Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Photo by Russell Potter © 2008
One hundred and thirty-eight years ago today, in her home in the town of Groton, Connecticut, Tookoolito ("Hannah"), one of the greatest of Inuit guides and translators, died at the sadly young age of thirty-eight years. She was predeceased by her infant sons Tarralikitaq ("butterfly") and "King William," as well as her adopted daughter Panik (known affectionately as "Punny"). Her husband, "Joe" Ebierbing's name is also on this stone -- but, borrowing Tennyson's line on Franklin's cenotaph, Joe is "not here" -- he died some years later in the Arctic under mysterious circumstances, having returned there as a guide for the American explorer Frederick Schwatka.

Hers was an adventurous life. In 1853, she and "Joe" and a unrelated young boy, Akulukjuk, were brought to England by a whaling captain by the name of Bowlby, where they were exhibited at several locations, and even brought to Windsor Castle, where they took tea with Queen Victoria. Tookoolito's talent for languages enabled her to learn English with a remarkable degree of fluency; what she had picked up in England she developed further through converse with the whalers. Ebierbing, the quieter of the two, could get along tolerably in English, but distinguished himself more as a guide and hunter.  Hall was introduced to them aboard ship; while he was quite taken by them both, it was Tookoolito who made the strongest impression; as Hall noted in his journal, “I could not help admiring the exceeding gracefulness and modesty of her demeanor. Simple and gentle in her way, there was a degree of calm intellectual power about her that more and more astonished me.”

Tookoolito and Ebierbing endured much with Hall, accompanying him on his extensive Arctic searches for traces of Franklin's men, and appearing with him in at his lectures in the United States, as well as at Barnum's American Museum and Boston's Aquarial Gardens, where they were exhibited as curiosities; the death of their first child may have been in part a result of these frequent public appearances. On the Polaris Expedition, they faced an even sterner test, as Hall was poisoned by one of the ship's scientific staff, and in their escape they ended up among the group stranded on the ice floe for six months before their rescue. At the inquest that followed, Tookoolito and Ebierbing both defended Hall and supported his belief that he had been poisoned, but no action was taken.

They had been through a great deal together, and Ebierbing was with her on the night of December 31st; she was laid to rest in the Starr Burying Ground, where this marker may still be seen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Talbotype of Irving's Brother

University of Glasgow, Special Collections
Last week, I blogged about the Talbotype of Lieutenant John Irving, which surfaced in the collections of the City of Edinburgh, and which I tentatively identified as the work of Hill and Adamson. It occurred to me that John's brother, the Reverend Lewis Irving, might be the link between them, since Hill had photographed all of principal figures who broke off to form the Free Church of Scotland in the 'Great Disruption,' among which Lewis Irving was prominent. Frustratingly, the good Reverend's name came up blank in all of the indexes of major collections of Hill and Adamson's work.

Fortunately, I then stumbled upon an M.Phil. thesis by one Roderick Duff Simpson. Simpson had gone through the large collection of copies on glass plates left behind at Hill and Adamson's studios in Rock House in Edinburgh, which are now in the collection of the University of Glasgow. Mr. Simpson identified one of these plates -- HA0291 -- as a portrait of the Reverend Irving, one which in the University's database is still listed as "unknown man." Despite his baldness, the resemblance is a striking one, with a similar aquiline nose and puffy lower eyelids. The photograph was taken by Hill as a study for his great painting of the Disruption, which features the heads of hundreds of men then present. According to Simpson, though, this particular photo was not the source used in the painting, which suggests that there are other images of Lewis Irving yet to be found.

I'm in the process of trying to contact Mr. Simpson, but in the meantime am happy to share this image, courtesy of the University of Glasgow, Special Collections.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New Photograph of Lieutenant Irving

Image courtesy City of Edinburgh Council – Libraries
Thanks to a posting by Stuart Tedham over on the Remembering the Franklin Expedition Facebook page, we now can look upon a never-before-noticed photographic image of Lieutenant John Irving. Because the family name was sometimes spelt "Irvine," and the photo was catalogued under that name, it had been missed by generations of Franklin scholars. It's appropriate, indeed, that Mr. Tedham -- who hails from Dumfries and Galloway -- rediscovered this Scottish photograph in the electronic archives of the city of Edinburgh.

The photograph is a Talbotype -- or more properly, a salted-paper positive print made from a Talbotype paper negative. Developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, this process postdated that of Daguerre, but had the advantage of not conflicting with Daguerre's patents (contrary to Daguerre's claim of having donated his invention to France and the world in exchange for a pension, he enforced his patent in Britain and the United States). Thus, while in all of England only Antoine Claudet and Richard Beard were licensed to take photographs, in Scotland, a number of photographers took up Talbot's process with his informal knowledge and consent.  Among the pioneers there was Dr. John Adamson, whom we know took at least one photograph of Harry Goodsir, and his brother Robert Adamson, who with David Ocatvius Hill formed the firm of Hill and Adamson.

The Talbotype process had one further advantage -- unlike Daguerre's, which produced a single opaque image (the metal plate from the camera itself), Talbotypes were negatives on paper, which could produce one -- or more than one -- positive print. Sensitized paper was placed atop the negative, and the resulting contact print or prints were positives. The image of Irving is one of these, and shows a high degree of skill and professionalism; Irving is posed in from of some buildings (or possibly a backdrop), but the depth of field is such that he is in sharp focus, with the background blurred. He is wearing civilian dress, with broad sideburns (a popular style choice on the Franklin Expedition, being also favored by Goodsir, Gore, and Fairholme). There is, according to the curators, no further information about the image in their files, but it's reasonable to assume that Irving had his portrait made not long prior to departing for London and thence to the Arctic. There's also good reason to attribute the image to Hill and Adamson; the style is quite like theirs, and few other photographers active at this time would have been able to make such a fine portrait.

It's remarkable to note that Franklin's expedition may not have been the first to be photographed, nor the first to have taken photographic apparatus to the Frozen Regions -- Talbot himself corresponded briefly with one of the officers of James Clark Ross's Antarctic expedition, who sought training and supplies to try his process there -- alas, we don't know whether these plans were ever followed through.