A select few face overwhelming challenges in life. Encouraged with a heart filled with perseverance, these trailblazers adopt an attitude where “Can” outplays “Can’t.”
Born in 1786, young James Holman joined the British navy at age 12 during Europe’s Napoleonic Wars. He became an accomplished sailor and rose to the rank of lieutenant.
When he reached the age of 25, his life faced the insurmountable. Serving with the navy during the War of 1812 (British-American conflict), he contracted severe rheumatism. Unable to overcome the pain in his legs, ankles, and feet, Holman could barely walk. Eventually, the illness caused him to lose his eyesight.
Due to his blindness, he was awarded an act of royal charity. Joining the Knights of Windsor, he received a pension and residence at Windsor Castle. He was expected to live quietly there until his eventual death.
Holman was never content to sit idly and watch his life decline year by year. He refused to live as an isolated invalid, and he moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend medical school.
Queen Victoria’s own doctor backed up Holman’s need to be free from the confines of Windsor Castle. His painful rheumatism responded well to healing sunshine from continuous travel’s change of scenery and climate.
Holman’s time at Edinburgh motivated him to travel the world and fill his days with curiosity and fun. In 1819, he began his first journey to Europe, and he continued this quest over the next four decades. Traveling unaccompanied, he always traveled solo.
His first foreign travels took him to France. With little money, unable to speak the native language, and blind, Holman found his life’s purpose. His own words described his initial travels: “Behold me, then, in France! Surrounded by a people, to me, strange, invisible, and incomprehensible.”
By 1832, he had completed circumnavigation of the globe. By 1846, he had visited every inhabited continent. It was calculated that he traveled an estimated 400,000 kilometers. His metal-tipped walking stick was a constant companion.
Many adventures awaited Holman over the years. In Russia, he was imprisoned and later exiled as a spy. In Africa, he was involved in actions against the slave trade.
In his later years, Holman compiled memoirs of his travels. Five volumes would eventually be published, but most were not widely read.
Following his death in 1857, Holman’s life moved to obscurity. His adventures were long forgotten, but this would change.
In 2006, author James Roberts published a biography of Holman’s life and travels in A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.
People once again discovered the man known as the “Time Traveler.”
For more details about Holman’s extraordinary life, here is a link to more: Explorers Web.