Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges (1882-1959)

Materials towards a definitive biography by Raymond John Howgego

Virtually everything in this document has been confirmed from census and other official records, birth and marriage certificates, ships’ passenger lists and other reliable sources. Contentious issues and dates are indicated by (?)
The present author's additional notes are highlighted in colour.
Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges is indicated by 'F'.
Additions, corrections and amendments to this biography are welcomed but must be accompanied by scrupulous documentary evidence. (Please contact: ray@howgego.co.uk)
The material reproduced on this page has been seen and agreed by all contactable descendants of the Hedges / Mitchell-Hedges family.
Researchers specifically interested in the crystal skull are directed to comments given under the years 1917, 1926, 1943 and 1952.


Foreword: Frederick Mitchell-Hedges led a moderately interesting life as a stockbroker and entrepreneur turned angler and amateur archaeologist, but his reputation as an explorer has been vastly exaggerated, largely as a result of the edifice of mystery erected around him by his less rational devotees. In fact, had it not been for his association with the crystal skull controversy, and a passing mention in the last Indiana Jones film, he might well have sunk into the obscurity that befell so many others of his genre. Careful analysis of ships’ passenger lists and other reliable documents confirm that the basic framework of travels portrayed in his writings is essentially truthful, but his inclination to overstate the significance of his adventures, his eagerness to embrace the unorthodox, and his propensity for transforming pedestrian exploits into epics of survival and discovery, have tended to compromise whatever genuine contribution he might have made to the field of exploration, archaeology and natural history.

1882: F (known as ‘Mike’, ‘Midge’, ‘Mitch’ or ‘MH’) was born in Barnsbury, Islington, on 22 October 1882. He was the eldest child of John Hedges (born 1847 in Aston Abbotts, Bucks; a dealer in gold, silver, diamonds and jewellery; died 1934) and his wife Julia Alice, née Goldstein (born 1852 in Islington; daughter of the Polish silversmith Martin Goldstein [census record for 1891]). His parents had married in 1872 at the church of St Mary, Upper Street, Islington. F had two brothers, George Mitchell Hedges (born c.1887) and Alfred Vander Hedges (1893-1957), and a sister Dorothy B. Hedges (born c.1888).

F would take the name Mitchell (some time before 1906) from his paternal grandmother, Louisa Mitchell. Louisa, a native of Somerset, married George Hedges (Frederick’s grandfather) in 1846. [Documentary evidence contradicts F's assertion that he took the name Mitchell from his mother, not his grandmother.]

From his early 20s F would sign himself Mitchell-Hedges. [Both the hyphenated and unhyphenated forms, Mitchell-Hedges and Mitchell Hedges, were frequently assumed by any other family members who were not direct descendants of F. The changed of name was rarely, if ever, contracted by deed poll.]

[Goldstein is almost invariably a Jewish name, particularly among those members of the family originating from Poland. However, it is known that John Hedges, F's father, had been baptized in the Methodist Chapel in Aylesbury, and that John and Julia were married according to the rites of the Church of England. Little seems to be known about Martin Goldstein, but his silver work is now much sought after, and his mark, an 'MG' within an oval, is registered in the catalogues of London silversmiths. Goldstein, or possibly a descendant, subsequently worked in partnership with Alexander Macrae and traded as Macrae & Goldstein. Their business was bought out in 1886 by Cornelius Joshua Vander and became C.J. Vander Ltd of Sheffield. This company continued trading until 2007.]

[John Hedges, Frederick's father, formed a partnership with the silversmith John Gotlieu Vander and traded as Vander & Hedges. In 1875 they bought the business of the silversmith Edward Tessier and traded under the name of Tessier until the partnership ended in 1900. Vander continued the business alone until his death in 1910, when Tessier was bought by Arthur Martin Parsons and Frank Herbert Parsons.]

[Alfred Vander Hedges (1893-1957) became a notable entomologist, specialising in the breeding of Lepidoptera. His collection of 20,000 moths, together with notebooks and numerous letters, were bequeathed to the Natural History Museum in 1958. His middle name recalls an association, possibly by marriage, with the family of John Hedges's partner. His son Alfred, known as 'Dick', assumed the name Mitchell-Hedges.]

1891: F residing with family at 74 Bishops Road, Paddington. [census record for 1891]

18??-1898: F educated at Berkhampstead School, Cheltenham (?-1896) and University College School, London (1896-98). Contrary to some biographies, F did not graduate with a university degree. University College School is a school, and is not the same as University College, London, which is a university.

1899: Unsuited to the strict régime of public school education, F left school at sixteen and, at the instigation of his father, joined a copper-prospecting expedition to northern Norway under the direction of George Brooke Mee, an associate of his father. [There is no other record of this expedition which appears to have taken place in the summer and autumn of 1899. George Brooke Mee (1845-1929) was born in Islington, the son of George Dunn Mee and Emily Granger Mee. He resided at various addresses in Hampstead and New Barnet and was a resident fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute. As a co-partner in the firm of Francis Saunders and Company he had been declared bankrupt in July 1879 [The London Gazette, 18 July 1879]].

1899: November 1899: F returned to London and obtained through his father employment as a clerk in the Stock Exchange [confirmed by census record].

1901: F residing at 74 Bishops Road, Paddington. Working as a clerk in the Stock Exchange. [census record for 1901.]

1901/1902: F sails from Liverpool to Montreal, then proceeds to New York to seek his fortune on Wall Street. [A departure date of February 1900 is often given but this cannot be correct because, according to census records, F was still in London in 1901. Probably left England late in 1901 or February 1902]

1906: After ‘five years in Manhattan’ F returns to London, ‘£4000 richer’ than when he left.

1906: F. residing at 42 Kensington Park Gardens, Notting Hill Gate. Operating a stockbroking business in partnership with others [marriage certificate].

1906: Married 24 November 1906 to Lilian Agnes Clarke (known as ‘Dolly’, born c.1879 in Woolwich, Kent; living in Pimlico; daughter of Alexander Clarke, deceased, and his wife Charlotte Clarke (born c.1860)). Marriage certificate records F’s name as Mitchell-Hedges.

[F will see little of his wife over the next forty years of their marriage, but he continues to remain in close contact and give her name and address as next of kin [shipping records]. It appears that Dolly was happily occupied with her own life and [it is sometimes said] had affairs with some of F’s richer friends. The 1928 Who's Who article for F states that he had one son. However, it appears that Dolly was not the mother, and that the son was born to F's mistress, Mary Stanners. See 1914, below.]

1906: F accompanies his father to France to purchase antique silver. Meets the Le Guillon family.

1910: F is living with his wife at Denbigh House, 25 Chepstow Villas, Bayswater. This was the former home of the wealthy solicitor Edward Foligno Lee, who died there in September 1909. [Address recorded in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 1910, which F had joined in 1906].

1911: F is living with his wife and wife's mother at Southview, Sandbanks, near Parkstone, Dorset. [This property appears to be the home of the mother Charlotte Clarke, as she is named in the 1911 census as head of the household. The census return, written by F on behalf of Charlotte, gives Lilian's age as 28, which cannot be correct. F's occupation is recorded as 'was financier', and his birthplace given as 'forgotten'. The household employed a resident domestic servant and a gardener.]

1912: 26 July 1912: F, trading as Pembery, Robinson & Co. [a stockbroking partnership] faces bankruptcy charges. Discharge suspended for three years. [Announcement: The Times, 18 August 1912] [This followed an affair in which his company was making money by articially depressing share prices.]

1912 (?): F returns to USA. Works as a cowhand in Texas and waiter in New Orleans (?) [There is no record of this sailing, and the dates are difficult to reconcile with other events. In addition, these recollections, together with his involvement with Pancho Villa (below), show distinct similarities with those of another writer, Frederick Walker, who in 1934 published Destination Unknown: Autobiography of a Wandering Boy.]

1913: F migrates into Mexico. Captured by Pancho Villa (?) Wounded in the leg during bandit raids (?)

[F’s stories of his association with Pancho Villa are difficult to confirm, especially his part in the raid on Laredo which is said never to have taken place. He possibly met Pancho Villa, and might have been in Mexico as a spy.]

1914: F is back in London by February 1914. [see next]

1914: 17 October 1914. An illegitimate son, Frederick Joseph Stanners Mitchell-Hedges, is born to F and his mistress, Miss Mary Florence Stanners. The birth took place at the home of the mother, 77 Wymering Mansions, London, and was registered in the District of Paddington on 24 November 1914. [Birth certificate seen].

Both F and Mary are named as informants and party to the registration of birth, thereby allowing the son to take the name Frederick Joseph Stanners Mitchell-Hedges. Mary was subsequently married in March 1919 at Marylebone to Richard T. Neill and took the name Mary Florence Neill. The register of deaths records only one Mary Florence Neill, who died in 1986 and was born in 1900. But if this is the same person she would have been only fourteen when she gave birth to F’s child. Frederick J.S. Mitchell-Hedges (died 19 April 1977), known as 'John', became a press photographer, and at the outbreak of World War II joined the army as an officer in the Royal Artillery, initially stationed at Saighton Camp, Cheshire. He was married on 28 June 1941 to Patricia Winifred O’Connor (sometimes recorded as Patience O'Connor), daughter of a civil servant at the Admiralty. Frederick J.S. spent much of his service life in Tanganyika, from where he returned after retirement in 1955. Frederick J.S. and Patricia had one child, Lynda J. Mitchell-Hedges (born 21 July 1943).
It is highly significant that both F and his wife Lilian are recorded as witnesses to the marriage of Frederick J.S. and Patricia O'Connor. [Marriage certificate seen] The suggestion has been made that Frederick J.S. had been adopted by F and Lilian soon after birth, possibly to save F from the scandal of having an illegitimate child.

1914: F offers service in WW1 (?) Exempted because of leg wounds (?) [Possible, but no official record of these claims could be traced.]

1915-1916: F returned to New York, then back to England. Living at ‘The Limes’, Stoke Mandeville [phone book].

1917: 6 January 1917: F arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the SS New York. Gives home address (that of his father) as West Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

1917: January-March: Encounters Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky. [Trotsky was in New York briefly in Jan.-March 1917, his only visit to the US.]

1917: F looks up the Le Guillon family, which had emigrated to Port Colborne, Ontario, in 1906. The father had returned to France in 1914 to fight on the Western Front, only to be gassed in 1916. The mother had died in childbirth shrotly before F’s visit. F adopts Anne-Marie (‘Anna’ or ‘Sammy’) Le Guillon (born 1 January 1907), the sixth of ten children, who was being looked after by an uncle. F takes Anna back to New York.

[On a passenger list of 1934, Anna gives her place of birth as Marlbark, Ontario (not Port Colborne). There is no further documentary record of Anna’s travels until 1934. She accompanied F momentarily on his first visit to Central America (1919) but, the situation being too dangerous, was sent to boarding school at age 12. Anna stated that she accompanied F and Richmond Brown to Panama at age 13 (i.e. in 1920) but this expedition did not take place until 1922 and none of the accounts mention her name. Ships’ passenger lists suggest that her first proper excursion with F was to Honduras in 1933-34, meaning that she could not have discovered the crystal skull on her seventeenth birthday (1.1.1924). In 1934 she went to Paris to train as a beautician, then in 1935-38 she managed the beauty salon on board the liner Normande. During WW2 she lived with F at Fordingbridge in Hampshire, then accompanied F to South Africa.] [For further remarks on the crystal skull see 1943 and 1952 below]

1919: F returns to England and declines an invitation from the Intelligence Service to visit Russia, although having befriended Leon Trotsky (?). F returns to Mexico and Central America where he spends two years (?) travelling in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and San Salvador. Caught up in a revolution in Honduras. [This revolution took place in 1919, but F could not have spent two years in Central America because he was back in England in December 1920.] F is accompanied briefly by Anna (?) but then sends her off to boarding school [where?]. The reasons for F’s tour of Central America are uncertain, but shipping records give his occupation as ‘merchant.’

1920: 24 December 1920: F arrives in Southampton from New York in the SS Adriatic. Gives occupation as ‘merchant’ and home address as Sandbanks Park, Parkstone, Dorset [that of his wife Lilian and her mother].

1921: F decides to return to Central America to catch record-breaking fish. Meets at Waterloo Station an ‘old friend’, the self-styled explorer and angler Lady Lilian Mabel Alice Richmond Brown (née Roussel). R B largely finances future excursions.

[Lady Richmond Brown (1885 – 4.10.1946) (‘Mabs’) was the daughter of Robert Roussel of Rohais, Guernsey, Channel Islands. She married Sir Melville Richmond Brown (1866-1944), 3rd Bt., son of Sir William Richmond Brown, 2nd Bt. and Emily Mountsteven, on 27 February 1906. However, the marriage lasted only briefly, probably because Sir Melville declined into a mental infirmity. In 1909 Lilian petitioned for judicial separation [National Archives. Item J77/987/9984] and in 1910 Sir Melville was judged to be insane and his affairs placed in the hands of a 'Master in Lunacy'. In 1929 Sir Melville, through his 'guardian', petitioned for divorce, citing F. Mitchell-Hedges as co-respondent [National Archives. Item J77/2699/3804].  The marriage was formally annulled by Mr Justice Bateman on 10 November 1930, with costs against the co-respondent [The Times, 11 Nov. 1930]. Lady Richmond Brown was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Zoological Society, Linnean Society and Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Her name should not be hyphenated.]

1922: January 1922: F elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.

1922: F & Lady Richmond Brown visit the Kuna people on the Rio Chucunaque in Panama. R B writes an absurd & patronising account of the Kuna in her Unknown Tribes Uncharted Seas (1924). [The Kuna, whom they purported to have discovered, had been known since the time of Columbus.] Some Kuna artefacts were given by F and R B to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1924.

F fishes (at a date prior to 1923) for giant fish with old friends General Sadlier-Jackson, D.S.O. and Bill Markham. Continues fishing on later visits.

1923: 31 March 1923: Lady Richmond Brown (alone) arrives in Liverpool from Panama aboard the Ortega. [There is no record of F’s return from this trip and he is not listed on the Ortega]

1923: June 1923: Richmond Brown elected a fellow of the Linnean Society.

1923: Richmond Brown elected a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

c.1923: F purchases Trenance Farm at Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, possibly as a 'holiday home'. [About 1920 a Devon corn-merchant, P.L. Norrington, who had prospered during World War I, bought Trenance Farm and built for himself a holiday bungalow which he named 'Westward'. Norrington died (about 1923 or before) and his widow sold the farmland to Mitchell-Hedges. In July 1925 Mitchell-Hedges resold Trenance Farm to a syndicate of prospective property developers who had met on a ship returning from the West Indies: Claude Hankey (a surveyor and builder); Mr Adams (an accountant); and Mr and Mrs Williams who planned to build and run a hotel. The entire venture was financed by a wealthy West Indian barrister named O'Reilly. Hankey, Adams and the Williams's formed a company, Trenance Limited, and set up headquarters in a house that became Trenance Shop and Post Office. The company later built Bedruthan Steps Hotel, numerous holiday bungalows, and developed the site for holidaymakers. [For a complete history see Newquay Voice, 16 June 2004]].

1923: F publishes Battles with Giant Fish.

1923: F and Richmond Brown return to Honduras in the SS Coronado, this time to search for lost Mayan cities. They are accompanied by the artist and yachtsman Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929).

1924: 25 May 1924: F and Lady Richmond Brown arrive in Bristol from Tela, Honduras, in the SS Patuca. F. gives occupation as ‘explorer’ and home address as Sandbanks Park. Lady R B gives address as White Rock, Brockenhurst, Hampshire.

1924: 27 September 1924: F and Richmond Brown in receipt of a conveyance (mortgage) of £4000 from Ellis Hovell Minns of Pembroke College, Cambridge, gent., and Gerald Fred. Nalder of Truro, gent. [National Archives. Cornwall Record Office].

1924: F, now a minor celebrity, hires a secretary Jane Harvey Houlson (1899-1953) [Jane Harvey Houlson, whose real name was Gladys Harvey Houlson (as given in passenger lists) was born in Dowlais, Glamorgan, in December 1899, the daughter of Alfred W. Houlson (1846-1911) and Lois Claudia Harvey (1857-1939). She died in Dorset in 1953. Her maternal grandfather, William Harvey, and her uncle, Lucas Jason Harvey, were both Methodist ministers].

With R B and Houlson, F returns to British Honduras. They fall in with the archaeologist Thomas William Francis Gann (1868-1938), the recently retired district medical officer who had previously excavated in the region. Under Gann’s guidance they visit Lubaantun on the Rio Grande in the south of the country. The work stimulates three official British Museum expeditions in 1926, 1927 and 1928 under the direction of the celebrated British Museum archaeologist, curator and writer Thomas Athol Joyce (born London 1878; died 1942) [see also below].

[Lubaantun is a ruined city of the Maya which flourished in the 8th and 9th centuries CE. Discovered by Gann in 1903, it was first cleared and excavated by R. E. Merwin of Harvard University's Peabody Museum in 1915. After the British Museum expeditions, which established its chronology, Lubaantun was neglected by archeologists (although it suffered some looting by treasure hunters) until 1970, when a joint British Museuem, Harvard, and Cambridge University project was begun led by archaeologist Norman Hammond.]

1924: Richmond Brown publishes Unknown Tribes, Uncharted Seas. [in intro. she gives her address as White Rock, Brockenhurst, Hants]

1925: 20 September 1925: Gladys Harvey Houlson (secretary) & Lady Richmond Brown (explorer) arrive in Bristol from Tela, Honduras aboard the Casanare. [F did not return on the Casanare, but appears to have returned to England on another ship]. F writes an article for the Illustrated London News claiming to have discovered the Lubaantun site.

1925: F and Richmond Brown return to British Honduras for a full-scale expedition to Lubaantun sponsored by the Daily Mail. Commenced work of clearing and excavating the Maya city resulting in the discovery of an aboriginal stone building covering nearly 8 acres, and a stone-built amphitheatre, the first ever found on the American continent.

1926: 3 October 1926: F and Lady Richmond Brown arrive in Plymouth from Cristobal aboard the Rugia.

1927: January 1927. F suffers a mysterious attack 'by six voting Liberals' at Ripley, followed by 'the loss of six shrunken heads'. [The Times, 11 Nov. 1930; The Argus (Melbourne), 14 Nov. 1930].

[F’s movements between 1927 and 1932 are poorly recorded. He appears to have travelled in Nicaragua and then spent a protracted time around the Bay of Islands, off the coast of Honduras. Searched for pirate treasure and artefacts that provided evidence for the existence of Atlantis. At times he is accompanied by Houlson and Richmond Brown, and by a Dr Ball. In an article for the New York American, 10 March 1935, he says that he excavated at 21 sites on 5 islands in the Bay of Islands, unearthing artefacts as old as 25,000 years and believed to come from the legendary Atlantis.]

An article (2004) in a local Belize newspaper reported: ‘He lived on Roatan for seven years, mostly in Santa Helena, where he moored out from Rocky Point… According to local island lore, the famed crystal skull was procured not in Belize, but in Santa Helena where Mitchell Hedges exchanged it with a local fisherman for two sacks of flour…. Mitchell Hedges seven-year stay on Roatan ended abruptly, but not unhappily, for him or his crew. One morning while the Amigo was moored off Bailey Cay in Old Port Royal, Dr. Ball was on the cay surveying. His compass needle began spinning wildly indicating the presence of a large amount of metal. He signaled to Mike who came ashore with an excavation detail. They began digging and found two wooden chests loaded with gold doubloons. They kept digging and found another two that contained jewelry of precious chains and emeralds. Several hours and much shoveling later, a report came to M-H's attention that the excavation had been reported to police in Coxen Hole and that they would be sending a delegation at first light. That night, loaded with his spoils, Frederick Arthur "Mike" Mitchell Hedges weighed anchor on the Amigo and set sail to Belize City. Anchored 150 miles offshore Hedges and his crew dumped the old chests overboard, re-loaded the precious cargo into newly made crates, labeled them 'Mayan Artifacts' and booked passage on a steamer to New York where he sold everything for $6,000,000… Just as the origins of the Indian artifacts in the caves was equivocal, so too was the cargo that steamed its way to New York in 1928. According to the dates on the coins and the type of some of the jewelry, cross-referenced with ships' manifests, it would seem to have been treasure buried by the particularly bloodthirsty pirate, Edward 'Ned' Lowe.’

1927: 8 May 1927: Thomas Athol Joyce arrives in Bristol from Central America aboard the Patuca. [1st British Museum Expedition.]

1929: 9 June 1929: Thomas Athol Joyce arrives in Bristol from Cristobal, Panama, aboard the Carare. [3rd British Museum Expedition].

1930: 3 August 1930: Lady Richmond Brown (alone) arrives in Bristol from Canal Zone aboard the Ariguani. Address: Burgate Court, Fordingbridge, Hants.

1931: Richmond Brown divorces her husband with F named as co-respondent. Extensive financial resettlements [National Archives. Cornwall Record Office]. From now on, F travels almost exclusively with his secretary Houlson.

1931: F publishes Land of wonder and fear and The White Tiger.

1932: 22 August 1932: F arrived in New York from Cristobal, Canal Zone, in the SS Calamares. Gives occupation as ‘author & explorer’. Last permanent address New York. UK address (that of Lilian) now West Cliff on Sea, Cornwall. Also on board is Gladys Houlson, secretary, daughter of Lois Houlson, address Parkstone, Dorset.

[This ship had left Kingston, Jamaica on 10 March 1932, as given in Houlson’s book Blue Blaze: Danger and Delight in Strange Islands of Honduras, London 1934].

1932: 1 November 1932: Agreement to settle ownership. Lady Lilian Mabel Alice Richmond Brown with Fred. Albert Mitchell Hedges of Penzance and New York. Property called Holywell property. [National Archives: Cornwall Record Office].

[1932: In New York F attracted the attention of a Mrs Shepherd, a leading light of New York society, who announced the couple’s engagement. F furiously denied it and quickly moved to Hollywood where he rented a house in Beverly Hills and was encouraged to write a screenplay featuring Jean Harlow. Some time later he moved back to New York and had a weekly radio show, aired on Sunday evenings, telling dramatic tales over a background of jungle drums.]

1932: F and Houlson return to Central America for yet another visit. [Confirmed by their arrival back in 1933, below].

1933: 13 September 1933: F and Houlson arrived in New York from Cristobal (left Aug 15) via Kingston, Jamaica in the SS Calamares. F gives occupation ‘author & explorer’. Last permanent address New York.

1933: 18 December 1933: Legal charge, and mortgage for £1300. Dame Lilian Mabel Alice Richmond Brown of Hants., and Fred Albert Mitchell Hedges of Penzance and New York, to Sydney Henning Belfrage of London, Geo. Reg. Ward of London, esq., and Percy Thos. Hills of Kent, gent., mortgagees. Property as above. [National Archives. Cornwall Record Office].

1933: F returns once again to Central America, apparently with Houlson and Anna Le Guillon. [confirmed by arrival back in 1934, below]

1934: 17 May 1934: F arrived in Philadelphia from Puerto Castilla, Honduras in the SS Tela. No other passengers. Last permanent address 38, West 59th Street, New York.

F sails immediately for England, possibly in connection with the death of his father.

1934: 28 September 1934: Anne-Marie Le Guillon (gives birthplace as Marlbark, Ontario; gives contact address as Mrs Herve, Port Colborne) and Gladys Harvey Houlson arrive in New York from Puerto Castilla, Honduras, in the SS Darien. [They appear to have returned by themselves, possibly because F wished to continue immediately to England].

1934: 16 August 1934: F arrived in USA from Southampton aboard Empress of Britain.

1934: F’s father died, cutting F off from his will. F forced to sell many of his artefacts and make a living from public speaking.

1935: 5 January 1935: Release of share and interest. Fred. Albert Mitchell Hedges to Lady Lilian Mabel Alice Richmond Brown. Property as above / Reconveyance. Mrs. Bullimore to Lady Lilian Mabel Alice Richmond Brown. Property as above. [National Archives. Cornwall Record Office].

1937: F publishes Battling with sea monsters.

1938: F begins a lucrative trade in antique silver (like his father before him), which supports him comfortably for the rest of his life.

1938: F undertook various semi-official missions to the USA to encourage those with influence to back the war in Europe (?) [there is no documentary evidence for this.].  F. married a second time ‘after securing a divorce in Mexico’ to a gold-digger named Dorothy Copp. [Dorothy Copp, a dancer and chorus girl at the Greenwich Village Club, was born in Maine [in 1902 according to US Enlistment Records; other years, 1911/1912/1904 are given for a Dorothy Copp in Maine census returns]. She already had a son, James Copp, one assumes from a previous marriage. When in 1943 Dorothy enlisted in the Women's Army Corps she still gave her name as Mitchell-Hedges. James Copp served in the US Marine Band [Lewiston Daily Sun, 20 March 1943]. A photograph of Dorothy in a sensuous pose, under the name Dorothy Mitchell-Hedges, appeared as number 30 of a series of cigarette cards, 'Film and Stage Beauties, 11' issued by Carreras Ltd to accompany Black Cat Medium cigarettes. F. and his new wife took their honeymoon in Central America, an experience described by Dorothy in two articles for the Atlanta Constitution titled 'My Mad Honeymoon in the Jungle Inferno', printed on 8 & 15 May 1938. That year the same paper carried other articles about the relationship, including 'Tarzan Love goes to Court' (11 April 1938) and an announcement of separation. For a photograph of Dorothy see: http://richardjgibson.blogspot.com/2006/08/film-and-stage-beauties-11-dorothy.html. After separation, Dorothy resided in Franklin County, Maine.].

1939-46: F lived at ‘Uplands’, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, with Anna, then (1942-46) at Burgate Manor, Fordingbridge. Allegedly entertained General Hague and General Alexander, Churchill, General Montgomery and General de Gaulle [no confirmation available.]

[Burgate Manor is now the headquarters of The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. They have a framed photograph of F.]

1943: 15 October 1943: F purchased the crystal skull for £400 at a Sotheby’s auction. The skull had previously fallen into the hands of the London art dealer Sydney Burney, and photographs of it had been published in the journal Man as early as July 1936. The earliest record of the skull is in 1934.

[F subsequently maintained that the skull had been in his possession for many years, had been lent to Burney, and that F was simply buying it back. In fact there is reliable eye-witness testimony to F's possession of the skull in the early 1930s (see 1952 below). It is the present author's unconfirmed opinion that the skull was acquired at Santa Helena, Roatan, in the Bay of Islands, at some time between 1927 and 1932.]

1946: F and Anna moved to Canterton Manor, Brook, near Lyndhurst, Hampshire.

1948: F and Anna invited by Field Marshal Jan Smuts to South Africa. Stayed at St Lucia. F bought the hotel and several surrounding shops and houses at St Lucia (for Anna). Also makes several generous bequests from his silver collection to the South African people.

1949: 27 May 1949: F. and Anne Le Guillon arrived Southampton from Durban on the Stirling Castle. Address: Canterton Manor, Brook, Nr Lyndhurst, Hants.

1949: Second visit of F and Anne to South Africa. F sells the properties at St Lucia but has difficulty transferring the proceeds out of the country.

1950: 28 April 1950: F and Anne Le Guillon arrived Southampton from Durban on the Stirling Castle. Address as above. [Jan Smuts died later that year]

1951: It was around this time that F claimed to have recovered the miraculous Virgin of Kazan, a bejewelled 16th-century icon which the Russians credited with helping to defeat Napoleon in 1812.

1951: Third visit of F and Anne to South Africa? F announces his intention to excavate at Kilwa, on the coast of Tanzania, 'to discover the remains of a culture dating back to before the Persian civilization' [The Reuter-syndicated announcement of this expedition, written by Eileen Davis, was dated Johannesburg, 9 July 1951].

1951: July-August 1951. F and Anne 'excavate' at Kilwa, and explore inward from the coast at 'Sanji ya Manjomo', finding extensive ruins of a previously unknown city ['Explorer Finds Lost African Cities' in Arthur Mee's Childrens Newspaper, 8 Dec. 1951]. Details of F's expeditions around Kilwa are confusing. It appears that he was at some time participating in an excavation headed by the celebrated historian and archaeologist Anthony Gervase Mathew. This expedition was accompanied by John Perry Moffett (the Commissioner for Social Development in Tanganyika) and by Frederick Joseph Stanners Mitchell-Hedges (F's son), who was serving as a military officer in Tanganyika and functioned as photographer. ['Tanganyika's first colonist: new findings at Kilwa', by John Perry Moffett and Antony Gervase Mathew; with photographs by F. J. S. Mitchell-Hedges. In: East African Annual 1951-1952, pp. 159-183; 'Kilwa: monument to ancient colonists', by J. P. Mofett and A. G. Mathew; illustrations by F. J. S. Mitchell-Hedges. In: East African Annual 1956-1957, pp. 53-60]. It appears that F and Anne then diverted to carry out their own excavations on the island of Songo Mnara where F became seriously ill on account of losing or swallowing his stock of medication [personal communication]. A chapter-length description of an encounter with M-H and Anna is found in John Robertson’s privately published autobiography, Dare to Dream, 2013, pp. 77-81. The Van Riet Lowe Collection at the University of the Witwatersrand includes a collection of small artefacts (mainly beads) found by Mitchell Hedges in 1951 on the beach below the castle at Kilwa Kisiwani.

1952: 14 February 1952: Lilian Agnes Mitchell-Hedges (alone) arrived in London from Durban on the Stirling Castle. [This would imply that Lilian had accompanied F and Anna to South Africa and returned separately] Lilian gives her address as ‘The Watchers’, Polperro, Cornwall. This address is also given for Lilian in the 1948, 1950 & 1951 phone books.

['The Watchers'  is a guest house, currently owned by Patsy Wilcox. It was recalled by Mrs Wilcox's grandmother that F and Anna stayed there in the 1930s, so one might assume that Lilian became a long-term resident on F's recommendation. Significantly, when F and Anna were there in the 1930s they were already in possession of the crystal skull, and its sinister qualities were described quite vividly by the guest house's proprietor. It has been suggested that F acquired the skull in Mexico in 1913, or in Central America in 1919, and exported it illegally, which is why he would never divulge its origin. The present author favours a later date, 1927-32; the time when F was searching for pre-Columbian artefacts in the Bay of Islands.]

1953: F purchased a substantial estate in Berkshire, Farley Castle, Farley Hill, near Reading, where he lived with his wife Lilian and his adopted daughter Anna. [Lilian no longer appears in the phone book at the Polperro address.]

1954: F publishes his autobiography, Danger my Ally.

1958: F and Anna move to Shaldon House, Shaldon, near Teignmouth, Devon. (phone book).

1959: 12 June 1959: F died of a stroke. Cremated at Torquay Crematorium, 15 June. Ashes scattered at sea off Shaldon by his devoted Anna. [Announcement in The Times, 16 June 1959.] Probate gives value of estate at £2319-3-1. (Remarkably little. Rest of fortune possibly transferred to Anna and/or others at earlier date (to avoid payment of death duties?)).

[Probate record: Lewes, Sussex, 21 September 1959. Ledger year 1959, vol. 7, page 381.]

Anna is looked after by F’s secretary Cynthia Cowles (died 1990), then in 1967 returned to Canada. Anna bought a motel in Kitchener, Ontario, then returned to England for several years to live with relatives, then returned to Kitchener. In 1996 she visited Belize with Bill Homann, a karate teacher who inherited the crystal skull. Anna died in April 2007.

 

Bibliography

Documentary Sources:

General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London: General Register Office.

Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inward Passenger Lists. National Archives. Kew, Surrey, England.

USA Inward Passenger Lists & Inward Border Crossings. Online database, Provo, UT.

Cornwall Record Office. National Archives. [Records of mortgages, financial settlements, etc. Mitchell Hedges & Lady Richmond Brown].

Probate Record. Lewes, Sussex.

 

Primary printed sources:

Note: No attempt has been made to list Mitchell Hedges’s numerous articles in newspapers and journals.

Frederick Mitchell Hedges:

Battles with giant fish (London 1923; London 1925 [with additions]; Portuguese trans. as Combates com Monstros Marinhos, Lisbon 1939).

Episodes from "Battles with Giant Fish" (London 1927).

Land of wonder and fear (London 1931; New York 1931).

The White Tiger (London 1931; Wroughton 1943).

Battling with sea monsters (London 1937; as Battles with monsters of the sea, Indianapolis 1937).

Danger my ally (London [printed The Hague] 1954; Boston 1955).

‘Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges’, Who’s Who, London 1928 [self-authored].

Lady Richmond Brown, Unknown tribes uncharted seas (London 1924).

Jane [i.e. Gladys] Harvey Houlson, Blue Blaze. Danger and delight in strange islands of Honduras (London 1934; Indianapolis 1934).

 

Selected secondary sources:

T.C. Bridges & H. Hessell Tiltman, Heroes of Modern Adventure (London, 1927, pp. 19-31).

Richard Garvin, The Crystal Skull: The Story of the Mystery, Myth and Magic of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull Discovered in a Lost Mayan City during a Search for Atlantis (New York 1973).

Matthiew Harper, ‘Treasure hunters of the Bay Islands’, Bay Islands Voice [Belize], 2, 4, 2004.

Sibley S. Morrill, Ambrose Bierce, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, and the crystal skull (San Francisco 1972).

 

Other relevant publications, not specific to Mitchell Hedges:

Thomas William Francis Gann:

The Maya Indians of Southern Yucatan and Northern British Honduras (Washington 1918).

In an Unknown Land (London 1924).

Mystery Cities. Exploration and adventure in Lubaantun (London 1925).

Ancient Cities and Modern Tribes: exploration and adventure in Maya lands (London 1926).

Maya Cities. A record of exploration and adventure in Middle America (London 1927).

Discoveries and Adventures in Central America (London 1928).

Thomas Athol Joyce, Report on the Investigations at Lubaantun, British Honduras, in 1926 (London 1926).

Thomas Athol Joyce, Report on the British Museum Expedition to British Honduras, 1927 (London 1927).

Thomas Athol Joyce & Thomas Gann, Report on the British Museum Expedition to British Honduras, 1928 (London 1928).