A Sense of the World

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A Sense of the World

How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveller

by Jason Roberts | Simon & Schuster

Jason Roberts’ biography chronicles the life of James Holman, a celebrity of his time known as The Blind Traveller, but now largely forgotten.

Holman began his working life in 1798 as a 12-year-old boy in the Royal Navy: but cold wet nights patrolling the American coast soon affected his health, often leaving him unable to walk and finally taking his sight. Eventually he decided to go abroad, where it was hoped the climate and the activity would reinvigorate him.

One of the world’s most extraordinary and inspiring adventurers

Travelling alone, he visited France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, before returning home to publish his story. Soon he was travelling again, in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe via Siberia. However, 100 miles beyond Smolensk he was suspected of being a spy and guided to the Polish border. And so he set about his goal in a different direction, now taking in Africa, South America, and Australia.

By 1846, the man who had begun travelling as a frail invalid had totalled a quarter of a million miles – on foot, on horseback and on board ship. Marco Polo, by comparison, covered only 14,000 miles.

Roberts’ writing brings Holman’s world to life in astonishing detail, and restores his position as one of the world’s most extraordinary and inspiring adventurers.

First published: Traveller magazine, Autumn 2006
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