Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shackleton Autumn School

A week from now, I'll be heading to Athy in County Kildare, Ireland for the ninth annual Shackleton Autumn School. Although primarily a forum for discussion about Shackleton and other Antarctic explorers, this year's gathering will also include a number of talks and papers, my own included, dealing with Sir John Franklin's last expedition. Among the speakers will be Andrew Lambert, author of the new Franklin biography, as well as Lady Marie Herbert, who will speak on "The Way of the Explorer." On the Sunday of the conference, Dr Huw Lewis-Jones and I will be presenting a selection of rare and early Arctic and Antarctic films, including never-before-seen footage that Kenn Harper and I recently unearthed at the Smithsonian Institution. The "other pole" will not be neglected; speakers on Shackleton will include David Wilson and Michael Rosove, and Hans Kjell Larsen will speak on "Captain C.A. Larsen, Antarctic Pioneer." This will be my first time at this annual event, and I'm looking forward to the warm spirit of collegiality that everyone says is the hallmark of this modest but lively gathering.

My own talk is entitled "'Those Wrecked or Stranded Ships': Unresolved aspects of the Franklin Expedition." In it, I hope to outline some of the areas of the Franklin mystery which still hold the allure of latter-day searchers. In particular, I'll be looking at the "amateur" searchers, in the very best sense of that word: those who pursue new angles on the Franklin story purely and simply out of love for the subject. When you think about it, is is the work of such searchers -- from Charles Francis Hall to David C. Woodman -- which has, in the century and a half since McClintock's discoveries, done the most to advance our knowledge and understanding of the ultimate causes of the collapse of this expedition, and the final fate of its officers and men.

After the Shackleton event, I'll be in London; as many of you who follow this blog may have heard, Robert Grenier, chief archaeologist for Parks Canada, is to give a talk at the National Maritime Museum on the status of his Franklin search. Although suspended this past summer, Grenier's search is funded for a third season, and I know that Franklinites the world over are curious to hear of his progress, as well as his plans for next year's search. I hope to blog about his talk as well, and perhaps include some photos of Franklin-related sights in Greenwich and London. I hope you'll all continue to follow the blog; there is much afoot in the world of Franklin, and I hope to soon have news of new searches, new finds, and new theories which will add some remarkable new chapters to the history of the search for those "wrecked or stranded ships."


  1. You will be made most welcome on your trip to County Kildare,when i was about 14 my parents took me there,I still remember it,you will enjoy i assure you,looking forward to how the Shackleton and the National Maritime meetings go.

  2. Will your paper be available online or in print? This sounds very interesting.

    We still lack basic facts. Where and in what year did the last survivors perish? Why has no note been found at Beechy Island? The list goes on and on.

  3. Bill -- many thanks for your good wishes -- I have been to Ireland many times, but not before to Co. Kildare; I look forward to it greatly.

    Chris, agree wholeheartedly. My talk will be delivered mostly from memory, but I'll be happy to send you a version of it once I've given it. After many years of reading papers at conferences, I've decided that, when you know the material, it's best to improvise a bit and tailor your remarks to the moment!

  4. The Films sound intersting. Hopefully you will blog about their contents.

    I wonder if there will be anything about Peary getting to the pole? I myself lean towards him making it, but the doubters then or now are not being simply obtuse in doubting it.

    Regarding Franklin. I think it most probable that all the crew was dead by the winter of 1848 / 49. However it is possible that a few survived longer maybe even a few years. It does appear that unless some finds are made, documents etc., that we will never know.

    Since in few years will be the 100th anniversary of Ammudsen's arrival at the South Pole, I wonder if we will see any analysis of the denigration of Ammudsen's feat and the glorification of Scott that still persists in some quarters. Certainly several books recently have served megadoses of excuse mongering for Scott. Sorry but in my opinion compared to Ammudsen Scott comes across as a rank amateur.

    As for Franklin ships certainly plenty of room for speculation about where they are now.

  5. Break a leg Russell - wish I was going too. Say hello to Robert from me and dig as much detail out of him as you can about next year (he likes Cognac). Will look forward to the text of your speech and a report on others' work.