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Friday 1 April 2011

Forgotten Explorer

The picture on the left is one of the National Portrait Gallery's Elizabethan paintings, currently on display at Montacute House in Somerset. It is said to depict Sir Joshua Easement, an explorer who was notorious in his day for his complete lack of a sense of direction (and also a sense of smell, as we shall see later). It was Easement's ambition to discover America, despite the fact that it had already been discovered. While unsuccessful in this for many years, he did manage to discover practically everywhere else in the process. One of his most intriguing discoveries was a land of giant jumping rats, which he found in the southern oceans... but, owing to his poor record-keeping, lost again the following day.

Towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, Easement did finally succeed in finding America... and he even managed to find his way back to England again. As a gift from the New World, he presented the Queen with a small furry animal -- which turned out to be a skunk (it was at this point that it was realized the explorer lacked a sense of smell, as well as a sense of direction). Unimpressed by the skunk incident, the Queen put Easement in charge of the royal latrines... an office he enjoyed greatly, adopting the Latin motto Quod Init Exire Oportet ("What Goes in Must Come Out").

If the biography of Sir Joshua Easement sounds rather like a work of fiction, that's because (sadly) it is. The "Easement" painting forms part of Montacute's Imagined Lives exhibition -- consisting of a number of Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits whose subjects have been lost in the mists of time. To compensate for this lack of historical data, the paintings have been supplied with fictionalized biographies by a variety of writers including Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Singleton, Joanna Trollope, Minette Walters... and Sir Terry Pratchett, who was responsible for the tale of Sir Joshua Easement!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a shame it is fiction, his life sounded very interesting! The story is slightly reminiscent of a Black Adder episode, where a “leg-less” sea captain tries to take Black Adder to France but ends up getting lost. They do however, manage to return, and bring back with them a very fine wine… made personally by Baldrick (it had a yellow tinge to it, and a bit of an aftertaste).