Thursday, November 9, 2017

Talk at the National Maritime Museum

In just a few weeks, on November 29th, I'll be delivering a lecture, "Making Marks: Officers' Crests and Sailors' Scratches" -- at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK, in connection with their current exhibit Death in the Ice. It's a lunchtime lecture, hosted by curator Claire Warrior; after my remarks, she and I will have an open discussion, and welcome questions from the audience. The talk will start at noon, and with the discussion will go until 1 p.m.

What is mark-making, some may ask -- and what has it to do with the history of the lost Franklin expedition? In one sense, mark-making is the oldest of all human artistic impulses, going all the way back to the painted handprints in neolithic caves; in an ultimate sense, they all say the same thing: I was here. And, in one sense, that's just what happened with Franklin's men: at some point, probably around the time of his ships' initial abandonment in 1848, much of the silverware that had been brought by the officers was distrubuted to the ordinary seamen of each vessel. The motive may have been to preserve these items, which were of both monetary and personal value -- but it may also have been to communicate with the outside world. The leaders of the expedition at that time -- Francis Crozier and James Fitzjames -- knew that items traded with the Inuit might travel far, and could potentially be recovered by those who would recognize their meaning. For the sailors, though, these items also had personal value, and many of them chose to mark the items they received by
scratching their initials onto them. In some cases, the letters are clear -- the WC on the Franklin fork above is William Clossan, though of course sometimes the initials match more than one man. Some, such as caulker's mate Cornelius Hickey, carved their full surnames, while in other cases the marks are ambiguous -- a scratched A? D? -- or perhaps simply a random pattern. The Inuit themselves sometime modified the utensils, as they did with a large serving spoon from Franklin's service; the bowl having become cracked, they mended it with copper (many Inuit were skilled at re-working and cold-forging metal). These additions allow us to trace, in many cases, the path of the silver item from the officers' mess to the crew of their ship, to Inuit who then exchanged these items with searchers such as Leopold McClintock, Dr. John Rae, Charles Francis Hall, and Frederick Schwatka.

Photo used with permission of Jersey Heritage
My talk will be illustrated with slides -- many of them the first high-resolution images ever made of the utensils in question -- and will be a reunion of sorts, with items not only from the NMM's own collection, but from museums around the UK, US, and Canada, and even from the island of Jersey, where a lone fork is preserved with other remembrances of Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, whose family was from there. We'll also have a look at some of the plates recovered from HMS "Erebus" by the Parks Canada underwater archaeology team; some of them, too, have marks that suggest connections between the officers and crews. I'll also show maps of where the spoons were recovered, and what kind of story they tell of Franklin's men once they set foot on land. His ships -- HMS "Erebus" and "Terror" -- will have many tales to tell once archaeologists dig a little deeper into their holds, but until then, these humble souvenirs of ordinary sailors speak volumes as to the final journey their owners undertook.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Accuracy -- and respect for Inuit culture -- matter

For some time now, I've been thinking about Paul Watson's book about the Franklin search, which has been published under the title Ice Ghosts. People have asked me about it, and as I'm generally reluctant to say unkind things about someone whose book might be seen as competing with mine, I've usually demurred. But now that the book is coming out in paperback, and is therefore likely to reach even more readers than before, I feel that it's my obligation to speak out.

As the founding editor of the Arctic Book Review, now in its nineteenth year, I've had occasion to read, and often to review, all the many new books about the Franklin expedition that have been published since 1999. My personal library has nearly every book ever written on the subject, which runs to well over a hundred volumes. Some are rather silly -- a book by a woman in Florida who had psychic "conversations" with Sir John and Lady Franklin; the late Jeffrey Blair Latta's The Franklin Conspiracy, which marks the far outpost of what one reviewer dubbed the "Franklin lunatic fringe"; or the small self-published leaflets of homespun enthusiasts.

But even among all these, Ice Ghosts stands out. It's one of those books that tries to beef up personal  reportage with a large dollop of historical background, and turn the author's journey into a combination whodunit and adventure yarn. It's an approach that can work well for a writer with a journalistic background, and there's nothing wrong with the basic idea. However, not all journalists are as good at handling historical narratives that stretch over centuries as they are at dramatically retelling events of the present, and that's the case with Mr. Watson. The sort of "potted history" he has written is big and dramatic on the surface, but wanting in the kind of substance that can only be gained by longer study and the consideration of multiple sources.

If these were the only issues with the book, though, I wouldn't feel as strongly as I do about it. Its inaccuracies may be due to mere carelessness, but it seems Mr. Watson's editor did no fact-checking. The errors are both numerous and substantive, such as having Lady Franklin pass through the Panama Canal (it wasn't completed until more than forty years after her death); James Fitzjames's letters to his sister-in-law are referred to as letters to his "wife" (he was unmarried); Parry's crucial 1819 expedition is missing from the book's chronology; winter and summer are confused with one another.  Any book, of course, had some errors -- cataloging them is not necessarily criticism -- but Watson's are so numerous as to erode the confidence of any well-informed reader in what he has to say. The author's tendency to drift into purple prose doesn't help matters, nor does his decision to personify the Arctic as female ("That was the plan. The Arctic, as she usually does, decided otherwise"). Yet these, though they will doubtless frustrate many readers, aren't the real problems with the book either.

As part of the story, Mr. Watson rightly wished to include the Inuit role in the search for Franklin's ships, and like many such, he decided to speak with Louie Kamookak, who's certainly the most important Inuk historian of all matters Franklin. Watson apparently interviewed him at length, and ultimately decided to make the results of the interview into a centerpiece of the book, dubbing Louie his "Inuk detective" and devoting most of two chapters to him. Unfortunately, Watson's tendency to expand and gussy-up the story got the better of him, and he ended up putting in material -- such his a story of Louie playing with a polar bear paw as an infant -- that was completely inaccurate, and untrue to Inuit culture generally. To make things worse, he never gave Mr. Kamookak a chance to look over what he'd written, so that by the time he saw it, the page proofs were already printed. Louie wrote a letter to Watson, asking him in the strongest terms to remove this material, and Watson flatly refused. It's an odd way to try to honor Inuit oral history by misrepresenting, and then insulting, one of its leading historians.

And then there's the matter of the discovery of HMS "Terror" in 2016. Watson, as many at the time will recall, published an exclusive news story with The Guardian about the find. Why was it exclusive? Well, because Watson had been given the story several days (at least) before the Arctic Research Foundation, whose vessel the Martin Bergmann made the discovery, had notified either its partners at Parks Canada (under whose permit they were operating) or the government. During that time -- nearly eight days in all -- the crew of the Bergmann first dispatched several cameras in a net (which snagged on the wreck, possibly damaging it, and was lost) and later, having doubled back to Cambridge Bay on the pretense of engine repairs, dispatched a ROV with which they made and edited a substantial video, at one point directing the ROV below decks and capturing imagery of a cook's pantry or storeroom.

It's shameful that the ARF failed to notify its partners for so long -- and it's criminal that they depoloyed a camera bag and a ROV on the wreck, since they had no permit to conduct such a search. In fact, the permit, issued to Parks, specifically excluded Terror Bay as a search site. At the behest of the Government of Nunavut, the RCMP launched a months-long investigation, which ended without charges being filed. Nevertheless, the language of the Nunavut Act is quite clear that to approach within 20 meters of an underwater site without a permit is forbidden. And, as the chronicler of this act, who was aware of it (and should have been aware that it was illegal), Watson is, I believe, complicit in it. And this is the most serious problem of all with his book: no one reading it will know anything about the above issues, as Watson simply omits them.

Watson's book, and the fact that it has been taken as somehow authoritative, has something in common with ARF's deployment of cameras and a ROV -- it actually damages the thing it claims to protect. Yet unlike those actions back in 2016, Ice Ghosts will continue its damage every time someone reads it, likely for years to come. It's especially frustrating, given that it appears under the imprint of W.W. Norton in the United States, a publisher whose textbook arm is known as authoritative, and which has a (deservedly) high reputation for quality publications.  And so, in the interests of placing the full facts in the hands of its present and potential readers, I've decided to speak out.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Anchors aweigh ... or not?

The image at left, recently released by Parks Canada, is captioned "Anchors still in their sailing position on the port stern quarter of HMS Terror." Earlier imagery showing an anchor cable (rope) played out from the ship had led some to think that the ship might have been at anchor, but as it turns out, the line had simply played out from the windlass and the anchor was still stowed. Had the ship been at anchor, that would have been evidence that, at least at some point, it had been re-piloted, since dropping or weighing anchor are things that can only be done if the ship is under someone's command, and a conscious decision and order has been made to do so.

Nineteenth-century Inuit evidence as regards the "Terror" is far more scarce than that concerning "Erebus," and for good reason -- the former ship sank quickly, in deep water, and "nothing was obtained from her," whereas the latter was, for many years, a go-to site for Inuit seeking wood and other valuable things. It's possible that the "Erebus" was even beached for a time, before sinking, and even after she sank, wood and other precious things washed up on shore. The Inuit had no such luck with "Terror" --which is good news for Parks's underwater archaeologists, although it seems that, for now, work will focus on the more damaged and fragile flagship of Franklin's expedition.

All of these matters speak to a central question: was either of the ships piloted to its final location? If so, an argument can be made that they completed the final link of the Northwest Passage (albeit that some feel that a discovery that the discoverer does not live to report should not be counted). Indeed, the same argument could be made of the survivors on land, since they reached and passed the location of Dease and Simpson's cairn (again, we know this from Inuit testimony, and again the men did not live to tell their tale). What could such evidence then be?

The possibility of the ships having drifted can't be entirely dismissed, however unlikely. Inuit testimony tells us that "Erebus" had been re-inhabited by a small group of perhaps four men, but it's not clear whether they arrived at her final location aboard, or simply found and used the vessel as a shelter for a season. The possibility is still less for "Terror," since drifting ships rarely send themselves into a convenient harbor, and indeed the general drift path of the ice would have taken southeast them along the same route as "Erebus," whereas "Terror" took a turn to the eastward. Some drifting ice has however -- on occasion -- followed a similar route, so such a course can't be entirely eliminated.

I suspect that the only way to really ascertain whether either ship was piloted would be to find a clear indication in writing. Even if manned by a skeleton crew, it would be contrary to all the training and habit of the Royal Navy to steer a ship and keep no log, no record, of its voyage. Barring the discovery of such a log, even a single dated document with some indication later than that in the Victory Point note saying the ships had been deserted would make the case for piloting much likelier, though it couldn't -- unless the writing specifically addressed what had happened -- eliminate the possibility that some men had simply re-occupied the vessel. And, in either case, it seems clear that, for at least some period following the initial abandonment, the ships drifted without guidance, and that such drift might affect how some people assessed the accomplishment of that journey.

Now that the question of national ownership has been resolved, and now that full cooperation and co-management of the finds with Inuit organizations and local communities are in place, the odds are that we will have some kind of answer to that central question. It's quite possible, though, that the answer may be ambigious or incomplete; in some areas of the Franklin story, we may simply have to learn to "let the mystery be."

Friday, October 27, 2017

Franklin searchers of the Month: Operation Northern Quest

Courtesy Royal Canadian Regiment Museum at Wolseley Barracks, London ON
Although it was conduced by the famed Royal Canadian Regiment, and in many ways was among the most elaborately-planned and ambitious of Franklin searches, few people today know much about what was known as "Operation Northern Quest," which took place in 1973. A few footnotes here and there, along with a long-forgotten feature article in (of all places) Canadian Motorist magazine, were all that were publicly known about it. Now, with the help of the Regimental museum, I'm finally able to share with readers of this blog some details of the operation, which included the identification and removal of skeletal remains of a member of Franklin's expedition.

According to an article in Pro Patria, the regiment's official journal, the aim of ONQ was two-fold: "first, to practice skills valuable for the infanteer in the harsh environment of the Far North" and secondly "to uncover useful information about the fate of the Sir John Franklin expedition." That it undoubtedly did, including a nearly-complete skeleton discovered by Corporal Dave Willard "while taking a break only five miles from our firm base." The finds were all mapped, but unfortunately the map -- a detail of which is shown here -- does not say anything about what was found, with the exception of the skeleton. Stars simply mark "19th Century Findings." including one tantalizingly located at the back of Terror Bay. All the findings were to be deposited at the Museum of Man, but unfortunately the Canadian Museum of History -- today's successor to that institution -- has no records of them.

"Joe," in situ, courtesy RCR Museum
The skeleton was found not far east of Gladman Point, and indeed may be one of those previously observed by earlier searchers, such as Hobson, McClintock, or "Paddy" Gibson. The expedition's journal offers a fairly detailed description of the find:
[We] found bones protruding from the ground by a large rock. A quick check showed this to be the bones of a large man; too large for an Eskimo. We uncovered as much of the skeleton as we could without unduly disturbing things. We planned on returning tomorrow morning with the metal detector and shovel. Eddy said he knew where a sheet of plywood could be located on the beach to put the bones on. The skeleton had been covered by several inches of moss and rocks. The skull was not visible to us but the jawbone was there. 
It was not, needless to say, a careful archaeological procedure -- but the bones were gathered up on the plank, and brought back to the Museum of Man. The estimated height of the individual, from the bones, was six feet, and horn and bone buttons were found with it, the combination of which is consistent with the Franklin period (according to the Bertulli report on NgLj-2, four-holed black bone buttons were fading from use in the 1840's; vegetable ivory bones were just being introduced then). The men jovially nicknamed the skeleton "Joe," and searched about for a other artifacts, but found none. It's also noteworthy that the skeleton appears to have been placed in a sort of stone-lined grave, which would make it the furthest-south full burial managed by the survivors of Franklin's crews.

Outposts were established at Terror Bay and Douglas Bay -- two known sites of Franklin-era remains -- and apparently items were found at both; the reports unfortunately don't seem to include a listing of what was found where. One find was described as "a badly disintegrated ship's rudder held together by wooden pegs" -- how intriguing that is, and how much more it could tell us if its exact location were known. Might it have been at Terror Bay? Did the party at Douglas Bay disturb the pile of skulls reburied there by "Paddy" Gibson, and might that be why they were missing when Owen Beattie and Jim Savelle went looking for them in 1981?

I'm hopeful that publicizing this expedition might lead, as it has in other cases, to more information from persons who participated in it, or their friends of families.  If any such are reading this, I would be very happy indeed to hear from them.

[UPDATE: According to a 1974 article in the Sentinel, "Joe" may in fact have been reburied rather than brought to Ottawa. I'll continue researching the matter.]

Monday, October 23, 2017

Franklin's Ships now Canada's

Approximate sites of Erebus and Terror
With a dramatic announcement, British Defence Minister Sir Michael Fallon declared that Sir John Franklin's ships, HMS "Erebus" and "Terror" would shortly be officially given to Canada, with the UK presumably abandoning all salvage rights that would have been its perogative, since the naval vessels of all nations (unlike private or commercial ships) normally remain the property of that nation. It's a welcome development, as it at last removes the veil of uncertainty that had recently descended once more on these fabled ships, despite a 1997 Memorandum of Agreement (which you can read in full here) stating that the UK would abandon or delegate these same rights, "with the exception of those items of particular historical significance to the Royal Navy."

The earlier agreement was somewhat ambigious about these items -- would they be brought to the UK and loaned for display, or kept permanently? This new announcement says that only a "small sample" of items will be retained, but these (presumably) permanently. I have checked with my contacts at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but they had no further information on which items these might be; it's quite possible that the National Museum of the Royal Navy -- mentioned in the announcement -- might be the intended repository. I hope that this small sample will be discrete and remain so; it would be a shame if, every time an artifact is brought up from one of the ships, a fresh debate had to take place over how "significant" it was.

There is another crucial part of this news which, as is their wont, many press outlets have ignored -- which is that this announcement will have no effect on the agreements already made with the Franklin Advisory Committee, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, the Inuit Heritage Trust, and the Government of Nunavut. Parks Canada has issued a press release, which reads in part:
The Government of Canada recognizes the invaluable contributions of Inuit of Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut, and all partners in the search and discovery of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Most importantly, the discoveries would not have been possible without the support, guidance, advice and traditional and modern knowledge shared so generously by Inuit of Nunavut.
Frank Pederson, who respresents the KIA and chairs the Franklin Advisory Committee, had this to say:
I am very pleased by the announcement today from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the intent to gift the Franklin wrecks to Canada. This exceptional gift will allow for the joint ownership of the artifacts by Inuit and Canada, as stipulated in the Nunavut Agreement. We look forward to working with Parks Canada on the future management of the Wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and helping to protect and present these wrecks and artifacts to tell the story where these events took place.
So it is good news all around -- now that these issues are settled, we have every reason to expect much good work, and continued co-operation and respect between Parks Canada and Inuit organizations, will continue througout the many years it will take to learn all these storied vessels have to teach us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Joseph René Bellot

"The death of Bellot" (with thanks to Andrés Paredes for this image)
Among all the storied names of Arctic explorers from the "heroic age," none resonates so widely, and yet (in some parts of the world) is so imperfectly known, as that of Joseph René Bellot. In the search for Sir John Franklin, which attracted support from people of many nations, he became -- in 1851-- the lone active-duty member of of the French navy to volunteer for such service. Although only twenty, Bellot was no stranger to exploration and its hardships; having already participated in French expeditions to Madagascar and South America; as part of his embrace of the rigors of Arctic travel, he permitted himself only one blanket, and a thin mattress atop a bare wooden board.

Passing through the Bellot strait, 2017
He served under William Kennedy during the latter's Franklin search, which covered more than 1,800 kilometers to and from their winter quarters on Batty Bay. Kennedy, for reasons that are still no quite clear, did not seem to fully trust his second; indeed, he went out of his way to prevent Bellot from making independent navigational observations. When the two came upon the strait that bisected Somerset Island from the Boothia Peninsula, Bellot was -- in part as a result of Kennedy's keeping him in the dark -- reluctant to claim it for what it was. So it was that, when Kennedy named the strait after him, Bellot a first felt more concern than pride; what if this vaunted waterway turned out to be as insubstantial as the Croker Mountains?

But it didn't. Indeed, although Leopold McClintock, the first to try to sail through it, was blocked by ice on its western outlet, the Bellot Strait was to become a mainstay of transit between the Eastern and Western Arctic, and is much used to this day; this past August, I passed through its waters three times aboard two different vessels. Because of its strong currents, it needs to be entered at slack tide, and ships often find themselves passing through in company with others. These same current make the strait, effectively a polynya, generally ice-free throughout the year except for that sea-ice that drifts in from one side or the other.

The Forestier memorial to Bellot
Bellot, committed to the cause of finding Franklin, returned almost immediately after his first expedition, serving under Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield. His high personal character and complete devotion to his duty once again drew admiration from all with whom he sailed; no work seemed onerous to him, no mission too risky. It was on one of these -- an attempt to walk over the ice to deliver a communication to Sir Edward Belcher, that Bellot met his end, falling through the ice so quickly that his comrades could find no trace of him save his walking-stick. The area, in Wellington Strait, is notorious for thin ice; one of my shipboard lecturimg colleagues this summer, Christian Haas, noted that it was near this same area in 2015 that two Canadian ice researchers met with a similar fate. It's comforting to think that it could have been just such a patch of treacherously thin ice, rather than some unexpected crack or lead, that took the life of such a skilled and resourceful man.

Beyond the strait itself,  Bellot's name is remembered in many places in the Arctic and beyond. At Beechey Island, a memorial headboard once stood beside those of Franklin's men; when the others were replaced by replicas, none was made for his, on the theory that it might confuse people as to whether he was buried there. This lack has since been made up by Jean-Claude Forestier, who installed a plaque on a nearby cairn in 2012. There is also, at the other side of the island, a plaque to Bellot placed between Lady Franklin's marble slab and Belcher's Cenotaph. In Greenwich, on the grounds of the old Royal Naval Hospital, a granite obelisk to his memory stands facing the Thames. And, perhaps most fiitingly of all, a crater upon Earth's Moon was named after Bellot in 1935; there, in the "Sea of Feritility," it has among its neighbors craters named after his fellow Arctic explorers Crozier and McClure, as well as two named after Ferdinand Magellan.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Port Leopold

The site of the winter encampment of the first major Royal Navy search for Sir John Franklin's expedition, Port Leopold possesses a sense of desolation unlike any other place I've visited in the Arctic. The vast plateau of barren gravel dwarfs even that of Beechey Island, its lone and level plane stretching out toward distant grey cliffs, with only a few signs that living things ever tarried here. The famous rock, carved by the men of HM Ships "Enterprise" and "Investigator" in the latter part of their sojourn there, still stands; nearby, a small and battered HBC outpost is its only company. Built in 1926, it was abandoned in 1927, when (as the HBC record drily notes) it was found to be "too isolated" to carry on a profitable trade. The Inuktitut name for the post, Siqiniq -- the sun -- also seems to mirror that isolation (the HBC post at Arctic Bay was symmetrically known as Taqqiq -- the moon).

The abandoned Hudson's Bay Company post
Indeed, the most lively time ever experienced there was likely that of Ross's encampment with his two ships. Sledge parties were sent forth, exploring the northern and western edges of Somerset Island (not yet known to be an island), and on board the ships, the usual regime of stage-plays, schooling for sailors, and other ship-board occupations continued. Yet even though the crews spent only one winter, their rate of sickness was unusually high, a problem possibly due to the hastily-assembled provisions and equipment. It had been a cold year coming in, and it was a cold year coming out; the Enterprise and Investigator were not released from the ice until the 29th of August. The date on the rock was one that the men had ample time to carve, motivated in part by the hope that no further date would need to be added.

It's not often remarked on, but Ross left behind a store-house full of supplies, should Franklin or his men come that way, said to contain a year's provisions and fuel sufficient for sixty-four persons. Those supplies were never called upon, not does much trace of them remain today, though a slight scattering of barrel-staves and hoops hints that something was there.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Mysteries of Radstock Bay

Scarcely a stone's throw from the much-better-known Franklin sites on Beechey Island, tucked away under the mighty shadow of Caswall's Tower, Radstock Bay is in many ways the area's best-kept secret. In August of 1850, after having been present at the discovery of the lost expedition's winter camp at Beechey Island, Sherard Osborn followed a series of deep sledge-tracks -- apparently made by Franklin's men -- to the southeast and east. One set led in the direction of  Cape Riley, while another headed directly toward the limestone face of the tower. Under its shadow, Osborn came upon a remarkable sight:
Arriving at the margin of a lake, which was only one of a series, and tasted decidedly brackish, though its connection with the sea was not apparent, we found the site of a circular tent, unquestionably that of a shooting-party from the "Erebus" or "Terror." The stones used for keeping down the canvas lay around; three or four large ones, well blackened by smoke, had been the fire-place; a porter-bottle or two, several meat-tins, pieces of paper, birds' feathers, and scraps of the fur of Arctic hares, were strewed about. Eagerly did we run from one object to the other, in the hope of finding some stray note or record, to say whether all had been well with them, and whither they had gone. No, not a line was to be found. 
Osborn was puzzled by the sledge-tracks, which cut as much as three or four inches into the muddy gravel, testimony to their having borne heavy loads. At some points, they veered onto higher ground, "the sledge-parties appeared at last to have preferred taking to the slope of the hills, as being easier travelling than the stony plain."  Why Franklin's men would have chosen such means of conveyance, in the apparent absence of ice or snow (or with so thin a cover of these that the runners cut down to the gravel below) is perhaps the first mystery of the place.

A Franklin-era tin
But there are others. Visiting the site this past August, a mere 167 years later, I found that several of the tins mentioned by Osborn are still visible; near them I also observed many barrel staves and heavy iron barrel-hoops, doubtless from later in the Franklin search era. Most puzzling of all, though, were a series of fragments, some of them quite large, of a boat built using old square copper nails. One long section (seen above) had wooden rubbing-strips affixed, while others showed traces of faded yellow paint. These materials had plainly been there a long time, as the moss had encroached on their borders, but they certainly had not been present in 1850. It's my surmise, though, that these may be parts of Sir John Ross's yacht the "Mary," left at Beechey Island in 1851, and which has been by slow degrees scavenged to such an extent that nothing now remains but her mast and a few broken planks. Why someone would have dragged them to this spot remained unclear, although some graffiti on a nearby plank with the date "1970" suggested that, at least at times, passing parties camped here.

Caswall's Tower
Another question is what happened to the two cairns observed there by Osborn's party. The "brackish lake" -- now named Red Loon Lake -- remains, but I could find no trace of cairns nearby. The archaeologist James Savelle, who worked here in the early 1980's, had reported a cairn built practically in the middle of one of the several Thule-era stone hut ruins at the site, but I could find no sign of it either, though in one of the houses I could see a board or plank that looked to be of the Franklin era. Neither cairn, in any case, had ever been reported to have contained a message, leaving the exact purpose of the encampment there uncertain. The cliffs of Caswall's Tower have seen many expeditions come and go; for a time Ian Stirling had a hut up there from which he made observations to determine at what distance a polar bear could smell a seal's corpse. Ours was just the latest of many visits, but I feel certain that there is more to be learned from the site; next time I'm there, I hope to be able to make a more positive identification of the boat fragments. All the same, I'm sure that won't be the last of the mysteries of Radstock Bay.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fort Ross

Among the more storied spots that I was able to visit during my voyages this past August is surely Fort Ross, whose significance stretches from the Franklin search era to the 1930's and beyond. Not far from here, Francis Leopold McClintock established a camp at a place he dubbed "Depot Bay": it was from here that he crossed over to take on the search on King William Island. The entrance to the Bellot Strait is just around the corner, and he'd hoped to sail on through it -- but alas, even though its strong currents generally keep the Strait ice-free, that year ice on the western side blocked further progress. Still, it was from here that he departed, and here that he returned, just prior to sailing back to England with the news of Franklin's men and the final note found in the cairn at Victory Point.

Patsy Klengenberg [left] with his adopted son aboard Aklavik
The spot remained desolate until 1937. That year, the Hudson's Bay Company, in what was to be its last effort at expansion into the High Arctic, decided to establish a trading post at the site. L. A. Learmonth, the legendary trader (and Franklin searcher) was selected to command the post; he was to take ship aboard the Nascopie from the eastern side, and meet the schooner Aklavik which would arrive from the west, to make a meeting of trade from either end of the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, Learmonth was an impatient man; eager to select the post's site before others had arrived, he and his second left Gjoa Haven early on a motor launch towing a canoe. They ran into engine trouble and ice which obliged them to abandon the launch and make a lengthy portage with the canoe, with the result that they arrived late, with the site for the future fort already selected.

It's hard, though, to imagine that Learmonth could have found a better spot -- the fort sits on a low, flat peninsula of land, tucked away in a modest bay from the last point of land on Somerset Island before the eastern entrance to the Strait. The HBC hoped that the fort could capitalize on new sources of Arctic Fox pelts, but that was not to be -- after a slow decline throughout the 1930's, the price of pelts collapsed with the onset of World War II. What was worse, the site turned out to be extremely difficult to resupply; after failing to reach the fort in 1942, the Nascopie came painfully close in 1943 -- the residents of the fort (which included an Inuit community of 16 people) could see the smoke from her smokestack -- but despite the best efforts of her veteran captain Thomas Smellie, she was forced to retreat without reaching them. The staff at the post, then headed by Bill Heslop, would need to be evacuated, but the R.C.A.F. had no plane available which could manage it. The U.S. Army Air Force volunteered to provide a Douglas C-47 Skytrain (the military's version of the DC-3), and J.F. Stanwell-Fletcher, a former RCMP officer turned U.S. airman, parachuted in with supplies -- the first such jump ever made in Arctic Canada.

Captain Fletcher's real mission was to find and stake out an appropriate airfield, which -- with Inuit guidance -- he managed to do on a lake about ten miles from the post. On November 9th, the plane managed a landing, and Bill and Barbara Heslop were taken aboard while provisions and ammunition for the Inuit were hurled overboard. At the last minute, it was decided that the Heslops' dog, "Hobo," added too much weight to the plane, and he was left behind. The post would eventually be re-manned in 1944, but by 1948 the HBC had decided to close it permanently, bringing to an end their experiment with fur trading in the area. The post warehouse remains -- stocked for those needing emergency supplies -- along with the trader's house, last used by the Canadian Wildlife Service in the 1970's. It's open to the winds today, its former "comfy chair" a mass of rusty springs, its mahogany trim dry and peeling. The workshop which once had stood nearby was taken down and rebuilt at Spence Bay, which was the eventual home for the Inuit there as well. Except, that is, for four of their community killed in an avalanche; their graves still stand on a rise above the fort, offering mute testimony to the end of a time long gone.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Veni, vidi, Beechey

The first time I visited Beechey Island was in April of 2004, as part of the filming of the 2005 NOVA episode "Arctic Passage," I didn't have much time to walk around. The film crew had chartered a helicopter, and as soon as they'd gotten the shots they needed, it was time to head back to Resolute. At the time, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to return -- but now, this past August, I was there three times in the space of two weeks!

It never gets old. What's more, being able to see the island from many different directions and angles, and in all sorts of weather, revealed much more about its variability, its place in light and shadow, its moods if you will. On my first visit, in early August, the entirety of Erebus and Terror Bay was packed with wind-driven ice, which obliged us to arrive on the Union Bay side, separated by the narrow tombolo that yokes it to Devon Island. This, as it happens, was the way it was first visited by those searching for Franklin in 1850; having seen an enormous cairn on the cliff-top, Sherard Osborn trekked up its sloping backside, failing to notice the traces of a camp that lay just around the corner. This latter discovery was made by William Penny's men, who came running back to their ship shouting "Graves, sir! Graves!"

And the graves are yet there, though their headboards have been replaced by modern replicas; having seen them before only amidst the sweep of snow and ice, they looked even lonelier in their vast bleak grey-brown swathe of gravel. Little else remain of the camp, though the stone outlines of what may have been a storehouse and a garden may be seen; the garden apparently was populated by plants brought over from lusher lands nearby. The oblivious optimism of such a gesture well befitted those who, raised on Robinson Crusoe, who dreamed of
Making a garden of the desert wide,

Where Parry conquer'd death, and Franklin died.
On my second visit, scarcely three days later, the wind had shifted, leaving Erebus and Terror Bay entirely free of ice. This time, though, I headed first to the Northumberland House side, which I'd missed on my previous visits. There, remarkably, a few timbers of the old frame still stood, over a dense scatter of barrel-hoops, staves, and rusted cans. One, on examination, proved to bear the stamped markings of "D. Hogarth & Co." of Arberdeen, revealing this to be one of the tins supplied to Belcher's squadron in 1852 (Thanks to Peter Carney and Gina Koellner for the ID). There, also, the mast of Sir John Ross's "Mary" stood mute testimony to his fidelity in seeking after his missing friend, as did the Cenotaph, atop the tilted marble stone dispatched by Lady Franklin in 1855 with one of the expeditions searching for Dr. Kane, but undelivered until McClintock's visit in 1858.

And then, at the end of August -- and the end of such summer as these regions enjoy -- I was there once more, stationed for several hours to interpret at the gravesite as the braver passengers arrived by zodiac. The temperature was just slightly below freezing, but a fresh fall of snow now coated the island, and a constant 30 mph wind rendered my exposed position a chilly one. Leaving on one of the last zodiacs, I turned back toward the sight, knowing full well that this was but the first and mildest harbinger of a winter that would see the entire island plunged into months of darkness and extreme cold. These were Beecheys I could not -- yet, at least -- know, but these graves had already witnessed more than 170 of them.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Community visits

Arriving at Grise Fiord for a Communuty Visit
One part of nearly every Arctic adventure voyage in Canada is a visit to an Inuit community. Many of the passengers I met this past month had never before visited a northern hamlet, and weren't sure exactly what to expect. When I was working with One Ocean, they always gave a pre-visit briefing, beginning with a simple yet vital observation: Entering an Inuit community is much like entering the front door of someone's home -- someone that you are just about to meet for the first time. Under such circumstances, of course, most of us would be courteous and respectful; we wouldn't poke about our host's refrigerator or pick up family photos from the mantelpiece, certainly not without asking first. And yet, unless they're made aware of the nature of their visit, many who are traveling up north might not think twice about taking kids' photographs unasked, staring at people's homes, or wandering through the local cemetery. Thanks in large part to the briefing, the passengers I accompanied all acted appropriately, and made the most of a rare opportunity.

There are a few things nearly every such event involves: a visit to the main buildings (the hamlet's offices, the Co-Op and Northern Store, and perhaps its health center), followed by a stop at the community hall, heritage center, or wherever the cultural performance or sale of local art and crafts is to take place -- it could be, for instance, in the school gym, as it was when we visited Grise Fiord this past August. For the expedition company, there are forms and procedures to follow; typically these will be worked out with the hamlet's Economic Development (ED) officer, and will include the hiring of local guides, payment for performers, and also for any refreshments. As with many cultural encounters, the breaking of bread (or, more often up north, bannock) remains an important symbolic element of creating a sense of social connection. Sometimes, as with our visit to Grise Fiord, traditional Inuit "country" food is included, such as muktuk, which is always a special treat.

And fresh muktuk was available, as it happened because local hunters had harvested several narwhal, which they were still in the process of butchering on the beach. For some passengers, of course, this might be a bit disturbing; a decision was reached to land the zodiacs a little further up the beach, so that it wasn't the first thing the new visitors encountered. Most, when they came to understand the vital importance of traditional foods in Inuit culture, understand and respect their role. Indeed, the relatively low incidence of diabetes (among other health problems) in Grise Fiord is directly linked to that community's greater reliance on traditional, healthier food sources.

Larry Audlaluk
For this visit, we were very fortunate that our time there was guided by Larry Audlaluk, who is not only the town's ED officer but a leading historian, both of his own people and of polar exploration generally. One of the original group of High Arctic Exiles in 1953, Larry took our group up to the monument erected in 2010, which overlooks the town, and faces the direction of its companion sculpture in Resolute Bay. He recounted the many years of privation and desperation experienced by his family and community after the relocation, as well as the long and difficult journey toward making this place their home, and finally letting go of deeply-felt resentment. He pointed out his house in the town from our location, proudly noting that it's "the one with the Canadian flag." Aftward, we visited the site of the town's water supply, and attended a cultural presentation at the school gym. Although it was only a brief visit, I believe that everyone there gained a new understanding of life up north in a small settlement such as this, and a new appreciation for the history of the community.

We all, of course, like to feel sympathy for those who have endured hardship and injustice -- and we all are curious to learn more about each other. With a visit such as this, these two human impulses can begin to grow together -- after all, it's hard to care meaningfully about people you haven't gotten to know.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

To find the hand of Franklin ...

The photo at left was taken on the broad, sloping plateau above Fury Beach -- and yes, of course, it's part of a seal's skeleton, not a man's -- but when I stumbled upon it in the company of a group of fellow voyagers a couple of weeks ago, we laughingly gave it that name. And well we might, as we'd already visited Beechey Island, Sir John Franklin's first winter camp of 1845-46, and paid our respects at the graves of the three crewmen who died there. The phrase was in our ears as well as on our minds: the night before we landed at Fury Beach, we'd all joined together in a rousing chorus of Stan Rogers' immortal "Northwest Passage": "Ah for just one time, I would take the northwest passage / to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea ..." As part of One Ocean's 'Pathways to Franklin' voyage, of course, we were all in a sense seeking Franklin, though also realizing how much time, and tide, and scouring ice had worn down the shores on which he and his men once trod. At Fury Beach, we found a wide scattering of barrel staves and hoops, the last remnants of what had been a substantial cache of supplies offloaded from the wreck of Parry's HMS Fury, which had met its fate there in 1825, too badly damaged by the ice to be repaired. On that occasion, Parry had ordered his men -- including a young midshipman by the name of Francis Crozier -- to offload the supplies and cache them on the beach, should any future Arctic explorer have need of them.

And indeed they did. Returning from their voyage to the Gulf of Boothia in 1829, Sir John and James
"Somerset House"
Clark Ross had abandoned their ship, the Victory, in Victoria Harbor and trudged up the coast of the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island, in hope of rescue. For the winter of 1832-33, they found shelter at Fury Beach, living comfortably off the stores and erecting a modest dwelling of canvas tenting and snow-blocks they dubbed "Somerset House" during which they enjoyed a winter of relative comfort. That next spring, they sailed their small boats up into Lancaster Sound, where they were rescued by a passing whaler -- indeed, the very same ship that had once been Sir John Ross's during his 1819 exploration of Baffin Bay. Grand as that structure appeared in this lithograph of its "Transverse Section" in Ross's book, its mostly ephemeral building materials have left no trace detectable today.

Fragment of food tin at Fury Beach
One of the peculiarities of the Franklin mystery is why Crozier -- who became its commander on the death of Sir John in 1847 -- never sought out Fury Beach for the same reason. He may have thought its stores depleted, but those who revisited the site in the 1850's found that there was still a considerable amount of some stores, such as flour, that was perfectly usable. After all, having placed the original cache, and having Ross's account of his expedition in his shipboard library, he could have readily learned what remained. Ross, though noting that his men had eaten all of tinned meat, gave a tally of "“30 casks of flour, each weighing 504 lbs, and 12 casks of 336 lbs; 11 casks of sugar, each weighing 372 lbs; a few kegs of lime juice, and a large quantity of parsnips, carrots, soups etc." All that's left now, aside from the timbers of the Fury which one can dimly glimpse through the icy water, is a few old bits of wood and metal that can, at most, merely hint at the human presence here at this remote strand.

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.