The Puckle Project: Finding Frederick

‘It was fascinating to read about your great grandfather, what an extraordinary life!’

Stephen Fry (personal letter, 2010)

‘You’ve done a lovely job on ‘Finding Frederick’. It’s a very very posh book. Thoroughly deserving of a koala stamp.’

Phillip Adams (personal letter 2013)

Truda Olson’s The Puckle Project – Finding Frederick began life as an article about her great grandfather, Frederick Puckle. Crucial aspects of nineteenth century English history which occurred during and sometimes impacting on Frederick’s life kept percolating through the story but had to be sacrificed owing to the restricted length of an article (published in The Genealogist, September 2010). A book incorporating these often dramatic episodes was the next step, thus The Puckle Project : Finding Frederick.


From Letters to the Editor, The Times (London)

14th September 1870, written by Frederick Puckle from the Hotel de Cologne, Luxembourg, September 9, just days after the bloody Battle of Sedan between the French and the Prussians. The result – the French utterly vanquished – led to the collapse of the French Second Empire. A compassionate Frederick had dashed from England to France just one day after the battle to aid the wounded.

‘I was in the town hall and the hospital of Sedan and I can affirm there were 3,000 there when I left, amputations by scores, and but little help…… Arriving at Stenay I found the town crammed with the wounded. No words can describe the horrors …’

22nd December, 1870, in reply to a news item on the same day announcing the loss of numbers of vessels, including his own, the ‘Chryseis’, off Quebec, owing to an ice storm.

‘I read in your edition of today, under the head of ‘Storms in America’, that ‘several of the crew of the wrecked bark Chryseis have been lost, and that the bodies of eight men were found frozen to death on the ice.’ Allow me, as the owner of the ill-fated ship, to inform you that such is happily not the case, as all lives were saved…’ (signed – Frdk. Puckle).

26th March, 1876 to the Royal Geographical Society London from Mandalay, Burma,

‘I left England last December for a two year residence here and intend to publish my travels illustrated by my photographs….. At present I am on an important mission! The King of Burmah has given me a royal order for protection with his guards through North Burmah …’

This letter to Sir Henry Rawlinson provides a clue to Frederick’s mental state which became progressively unbalanced as his life tumbled on. An Englishman wandering around North Burma would have been easy prey for the armed violent robber bands roaming the country.

Extracts from asylum case notes from 1881 to 1901 illustrate the extent of his delusions, e.g.

‘July 1st 1886. Has been violent and insubordinate. Under the impression that he is possessed of extraordinary bodily strength. He dubs himself ‘Samson’, ‘Hercules’, ‘Jem Mace’ …’ and so on. (Jersey Lunatic Asylum).

‘12th June, 1888 … believes he is the Commissioner of Police and is to fill the Marquis of Salisbury’s and the Home Secretary’s shoes…’ (Springfield House).

“I just loved this book. It is so readable and choc-full of information. It is fascinating to learn about the Opium Wars, and the Burma-British relationship is terrific. I am particularly impressed at the ease with which it can be read; with short bites of information well headed and tying it in with the main narrative of Frederick’s life. Thank you so much for the opportunity to read this intriguing story”.

Reviewer : Lindy Gilham

“I started the book a few days ago and couldn’t put it down! It makes such interesting reading and is very informative. Research is excellent and the way she has absorbed it all into her family history is quite unique. Secondly the quality of the book – paper and printing – makes it a real pleasure to read”.

Reviewer: Celia Baylis

The Puckle brothers experienced remarkable reversals of fortune in later life. Their early years spent in idyllic semi-rural Camberwell, Surrey, could not have predicted the eventual outcome of their lives. Frederick was most definitely eccentric and possibly bi-polar. His life was the most dramatic of the brothers. He spent the last ten years of his life in lunatic asylums in England.

This book has 20 chapters, over 150 full colour silk stock pages, informative endnotes, a comprehensive index, an extensive bibliography and many coloured and black and white pictures.