But who was he in real life? Was he in fact a doctor of medicine? And who is the mysterious "daughter" alluded to in one episode (she appears in a drawing in his journal), the one who may (or may not) love birds?
|HMS Cornwallis in service as a jetty|
As to Stanley himself, the record is less clear. Although it's not often mentioned -- and wasn't apparently known to some of his brother officers -- he was married, and had at least one (step) child, a son, Samuel Leopold Stanley, who died in 1861 at the age of 27 in Hastings. This would have made him a lad of eleven when the Franklin expedition sailed. Curiously, the record shows that our Stephen married Mary Ann Windus on May 10th, 1845 -- this would have been scarcely ten days before the ships sailed! This raises the possibility that the son was Mary's from a previous marriage -- and yet, for whatever reason, Stanley did not alter his will of 1839, which made no mention of, or provisions for, any family. Mary Ann died in 1873 at the age of 67, and was mentioned in her notices as Stanley's widow; although the AMC series makes reference to a daughter, there is no record of any other children. A genealogist of the Windus family, who has done a good deal of digging into the matter, believes that the son was in fact Mary Ann's, born as Samuel Leopold Speight -- Speight being the name of her first husband, Samuel Speight, from whom she'd separated after he was declared a bankrupt in 1835. It's a tangled web, indeed.
Regarding his character and habits, we have only a few fragmentary scraps of evidence. James Fitzjames, who served with him in China and was likely responsible for his appointment, seems to have thought highly of him, though he didn't pass over his faults:
"He was in the Cornwallis a short time, where he worked very hard in his vocation. Is rather inclined to be good-looking, but is fat or flabby as if from drinking beer, with jet-black hair, very white hands (which are always abominably clean), and the shirt sleeves tucked up; giving one unpleasant ideas that he would not mind cutting one's leg off immediately -- 'if not sooner.' He is thoroughly good-natured and obliging, and very attentive to our mess."Harry Goodsir, the expedition's assistant surgeon and naturalist, who served directly under Stanley, was somewhat less charitable in his letters home:
"Stanley is a would-be great man who as I first supposed would not make any effort at work after a time. He is at present however altho he knows nothing whatever about his subject & is ignorant enough of all other subjects showing it more than any other person I ever met with in consequence of his speaking so much."There is only one other, enigmatic clue as to the fate of Stanley. On Montreal Island, a search expedition led by James Anderson found two small pieces of wood; on one was scratched "Erebus" and on the other "Mr Stanley." Thinking back to his character as played by Petrie, one may well wince at this final demotion to "Mr." -- and wonder if, just perhaps, the wood was a little singed around the edges.