But who was this officer? Or was he an officer at all? The details are caught up in the web of interconnected, contradictory stories about "Aglooka." In the tale of the meeting at the 'crack in the ice,' there is a mention of exchanging a piece of seal meat for a "knife." Could this knife have been exaggerated in later re-tellings? In the tale of the "Aglooka" who was sheltered for a winter by Too-shoo-art-thariu, this man offered his rifle in thanks, but Too-shoo was reluctant to accept it, not sure how it worked, and so the man offered his "long knife" -- a word that Tookoolito, Hall's interpreter, believed meant "sword" -- along with "nearly everything he had." The first tale is associated with Washington Bay on King William Island, and must date to an earlier time; it's possible that the later tale may be a garbled or slightly fanciful version of the first.
As to the provenance of the sword in the HBC's collections, it was given by an elderly Inuit man to Robert MacFarlane, the chief factor of the Athabasca district in the 1880's. The date, some thirty-odd years after the Franklin expedition, is sufficient for the description of "elderly" to be given to a man in his prime in 1850. Their archival record reads as follows:
HBC 1226 A,B : MILITARY SWORD; 1830s This ornate sword is documented as having been retrieved by Chief Factor Roderick MacFarlane from an Inuit man who claimed that the sword had been presented to him in 1857 by an officer of the Franklin expedition. The letters"W IV" appearing on the blade and hilt refers to King WilliamIV, 1830-1837. "Moore, late, Bicknells & Moore, Old Bond Street,London," have been engraved on the brass ferrule and chape.This last detail has given rise to speculation that the "great officer" might have been Fitzjames, who obtained his Mate's passing certificate (the prerequisite for the rank) in 1834, well within the reign of William IV. But the promotion itself would have to wait on additional service; he came close in 1837, and finally obtained the rank on 26 January 1838, more than six months after the death of William IV. The dates for most others of Sir John Franklin's officers, however, are even further off the mark (Crozier, 1826; Le Vesconte, 1841; Fairholme, 1842; Hodgson, 1842; Irving, 1843). Graham Gore was promoted in 1837, but was then in the Arctic serving with Back; King William died prior to his return. The only other candidate would be Edward Little, whose promotion in December of 1837 is just barely prior to Fitzjames's. It's possible, in these last three cases, to imagine that the officers' swords might have been purchased at a time when blades stamped "William IV" were in stock, and new ones with Queen Victoria's name were not yet available.
The date of "1857" is certainly remarkable as well -- could an officer have survived that long?
And yet what evidence do we have that the sword was presented to the Inuk by its original owner? None at all -- and indeed, given that so much of the officers' silver plate had been distributed to the men, the idea of a sword being passed to a subordinate -- possibly with the idea of bringing it home as a memorial -- has to be considered. The sense of mission in a man who was charged to return the sword to the family of its owner might account for its being retained so late in the time after the ships were abandoned -- and yet again, why would such a man suddenly give the sword away? Was it in the hope that the Inuk might return it himself someday? Lastly, we have to consider the possibility that the sword was never given at all, but simply taken from a dead body or a cache, traded from hand to hand, and eventually returned with the statement that it was from one of Franklin's officers.
As with so many other elements of the Franklin mystery, this sword -- which at first presents itself as a brilliantly specific piece of evidence -- turns out to be of uncertain provenance and significance, save in the way it has fired the imagination of those who seek answers to the many enigmas surrounding the expedition's disappearance.