James Baillie Fraser

Birth: 1783


James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856), traveller and man of letters, eldest son of Edward Satchell Fraser of Reelick, Inverness-shire, was born at Reelick on 11 June 1783. In early life he went to the West Indies, and thence to India. In 1815, on the close of the war with Nepal, he made a tour of exploration in the Himalayas, accompanied by his brother, William Fraser, then political agent to General Martindale's army, and an escort, the party being the first Europeans known to have traversed that part of the peninsula.

The tour occupied two months, in the course of which the travelers penetrated as far as the sources of the rivers Jumna and Ganges. Fraser afterwards published an account of it, entitled 'Journal of a Tour through part of the Himālā Mountains, and to the Sources of the Rivers Jumna and Ganges,' London, 1820, 8vo. A folio volume of colored plates illustrating the scenery accompanied the work. In 1821 he accompanied Dr. Jukes on his mission to Persia, reaching Teheran on 29 Nov., and afterwards, 27 Dec., set out in Persian costume with the intention of traveling through Khorasan to Bokhara. He reached Meshed on 2 Feb. 1822, but there learning that the road to Bokhara was in a very disturbed state, turned westward by Kurdistan and the Caspian Sea, and terminated his travels at Tabriz.

This expedition furnished him with materials for two new works, viz. 1. 'Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan in the years 1821 and 1822, including some Account of the Countries to the North-east of Persia. With remarks upon the National Character, Government, and Resources of that Kingdom,' London, 1825, 2 vols. 4to. 2. 'Travels and Adventures in the Persian Provinces on the Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea. With an Appendix containing short Notices on the Geology and Commerce of Persia,' London, 1826, 4to. Fraser next published 'The Kuzzilbash. A Tale of Khorasan,' London, 1828, 12mo. This romance purports to be founded on a manuscript discovered by the author while in India, and relates to the time of Nader-Shah. It was followed by a sequel, entitled 'The Persian Adventurer,' London, 1830, 3 vols. 12mo.

Fraser's next effort was 'The Highland Smugglers,' London, 1832, 3 vols. 12mo, which was followed by 'Tales of the Caravanserai,' being vol. vii. of the 'Library of Romance,' edited by Leitch Ritchie, London, 1833, 12mo. He also contributed to the 'Edinburgh Cabinet Library,' vol. xv., 'An Historical and Descriptive Account of Persia from the earliest Ages to the present Time,' Edinburgh, 1834, 12mo (reprinted at New York in 1843). In the winter of 1833-4 he went on a diplomatic mission to Persia, riding from Semlin to Constantinople, and from Stamboul to Teheran, a distance of 2,600 miles, between Christmas 1833 and 8 March 1834. 'A Winter's Journey (Tâtar) from Constantinople to Teheran. With Travels through various parts of Persia,' &c., London, 1836, 2 vols. 8vo, gives a detailed account of this performance, while 'Travels in Kurdistan, Mesopotamia,' &c., London, 1840, 2 vols. 8vo, describes his return journey.

On the visit of the Persian princes to England in 1835, he was chosen by the government to make all arrangements for their reception and entertainment during their stay in the country, which furnished him with matter for another work, viz. 'Narrative of the Residence of the Persian Princes in London in 1835 and 1836. With an Account of their Journey from Persia and subsequent Adventures,' London, 1838, 2 vols. 8vo. Returning to romance, he next published 'Allee Neemroo, the Buchtiaree Adventurer. A Tale of Louristan,' London, 1842, 3 vols. 8vo, and the same year 'Mesopotamia and Assyria from the earliest Ages to the present Time,' Edinburgh, 12mo (being vol. xxxii. of the 'Edinburgh Cabinet Library,' reprinted at New York in 1845). Two more Eastern romances, viz. (1) 'The Dark Falcon. A Tale of the Attreck,' London, 1844, 4 vols. 8vo; and (2) 'The Khan's Tale,' London, 1850, 12mo, published in vol. xlvi. of the 'Parlour Library,' concluded his efforts in that species of composition.

His last work was 'Military Memoir of Lieutenant-colonel James Skinner, C.B.,' London, 1851, 2 vols. 8vo. As a writer Fraser cannot claim any high rank. His works of travel had a certain value when first published on account of the extreme ignorance of the countries described which then prevailed; but owing to the author's lack of all but the most elementary knowledge of physical science they constituted no solid contribution to systematic geography. His tales are of no conspicuous merit. He was an amateur painter in water-colors. In later life he resided on and gave much attention to improving his estate at Reelick, of which county he was deputy-lieutenant. He died in January 1856. Fraser married in 1823 Jane, daughter of Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee.

[Gent. Mag. 1856, new ser. xlv. 307; Imp. Dict. of Biog.; Edinb. Review, xliii. 87 et seq.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]


James McMullen Rigg, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20. pgs. 211-212.

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