Creative Person of the Week

28 Oct

James Holman (Oct. 15, 1786 – July 29, 1857), known as the “Blind Traveler,” was a British adventurer, author and social observer, best known for his writings on his extensive travels. Not only completely blind but suffering from debilitating pain and limited mobility, he undertook a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented in their extent of geography. In 1866, the journalist William Jerdan wrote that “From Marco Polo to Mungo Park, no three of the most famous travellers, grouped together, would exceed the extent and variety of countries traversed by our blind countryman.”

Holman was born in Exeter. He entered the British Royal Navy in 1798 as first-class volunteer, and was appointed lieutenant in April 1807. In 1810, while on the Guerriere off the coast of the Americas, he was invalided by an illness that first afflicted his joints, then finally his vision. At the age of 25, he was rendered totally and permanently blind.

In recognition of the fact that his affliction was duty-related, he was in 1812 appointed to the Naval Knights of Windsor, with a lifetime grant of care. The quietness of such a life harmonized so poorly with his active habits and keen interests, physically making him ill, that he requested multiple leaves of absence on health grounds, first to study medicine and literature, then to go abroad on a Grand Tour from 1819 to 1821 when he journeyed through France, Italy, Switzerland, and parts of Germany.

He again set out in 1822 with the incredible design of making the circuit of the world from west to east, something which at the time was almost unheard of by a lone traveler, blind or not – but he travelled through Russia as far east as the Mongolian frontier of Irkutsk. There he was suspected by the Czar of being a spy and was sent back forcibly to the frontiers of Poland. He returned home by Austria, Saxony, and Prussia.

An account of his remarkable achievement was published in 1834-1835, titled A Voyage Round the World, including Travels in Africa, Asia, Australasia, America, etc.

Holman was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK). The British Government named the Holman River in his honor, commemorating his contributions to fighting the slave trade in the region during the 1820s.

His last journeys were through Spain, Portugal, Moldavia, Syria and Turkey.

While his early works were generally well received, over time competitors and skeptics introduced doubt into the public consciousness about the reliability of Holman’s “observations”. In a time when blind people were thought to be almost totally helpless, Holman’s ability to sense his surroundings by the reverberations of a tapped cane or horse’s hoof-beats was unfathomable.

(Excertp taken from


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