Monday, June 28, 2010

Expanded 2010 search for Arctic Ships

Thanks to Kenn Harper (who sent me a link to the story) and Randy Boswell, whose reporting on this issue has always been a great source of updates on the Franklin search, I can report that Parks Canada -- in addition to the continued search for the "Erebus" and "Terror" under the direction of Robert Grenier -- is also planning a summer search for the remains of Robert McClure's HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay.

This story, reported via the CanWest news service, and available at the site of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, indicates that Marc-Andre Bernier, who like Grenier is an underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, is hoping to use side-scan sonar to locate the remains of the Investigator in Mercy Bay; there will also be archaeological excavations along the bay's edge, near the site where McClure cached supplies in 1853.

The project will not, according to Bernier, have any impact upon the search for Franklin's ships, which is still planned for "late August." Although the article doesn't say so, I expect that this is because the search for McClure's ship will be conducted from atop the bay ice, drilling and dropping sonar booms, whereas the Franklin search is apparently still counting on open water to conduct its search from aboard a research vessel.

Certainly, it would be of great value to be able to get some visual images of the Investigator, if for no other reason to ascertain the state of the copper sheathing of its hull. This sheathing had already been significantly damaged by the ice before abandonment (McClure reported that it was hanging in ribbons from the sides), but also because there was said to have been significant recovery of this copper by the Inuit. If indeed a substantial proportion of the copper is missing, this would confirm that Inuit did come into possession of this prized resource, and might correlate with the finds of copper in the region, some pieces of which bore the "broad arrow" of the Royal Navy. I'll certainly pass along anything further I can learn about this exciting development.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Halkett Boat

One of the lesser-known aspects of both the Franklin Expedition of 1845 and those who searched for it in the ensuing decade and a half was their use of the Halkett inflatable boat. Just today, I saw that the current featured article on the Wikipedia is a quite thorough and informative one about the Halkett Boat, and wanted to bring it to the attention of everyone here.

The Halkett boat was the brain-child of Peter Halkett, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. It was singular not only for its use of waterproofed rubberized cloth to make an easily portable inflatable boat, but for design features which rendered it especially valuable for use on expeditions where both land and water travel might be rendered necessary by conditions such as drifting ice, open leads in the water, or difficult portages. He even developed a version of the boat which could be disassembled and worn as clothing -- this is the type shown here. The sail doubled as an umbrella, and the oars as walking sticks; the boat itself could be disassembled and "worn" as waterproof clothing by two men.

The design earned early praise from Sir John Richardson, who was likely the one who recommended it for Franklin's use. The design had only just been finalized, with Halkett having tested it on the Thames in 1844. The boat brought by Franklin was not, technically speaking, an officially-supplied item, but Halkett was eager to hear how it might perform in the Arctic, and Franklin was willing to give it a try.

Remarkably, there is a body of Inuit testimony which confirms the use of a Halkett boat; their description of it is accurate enough that there can be little doubt they saw one in use:
"[Aglooka had with him] a boat that had places on the sides that would hold wind ... with hollow places in the sides for wind (air) to hold it up when in the water ... There were sticks or holes for this boat, to keep it open (spread) when needed. This small boat was wrapped or rolled up in a bundle or pack, and carried on the shoulder of one of his men" (qtd. in Woodman, Unravelling the Franklin Mystery, p.309).
Unfortunately, since John Rae's and James Anderson's parties were also equipped with Halkett boats, and Rae was also known as "Aglooka," it's very difficult to determine with certainty whether or not this Inuit account refers to Franklin's men. It's widely assumed that some of those who crossed Simpson's strait did so in a Halkett boat, though accounts of an overturned whaleboat on the mainland side suggest this is not the only viable explanation.

But for more on this remarkable invention, I can only recommend the Wikipedia entry, which is far more detailed and better illustrated than anything I have seen in printed sources.