sent “to repair the lightning rod.”)
In the Antietam Campaign we could learn that Harry was the one who “accidentally” left behind the Confederate battle plans wrapped around cigars to help the Union forces win despite themselves. (In real life even the discovery of those cigar-wrapped plans STILL barely helped the Union due to failure to use them in a timely manner.)
Flashman could also be on hand with the Confederates for 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, the Mud March, Chancellorsville and it would all reach its climax at Gettysburg. In fact at Chancellorsville maybe Stonewall Jackson and his men could figure out what the treacherous Harry was up to and would be escorting him in the growing darkness to turn him over to Lee.
Quick thinking on Flashman’s part would make him be the man who calls out in the darkness and confusion “It’s a lie! Have at ’em boys!” to engineer Stonewall’s death by friendly fire.
This layout would also still have Harry on hand for Aldie in the leadup to Gettysburg, Aldie being where he first encountered the Union’s George Armstrong Custer. (This early meeting with Custer being crucial to Harry’s later involvement in the Sioux Uprising.)
To me this is preferable to the way Fraser eventually referred to Flashman’s presence at every major Civil War event from 1862 all the way up to Lee’s surrender and then Lincoln’s assassination. +++
FOR MY BONUS SIXTH PLACE FLASHMAN NOVEL CLICK HERE
FOR MY DETAILED SPECULATIONS ABOUT FLASHMAN’S ADVENTURES IN THE THIRD ASHANTI WAR CLICK HERE
FOR HARRY FLASHMAN’S ENCOUNTERS WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN THE NOVEL FLASH FOR FREEDOM CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE
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