Friday, July 28, 2017

Heading North

View of Resolute Bay from the South Camp Inn (2004)
It's been thirteen years since I was last in the Arctic -- in person -- though in spirit, I've never really left. Over those years I've published two books -- Arctic Spectacles and Finding Franklin -- which have drawn both from my experiences there and from research in archives around the world. I've been fortunate to make many friends among my fellow-sojourners in the North, including some who have lived there all their lives, and some who, like me, are mainly adventurers of the armchair variety.

When I was last there, it was for the filming of the documentary Arctic Passage: Prisoners of the Ice, a co-production of WGBH's acclaimed NOVA program and ITN Factual, the documentary division of Britain's Channel 4, which offered what was then state-of-the-art knowledge on the story of the lost Franklin expedition. We filmed at the Franklin graves at Beechey Island, on the cliffs overlooking the hamlet of Resolute, on the ice of Resolute Bay, and in and around Gjoa Haven on King William Island. We traveled almost entirely by air -- small commercial planes, and, for the trip to Beechey, a chartered helicopter. I'm very proud of the film that we made, although of course a great deal has changed since then: both of Franklin's ships have been found, and extensive new archaeological work on the ground has advanced what we know of the movement of Franklin's men on land. And yet, as with any mystery of this size, so long searched for and scrutinized, even today we have more than our share of "known unknowns." Were the ships piloted? How widespread was the cannibalism that's been attested to at Erebus Bay? And of course, above all -- if one is inclined toward the more Romantic aspects of the story -- where is the grave of Sir John Franklin himself?

This time, though, I won't be participating in a film; instead, I'll be lecturing aboard a series of voyages, both from the comfort of shipboard conference rooms, and on some of the sites on land which have been made famous by the exploits of nineteenth-century explorers. I'll be back at Beechey, of course -- but also at Fury Beach, where the Parry expedition's ship HMS "Fury" ran aground and was abandoned, and from whose stores, a decade later, Sir John and James Clark Ross made sustainance enough to reach an unlikely rescue. I'll be at Fort Ross, at the entrance to the fabled Bellot Strait, whose first post-manager, L.A. Learmonth, was a veteran Franklin searcher. I hope also to stand on or near Victory Point, James Clark Ross's furthest, and the site of the last known written record of Franklin's men. And, I hope, I'll be able to pass near the sites of both of Franklin's fabled vessels, the Erebus and the Terror (one can't get too close, as they are now in protected areas).

And this time, going by ship, I'll have a perspective much closer to that of Franklin and his men. Even for a modern vessel, these waters are not without hazards; even with GPS and modern safety equipment, a landing on shore and visit to an historical site require considerable caution, planning, and permitting -- and a polar bear may always decide to investigate the invaders.

I'll also be drawing from a different tradition than that of documentary film -- that of the public lecture. In the decades during and immediately after the search for Franklin and the discovery of the final record at Victory Point, there were many who gave public lectures on what was known -- or unknown -- about the fate of Franklin. The speakers included many leading lights of the day, among them: William ScoresbyLeicester Silk BuckinghamCharles Francis Hall, and William Bradford. These noted figures, however, did not have the enviable platform of an icebound ship, though they could always -- as did Dickens's friend Henry Morley -- board a phantom ship in their imaginations. For myself, as a speaker and (mostly) imaginary sojourner, I feel I'll be in good company, and have no doubt of my capacity to inform and amuse. And yet, as a voyager, I'm as much a greenhorn as any passenger.

I do also have a couple of tools my predecsssors lacked: this blog, and my Twitter account. As time and technology allow, I hope to be able to post periodic bulletins, along with some photographs and other materials from my voyages. I invite my readers here, who have followed me these last eight years, to come along with me on these latest adventures.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sir John Franklin's Arctic Medal?

News this morning has emerged that an Arctic Medal, in the possession of the Stromness Museum in Orkney, has been identified as Sir John Franklin's own medal. Certainly, if that's accurate, this modest token would almost at once become the most valuable and significant medal of its kind. One which came to auction a few years ago -- that belonging to Lieutenant John Irving -- sold for $60,000, and there's every reason to believe that Franklin's own medal would be worth many times that.

But how came it there, and how certain is the identification? I met with Janette Park, the curator in Stromness, this past May, at which point she seemed confident that the medal was one of significance, but was still awaiting further research. This was apparently provided by Jeremy Michell at the National Maritime Museum, and although somewhat tenuous, the conjectured line of provenance would run something like this: Sir John was immensely fond of his niece Catherine and her husband the Rev. Drummond Rawnsley; he visited them just a few months before he sailed on his final, fatal voyage. He was there to serve as godfather at the christening of their son, Willingham Franklin Rawnsley, named after his late brother, and presented them with a bound volume including a Bible and prayer book, which he inscribed:
To Willingham Franklin Rawnsley, from his affectionate Uncle and Godfather, on the day of his baptism, 23d March 1845, John Franklin. Search the scriptures. Pray with spirit and with understanding also.
This very infant, as fate would have it, grew up to compile a life of his great-uncle's wife Lady Jane, which was published in 1923 when he was seventy-eight. The Rawnsleys thus had rich reasons to remember Sir John -- which thus connects them with a slip of paper, formerly adhering to the medal, with the initials F.A.R., thought to be those of Francis Anna Rawnsley. The medal remained in the Rawnsley line, and was brought to the Stromness Museum by Rosalind Rawnsley, so the line of provenance is entirely plausible. Unfortunately, no correspondence or family mention of the medal survives, so the line is still somewhat conjectural. There is one other bit of evidence -- a reference to Franklin's medal missing its eyelet and ribbon, which also matches this exemplar. It's also worth noting that the medal is not mentioned in any of the documents associated with Sophia Cracroft, Lady Franklin's niece and one of the executors of her will, and thus was not among the many Franklin-related items from her estate which passed to the Scott Polar Research Institute in the Lefroy Bequest. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, of course -- but here it at least does not contradict the conjectured transmission of the medal to the Rawnsleys, though it suggests that it more likely happened before Lady Franklin's death. If so, the gift was surely made in the spirit of the strong bonds of affection which linked Sir John to the family -- and so, in any case, makes this medal one of unusually significant historical interest.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Relics of Surpassing Interest at Greenwich

Some one hundred and fifty-eight years ago, the British public were drawn with awe and reverence -- along with not a little idle curiosity -- to Greenwich Hospital, where, in glass cases sorted by type, there lay a strange and compelling array of what had once been ordinary objects: eyeglasses, forks, spoons, bits of uniform cloth, cigar cases, cap-bands, and dozens of books. These items, so unremarkable without their strange provenance, were the last material effects of the once-vaunted Arctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin, which had sailed past the very grounds of that hospital, waved on by cheerful crowds, a mere fourteen years before.

The sight was compelling in a way that no case of crown jewels, no orient pearls, could ever have been; the crowds filled the room and spilled out the doorway far into the street. Wilkie Collins, writing about the last letters of James Fitzjames, who had been Franklin's second aboard HMS "Erebus," knew why:
At every point of the dread pilgrimage from this world to the next, some domestic trace remains that appeals tenderly to the memory, and that leads us on, from the day when the last illness began, to the day that left us parted on a sudden from our brother or sister-spirit by the immeasurable gulf between Life and Eternity. The sofa on which we laid the loved figure so tenderly when the first warning weakness declared itself; the bed, never slept in since, which was the next inevitable stage in the sad journey; all the little sick-room contrivances for comfort that passed from our living hands to the one beloved hand which shall press ours in gratitude no more; the last book read to beguile the wakeful night, with the last place marked where the weary eyes closed for ever over the page; the little favourite trinkets laid aside never to be picked up again.
And now, in 2017, a great many of these relics will be seen again, re-united, as it were, with others whose trail through time took a different course: left behind on Franklin's ships, dropped from the weary hands of the last few survivors as they trekked over land, or excavated by archaeologists. Adding immediacy to the tale of woe of those last few stragglers, we have also the oral traditions of the Inuit, as recorded by those who searched for Franklin, illustrated by objects the Inuit repurposed for more practical use. And, in the innermost of sanctums, casts of the bones whose incised cut-marks verified the most difficult and distressing news of all: that the last few men, in the words of Dr. John Rae who conveyed the Inuit accounts, had turned in their desperation to the "last resource."

There is a strongly positive message here as well, though, and it's not the usual one about England's brilliant naval accomplishments. It's the Inuit testimony itself that guided modern searchers to his ships, the testimony of those who such men as Dickens derided as "the vague babble of savages." Whether in archival manuscripts, such as those of Charles Francis Hall, or in modern accounts, such as Gjoa Haven resident Sammy Kogvik's story of a strange wooden post in Terror Bay, it was the Inuit who led the way to where the lost lay low. It's my personal hope that, with the story now told in its fullest dimensions, people from the UK and around the world will come to appreciate not simply the tragedy of Franklin's expedition, but the story of intercultural understanding and co-operation that led to the unravelling of one of the great mysteries of all time.

NB: The exhibit, Death in the Ice, opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on 14 July; it will appear there through the rest of the year, after which it will be shown at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau beginning in March of 2018.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Seeing Double

James Fairholme's Two Portraits (the new one at the CMH is on the right)
With the announcement, via its blog, of the acquisition of the Fairholme collection by the Canadian Museum of History, we can now add one more to the short list of photographic portraits of the officers of the Franklin expedition. The original Daguerreotypes were made by  Richard Beard and his franchises, who formed one of only two British patent holders of the process in 1845 when they were taken. At the time, portraits were the primary stock in trade, and both Beard and his rival Claudet sought to find ways to make more of them more readily available -- both by reducing the exposure time, and exposing more plates. According to an 1841 article in The Spectator, Claudet used two cameras at once, each focused on the sitter from a different angle, while Beard's operators simply exposed two plates one after the other. Beard's method allowed for a pause between exposures, and sitters were able, if they wished, to shift their pose. Of the photographs of Franklin and his officers, we have an image of this second plate for only four -- James Fitzjames, Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vecsonte, Charles Frederick Des Voeux, and now James Walter Fairholme.

The Fairholme image is -- like all the others except Le Vecsonte's -- a copy made using the calotype process, which produces a paper negative from which positive prints can be made. It was preserved by the family, and was recently donated, along with a fork of Fairholme's and his Arctic Medal, to the CMH. In it, we can see that he made a fairly dramatic change between exposures -- removing his cap, unfolding his arms, and sticking his hand into his uniform vest (indeed, since the vest is unbuttoned in the previously known image, it may well be that it was made after the newly-revealed one). And, wonderfully, we have a quote from a letter (dated May 29th 1845, "off Aberdeen") to his father in which Fairholme describes his sitting:
“I hope Elizabeth got my photograph. Lady Franklin said she thought it made me look too old, but as I had Fitzjames’ coat on at the time, to save myself the trouble of getting my own, you will perceive that I am a Commander! and have anchors on the epaulettes so it will do capitally when that really is the case.”
This tells us a number of things: that Lady Franklin was present when the image was taken and/or presented, that Fairholme sent one of the two plates to his sister, and that he'd borrowed Fitzjames's coat for the portrait. Indeed, it appears from all the evidence I've seen that it was Lady Franklin who'd commissioned the Beard portraits, or at least she who oversaw them; it appears likely that she herself took one of each of them, leaving the second for the individual officers to dispose of as they liked.

This is confirmed -- but also complicated -- by a remark in a letter by the Erebus's Ice Master James Reid: "Lady Franklin has ordered all the officers' likenesses to be taken, and mine among the rest, with my uniform on. She keeps them all by herself." (see Andrés Paredes Salvador's excellent blog post on Reid, "Willing to Go," for more details). Reid's remark suggests that perhaps not all of the officers were offered -- or perhaps felt they could afford -- a second portrait, for which Beard's going rate was a guinea. If Lady Jane was paying only for her own set, the additional cost might well have been off-putting to a career whaler such as Reid; a guinea in 1845 is the equivalent of nearly £95 today!

Even for those who obtained their own portraits were faced with the fact that a Daguerreotype is a one-off -- there's no way to make prints without re-photographing it. And so they turned to the Talbotype or calotype process, which created a paper negative from which paper prints could be made. The earliest example this is the large mounted set of fourteen of these portraits, apparently once the property of Franklin's niece Sophia Cracroft, which consists of high-quality salted paper prints of each plate, including several the originals of which have not survived -- it was made quite early, no later than 1851). Fairholme's is also a salted paper print, which suggests an early date, although such prints could be made at any length of time from when the negative was taken.

We'll want to be on the lookout for more of these "seconds" -- it seems very likely to me that Beard's operator was directed to make two exposures of each sitter -- the same research that's been undertaken to find descendants of Franklin's men for the purpose of obtaining DNA samples may also turn up further images of this kind.

My thanks to Geoffrey Batchen for his expertise, and for referring me to the Spectator article!

NB: The second image of Le Vesconte is not, as it turns out, a second plate exposed at the original sitting, but a Daguerreotype copy of the original (thanks to Peter Carney for pointing this out), so in fact we only have three true "seconds."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Franklin sessions at the CAA

Parks Canada's Marc-André Bernier (photo by R. Tacichman)
Yesterday was a real treat for those attending this year's meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association -- a full day of papers from both land-based and underwater experts giving background as well as the latest discoveries in their collective work on the fate of the Franklin expedition. The speaker's list offers a who's who of the foremost archaeologists in this field: Ryan Harris, Marc-André Bernier, Anne Keenleyside, Doug Stenton, and Robert Park -- along with several of the conservators and curators who are working with the recovered objects. Karen Ryan, the lead curator of the large exhibit which will open this July at the National Maritime in Greenwich, and arrive in 2018 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, was joined by Claire Champ, Danielle Goyer, and Kerry McMaster in a joint preview of the exhibit, which -- at 6,500 square feet -- will be the largest one of Franklin-related materials in more than a century, and the first to feature newly-recovered relics. Perhaps just as notable was the presence of David C. Woodman in the audience, since his work on the historical Inuit testimony was in many ways the key that unlocked these previously hidden histories.

There were a number of significant updates and revelations -- here are just a few highlights:

• Although an anchor cable seen stretching out from HMS "Terror" was once thought to be evidence that it had been anchored at the site, it appears that this anchor is still aboard ship; the cable had simply played out from the windlass. Parks was able to get some quite good imagery via ROVs and early spring dives through the ice.

• The propellor compartment on Terror was filled with a wooden block, so the propellor was not deployed -- making the presence of what's been thought to be the exhaust pipe of the steam engine still more of a puzzle.

• A previously unidentified object in the vicinity of Terror has been identified as a ship's cutter boat with clinker construction. Oars on top of the port side ice channels were noted; she was 23 feet long.

• The first focus of work involving the recovery of objects may well be HMS "Erebus," due to the fragile condition of the wreck and its vulnerability to currents or passing ice in its shallow resting place. Already, much of the upper and lower decks have collapsed onto the bottom.

• Jonathan Moore stated that there was as yet no evidence of Inuit scavenging of HMS "Erebus."

• Charles Dagneau showed images of graffiti and cut-marks on plates, possibly marks of ownership similar to those found on silverware. Based on an initial assessment of this evidence, the officers and sailors seem to have interacted more closely than might otherwise have been imagined.

• As they've said all along, the Parks Canada team feels that there's a very good chance of recovering written documents. A key question will be to establish a timeline -- which ship was manned (if indeed both were), and which abandoned first, and how and when were they connected to sites on land?

• In terms of archaeological work on land, Doug Stenton is still hoping to identify the location of the "Tent Place" at Terror Bay, now that we know where Terror is.

• Anne Keenleyside gave a presentation on her work (with Stenton and Park) on DNA recovered from  the bones of Franklin expedition members. As has been noted here and elsewhere, the most significant revelation of this study has been that a much higher number of individuals met their end at Erebus Bay than had previously been thought.

We live in exciting times.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Hall of Clestrain

In front of the Hall of Clestrain (with thanks to Regina Koellner for the great photo!)
This weekend, I've had the opportunity to visit the home of an old friend, John Rae, "The Arctic Traveller," one of the most capable and steadfast explorers ever to venture into the Frozen Zone. I'm enormously grateful to the John Rae Society for bringing me over, and inviting me to give a series of talks to the public, as well as to local colleges and primary schools. Their Rae Festival is only about halfway through, but already I have met more people of extraordinary character, kindness, and genuine interest than I've had the pleasure to encounter at nearly any other place I've visited. John Rae's father, who worked as the Hudson' Bay Company's representative in Stromness for many years, is said to have recruited so many locals that at one point, 75% of the HBC's workforce were Orkneymen. Though not "gentlemen" in the conventional sense, a better company of adventurers can scarcely be imagined.

The Society organized two open days at the Hall, both of which (despite the second being a tad blustery) were very well attended indeed. The tours went so frequently that my host, Andrew Appleby (the society's president and chief tour guide) was obliged to turn around and give another the moment he returned from the previous one. There is much that needs doing -- the society's tent included a copy of the latest building survey -- but the first tasks are especially urgent: controlling moisture, evicting the pigeons, and stabilizing the floor and roof. Contributions have been abundant over the weekend, but much more is needed; the more solid a foundation the society can lay, the better the chance of more substantial grants further along.

I was also, on this occasion, delighted to meet Jane Hamilton, Rae's great-great-grand-niece, whose extraordinary novel Finding John Rae takes up the explorer's tale in the first person, re-imagining his journeys as only he experienced them. She brought her family with her, including several cousins, all of whom convinced me anew that the line of John Rae is one of perseverance, courage, keen observation, and -- above all -- kindness.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

John Rae Festival 2017

This evening, I'll be on a series of flights that will take me to Kirkwall in Scotland's Orkney Islands, where I'll be among the speakers this year's festival, sponsored by the John Rae Society. The main events are listed on the poster shown here; a more detailed schedule can be had online here. I'm looking forward tremendously to meeting the good people of the Society, as well as novelist and Rae great-grand niece Jane Hamilton, whose new book Finding John Rae is to be launched at the festival. There will also be copies available of my own recent book, Finding Franklin, along with the late Garth Walpole's Relics of the Franklin Expedition, which features images of many of the relics brought back by Dr. Rae, both on the cover and within its pages.

I'll be giving two talks: first, on Friday in Stromness, "The Habit of Exact Observation: Dr. Rae's Discovery of the Fate of Franklin," and then on Monday in Kirkwall, "Things Worthy of Record: The Legacy of Dr. Rae." As the titles suggest, the first talk will focus on Rae's 1854 discovery of the Franklin relics, along with Inuit testimony as to his men having turned to the "last resource"; the second will highlight Dr. Rae's contributions later in his life, including his consulting with the American Geographical Society on plans for the Schwatka expedition in 1878. Each lecture will feature some new images and letters never previously published or known: in the first, detailed imagery of Rae's own personal collection of Franklin relics; in the second, a series of letters between Rae and other Arctic luminaries, along with letters written by his widow Kate in the  time just after his death in 1894.

I hope that who can will join me at one or both of these talks, and who have an interest in the career and accomplishments of Dr. Rae, will find that they renew and freshly kindle their admiration. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Of spoons, forks, and insanity ...

Photo used with the permission of Jersey Heritage
Regular readers of Visions of the North will recall my older posts about the silver utensils -- one spoon in particular -- that played such a key role in the launching of the Schwatka expedition; the story is also told at greater length in Chapter 8 of my Finding Franklin. And yet now, I've discovered quite a new and different chapter of that story, and found a trail of "clews" that stretches all the way from Arctic Canada, to New York, Milwaukee, and eventually to the Channel Island of Jersey, where one of Potter's forks unexpectedly turned up at some point prior to 1936.

The story begins with Captain Edwin A. Potter, late master of the New Bedford whaler "Glacier," who in 1873 returned from two winters in the Arctic with a handful of silverware that had a tale to tell. Captain Potter might not have been the best observer -- he thought that Franklin's crest on his spoons resembled an Indian with a bow and arrow! -- but he did realize that what he had obtained were relics of the Franklin expedition. Two large spoons of Sir John's -- one with the famous copper mend -- were the stars of the show, but their impact wasn't felt until a few years later, when Thomas Barry brought them to the attention of the American Geographical Society (Barry claimed he'd received the spoons from the Inuit; Potter claimed he'd stolen them from him).

As I recount in my book, the spoons were eventually returned to Sophia Cracoft (not, by her account by Thomas Barry as he'd claimed, but only when the whaling company that employed him demanded them back, from whence they went to the US Naval Observatory, and then to Miss Cracroft). But what of the others? What, especially, of the fork with the initials "R N" scratched into it, which Potter thought might mean "Royal Navy" (though that would be odd, as in every other instance the initials were those of one of Franklin's men). A few days ago, looking for better imagery of the silverware of Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, I noticed, via a footnote in my friend Huw Lewis-Jones's article about him, that there was a fork of his in the collections of the Société Jersiaise. That esteemed entity, now a part of Jersey Heritage, had an online database of its collections -- but alas, no fork was listed.
Detail of fork
Hoping against hope, I wrote to them, and received a very kind reply, with the photo above, confirming that they did indeed have such a fork, whose ownership was attributed to Le Vesconte (whose family was from Jersey). The museum, alas, had no provenance for the fork; it first was mentioned in their records in 1936. But in any case, there, scratched onto its upper surface, were letters that looked very much like RN, or perhaps RM, or RII -- it was hard to be certain, but only one fork was said to have had similar marks -- that of Captain Potter.

The line of transmission was very unclear, however. If this fork had been Potter's, how had it found its way across the ocean to Jersey? It was then that I searched the archives of the American Geographical Society (now in Wisconsin), which had sponsored Schwatka's expedition, and found a very curious item. It was, in part, a typed copy of an undated newspaper article, under the headline INSANE.
Captain Edwin A. Potter, formerly of this city, but for a couple of years past a resident of Westport, has been adjudged insane, and was taken to the asylum at Taunton yesterday by Deputy Sherriff Kirby. Capt. Potter sailed for many years from this port in the whaling service, and at one time commanded the bark Glacier in the Hudson Bay fishery.
But what would a notice of Potter's insanity be doing in the AGS archives? The answer was typed below:
Above is a copy of a clipping lent to us by Mr. Wood of the American Numismatic Society, accompanying two forks, two large spoons, and one small spoon. They were returned to Mr. Wood on November 18, 1930.
Howland Wood
"Mr. Wood" was doubtless Howland Wood, the longtime curator of the ANS. But what would he be doing with Potter's spoons and this newspaper clipping? I can only assume that, at some point near the date of this note, Captain Potter's effects had been brought to his attention, possibly via a pawnbroker or someone managing an estate sale. He was born in New Bedford, so news of the story would have been local knowledge. In his search to identify the utensils, he'd found (or been given) the clipping, and had sent the items to the AGS for assessment, or advice. If it was advice he'd sought, I feel confident that they would have recommended they be returned to the the families of their late owners, and that it was by this means that the fork attributed to Le Vesconte arrived in Jersey prior to 1936.

But there is yet more to the mystery: the fork, like those at the National Maritime Museum, has only been photographed from above; with this style of cutlery, with a ridged top, the crest is generally etched on the underside, along with the maker's hallmarks. I'm waiting to hear what the good people of Jersey Heritage uncover; they have taken a great interest in my findings, and plan to have the fork removed from its case and photographed on both sides.  I'll follow up here with a fresh posting as soon as the results are in.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New DNA evidence on Franklin's sailors

Human jaw from NgLj-2 (courtesy Margaret Bertulli)
It's perhaps not unexpected that, just as news stories about the machinations over 2016 permits for Franklin searches have been gaining widespread attention, that a new study by a key group of land archaeologists has made its appearance, and that Doug Stenton is its lead author. We've known for some time that DNA analysis was contemplated for human skeletal remains -- the possibility was mentioned in an earlier article co-authored by Stenton on the facial reconstructions of two skulls from among these bones, and Stenton talked publicly about this aspect of his work at the Royal Ontario Museum last year. And yet now that the initial article is out, there are a number of surprises -- some small, some large -- about what this new evidence reveals. Even though no matches have as yet been made with living descendants of Franklin's men, the DNA results -- including samples from two hitherto untouched sites -- are pretty remarkable. The world press, perhaps predictably, has seized upon the fact that four samples came back with values consistent as female, one of them from a mandible collected at NgLj-2 much like the one shown here. Despite the caution in the paper that these results were preliminary, and in two of the four instances counterindicated by other factors, the ever-reliable Daily Mail has come out with a headline Mystery of the Doomed Franklin Expedition Deepens: Some of the sailors were WOMEN.

But it's the other revelations of the study that are far more significant in terms of our understanding of the last days of Franklin's men. For one, it reveals that in 2016, work was done both at Booth Point (NcLa-1) and on the Todd Islets (NcLa-5), two sites that many Franklin scholars (myself included) had long urged be examined. The archaeological work itself received no public notice, and thus this paper is the first indication it was undertaken. In addition to these new sites, 32 skeletal elements from Erebus Bay sites were brought back from the cairn there by Doug Stenton and used as sources for DNA samples; the results increased the (minimum) number of distinct individuals represented at NgLj-2 from the original range of 8-11 to 13, along with 10 further distinct individuals at nearby sites -- a significant difference. We must now regard Erebus bay as a site from which a substantial percentage of Franklin's men -- nearly 18% -- never escaped. Beyond that, the Booth Point/Todd Islets site yielded a reading of one individual at the former, and two at the latter (where five individuals had previously been reported, based on the number of skulls).

But even as this evidence brings us much fresh insight, it also reminds us of how new knowledge connects with old. The study observes that, at the Todd Islets site, human bones were "commingled with a similar number of caribou bones." But this is not a surprise; as I mention on page 73 of my book, the Inuktitut name of the place -- qiunak  -- means "the place one can starve to death," but according to local tradition the ones whose starvation gave the place its name were caribou, not men.

It's to be hoped that all this valuable DNA data will soon be able to be compared with samples from living descendants, direct or collateral, to see whether a positive identification can be made. I know that, both in the UK and around the world, there have been efforts to help locate such individuals, and there is generally an eagerness to come forward among them. I'm sure that Doug Stenton and his colleagues are already following up on this, and hope and expect that in the course of their search, resources such as the "Remembering the Franklin Expedition" Facebook page -- whose members include folks with names like Goodsir, Crozier, Collins, and Hodgson -- may help expedite it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

HMS "Terror" Muddle

Thanks to the diligent detective work of Steve Ducharme of the Nunatsiaq News, we now know a good deal more about the Franklin searches of the summer of 2016. Some of what he's uncovered is simply the inevitable back-and-forth between the agency charged with issuing archaeological permits -- the Culture and Heritage department of the Government of Nunavut -- and those seeking such permits, whether the underwater archaeologists of Parks Canada, or those working on sites on land, such as the recently-retired director of that department, Doug Stenton. And yet the case has, as Sherlock Holmes used to like to say, "several point of interest," meaning that not everything may be as it may seems. This is especially true with regard to the activities of the Arctic Research Foundation which, since it isn't an agency of the government, is not subject to laws requiring the disclosure of information to the public.

The first major takeaway is that the GN's Heritage division did two odd things in the same season: it approved a permit for Doug Stenton to do land-based archaeological work in the Terror Bay area, and it issued a specific restriction preventing the Parks underwater team from listing Terror Bay as a fallback search area, should their primary search area in Victoria Strait prove inaccessible. The language was surprising: "Terror Bay is not approved as an alternate survey site. There is no historical, oral historical, or archaeological evidence identifying Terror Bay as a possible location for one of the Franklin wrecks." In hindsight, of course, this sounds foolish, but even at the time it's a bit odd. True, prior to the 2016 discovery no one had singled out Terror Bay as a specific location for one of the ships -- but no one had excluded it either. Some known points -- the existence of a "Tent Place" on the shore there, the discovery of a crumpled metal tank by Patsy Klengenberg's wife in 1931, suggested the presence of some vessel in the vicinity, at least for a time. Even back in 2010, before either ship had been found, I wrote in this blog that "we can suppose that they (Erebus and Terror) were trapped again, and one of the vessels crushed, in either Erebus Bay or Terror Bay, or both."

So I think it's wrong to have claimed there was no evidence as to a ship in Terror Bay -- as with many aspects of the Franklin story, there was indeed evidence that, in retrospect, can be seen as having pointed there -- the key factor seems to have been Stenton's plan to do work on land at the site. Perhaps he hoped that, as had happened in 2014 when his helicopter pilot Andrew Stirling had spied what turned out to be part of a ship's davit, a discovery on land would once again point the way to a still greater one underwater. The language of his application -- “Time and weather permitting, an aerial search will also be conducted in eastern Terror Bay in an attempt to locate a sunken vessel reported at the location by Inuit” -- suggests that he was being disingenuous at the very least. One wonders whether these Inuit reports were the ones of today, or from older testimony. Could Sammy Kogvik's account have been known about before that summer?

In any case, all that is little more than a minor kerfuffle when compared to the major revelations in Ducharme's article: 1) That the Arctic Research Foundation was not named in the 2016 permit at all, since Parks expected to  assign the Martin Bergmann as a vessel under their supervision; and that 2) That although the RCMP conducted a two-month investigation into the actions of the crew of the Bergmann, with an eye to violations of the archaeological provisions of the Nunavut Act, it ended its probe due to "insufficient evidence." This is stunning, since the violations are crystal clear: the Bergmann was not named on the permit, and had no right to conduct any independent search of any kind, and the place they looked -- whether they knew it or not -- had been specifically forbidden. The Nunavut Act states that, without a permit, no vessel, diver, or underwater device may come within 30 meters of a potential underwater archaeological site:
No person, other than a person engaged in a search and rescue operation, shall dive, or approach with an underwater submersible, to within 30 m of an archaeological artifact without a Class 2 permit.
And yet ARF's own video, made after an earlier camera rig had snagged on the wreck and been lost, not only shows that they went much closer, but actually penetrated within the vessel.

We may, as have many who've written about the discovery of HMS Terror, happily credit Inuit accounts, as given by Sammy Kogvik, for this fortuitous find. We may revel in what the video shows us, and thrill at the discovery of the ship in such extraordinary condition. But a discovery that deliberately flouts the law is a danger to all discovery; it opens the wrecks of Franklin's ships to prodding by any party who thinks they can get away with it, as ARF did. ARF furthermore hid the discovery from its partner -- indeed, given the permit was issued only in Parks's name, its supervisor -- for eight days at least, giving an exclusive version of of the find to photojournalist Paul Watson, who then sold it to The Guardian. Keeping the people under whose permit they were to have worked in the dark, and probing a sensitive wreck with no supervision from trained archaeologists, would seem to be a fairly clear-cut case. ARF's belated claim that there was no "updated protocol" for 2016 makes no difference -- if there was indeed no such protocol, they should never have been participating in the search at all.

Despite all this, it's my hope that, as this summer's search approaches, we can all once more get back to the fundamental fascination with the Franklin story that drives all of us who have encountered it. I hope that the new agreements between Parks Canada and key Inuit organizations will make these new finds more readily available, and will increase the benefit to local communities. I hope that those who work on land, and those who dive below the waters, will come to see that each side possesses a part of a symmetric puzzle, both of which will be required to fully understand it. And, above all, I hope that both of Franklin's ships will be effectively protected from those whose lack of care and knowledge may damage the vital evidence these almost sacred vessels have preserved within their oaken hulls for more than a century and a half.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Dr. John Rae

Image courtesy Douglas Wamsley
I've written many times in this blog about the remarkable career of Dr. John Rae. His achievements place him in the first rank of Arctic explorers, and yet for much of the past century, his name had not been listed among them. He had the misfortune to be the bearer of bad news -- that some of Sir John Franklin's men had resorted to cannibalism, which Rae called "the last extremity" -- and to defend his Inuit friends and contacts for their veracity against a lengthy diatribe by, of all people, Charles Dickens. Although officialy awarded the reward for ascertaining the fate of Franklin he was shunned by many of his contemporaries. Never the less, Rae never became a bitter man, and throughout the remainder of his life he never expressed anything but admiration for Sir John Franklin, and pity for the terrible fate faced by the last survivors of his expedition.

I'm very happy to note that things have changed considerably in recent years. Ken McGoogan's book Fatal Passage (2001) led the way, followed by John Walker's extraordinary documentary adaptation Passage (2008).  In 2014, acting at the request of MP Alistair Carmichael, and based on documents submitted by supporters of Rae (including a letter of mine), the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey approved a memorial to Dr. Rae, to be placed in the Abbey immediately in front of Frankin's cenotaph, and in his 201st birthday (30 September 2014) it was installed and dedicated. By honoring Rae this memorial honored many -- including the countless Scots who so often served with high distinction in the Arctic. And, at the same time, it spoke to the spirit of friendship that was so strong between Rae and the Inuit among whom he lived and worked.

There remains more to be done. The John Rae Society, which was able to obtain title to the Hall of Clestrain, Rae's birthplace and ancestral home, is seeking begin work to stabilize and eventually restore the building. This May, I'll be traveling to Stromness and Kirkwall, along with novelist (and Rae's great-great- grand-niece) Jane Hamilton, to help raise awareness (and funds) for the further restoration of the Hall at the 2017 John Rae Festival.  We'll also be launching Ms. Hamilton's novel Finding John Rae  (the title's similarity to my own was a complete (though happy) coincidence that she and I discovered only after the fact!). You can read more about these events here, and download a complete schedule here.

I hope that a great many people will be able to attend one or more of these events, and that their effect will be to motivate and mobilize those who feel the same kind of admiration for Dr. Rae and what he represents as do I. If you can't attend personally, bear in mind that membership in the Society will support their work as well, and members will also receive a regular News Letter with the most current account of its efforts to gain recognition for Rae's achievements and the preservation of his home. A membership form can be downloaded online, and the Society welcomes members from around the world.

And so today let all of us, wherever we may be, pause a moment and recall the singular admixture, the rare alloy of character and skill, out of which Dr. John Rae's achievements were wrought.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

On Abandoning ship ...

Belcher's Squadron (HMS "Resolute" at far left)
All who visit this blog likely know of more than one ship that was wrecked or abandoned in the Arctic -- Parry's HMS "Fury," the Rosses' "Victory," and -- perhaps best known of all -- HMS "Resolute," abandoned by Captain Henry Kellett, on orders from Sir Edward Belcher, on 28th April 1854. Kellett, as would be any captain, was extremely reluctant to follow this order, but in the end decided that duty required it. We know the other side of that story -- how the "Resolute" was found adrift in the David Straits, brought back to port by a whaling captain, and restored at US Government expense before being re-presented to Queen Victoria as a gift. That gift long accepted, and the time having come for the vessel to be broken up, the Queen gave orders that several desks should be made from her timbers -- the largest and most prominent of these being the "Resolute Desk" that has reposed for most of the past 50 years in the Oval Office of the White House as the desk of the President of the United States.

But what exactly does it mean to "abandon" ship? The question takes on new interest following remarks by Dr. Martin Magne, recently retired as the director of archaeology and history for Parks Canada, and whose work has been instrumental in the discovery of Sir John Franklin's "Erebus" and "Terror," to the effect that the "Terror" may have been prepared for abandonment. According to an article about Magne's work in the Prince George Citizen,  the vessel was "well-sealed in accordance with Admiralty instructions, which include sealing the doors with tar."

This appears to have been a misstatement on their part -- when I reached out to Dr. Magne, he said that he'd merely spoken of this as something to look for, not something observed -- but it certainly got me started thinking. What exactly would the crew of an Arctic discovery vessel have done prior to an orderly abandonment? I have not yet been able to locate any specific printed instructions on the matter, but the example of "Resolute" seems a perfect precursor -- if "Terror" had been deliberately abandoned, surely the crew would have followed  much the same procedure as did that of the "Resolute" just a few years later.

As it happens, we have a fairly detailed record of Kellett's actions on that occasion. On the final evening aboard ship, as the sledges were being loaded for the crew and their provisions, a series of clearly anticipated procedures was followed. The pilot-jack -- letter "D" -- was hoisted at the foretopmast-head, and "the red ensign and pendant displayed, that in the event of her being obliged to 'knock under' to her icy antagonist, she might sink beneath the wave, as many a gallant predecessor had done, with colours flying." As a precaution, the signals books were burned, lest their contents fall into the wrong hands. A final dinner was also held, during which "the carpenters were employed caulking down the gun-room skylight and after companion." After that meal, Captain Kellett raised a glass of wine to the gallant ship, the decks were cleared, and the carpenter "secured" the main hatchway.

So what did this caulking and securing consist of? "Caulking," in naval parlance, meant sealing up the cracks between planks, or -- in the case, one assumes -- sealing up the covers of hatchways and companionways. "Caulk" was tar -- the best sort was, and still is, "Stockholm Tar" -- and could also involve either oakum or marline coated with that same tar. The sealing of these parts of the ship both preserved the interior against intruders, animal or human, and increased the chance, should the ship ever be freed, of her not taking on water (the "Resolute," when found, did have some water in the hold, but this likely came from the lower timbers rather than the deck).

So if tar or tarring of hatchways and companionways was observed on HMS "Terror," it would imply that, at least to some extent, her abandonment was deliberate, and that the preparations were well along. This stands in contrast to Inuit account of a ship that sank suddenly, while its cargo was being unloaded, and taking some of those engaged in this work to the bottom. On the other hand, the sinking could have occurred in the midst of such a procedure, or on an occasion on which some later party had returned to the ship to retrieve supplies. Indeed, since we know from the Victory Point record that both vessels were temporarily "deserted" in 1848, it may well be that caulking would have been done then, and might be difficult to distinguish from similar work done later.

The only way to know for certain, of course, will be when Parks Canada's archaeologists begin their work this coming summer. Hopefully, the well-preserved nature of HMS "Terror" will enable them to find clearer evidence one way or the other; no matter that, surely great things will be learned.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Tookoolito

Of all those who searched for traces of Franklin in the decades immediately after the disappearance of his expedition, no one figure was more pivotal that Tookoolito, also known as "Hannah," who served as Charles Francis Hall's main translator throughout the 1860's. "Too-koo," as Hall often referred to her in his notebooks, had made a powerful impression from the start; describing their first meeting, the usually prosaic Hall waxed poetic: “I could not help admiring the exceeding gracefulness and modesty of her demeanour. Simple and gentle in her way, there was a degree of calm intellectual power about her that more and more astonished me.”

Tookoolito more than lived up to that initial impression; her translation became the key to Hall's work, and she came to share his boundless enthusiasm for the Franklin mystery. Quite frequently, in his notebooks, Hall would note her interpretation and excitement as new pieces of evidence came to light, and her ability to craft follow-up questions to clarify the Inuit testimony is striking. As just one example, it was Too-koo's insight into the infamous "black men" story that suggested the "three great shouts" were in all likelihood three cheers:
These men who were then all around him, had black faces, black hands, black clothes on -- were black all over!  They had little black noses, and this Innuit was very alarmed because he could not get away from these black men, but especially he was frightened when they made three great noises [three rounds of cheers as Too-koo-li-too thinks these great noises were]. 
Tookoolito -- whose Inuktitut name is conjecturally sometimes given as Taqulittuq -- was born in the Cumberland Sound area around 1838. In 1852, no more than fifteen years old, Tookoolito was brought to England by wine merchant Thomas Bowlby, who had taken an interest in missionary work among the Inuit. With her came her husband Ebierbing ("Joe"), along with Akulukjuk (referred to as "Harlukjoe"), an unrelated seven-year-old whom some at the time assumed was their son. Bowlby exhibited the group at a number of locations, and was even able to arrange a meeting with Queen Victoria, which took place on February 3rd 1853. The young Queen was impressed by the meeting, remarking in her journal, "They are my subjects, very curious, & quite different to any of the southern or African tribes, having very flat round faces, with a Mongolian shape of eyes, a fair skin, & jet black hair. They are entirely clothed in skins." Too-koo, for her part, recalled that she "liked the appearance of Her Majesty, and every thing about the place."

Unlike some of the unscrupulous men who lured Inuit away to be shown abroad, Bowlby was as good as his word, returning Tookoolito and Ebierbing to their home. Over the years that followed, their familiarity with English language and customs led to working with some of the whaling crews that wintered in Cumberland Sound, and it was there that Charles Francis Hall encountered them. He'd heard something of them from his friend Sydney O. Budington, and on meeting them, secured their services as guide and translator. They assisted him in his researches around Frobisher bay, and returned with him to the United States afterwards. Hall, well-meaning but unwise, leant them and their young child out for shows at Barnum's Museum and Boston's Aquarial Gardens, as well as bringing them along on his lecture tour, where he sought to raise funds for his return. Very likely as a result, Hannah's son, little Butterfly, became ill and died, and she herself nearly died of grief. And yet, nursed back to health by Mrs. Budington, Hannah returned along with Joe to serve Hall on his next, longer Arctic search, the one which finally brought him to the shores of King William Island. During that journey, Tookoolito gave birth to another son, whom Hall christened "King William," but who died not long afterwards. In what might have been a sort of compassionate gesture, Hall traded a sled and some other valuables for a young girl whom Hannah and Joe called simply Panik (daughter), or Punny.

After Hall finally gave up on his mission of finding Franklin survivors and organized the Polaris expedition in search of the North Pole, the whole family came with him, only to suffer the privations and uncertainty of drifting south on an ice-island after Hall was murdered and the party lost contact with their ship. Thanks in large part to Joe's hunting skills, the group survived long enough to be rescued, and he and Hannah both testified at the inquest into Hall's death. They believed Hall when he told them he had been poisoned, but unfortunately the Board of Inquiry gave more credence to the testimony of the white ship's crew and scientists, and the likely murderer, Dr. Emil Bessels, was never charged. Hannah and Joe moved to Groton and lived in a home not far from the Budingtons, from which, Joe noted proudly in a letter, "Punny go to school every day." Alas, it was not to last; Punny died in 1874 and Hannah followed her in 1876; they are buried next to one another in the Star Cemetery in Groton, where I've often visited them.

There was, in her day, no farther-faring Inuk than Tookoolito, along with her lifelong partner Ebierbing; without her work, none of the detailed Inuit testimony sought by Hall would ever have been collected -- evidence which made the discovery of "Erebus" and "Terror" possible. And yet, at least as of now, Too-koo has never received the sort of recognition her work deserves. Her name was mentioned as a candidate for a woman to appear on Canadian currency, and a couple of years ago there was a Kickstarter campaign for a play about her life, to be written and staged by Reneltta Arluk. It's to be hoped that it will be presented someday, and will not be the last remembrance of this remarkable woman.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Garth Walpole

Once upon a time, there was a man who yearned with all his heart to explore the secrets of the Arctic. And, at his side, there was his wife, who supported him in all he did, even after he had set sail on his final journey to that "undiscover'd country / from whose bourn no traveller returns." And finally, "after long waiting, she herself departed to seek him in the realms of light."

Readers will, I suspect, recognize the familiar elements of the story of Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane, and the words from the monument at Westminster Abbey -- and yet, it is not not of them that I speak, but rather of Garth Walpole and his wife Alison.

I'd come to know Garth via the “Remembering the Franklin Expedition” Facebook group, established in 2008 by Lee Preston. Garth was one of the first to join, and even amidst the many enthusiastic “Franklinites” who formed the core of the group, Garth stood out. He was generous with what he had, eager to obtain articles and imagery that he didn’t, and lively in the occasional, nearly real-time exchanges that were then – and still are – a feature of the site. Through these discussions, I learned a bit more about Garth:  he was had been born in Hobart, Tasmania, known for its large public statue of Franklin, not far from Government House, where Sir John had once served as the colony’s Lieutenant-Governor. Garth, from what I understood, had always had a fascination with the past, but it was only later in life that the Franklin story became for him – as it was for all of us – such a delightfully persistent obsession.

Working on his archaeology degree, he’d written a thesis on the Franklin relics that he was expanding to book-length; he’d shared some sections with me, as I’d shared sections of my own ongoing work. He was always especially eager to obtain new images of the relics, or resolve discrepancies in the archival records about them, and he and I would often exchange messages on such questions. And, when word of the discovery of Franklin’s ship got out, Garth had a strong intuition that it was the “Erebus,” not the “Terror,” but I wagered against him, telling him I’d “eat my hat” if I were wrong. And of course, he was right – I can still recall the taste of felt (though, in the interest of avoiding indigestion, a symbolic nibble had to make do for the whole). Along with the rest of us – perhaps more than any of us – he reveled in that discovery, and it energized his work.

None of us had known, though, that he was already ill. It wouldn’t have been like Garth to say much about it; I imagine that he must have been a fairly private person, and didn’t want to be the recipient of online sympathy. And so we didn’t know, until his wife Alison posted a note to the group, letting us know that he was in the final stages of his illness and expressing his thanks for the companionship and encouragement he’d received from the group. Of course, we all responded with the same feeling, sharing our sense of gratitude and feeling of loss, and it was a comfort to know that Ali (as we came to know her) had passed along our regards. It came as a shock, though, how quickly the end came, and Garth was no longer among us. 

It was then that I undertook, at Ali's request, to find a publisher for Garth's manuscript. She sent it, along with all his notes and two large cartons containing all his Franklin books, so that I'd have all the resources he'd assembled as I edited and prepared the book for publication. I knew that it would be no easy task to find a publisher, and after nearly nine months of writing queries, I was beginning to doubt that I could. It was then that Glenn M. Stein, author of Discovering the North-West Passage: The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition, suggested I contact his editor at McFarland publishers in North Carolina. They accepted the project, and I was delighted to be able to let Ali know that I'd found a home for Garth's book.

When I told her the news, Ali was overjoyed, as was I – although, by then, this joy was already tinctured with fresh sadness. For, in the time it had taken to find a home for the book, Ali had had a relapse of her cancer, and had already moved into hospice care.  She was, however, able to pass from this world knowing that Garth’s book would indeed be coming out, and that his many years of work would not be for nought.

And now, at last, it's available to the public. It will, I expect, have a special appeal to those first drawn to the Franklin story by the palpable melancholy associated with the Franklin relics, many of which are soon to be on display for the first time in over a century -- along with newly-recovered ones -- at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. But there are many other aspects of the Franklin story on which Garth's careful archaeological examination sheds fresh light; his analysis of the earliest finds on Beechey Island is invaluable, as is his comparison of the various published accounts of the Schwatka search and its discoveries. The final section of the book offers an illustrated history of the relics as they were depicted in newspapers, magazines, stereoviews, and guidebooks. It demonstrates how significant these relics are, marking as they do the final evidence of Franklin’s men, of their boyish enthusiasm, their fortitude, their willingness to risk all on a voyage of unknown result. In a sense, they are not unlike those relics that mark our own everyday lives: eyeglasses, gloves, a button, or a bit of wool. They are, as with Franklin, only the fragments of a life, the remainders, the leftovers if you will. And yet, though inanimate, they have had, as Garth might say – extraordinary lives of their own. His book is their biography.