Saturday, January 24, 2015

Race to Tibet: Meet the Characters

RACE TO TIBET is an exciting historical adventure about a group of intrepid explorers headed by Gabriel Bonvalot, who attempt to become the first living Europeans to reach Lhasa, the mysterious capital of Tibet. Along the way they are besieged by ferocious winds, freezing cold, sandstorms, hostile Tibetans, but they are resolved to beat the odds and reach the legendary Potala Palace, the seat of the famed Dalai Lama.

Gabriel Bonvalot is a rugged French explorer who has accomplished many daring expeditions throughout Central Asia on horseback, especially one harrowing journey over the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains at the height of winter. After the death of Nikolai Prejevaksly, his Russian rival, he comes up with the daring plan to reach Lhasa, the forbidden capital of Tibet by trekking overland from Paris to Tonkin and veering off into Tibet. The dangers were real: the Tibetan authorities are known for putting to death any stranger caught infiltrating their holy city. For a man like Bonvalot, the challenge is irresistible.

Prince Henri d'Orleans is a pompous, incorrigible aristocrat who can't keep his name out of the gutter press. When he goes too far, his father, the Duke of Chartres, comes up with an audacious plan to get ride of him. He offers to finance Bonvalot's next expedition to Tibet on condition he takes along the wayward prince. After many scrapes and near-death experiences, Bonvalot must muster every ounce of self-control to not take the young prince to task.

Father Constant de Deken is a Belgian Missionary with an unusual dossier. He speaks fluent Chinese and knows every trick on getting under the skin of the Qing authorities. Bonvalot persuades de Deken to accompany him on his journey to Tibet and soon the fearless missionary is an invaluable member of the team. It doesn't hurt that he shoots with impeccable accuracy and rides like a cavalry officer.

Camille Dancourt is the beautiful, strong-willed wife of a French surveyor who went missing inside Tibet. At the outset, she is determined to join Bonvalot's caravan to search for her husband, but Bonvalot refuses, citing the danger. Instead of giving up, Camille comes up with another plan for infiltrating Tibet and soon their paths meet again…

Rachmed is Bonvalot's trusted Uzbek caravan leader. Rachmed is a giant of a man, as strong as Goliath and the veteran of many rough scrapes and near-death experiences; he even spent a month spent in the Mehtar of Chitral's dungeon. But when Rachmed goes missing on the Tibetan Chang Tang for 3 days straight during a blinding blizzard, Bonvalot faces the prospect of losing his companion forever…

Princess Pema is a beautiful Tibetan noblewoman who is literally running for her life. After escaping from the Chinese Ambans, she is desperately trying to make her way back to Lhasa and sees Bonvalot as the answer to her prayers. She joins his caravan, and when they discover her secret, they realize all their lives are in danger. And when Prince Henri falls head over heels in love with the Buddhist princess, sparks fly!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The curious case of Hezekiah Smith: The last Danish prisoner from the Danish West Indies

The Danish West Indies was a Danish Colony in the Caribbean from 1670 until 1917, when the islands were transferred to the U.S. There are many strange legends and stories in the islands, but none stranger than the curious case of Hezekiah Smith, who hailed from a somewhat notorious family and came close to losing his head.

The story began in December of 1904, when a young female laborer from the St. Croix plantation known as Betty's Hope was found murdered. A search party was sent out and came back a short while later dragging a certain Hezekiah Smith, alias William Smith, alias Queen Mary’s son before Judge Anders Jensen Langkjær in Frederiksted's Ekstra Kriminalret (Special Criminal Court) to face charges of murder. After Smith was found guilty, he received the standard sentence for murderers in the Danish West Indies since the time of King Christian V of 1683: "to lose his neck and have his head mounted on a stake”.

Luckily for Smith, the Danish West Indies had long ago stopped beheading murderers. Instead, Hezekiah petitioned the King to reduce his punishment to a life sentence. Instead of waiting for the pardon to arrive, he picked the lock of his cell door at Fort Frederick with a nail and climbed over a fence to freedom. A warrant for his arrest was immediately issued but Hezekiah was nowhere to be found – even with the promise of a reward of 20 dollars.

Hezekiah stole a rowboat and went to sea with a bottle of water and six coconuts. Nine days later he reached Puerto Rico where he found work as a day laborer on the docks. After some time, Hezekiah signed on an American schooner bound for Baltimore where he went ashore and found a new girlfriend. 

This relationship was not perfect either. In January 1908, Hezekiah was arrested and accused of murdering his new girlfriend, Minnie Smith. When the prison authorities recognized Hezekiah as the notorious murderer from St. Croix, he was extradited to Horsens State Penitentiary in Denmark.

During Hezekiah's first years in prison he was a restless prisoner. On several occasions he had to be punished. But after several years of good behavior, the warden recommended him for a pardon. By now (1919) the Danish West Indies had been transferred to the U.S., and the American authorities would not take Hezekiah back under any circumstances. And since Hezekiah had not requested to keep his Danish citizenship, he was now stateless. This cost him an additional four years in Horsens.

Finally, on September 5th, 1923, King Christian X pardoned Hezekiah and the prison authorities came up with a creative solution for getting rid of him when they put Hezekiah on a Polish schooner bound for Trinidad. He was never heard from again.

Only known sketch of Queen Mary