Friday, August 8, 2014

Another record of McClintock's findings

It's known that, in addition to the Victory Point record with its sombre postscript, there was at least one other copy of a note with the same original message. Much to everyone's surprise, there recently surfaced another full copy of the Victory Point record, along with notes of the objects found at Crozier's Landing, the "Boat Place," and the body next to which the "Peglar" papers were found. It was sold at auction in July, and certainly presents a unique historical perspective on Hobson's, and McClintock's discoveries.

It was made by Richard Shingleton, the officers' steward aboard the "Fox," who was thus present at the moment the original record was brought back to the ship. Mr. Shingleton took, perhaps, a more inquisitive and active interest in the business of the expedition than most men in his situation; among the artifacts he brought back was a Snow Bunting nest with three eggs, now in the collection of Norfolk Museums. He will also be known to those who have read Bill Barr's Arctic Hell-Ship, for he was the gunroom steward aboard HMS Enterprise as well, and his private journal was one of Barr's sources for his reconstruction of Collinson's chaotic command. It would seem from this image that Shingleton's penmanship was quite good, and his copy accurate; there are no substantive variations, although he does write "Back's Great Fish River" where the VP record has simply "Back's fish river."

The second leaf of the document lists the artifacts found "at the spot where they landed," at the later "Boat place," and a brief account of the "Peglar" body: "Found in Simpson's Straits, the skeleton of a man and near him a pocketbook, brush & comb, and half a sovereign."

The copy may have been made for personal purposes -- or perhaps simply to help ensure that, should the original be lost, there was another chance for the information to survive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Honoring Dr. John Rae

Stromness Museum
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 has not been placed 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.

Now, at last, Dr. Rae is to be honored by a plaque in Westminster Abbey, where there has long been a memorial to Franklin, and where -- ironically enough -- Charles Dickens is interred. I should like to listen in on the lively conversation of those three ghosts! The campaign for a plaque for Rae, which has been led by Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, has won the agreement of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for a plaque to be placed; the John Rae Society is presently seeking funds to pay for the plaque in time for a September 30th dedication, which would be Rae's 201st birthday. I urgently ask that anyone who is a regular reader of this blog consider a contribution, however modest, to this fund. By honoring Rae we honor many -- including the countless Scots who so often served with high distinction in the Arctic. And, at the same time, we honor the spirit of friendship that was so strong between Rae and the Inuit among whom he lived and worked.

There is more to be done, of course. The John Rae Society is seeking begin work to stabilse and eventually restore the Hall of Clestrain, Rae's birthplace and ancestral home. A membership in the Society will support this 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.

Today, too, marks another anniversary -- that of Dr. Rae's death on 22 July, 1893. Andrew Appleby, the head of the Society, has shared with me an account of their marking of this occasion. It was simple ceremony of remembrance, with a piper and the laying of a wreath; a few words about Rae's life and career were spoken by Mr Appleby, words echoed by Rev. Fraser McNaughton, Minister of St Magnus Cathedral.

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, June 26, 2014

2014 Franklin search

Everyone has heard the news -- this time, there was no need to use Vessel Finder maps to seek out the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, or to sift through online rumors: the government announced it in advance. Perhaps significantly, this time the press release came from an Inuk, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, whose surname recalls the name given by the Inuit to Francis Crozier, Franklin's second-in-command, usually transcribed in 19th-century documents as "Aglooka."

Still, despite this auspicious association, one wonders: what will be different about the 2014 search for Franklin? I was pleased (and somewhat bemused) to see that it seems as though this year the plan has incorporated a number of things that I've repeatedly argued for in this blog: 1) A larger number of support vessels; 2) Significant public-private partnerships; and 3) Use of relevant satellite and other remote imaging technology. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that this is largest and most ambitious single-season search for Franklin's vessels since the early 1850's. According to the press release, not only will it involve the Laurier, along with the venerable scow Martin Bergmann, but the warship HMCS Kingston, a 55-meter long vessel with side-scan sonar capabilities, along with the "One Ocean Voyager," a.k.a. the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a still larger ship originally outfitted as a research vessel, but more recently chartered by One Ocean Expeditions as a passenger ship taking a mix of researchers and "extreme tourists" to the polar regions. It's not every ice-strengthened vessel that can boast a formal dining room, a fitness center, a bar, a library, and a lounge, all conveniently accessible by elevator! It's not clear, though, whether the Vavilov will be actively participating (launching, as it is capable of doing, Zodiacs or submersibles) or serving more as a floating platform for those who wish to share in the adventure. The Parks Canada launches (Kinglett and Gannet) will be there as well, along with their research vessel Investigator -- all in all, more personnel, more tonnage, and more equipment than has ever before been dedicated to the search.

We're also fortunate that, this year, we've been told something about the search area, as the very name  indicates: the Victoria Strait. This is, when not filled with old ice, a quite large body of water (see map above) and so the specificity conferred by the name is limited. Earlier searches seem to have taken place near the Royal Geographical Society Islands (visible at the lower right of this map), so in a sense this is an extended search of an area already identified in past seasons. But is it the right place to look?

Not to go into too many tedious details, we have some good information about Franklin's ships, both from the Victory Point Record and Inuit testimony. We don't know which is which, but either the Erebus or the Terror was apparently crushed in the ice within visual distance of the coast of King William Island. The second vessel, either drifting or re-piloted, succeeded in getting further south, where it sank, according to the Inuit, near an island where the water was shallow enough that its masts were still visible; this is the wreck sought years ago by David C. Woodman and others in the Vicinity of "Utjulik" -- with several islands, such as O'Reilly Island, off the western shores of the Adelaide peninsula among their key targets.  So it's safe to say that, if they're looking in the Victoria Strait, it would be this first vessel that Parks Canada would be seeking. Although crushed by the ice, it may -- as was the HMS Breadalbane -- still be reasonably well-preserved, particularly if it sank in deeper water untouched by passing ice, which annually scours on the sea-floor in shallower areas. If not so lucky, it may have been reduced long ago to more of a débris field than a ship. Despite this, the ship's engine -- Erebus and Terror used two re-purposed railway engines -- would likely be intact, and would serve to identify the vessel immediately (the two engines were of different designs).

Is it a perfect search? None could be. I always wish that some land-based archaeological work will be done, but the odds of that seem low this time -- and no one who's really tried to puzzle out all the surviving evidence -- Inuit testimony, physical relics, ice cores climate histories, and the reports of nineteenth-century searchers should be sanguine about any plan. Still, I hold out some hope that this year, if ice conditions and weather allow, a good deal more progress will be made -- even if it turns out to be simply establishing where Franklin's ships are not. And, whatever the political hoopla, I still put some confidence in the extraordinarily persistent, careful, and well-trained teams at Parks Canada; everyone who cares about Franklin, whatever their politics, should wish them well.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Essential Franklin Bookshelf (repost)

Recent Facebook discussions, along with a goodly percentage of my daily e-mail, center around which books about Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition are the ones that an interested reader should begin with, and which are essential to further study. There are hundreds of possible candidates, and although little new has been learned about Franklin's fate over the past decade or so, that hasn't stopped new books from coming. And so I hope it will be useful for me to name the best of these books, in an informal manner -- I have no prizes or medals to hand out! -- in the hopes that those who are bitten, as I have been, by the Franklin "bug" will find what they need to steer themselves in the right direction.  And, having thought long and hard about the question, it seems to me that there are eight books -- just eight -- that I would wholeheartedly recommend.  Not all are easy to find, but every single one is worth the price of admission.  I give them here in the order in which I hope they might ideally be read, though knowing that the accidents of discovery may or may not correspond with such an ideal sequence.

First and foremost, anyone who cares at all about Franklin should get hold of the Arctic Press's facsimile edition of Richard Cyriax's study.  Was Cyriax an apologist for the Royal Navy? Are some of his conclusions mere 'conventional wisdom' that ought to be questioned?  Yes, surely, but his careful and meticulous study is filled with essential information, without which no meaningful speculation, and no sensible opposition to conventional wisdoms, can be made.

Secondly, I would recommend Roderic Owen's The Fate of Franklin.  Owen was a Franklin collateral descendant, and spent time with all kinds of sources which would be difficult, even in this Internet age, to pull together. The depth and breadth of his study make it worthwhile, despite a few minor errors and an annoying habit of not giving complete sources.

Third, I believe that David C. Woodman's Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony remains by far the most significant assessment of the Inuit accounts, which provide the best hope we will ever have of learning where to look, and what to look for.  Some of Woodman's ideas have evolved, and his second book Strangers Among Us would also be a worthy purchase, but without Unravelling there is little one could hope to do to truly understand the scope of Franklin searches, then or now.

Fourth, Dorothy Eber's Encounters on the Passage: The Inuit Meet the Explorers, is a very important supplement to Woodman's work.  It is remarkable to see how long the oral tradition endured, and Eber is an expert guide to a broader understanding of how such traditions work.

Fifth, I can't help but recommend Ken McGoogan's Fatal Passage.  McGoogan has an axe to grind, and whether or not one agrees with his assessment of Rae, there is not better tonic for a person suffering from what I like to call "Franklinitis" than to have one's views cast suddenly and energetically into the kind of sharp argumentative relief provided by this landmark book.

Sixth, of course, would be Beattie and Geiger's Frozen in Time or its reprints.  Despite the limits of what their studies disclose -- after all, the three graves on Beechey are too early to tell us much about the last days of Franklin's men -- but theirs is, without question, the most dramatic and vivid investigation into the Franklin expedition ever made.  No one who has looked into the eyes of John Torrington will ever forget the experience.

Seventh, my late friend Chauncey Loomis's Weird and Tragic Shores gives us the most memorable portrait we are ever likely to have of the method and the madness of the greatest of Franklin searchers, Charles Francis Hall of Ohio.

Eighth, and last, I cannot recommend John Wilson's biography of Sir John Franklin too highly.  It was written as a YA (Young Adult) book, but it is by far more eloquent, more captivating, and more succinct than any of the several recent "adult" Franklin biographies to be issued.  It's an excellent final course in a Franklin meal, and one which aptly pulls together the whole picture of the man.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Arctic Affair

With the release on BluRay and DVD of Ralph Fiennes' film The Invisible Woman, based on the affair between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan, my thoughts drift back to the amateur theatricals, staged by Dickens and his protégé Wilkie Collins, which led -- unintentionally -- to their meeting. The first, Collins's "The Lighthouse," was a modest success before private audiences, but it was to be the next Collins/Dickens project, "The Frozen Deep," a melodrama about ill-starred Arctic explorers loosely based on the Franklin expedition, that brought Ternan -- hired when the play moved on to  public benefit performances in Manchester -- and Dickens together. How I would love to see the backdrop that Stanfield painted for that play -- but it, alas has gone missing. You can, however, see a view of the original private production, which was engraved in the Illustrated London News.

Dickens, as I've written about at length in my book Arctic Spectacles, was fascinated with Arctic exploration, following every detail of the search for Sir John Franklin and his men, and endearing himself to his wife Lady Jane Franklin by defending her husband's reputation in the press. He was obsessed with some of the darker themes of Arctic endeavors -- isolation, madness, and even cannibalism (see Harry Stone's magisterial The Night Side of Dickens for more on those). He took an active hand in Collins's plans for "The Frozen Deep," revising many parts of the script and managing all the stage scenery (which was made not only by Stanfield, but also by William Telbin, famous for his panorama of the "Overland Mail to India"). And, perhaps more importantly, he cast himself in the central role of Wardour, a Heathcliffian figure (another reason Fiennes should be perfect for this role) who agonizingly finds himself paired on an Arctic voyage with his more polished, gentlemanly rival for the great love of his life.

The play was a tremendous hit; Queen Victoria asked for (and received) a command performance for her and her family, and the benefit performances in Manchester reduced not only the audiences, but the cast members and stage-hands, to tears. And yet, despite many attempts at revival, "The Frozen Deep"never regained its original fame, although Collins made a narrative version a central part of his lecture tours in later years.  Dickens, feeling his amateur actresses might not be able to project effectively at the Free Trade Hall where the Manchester performances were staged, hired professional actresses -- among them Ellen Ternan, with whom he fell deeply in love. He left his wife Catherine, and spent the last thirteen years of his life with Ternan, taking care to hide their relationship from the public (see Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman, on which the film is based).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Before Nanook" at the Velaslavasay Panorama

This coming Saturday, May 10th, I'll be joining my old Arctic friend and fellow-researcher Kenn Harper to give a talk on films of Arctic subjects made before 1922, the year that Nanook of the North, for better or worse, re-wrote people's ideas of why the "Frozen North" looked like. We'll be giving our talk at the fabulous Velaslavasay Panorama, home to the first and only genuine Arctic panorama of the twenty-first century, "Effulgence of the North," here in Los Angeles, California.

One might think that there weren't any significant Arctic films in the early silent era -- but then, one would be wrong. In my own research, I've documented over 100 of them, an astonishing figure even when one considers that, in the earliest days of the silents, 50 feet was the standard length of a film. By 1910, a typical feature took up an entire reel of film, about 1,000 feet or so (12-15 minutes, depending on the speed of the projection), and it was in this period that some of the most unusual Arctic features were made. Many people, for instance, hold the mistaken belief that Zach Kunuk's Atanarjuat (2001) was the Inuit-cast, Inuit-written film -- but in fact that honor belongs to "The Way of the Eskimo," produced by the Selig Polyscope Company 90 years earlier, starring and written by Nancy Columbia, whom Kenn has aptly dubbed "The Most Famous Inuk in the World" of her time.

Our presentation at the Velaslavasay will include stills and production shots from this film, as well as actual footage from several other films in which Nancy Columbia appeared -- ironically, though "The Way of the Eskimo" is not known to survive, most of her other roles were as "Indians," not Inuit. She and her family appeared in at least nineteen films between 1901 and 1920, and our talk will cover what we know about most of them, along with a look at the dramatic genre, the "Northern" -- which, had things gone a little differently, might have outlasted the "Western" in popularity.

The event on the 10th is at 8:00 p.m. -- tickets are $13, and can be ordered online at the Brown Paper Tickets website. If you're in the LA area, I hope to see you there!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Boat

It's probably the best-known symbol of the failure of the Franklin expedition -- the whaleboat, loaded with all manner of material that added to the weight of the boat, drawn upon an enormous sledge with iron runners -- which some party of survivors dragged to their doom. McClintock described this "melancholy relic" in great detail:
"A large boat, measuring 28 ft. in extreme length, 7ft. 3 in. in breadth, 2 ft. 4 in. in depth. The markings on her stem were —" XXI. W. Con. N61., Apr. 184." It appears that the fore part of the stem has been cut away, probably to reduce weight, and part of the letters and figures removed. An oak sledge under the boat, 23 ft. 4 in. long, and 2 ft. wide; 6 paddles, about 60 fathoms of deep-sea lead line, ammunition, 4 cakes of navy chocolate, shoemaker's box with implements complete, small quantities of tobacco, a small pair of very stout shooting boots, a pair of very heavy iron-shod knee boots, carpet boots, sea boots and shoes—in all seven or eight pairs; two rolls of sheet lead, elm tingles for repairing the boat, nails of various sizes for boat, and sledge irons, three small axes, a broken saw, leather cover of a sextant case, a chaincable punch, silk handkerchiefs (black, white, and coloured), towels, sponge, tooth-brush, hair comb, a macintosh, gun cover (marked in paint "A.12"), twine, files, knives; a small worsted-work slipper, lined with calfskin, bound with red riband; a great quantity of clothing, and a wolfskin robe; part of a boat's sail of No. 8 canvas, whale-line rope with yellow mark, and white line with red mark; 24 iron stanchions, 9 inches high, for supporting a weather cloth round the boat; a stanchion for supporting a ridge pole at a height of 3 ft. 9 inches above the gunwale."
But that was far from all. Most poignant, perhaps, were the books -- those chosen from the shipboard library as worthy of hauling onwards -- and the silver plate, originally that of the officers, which had apparently been distributed to the sailors:
Five or six small books were found, all of them scriptural or devotional works, except the Vicar of Wakefield. One little book, Christian Melodies, bore an inscription upon the title-page from the donor to G. G. (Graham Gore). A small Bible contained numerous marginal notes, and whole passages underlined. Besides these books, the covers of a New Testament and Prayer-book were also found.
And, scattered amidst the rest, a flood of miscellaneous items:
"Amongst an amazing quantity of clothing there were seven or eight pairs of boots of various kinds—cloth winter boots, sea boots, heavy ankle boots, and strong shoes. I noted that there were silk handkerchiefs—black, white, and figured—towels, soap, sponge, tooth-brush, and hair-combs; Mackintosh gun-cover, marked outside with paint A 12, and lined with black cloth. Besides these articles we found twine, nails, saws, files, bristles, waxends, sail-makers' palms, powder, bullets, shot, cartridges, wads, leather cartridge-case, knives—clasp and dinner ones, needle and thread cases, slowmatch, several bayonet scabbards, cut down into knife sheaths, two rolls of sheet-lead, and, in short, a quantity of articles of one description and another truly astonishing in variety, and such as, for the most part, modern sledge travellers in these regions would consider a mere accumulation of dead weight, of little use, and very likely to break down the strength of the sledge crews. The only provisions we could find were tea and chocolate; of the former very little remained, but there were nearly 40 lbs. of the latter. These articles alone could never support life in such a climate, and we found neither biscuit nor meat of any kind. A portion of tobacco, and an empty pemmican tin, capable of containing 22 lbs. weight, were discovered. The tin was marked with an E; it had probably belonged to the 'Erebus.'" (italics mine)
The sheer quantity of material spoke of men, who, in their last necessity, had been unwilling to part with personal items or material that would be of little practical use on land. And then, as McClintock wrote,
"All these were after observations; there was that in the boat which transfixed us with awe. It was portions of two human skeletons. One was that of a slight young person, the other of a large, strongly-made middle-aged man. The former was found in the bow of the boat, but in too much disturbed a state to allow Hobson (McClintok's lieutenant, who'd found the boat first) to judge whether the sufferer had died there; large and powerful animals, probably wolves, had destroyed much of the skeleton, which may have been that of an officer ... the other skeleton was in a somewhat more perfect state, and was enveloped with clothes and furs; it lay across the boat, under the after-thwart."
In a footnote, McClintock notes that -- contrary to period engravings such as the one above -- "No part of the skull of either skeleton was found, with the exception of the lower jaw of each."

Today, the enigma of this boat -- why it was pointed back toward the ships and not to the Fish River, why it was so overloaded with useless materials, and who its last defenders had been -- is one of the most fascinating puzzles of the larger Franklin mystery. One can, though, thanks to the National Maritime Museum, search one's self and find nearly all of the relics described above.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Franklin Cards

I've written before about the marvelous creations of graphic artist Ron Toelke -- his miniature can of Goldner's Ox-Cheek soup, and the portrait series "Sorrower on the Sea of Doubt," based on Richard Beard's haunting portraits made on the eve of Sir John Franklin's departure for the Arctic in May of 1845. Toelke has a gift for combining graphical elements taken from period books and newspapers with shapes and forms that give these images a figurative -- and sometimes literal -- third dimension of sorts. They are as delightful to the hand as they are to the eye, and this has never been more so than with his latest undertaking, the "Playing Cards of Conjecture and Speculation" featuring texts and images from Franklin's expedition.

The cards come in a box, as shown above, which includes a small side-compartment featuring Arrowsmith's charts of the area of the central Arctic into which Franklin was sailing; Franklin's directions from the Lords of the Admiralty are also included on a folded paper. The cards themselves are  drawn from several sources; the court cards depict Franklin and his men, based on Beard's Daguerreotypes; the number cards contain excerpts from an 1852 book entitled "Sir John Franklin and the Arctic Regions: With Detailed Notices of the Expeditions in Search of the Missing Vessels Under Sir John Franklin, by P.L. Simmonds, Many Years' Editor of the Colonial Magazine, etc. etc. To Which is Added and account of the American Expedition Under the Patronage of Henry Grinnell, Esq." This volume, the work of one Peter Lund Simmonds, a prolific author whose works included
The Curiosities of Food, Hops, their Cultivation and Use, and Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances, was an ambitious digest of the Franklin search to date, published to coincide with the news brought back by the first Grinnell expedition. The section of the book from which Mr. Toelke took his texts is aptly entitled "Opinions and Suggestions." Speculation about Franklin's fate was rampant then -- and indeed, it is rampant still; the title of this set evokes the card game known as "Speculation," which was popular in Jane Austen's day. One could, if one chose, aptly play that game with these cards, with the added feature that every card discloses another detail or conjecture about the disposition of Franklin's men.

N.B. Although Simmond's 1852 book doesn't appear to be available online, a revised and updated version, published to coincide with the British Arctic expedition of George Strong Nares, is available at archive.org.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Itqilit

There's been plenty of speculation -- and disagreement -- over the possible role of internecine conflict among Inuit bands in the fate of the Franklin expedition. There certainly does seem to be evidence that, by the early 1860's if not somewhat earlier, a particular band of Netsilingmiut were acting aggressively toward neighboring bands, scaring away many members of (for instance) the Utjulingmiut, and raising such fear that Hall's guide Ebierbing at first refused to conduct him further into the more westerly areas. This hostility may well have originated, I suspect, with the conflict over the enormous wealth that even a single Franklin vessel would have represented to the Inuit, in terms of metal, wood, and other useful items.

But there is another possibility: conflict between Inuit and the more southerly sub-Arctic tribes that they called the "Itqilit" (a word Hall mis-transcribed many ways, most often as "Et-ker-lin"). The animosity between Inuit and their southerly sub-Arctic neighbors was of great age and well-known -- Hearne witnessed an example of it firsthand at the Bloody Falls -- and pervasive. It's also possible the these sub-Arctic tribes had conflicts with some of Franklin's men who wandered into their hunting areas; indeed, there are a several stories in Nourse's edition of Hall's second expedition narrative in which Inuit described an attack on Franklin's men by "Et-ker-lin." In one story, "Aglooka" is said to have gotten a cut on his face during such an attack. These stories are somewhat vague, and are tied up with the problematic second-hand evidence offered via "the cousin" (Too-shoo-art-thariu) so I'm not sure how much faith can be put in them -- but still, they are suggestive. There's even an account, written by Hall at the end of his second expedition, which suggests that he believed that the last two survivors -- "Aglooka" and one other man -- may have been murdered while trekking down the western shores of Hudson's bay by Et-ker-lin. Could Franklin survivors have been mistaken for Inuit by hostile neighbors? David Woodman has shown that it's quite possible that small  groups of Franklin's men were mistaken for Itqilit by Inuit; certainly the reverse is possible.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to search for Franklin

In the wake of the disappointing results of this year's Park's Canada search for traces of Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition, it seems timely to reflect on how this effort has been directed over the past several years, whether it's worth continuing, and how it might be done better. None of this is meant to reflect badly on Parks Canada, whose team, led on Ryan Harris, did exemplary work scanning the sea-bed and covered a larger area than in any previous year. The land search, alas, co-ordinated by Doug Stenton and the Nunavut government, was far less effectual; this time, we didn't even find a toothbrush, only a couple of scraps of cloth and an Inuit cache of metal pieces; instead of searching significant, known sites that haven't been examined before, they looked again at Erebus Bay, probably the most combed-over area on King William Island.

Some have argued that all this searching is just a colossal waste of public funds, a search for quite possibly long-destroyed shipwrecks that takes resources away from where the Inuit and other people in Canada's north most need them -- for housing, healthcare, drug treatment, education, and other areas. Others have argued that, though worthwhile, the search would be far better conducted by private parties rather than by the government. The internal kickbacks between Parks Canada and the CBC certainly didn't help matters.

So I thought I'd outline a few ways that next year's search -- if there is one -- could be made more likely to succeed, performed at a lower cost, and take fewer resources from either Federal Canadian agencies or the budget of the Government of Nunavut.

1) The search for the ships, if continued, can and should be conducted by private parties working in co-ordination with Parks Canada. There have been a number of outfits who have proposed their own side-scan sonar searches in the past, many of whom have had their permits denied. The search for the ships is a matter of covering a larger area; more scans mean more area covered and more chances of success. It would not be difficult to co-ordinate searches, and having just one additional private support vessel, and boats to tow the sonar, would immediately double the area that could be covered in a season.

2) The land search should be concentrated on yet-unsearched areas known to contain human and other remains. The graves near the Todd Islets have been known about for decades, and Gjoa Haven resident Louie Kamookak has taken numerous parties to see them. They are likely the remains of the very last survivors of one party of Franklin's men, and may contain other kinds of artifacts  that would give us clues as to the expedition's final fate. This is a land site easily suppoted by skidoo or ATV from Gjoa Haven, and one very likely to produce valuable finds.

3) Satellite telemetry should be explored as an avenue for narrowing the search area. There are satellites today which can map underwater features, and with ice in retreat, even a high-resolution visual spectrum scan could reveal valuable clues. The cost of obtaining this data would be far less that simply methodically tracking back-and-forth over the whole search area; it could identify potential targets or help eliminate some area.

4) Involve not just archaeologists, not just government staff, but other experts on Franklin's expedition in the search. Dave Woodman should be invited to participate, and there should be Inuit elders and historians from the area as well. I can't think of a better outcome than that of a significant find being made by a team that included Inuit and qallunaat searchers.

5) Instead of spending vast sums of government money, use the limited resources available to speed up and assist with the permitting process. Right now, Doug Stenton routinely turns down requests for private searches based solely on their lack of having accredited archaeological staff on the team; why not instead help arrange for such archaeologists to join the team? Offer ground support and other services through local Inuit hamlets? Welcome rather than reject private searchers? All could be required to report any findings and secure significant discoveries for a government team to examine further.

I don't know if any of these suggestions will be pursued -- experience suggests that they won't -- but if they aren't, the search for Franklin's fate is in all probability going to take longer. And if it stretches on for too many more years, the public support and interest are almost sure to wane.