Monday, April 6, 2020

Captains Courageous

Captain Francis Crozier (L) and Captain Brett Crozier (R)
It's more than just a coincidence of names -- it's a coincidence of character. Though born 174 years apart, both men were both drawn to the sea at an early age, though in the case of Captain Brett Elliott Crozier, it was as a naval aviator that he first distinguished himself. Born in Santa Rosa, California in 1970, he started out as a helicopter pilot, flying SH-60B Seahawks, before making the unusual switch to fixed-wing craft and leading a squadron of F18 Hornets. But it was that first assignment that stuck with him, and was the source of his nickname, "Chopper." After flying off of carriers, he eventually came to command them, first as captain of the USS Blue Ridge, an amphibious vessel, and then -- just this past November -- of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier with a crew of over five thousand sailors.

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in Banbridge, County Down, Ireland in 1796. Like many of his generation, his naval service started early, when at the age of thirteen he volunteered for the Royal Navy. His early service brought him into many far-distant places, among them Pitcairn Island where the mutineers of HMS Bounty had settled, as well as the Cape of Good Hope, which he visited while serving aboard HMS Doterel. His career soon brought him into what was informally known as the "Discovery Service," when he signed up with William Edward Parry for his second expedition in 1821. This voyage included a wintering-over near the seasonal settlement of Igloolik, where Crozier had a great deal of contact with Inuit, and was said to have acquired a fair speaking knowledge of Inuktitut. His first significant command was that of HMS Terror, serving under James Clark Ross aboard HMS Erebus on an Antarctic expedition that stretched from 1839 to 1843. He didn't acquire (so far as we know) any nicknames, but his close friends always knew him as "Frank."

Neither man sought out controversy, nor could have anticipated the challenges that fate would place in their way. For Francis Crozier, it came in the form of his second voyage in command of Terror, this time under Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage in 1845. Being second-in-command was a more comfortable place for Frank than being the overall commander, and though he was never as close to Franklin as he had been to Ross, he was happy to serve in that capacity. For Captain Brett Crozier, one might imagine that he enjoyed a mightier perch -- and yet, just as with Francis, he was obliged to work in close quarters with his immediate supervisor, Rear Admiral Stuart P. Baker. Since the Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of her squadron, Admiral Baker's headquarters was immediately adjacent to Crozier's, and they would have eaten in the same mess, seeing each other on a fairly frequent basis.

Then came the crisis. For Francis Crozier, it was the death of his commanding officer, which took place at a time when both ships were icebound, and had been for more than a year. The crisis he inherited only grew more grim, as it began to appear that neither ship was going to be freed from the ice, even in this, their second summer. We can't know exactly what went through his mind, but eventually the decision had to be made, and Crozier ordered both ships abandoned, with an effort made for his men to survive on land, and for some of them (at least) to find help and rescue. Similarly, the crisis that struck Captain Brett Crozier's ship -- an outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19 -- threatened the lives of all of his men, and similarly he sought to save them by moving them ashore. His efforts to do so apparently having met with resistance, he wrote a letter and sent it to his superiors, including some not in the chain of command. One has to assume that he wasn't able to get Admiral Baker's full support, or the letter makes no sense -- but bad news that leaks out, by whatever means, is often cause for reprimand. In this case, it was the severest kind: Captain Crozier was relieved of his command. We don't know the all details as of why that happened, but we do know one thing: as Captain Brett Crozier walked down the gangway to the dock, his sailors -- both aboard ship and on shore -- raised a hearty cheer of admiration and appreciation.

We may never know whether the men of Erebus and Terror raised a similar cheer -- though well they may have -- but we do know that, in their peril and disorientation following the abandonment of the ships, they followed their Captain's orders faithfully and well. In Francis Crozier's case, the peril that endangered his men eventually claimed his life. Let us hope that this won't be the case for Captain Brett Crozier, who has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.  His courage and dedication to his men's safety was very much in the mold of Francis Crozier's, and deserves our thanks and admiration. They are both heroes for their times.

NB: I've been asked whether the two Captains might be related. Brett Crozier's branch of the family seems to have been in California and Arizona for some generations; Francis Crozier had no children, but I don't know of any of his relations having emigrated to America -- so my guess would be that their relationship -- in family terms -- is a distant one.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Two "Resolute" ships

The Resolute, showing her slightly-dented bow
It's a storied name. The original HMS "Resolute," one of the ships of Belcher's ill-fated Franklin search squadron, was abandoned in the Arctic, and none of her officers and crew expected to see her again -- and yet, against all odds, she found her own way free, drifted down to the Davis Strait, where she was retrieved by an American whaler. Refurbished by an Act of Congress, she was sailed back across the sea by the gallant Captain Hartstene and presented to Queen Victoria. Years later, when she was retired and broken up, her Majesty caused several desks to be made from her timbers, the best-known of which was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes, and sits now in the Oval Office of the White House.

Fast forward a hundred and forty years. Once again we have a doughty ship,  the Resolute, and once more she's stranded far from home. Most recently the flagship of the now-defunct One Ocean Expeditions, she'd cruised both the Arctic and Antarctic, parting those icy waters with her reinforced bow -- but now she lay at the port of Buenos Aires, arrested for unpaid debts. Word of her ultimate destiny remains uncertain; apparently she was purchased or leased by a German ship management company, Columbia Cruise Services GmbH, and shifted to Portuguese registry before being sailed north. It seems she was on her way to a port call in the Caribbean when -- in international waters off the island of Tortuga -- she was suddenly challenged by a patrol boat from the Venezuelan navy, the Naiguatá.

The Naiguatá
Although far outside Venezuela's territorial waters, the captain of the Naiguatá apparently challenged the Resolute and attempted to order it into a Venezuelan port. The captain of the Resolute refused this order, at which point shots were fired from the Naiguatá, and she attempted to ram the bow of the Resolute to force her to turn shoreward. Doubtless the captain of the Naiguatá was unaware that this was an ice-strengthened vessel, originally built in 1991 as the Society Adventurer and later the Hanseatic; her bow was more than a match for such efforts. Instead, after repeated, deliberate collisions, the Naiguatá suffered severe damage to her bow, and began taking on water.  The Resolute alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Curaçao, who initiated a rescue operation; not long after, the Naiguatá sank, but all hands were saved. It may be the only known engagement in which a naval war vessel was sunk by a polar cruise ship -- and the Resolute once again proved that she was aptly named. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Orkney Telescope, Part 2: William Simpson

The Ocean Nymph
William Simpson’s career can be traced through the Hudson Bay Company Archives online, via the Servants contracts (employees of HBC were termed “servants” of the company). He first signed up in 1845, the exact same year that saw Erebus and Terror at Stromness on their way to the Arctic.  He was nineteen or twenty years old when he signed his contract for five years at £20 per annum. His occupation was “slooper” and his work location York Factory.  The next few contracts show a steady rise from Assistant Schooner Master Boatbuilder in 1853 to Slooper Master Carpenter in 1857 on £45 pa with free passage for his wife to York Factory and a grant of 50 acres at the Red River Settlement.

His final contract with HBC, dated 1866, was slightly different. His work location was Chesterfield Inlet (previously it had always been York Factory) and he was assigned to the ship Ocean Nymph on a salary of £75 per annum.  Unusually for servants' contracts, there was an additional hand-written paragraph which was not available to view online, but the HBC archivist kindly transcribed it for me:
“To conduct the trade with Esquimaux and other natives during the voyage of the said Company’s ship Ocean Nymph to Chesterfield Inlet and during the wintering at that place or elsewhere in the said Company’s territories of Hudson’s Bay … the said William Simpson hereby binds himself to obey all orders that he may receive during the said voyage to Chesterfield Inlet, or elsewhere the said wintering grounds of the said ship, from the Captain of the Ocean Nymph” 
A microfilm copy of Captain James Taylor’s log of the Ocean Nymph for 1866-1867 is available to view at the National Archives.  The barque Ocean Nymph set out from London’s West India Dock on 8th June 1866 and journeyed via Stromness to Churchill, Hudson’s Bay.  William Simpson joined the ship as Trading Master, along with Norman the Interpreter and Whaling Master Alexander Hay. The main aim was to establish demand for a new trading post midway up Hudson’s Bay, but also whaling whenever the opportunity arose.

By mid-September they reached Marble Island where they wintered, but it was by no means a happy ship. From the beginning there was tension between the Captain and the Whaling Master, & James Taylor’s log entry for Monday 19 November was just one example of numerous complaints:
“Mr Alex Hay still continues as disagreeable as he possibly can be, he uses very irritating language, I am provoked by him so much sometimes that I find it very hard to keep my hands off him” 
The feeling was mutual. Alexander Hay’s log book is littered with complaints about the Captain, calling him proud, ignorant, silly, and a disgrace to the company.

By January 1867 the situation was becoming worse. William Simpson was suffering from scurvy  “very bad, his right leg all Blue about the knee”. Fortunately Captain Parker of the Orray, an American whaling ship in the vicinity, came to the rescue with a gift of pickled turnips, believed to be a grand cure for the scurvy. Simpson recovered, but then suffered the loss of 10 bottles of Port Wine which mysteriously disappeared from his cabin. At least he fared better than his shipmate Thomas Saunders, who lost all the toes off one foot and part of his little finger.

After months trapped in the ice with  no ice saw, five canisters of powder on 20th June failed to release the ship but a further twenty-one blasts the following day set her free & they were able to progress north.

Trading took place whenever there was an opportunity.  A trading shop was set up on deck & on 20th September 1866 Simpson, Norman, the Mate & 4 men set off by boat for the Main Land “to go a trading with the Natives …” returning four days later with deer & salmon.
All visits to the ship were recorded in the log. On 3rd February 1867:
“About noon two Natives came across on the Drift Ice, their feet were wet through … they are out of ammunition, tobacco etc. We have had them in the Cabin all the evening, gathering all the information we could concerning the trade …”
These particular individuals were stranded on the ship for about five days due to bad weather, “devouring bread and molasses at no small rate”.

Charles Francis Hall meets with Inuit witnesses
Another tale was told of this visit, but it wasn’t written in the log until months later, in August, when the Ocean Nymph was in Repulse Bay. A meeting with Charles Francis Hall, who was also in Repulse Bay, prompted the extra story:
“The first two natives that visited us in winter came from far up Chesterfield Inlet they came on 3rd Feb. When we were asking them concerning Mr Hall if they had seen him they said no, but said they had seen two white once before long ago, I asked a good deal about it but could get little satisfaction and not knowing of any expedition with two men on it, I thought it was we did not understand them properly or some such thing and paid no much attention to it yet thinking it rather strange. When we asked what got the white men at last they said they went away and got capsized and drowned in a boat or canoe I can not remember which and Norman our Interpreter says they said the two men were looking for, or trying to get to other white men or “Cabloonacks”  There is several men in the ship who remember it as well as me among whom is Mr Simpson …”
Before the Ocean Nymph reached Repulse Bay, they were given information on Charles Hall by a couple of whaling boats, so they knew all about his trip to Pelly Bay, his wintering at Repulse Bay & his resolve to return to King William Island the following year. They also learned of his collection of Franklin relics,  “silver spoons “Captain Crozier” names on etc” And even better, when they arrived at Repulse Bay, Charles Hall was eager to trade:
 “4pm Mr Hall the American explorer came on board and stopped till 8pm. He’d had a crew of Natives Males and females belonging to Repulse Bay, all but one who belonged to Cumberland Gulf, he brought us part of a deer, and tried to persuade me if we were here he would get the natives to bring us some more. He wanted to get many supplies from us saying he would give an order on Mr Grinnell … I told that I would supply him only by way of exchange for whalebone or oil. He said he would exchange (but I am doubtful) he wanted an Almanack for next year. I left him one …exchanged 1000 lbs of bread (1 cart of 2nd), 1 Cask of lager, 1 bag of Coffee, 1 Cask of Pork, remainder of Can of Pipes, and several smaller articles as per Mr Simpsons Account from the trading goods, for 248 Ibs of whalebone with Mr Hall. I have consulted with Mr Simpson about the goods and as we are of opinions that he is not trading any thing whatever in opposition to the Company we let him have the little he wanted”
They also gave Hall an old sledge “which is all broken and out of order.”

Interestingly, trade with an English ship, for hatchets, knives, saws, powder-horns, daggers, and smaller articles, was noted by Hall & included by Nourse in his Narrative of the Second Arctic Expedition made by CF Hall 1864-69, and the mention of a Nautical Almanac confirms this as the Ocean Nymph.

News of the Franklin Expedition was clearly of great interest & James Taylor’s log included further details gleaned from Hall:
 “Mr Hall had a long story about having traced “Captain Crozier” as far as the head of Chesterfield Inlet with one attendant trying to reach Churchill, and said he had got some relics of the Franklin expedition from the natives, some thing about a boat being found bottom upwards & buried in mud, full of dead bodies and stores and much interesting news if it be true … learned from the natives of some Cache, or some thing the natives say is built of stones tied together, which is understood to be cemented, as the natives have tried to break into it but cannot. Some are of opinion it may be Records, or it may be Sir John Franklins Grave others say …”
After a few days of trading, the Ocean Nymph left Repulse Bay on 8th August. No whales had been caught during the voyage & this had caused huge vexation between the Captain & the Whaling Master. The Captain’s final report on reaching Gravesend on 30th September summed up his own experience:

                           “So this very miserable and unsuccessful Voyage has ended”

And what of the Telescope?  William Simpson, Master Trader, in his final year with the Hudson Bay Company having signed up the year the Franklin Expedition sailed, was in a prime position to purchase a decent Franklin relic when the opportunity arose, and who could possibly resist a telescope?  As a private transaction it would never have been noted down in the official log, and any sensible person would have squirrelled it away in a cabin well out of sight of both his shipmates and Charles Hall. William Simpson certainly believed it to be a genuine Franklin Expedition relic, even if the proof remains elusive.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Orkney Telescope (part 1 of 2)

This week, we present a guest post by Mary Williamson, who is Sir John Franklin's great-great-grand-niece and a skilled researcher and archivist in her own right. I can think of no one better suited to relate this singular story of a possible Franklin relic, and the man who brought it back to Orkney.

During a visit to Orkney in May 2019, my husband and I came across a man with a particular interest in John Franklin. A friend of his owned a telescope that was reputed to be a relic of the 1845 expedition.  It was known in the family as “Franklin’s Telescope”, and the tale passed down was that William Simpson (1825-1879) from St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney, had traded it for a box of buttons while working for the Hudson Bay Company in the late 1860’s.

The family had no hand written record to confirm the story told by William Simpson, but they did have a couple of newspaper articles that had appeared in The Orkney Herald in 1881, headed  “Supposed relic of the Franklin Expedition." It was the discovery by Frederick Schwatka and subsequent removal of (the supposed) Lieutenant Irving’s bones from King William Island to Edinburgh that focused attention on the telescope. The first report was on 2nd March:       
 “Among the articles found in the grave of Lt. Irving, third officer of the ‘Terror’, was a lens, apparently the object glass of a marine telescope”
This, according to the reporter, was excellent news, because the Orkney Telescope was missing a lens, and by chance Lt Irving’s grave had produced one. If this lens belonged to the Orkney Telescope, whose owner had died three years previously without being able to prove beyond doubt that it was a Franklin Expedition relic, the problem was conveniently solved. However, a report two weeks later revealed Irving’s lens as a red herring. The reporter had visited Mr Thompson, the present owner & brother-in-law of William Simpson, & discovered that the telescope had never been missing a lens but had merely had a new one inserted. Thompson was able to fill in a few extra details from memories of conversations with Simpson:
“bought it from a native when on a trading voyage up Cumberland Gulf, and that on questioning the native as to how he got it, he (the native) said he found it in an upright position in a crevice of rock near the sea” 
A slightly different version is reported in the same article, from the reporter’s notes that he made before calling on Mr Thompson:
 “Simpson being able to speak the Esquimaux language made inquiry of the Esquimaux as to how he got it, and was told that it was found by the disposer at a place from the description of which Simpson concluded was a hut erected by some of the Franklin party”.
The telescope had no identifying marks on it as regards ownership, but the makers name, W & T Gilbert London, are clearly visible as well as  “Improv’d Day or Night”.

Dr Richard Dunn, telescope expert at the Science Museum, examined my photographs and gave a date from the 1820’s with a fair bit of leeway as designs didn’t change much, so this date would fit the 1845 expedition.

Officers had their own telescopes, but it seems most likely that Sir John would have owned a Dollond.  In the history of telescope design it was John Dollond who emerged head & shoulders above other manufacturers by using a particular combination of lenses that worked better than any other. Jane Franklin herself had chosen to present a Dollond telescope to Robert Goodsir for one of the search expeditions.

As to William Simpson, his career presents its own points of interest, which overlapped once more with the Franklin search, via no less a figure than Charles Francis Hall himself -- but we'll save that story for the next post!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Charles Francis Hall and Lady Franklin

As the pre-eminent Franklin searcher of his day, it would have been surprising if Charles Francis Hall had not met with Lady Jane Franklin, given the opportunity. And yet, curiously, there's no mention of any meeting in Chauncey Loomis's usually-authoritative Weird and Tragic Shores, and the only modern biographies of Jane -- those of Alison Alexander and Ken McGoogan -- while mentioning such a meeting, offer few details. Both seem to have used as their source Francis J. Woodward's Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin, which was published in 1951. Woodward mentions two meetings, one in Cincinnati in July of 1870 and one in New York in August. McGoogan also alludes to a letter in the Hall papers at the Smithsonian, which had me intrigued; he gives it as his source that the two met in Cincinnati on August 13, 1870.

It turns out everyone was a little off -- as so often is the case, primary sources tell a slightly different, and more complicated tale than secondary ones. Thanks once more to the diligent research of Lelia Garcia, whom I'd asked to search through all of Hall's correspondence on his return from his second expedition, we now have a much clearer sense of exactly when these two figures met, what they discussed, and how Hall himself altered his plans on her behalf.

On Hall's return in 1869, one of his first concerns was to disseminate -- publicly, through lectures and meetings, and privately, through correspondence -- his main findings about Franklin's men. He had earlier promised Lady Franklin to send along a full account of his findings, and he did his best to do so, initially in letters and eventually through a small bound journal written expressly for her eyes. Hall's energies, however, soon turned to his new idea that -- using the techniques he'd practiced over nearly a decade in the Arctic -- he was the man best suited to be the first American at the North Pole. This, unlike his previous shoe-string operations, was to be funded by the American government, and to obtain that funding, he had to lobby the Congress and persuade influential friends to endorse his cause. This was a task made the harder when Isaac Israel Hayes -- who had been north with Dr. Kane and on a second expedition of his own -- entered the scene as a rival to these endorsements. Lady Franklin, for her part, wrote to Hall to try to persuade him to abandon his polar plans, and return to King William Island for a further search, this time focused on finding paper records of her husband's expedition.

Hall, overwhelmed by these competing calls and a bit over his head when it came to lobbying Congress, appears to have suffered a period of nervous collapse. So it was that the special account of his travels remained only partly complete, and he felt obliged to decline Lady Franklin's invitations to him to come to London. Jane was not one to take no for an answer, however -- she and Sophia Cracroft shortly embarked on another vernturesome voyage, to San Francisco and eventually north to Sitka, Alaska, with the hope of meeting Hall on their way back to England. Oddly, though we have extensive letters and journal entries from them on the first leg of their trip, there's nothing about that hoped-for meeting. All we know we know in retrospect, as Hall -- having recovered his spirits and thrown himself into the Polar effort with renewed vigor -- wrote to Lady Franklin early in January of 1871 -- mentioning their meeting, and (somewhat long-windedly) declaring that he would, on the return leg of what he assumed would be a triumphant conquest of the Pole, return to the central Arctic and take up his previous mission.

The letter is singular in many ways -- firstly because Hall, whose cramped scribble was often quite hard to read -- hired a professional scribe, who penned this missive in a glorious copperplate hand. All the same, the fancy script doesn't disguise Hall's signature blend of hubris and piety, which veers from an elaborate apology for his not having written sooner to a flourishing promise to make good his lapse. The first paragraph of the letter solves one mystery; it's dated January 9th, 1871:
Lady Franklin: Little did I think when I saw you last August 13th, 1870 at Mr. Grinnell's, that so many, many long months would pass away before sending you what I so readily promised. What use for me to make what the world calls apologies -- apologies for my shortcomings in making good the performance of my duties to my honoured friends since my return to the land of thunder and perpetual excitement?
That August, Hall was living in Grinnell's house, which corresponds with him meeting Jane there; somehow this date was transposed in McGoogan's book to a meeting in Cincinnati. We know, though, that Hall was in Cincinnati the previous month, thanks to a press account in the Cincinnati Enquirer in late July of 1870, which notes "the visit of Lady Franklin to Captain Hall, and her hearty welcome in Ohio, on her arrival from Alaska via California. This venerable lady, whose devotion to the memory of her lamented husband will fill one of the most pathetic pages in the annals of modern times, is expected to arrive today in New York, where her romantic and tragic story must command equal sympathy." So we can say now that they met in both places, but somehow the August date became erroneously associated with the Cincinnati encounter.

William Bradford, The Polaris in Thank God Harbor
The rest of the letter is hardly less interesting; after a lengthy list of his failed obligations, he declares that, although he no longer believes than any of Franklin's men are still alive, he now plans two expeditions: "one for the the discovery of the regions about the Pole, and the other to obtain the records of Sir John's Expedition and to obtain other information than what I already possess relating to it." He informs her that the North Pole expedition should return within 30 months, and enthusiastically details his preparations for it. One surprising detail, for me, is that he claims to have secured the services of William Morton, who'd served in the 1850's under Dr. Kane, and had claimed to have seen the chimerical "Open Polar Sea" -- in the end, Morton did not join the expedition, and Hall found that he had very little power to appoint to it anyone of his choice. Within the year, Hall would be dead and buried at his "Thank God Harbor," unable to fulfill the floridly-phased promises of this letter.

NB You can download the entire manuscript in .pdf format here.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Tale of the Bones, Part IV

Reproduced with permission
A lot can happen in a hundred and thirty years or so. Forensic science has certainly advanced, though access to the needed evidence remains an issue. It wasn't until the 2009 relocation of Westmacott's memorial that the bones interred within were open to examination, and so of course there was the keenest interest in doing so.

When the coffin was opened, it was full of touching surprises. A pasteboard cross with dried flowers was among them, as was a paper packet of teeth and note from George Henry Richards. The bones themselves were wrapped in an enormous paper chart of Papua New Guinea, though an Arctic chart was also present. The scientific effort to examine it all had to be accomplished in the relatively brief interval between taking apart the monument (then located in a stairwell behind the sacristy, out of public view) and its re-installation in the vestibule.

The team, led by Dr. Simon Mays and including my friend the late William Battersby, had their work cut out for them ---it was almost a sort of archaeological triage. A cast of the skull was made, with an eye to reconstructing the face, and the teeth were brought to the laboratory for analysis. Teeth, as it turns out, can be remarkably useful in tracing the life of their possessor; as their inner layers are laid down in youth, so is the signature of local minerals in the air and water that is remarkable in its precision. Even Ötzi, the "Ice Man," who lived 5,000 years ago, has been traced to his home town of Feldthurns in northern Italy by these means. Using similar measures -- isotopes of strontium and calcium -- the teeth of our Arctic skeleton were matched to the eastern coasts of Scotland. This, then, was certainly not the skeleton of Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, who spent his childhood in Devon within sniffing range of its chalky cliffs -- it was that of someone who'd grown up amidst the granite and gravel of Scotland.

Just twelve of Franklin's crew were from parts of Scotland; among the officers, we have the ice-master James Reid (Aberdeen), assistant surgeons Alexander Macdonald (Laurencekirk) and Harry Goodsir (Anstruther), who were fellow medical students in Edinburgh, and James S. Peddie, another Edinburgh graduate, from West Lothian. That gives roughly us sixteen potential candidates based on the tooth isotopes alone.

It would seem to be a difficult field to narrow, but one tooth had a second tale to tell:  a gold filling. It's not so much the costliness (which led earlier examiners to take it as proof the man was an officer) but the scarcity of such fillings that turned out to be the key. Gold fillings were rather uncommon at the time; the practice, in fact, had been introduced relatively recently by the Scottish dental surgeon Robert Nasmyth. And, as it happens, there's a direct connection between Nasmyth and Goodsir, as Goodsir's father was one of the dentist's closest friends, and Harry's brother John actually worked as Nasmyth's assistant! It's quite good circumstantial evidence that this skeleton might more likely be Goodsir's.

One final technique was available, that of "facial reconstruction" based on the skull. As we've seen a version of this had already been attempted in the 1870's, with inaccurate results. How could such a mistake have been made? Once more, it seems to have come down to the teeth; the sketch artist failed to take account of how the teeth of the mandible, in place, would have fitted with those of the skull. It turns out that this person had a fairly severe malocclusion (or "bad bite"), such that (to quote Mays et. al.) "the lips do not naturally meet at rest and the individual may well be a mouth breather." With the mandible correctly aligned, a new facial reconstruction was made, and -- when overlain upon the Daguerreotype of Harry Goodsir -- shows a remarkable match.

One can, indeed, see Goodsir's lower lip hanging a bit open in the photograph, precisely as would be the case if he had the malocclusion found in the skull. James Fitzjames, Franklin's second aboard HMS Erebus, even noted this odd feature in a line which was censored -- perhaps because it seemed unkind -- from the published version of Fitzjames's journal: "his upper lip projects beyond his lower and his lower beyond his chin producing a gradation thus: [see image at left] but a choker comes down beyond the chin so you imagine there is more of it."

All of this adds up to a fairly high degree of likelihood that these were the bones of Harry Goodsir, the expedition's naturalist and primary scientific investigator. The ideal final piece would be a DNA match, but here we meet an obstacle -- although Harry came from a distinguished family of doctors, scientists, and churchmen, none of his brothers had any children. Thus, Harry's closest relations are along collateral lines -- descendants of his aunts, great-aunts, or great-uncles. It's still possible that some suitable DNA may be found -- the final piece of the puzzle will have to wait until then.

With thanks to Dr. Simon Mays, Mike Tracy, Regina Koellner, and Peter Carney for their assistance in preparing this post. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Tale of the Bones, Part III

Bones of contention
Huxley's identification did not go unchallenged -- indeed, one of the foremost men involved in the Franklin search, Dr. John Rae, doubted that it was a Franklin skeleton at all. The value of Rae's opinion, however, was limited by the fact that he did not have access to Hall's field notebooks or journals, and since Nourse's edition of Hall's narrative wasn't published until 1879, he had no idea of Hall's success; he simply expressed his doubt that Hall could have persuaded any Inuit to take him so far as King William Island. But there was another problem: for some reason, in the same box as the bones, there was a metal blade, perhaps the head of a spear, stamped with the words "THE SHIP." Rae gave it as his opinion that it could not possibly have been used by Franklin's men, as they had plenty of guns and ammunition, though he admitted that he had seen "pieces of gun barrels hammered with all sorts of forms" by the Inuit. This artifact, as it turned out, was completely unrelated to the skeleton and may well have ended up in the box simply because Hall obtained it around the same time.

As recounted in Nourse (p. 400), it was just a few days earlier that he had, while searching unsuccessfully for the bodies reported to be on the Todd Islets, that he encountered an Inuk by the name of "Koo-nik," who gave him a number of items taken from the wrecked at "Ook-joo-lik"(which we now know to be HMS Erebus); he gave Hall
"a silver spoon ... and a second smaller mahogany box, with another spoon and many other articles, including pieces of copper with two stamps of a broad arrow, and a steel spear-head on which was  stamped " THE SHIP." All these had been brought from one of Franklin's ships and from the shore on the south side of Ook-joo-lik (O'Reilly Island). Knives, needles, thimbles, beads, and rings were
given in return."
Detail of Edmond Le Feuvre's letter
The spear-head seems to have caused confusion to Inglefield and Huxley as well, and influenced Dr. Rae's negative opinion about the bones. But there was not merely skepticism on these fronts only, but even -- once they were made aware of Huxley's view -- on the part of Le Vesconte's own family as to whether the bones were in fact his. We know this thanks to a surviving letter from Edmond Philip Le Feuvre, who was not only the executor of Le Vesconte's estate, but his cousin. Here is an excerpt from his letter to Le Vesconte's sister Rose Henrietta in May of 1873:
I quite agree with you that the fact of there being a little spec of gold in one tooth is no evidence that the remains are those of an officer, and I quite think the right thing has been done in them being deposited at Greenwich. I confess I wish they had been deposited in consecrated ground but they will be preserved quite sacredly when they are in front of the monument erected to the memory of the Expedition, and I suspect our church laws would not have permitted a burial service to have been performed in the absence of all proof of identity.
Edmond also mentions that he had called upon Sophia Cracroft, Lady Franklin's niece and companion, and that she apparently was convinced by Huxley's account, and by "the photograph of the pencil drawing" -- this must mean that a photographic copy of the sketch made in New York had been provided to her! -- but then muddles things by saying "this could not in any way be relied on being simply a copy of the daguerreotype likeness." Here, Edmond is in error -- having seen the sketch we know it's based on the skull -- but this gives us the wonderful vision of Sophy sitting at home, comparing the photograph of the sketch with her own copy of the Daguerreotype of Le Vesconte!

And, although in some ways for wrong reasons such as this, the skeptics were to be proven right -- although not for more than a century and a half. The proof will be the subject of the next (and for now final) chapter of this story.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Tale of the Bones, Part II

Image courtesy Imperial College, London
The bones arrived in a carefully-packed crate, apparently the same one originally used by Hall. They were delivered by Vice-Admiral Inglefield to George Henry Richards, then the Hydrographer of the Navy, and with them a dilemma -- if they could not, as Inglefield hoped, be "certainly identified," it wouldn't be possible for them to be properly buried -- what to do? Richards felt he had to do something, and so contacted Thomas Henry Huxley, the foremost comparative anatomist of his day -- surely the great man would be able to solve this riddle. In a letter dated 22 June 1872 he wrote:
My dear Professor Huxley ,
Admiral Inglefield who has just returned from New York has brought with him a Complete Skeleton of one of Franklin’s officers which was found by Hall, the American traveller, on King William’s Land. It lies on my table at present in the box it was brought home in. The features are so remarkably distinctive added to which one of the teeth is stuffed with gold. I think there will be little difficulty in identifying the individual. I have thought perhaps you might feel sufficiently interested in the matter to put him together with a view to his identification and if so I will send him - any where you direct. 
Two days later, apparently having heard back in the affirmative, Richards sent him the bones along with an accompanying note:
I send the box containing the skeleton as you desired. It is packed in Shavings. I have not disturbed any thing but the head - and put that back again in its place. Admiral Inglefield tells me all the Bones are in the box. Some of the teeth are shaken out and will be found among the Shavings if they are carefully reserved. I did not like to disturb anything. When you have found the age - the distinctive features appear to me to be so well marked that I have no doubt we shall identify the man. The names are all in McClintock’s- last Cheap Edition of the Fox Voyage what I have here if you require it. I send also a fancy portrait which was done by the New York professor to whom Hall gave the skeleton but I understand from Inglefield that nothing but the head has ever been out of the box since it was found on King William’s Land there are some remnants of clothing about the bones and in the Box.
The "fancy portrait" apparently referred to the sketch shown above, which is still among Huxley's papers -- if one looks closely at it, one can see that the facial features are carefully traced over a precise profile of the skull. Despite all efforts, I've been unable to identify the "New York Professor," but it must have been someone engaged by Brevoort, in whose care Hall had left the bones.

It took some time for Huxley to reply -- Richards had almost given up on him -- and when he did, he took the view that there was little doubt that the "skellington" was that of Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, a lieutenant on Franklin's expedition. He commented mainly on the skull and teeth:
The skull is very well formed & shows that its person had a prominent nose & chin, & a square cut and powerful lower jaw. There is a socket for only one cutting tooth on the left side in the upper jaw, main, having been extracted  in youth ... The most important point  in regard to the teeth however is that the first premolar, a bicuspid tooth, on the right side has been stuffed with gold ... which leads to the conclusion that its possessor may have been an officer.
Detail of the portrait
Based on these observations, and with the age of the individual estimated at 30-35 years, Huxley apparently felt that Le Vesconte was the best match. Nevertheless, his identification was apparently considered insufficient by the Naval authorities; when the bones were interred -- initially under the floor of the Painted Hall of the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich -- they were identified simply as those of "one of Sir John Franklin's companions." The bones were later moved to the Chapel, and re-interred in the base of an impressive marble monument designed by William Westmacott. When, in 2009, the memorial was moved to a more prominent position near the chapel's entrance, a formal memorial service of remembrance and rededication was held, and Huxley's identification was used as its basis.

H.T.D. Le Vesconte
The ceremony opened with Beethoven's Funeral March, after which the Reverend Jeremy Frost, Chaplain to the Greenwich Foundation, ascended to the pulpit and intoned:
We gather on this solemn occasion to give renewed thanks for the life of Lieutenant Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte, and to re-inter his mortal remains in the vestibule of this Chapel In this the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary year of the discovery of Sir John Franklin's death, we pray that peoples from across the world who visit this holy and historic place may hereafter pause, and remember all those who lost their lives alongside Franklin ..
There was only one problem, as it turned out: the bones were not those of Le Vesconte. In our next installment, we'll find out why -- and how indeed, even at the time, some members of Le Vesconte's family felt Huxley was mistaken -- and how his mistake was finally corrected.

[to be continued ...]

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Tale of the Bones, Part 1

Estuary of the Peffer River
It was a desolate place, the site of two of the last of Franklin’s men accorded what searcher  Charles Francis Hall deemed a “Christian burial.” A little over two miles to the east of  the estuary of the Peffer river on King William Island, Hall had at last reached the place described by Nee-wik-tee-too, a Netsilik Inuk who had since died. As Hall recalled his testimony, “The bodies buried by placing stones around and over them;  the remains facing upward, and the hands had been folded in a very precise manner across the breasts of both ; clothes all on ; flesh all on the bones. On the back of each a suspended knife found. The bodies perfect when found, but the Innuits having left the remains unburied, after unearthing them, the foxes have eaten meat and sinews all off the bones. A tenting-place of the whites close by where these two men were buried. Many needles and one nail found by the Innuits at this tenting-place."

It was early in the season, and snow covered the ground. Hall's guides In-nook-poo-zhee-jook and Zuk dug about for some time, and at last were able to locate one of these graves, the skeleton nearly complete:
At length Zuck and In-nook-pou-zhe-jook (the former had been seeking too, having the snow shovel) cried to me + motioned with upraised arms. I knew by this sign [that he] had something there so I hastend to the spot which is the one on which I was writing these notes + the had discovered the grave of one – that is they had taken off the pure unspotted mantles of the heavens + laid bare the skeleton remains of one those gallant sons of Franklin Expedition that so triumphiantly + gloriously accomplished the North West Passage.
As was his practice, Hall ordered a volley shot over the grave, and raised "the Stars and Stripes" over the bones. And then -- though he made no immediate note of it -- he pondered a decision: should he bring the bones with him, back to America, eventually perhaps to England? Or should he let them rest where they lay? At last, he decided to bring them with him. We don't have any record of his inner deliberations, although J.E. Nourse, who edited Hall's narrative, said that Hall had had "much hesitancy as though he might have done wrong."

Hall papers, Smithsonian Museum
On his return to the United States in 1869, Hall was a busy man -- in addition to sorting out his notes and preparing the full account of his search asked for by Lady Franklin, he was in the early stages of raising money and attention for what became his third and final expedition, in search of the North Pole aboard the USS "Polaris." He at last decided to delay the ultimate decision of what to do with the remains by placing them in the care of his patron J. Carson Brevoort (whom Hall, mindful of all who had helped him in the past, addressed as "Friend Brevoort"). On November 3rd, he drafted a letter to Brevoort, reporting that "I wish to confide to your special care, for the present, a case that contains the remains of one of the immortal heroes of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition that discovered the North West Passage." Hall did not add any further instructions, and it seems that the skeleton remained in Brevoort's care for several years, until 1872 at least. By then, Hall was dead, murdered with arsenic by his own ship's doctor, and Brevoort no doubt felt free to exercise his own judgment. He contacted the British Embassy in Washington D.C., where -- by happy coincidence -- the Arctic veteran Edward Augustus Inglefield was serving as Naval attaché. Inglefield apparently agreed that the bones should be brought home, and made the necessary arrangements. And here the plot thickens .... but that's a matter for my next post.

NB: Before going any further, I want to express my gratitude to Lelia Garcia, who -- at short notice -- spent two afternoons with the Hall papers at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and who managed to locate the letter shown above. My thanks also to Russ Taichman for sending along his images from Hall's field notebooks. It's through efforts such as these that the Franklin story is advanced, inch by inch, and the larger understanding of it enhanced, mile by mile.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Three Franklin Records

Nearly everyone who develops an interest in the lost Franklin expedition comes -- sooner rather than later -- upon the famed "Victory Point" record. In the contrast between its bold and confident original message and the second, sorrowful one in its margins, it's the most potent encapsulation I know of the whole tragedy that befell Franklin and his men, and has been studied for years in search of any additional clues that might be preserved in its peripheries.

But it's not as well known that that a second record, minus any marginal message, was deposited by the same sledging expedition that left the first. It was found by Lieutenant Hobson at a cairn only eight miles south of that at Victory point, surely less than a day's hauling, suggesting that Gore and his party must have had a practice of leaving a message in a cairn at each prominent headland. The area where the second record was left is now known as Gore Point; doubtless there were many others which are now lost.

But there is yet another record -- one fewer still have seen.  This third record (actually the first, in order of which they were deposited) was mentioned by Richard J. Cyriax in several of his papers, but never reproduced. My friend and fellow Franklinite, Gina Koellner, found a xeroxed copy among Cyriax's papers at the National Maritime Museum. Happily, the xerox included the index number for the original at the National Archives at Kew, and that's where Gina found it, glued down to a sheet of paper that was bound into a larger volume; you can see the stitch-marks on the binding at the left. Just recently, another far-faring Franklinite, Logan Zachary, re-visited Kew to take high-resolution photos, and that's the occasion for this post.

Location where record was left, via Google Earth
Now, for the first time, we can see the third record in all its glory. Perhaps the most notable feature is Sir John Franklin's bold signature -- clearly, it had been usual practice for him to sign these forms personally, which makes it seem the more likely that the later records -- where his second, James Fitzjames had simply written "Sir John Franklin commanding" -- are a sign of Franklin's illness or incapacity. The other information shows that Erebus and Terror were still accompanied by the "Baretto Junior, Transport," and their latitude and longitude show them off the coast of Greenland near Simiutaq, an uninhabited island about 150 miles NNW of Nuuk. The original also adds, "with a Danish Brig in company."

Photo by Logan Zachary
Franklin's instructions were to toss these messages -- in their cylinders and suspended inside a barrel -- overboard periodically so as to help ascertain the direction of the currents. In this case, they must have tended north, as the notation at the side shows the message was recovered near Imerissoq -- Franklin's "Whalefish Islands"-- nearly two hundred miles up the coast, in July of 1849 -- more than four years later. Alas, aside from the currents, the message doesn't add very much to our overall knowledge of the early days of the expedition, but the presence of Franklin's signature -- clear as day -- does add force to the suggestion, first made by William Battersby, that the illness that took Franklin's life on June 11, 1847 must have already taken a significant toll before Gore and company departed the ships on the 28th of May.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

New finds from HMS "Erebus" revealed!

They sit upon the shoulders in their portraits -- Daguerreotypes taken in May of 1845 -- Franklin and his men, their ghostly images a core part of what made them such a "gallant" crew -- and here is a pair of them, taken from the cabin assigned to Lieutenant James Fairholme aboard HMS "Erebus," 175 years afterwards.

It's quite a moment. For, while a goodly number of the relics recovered by Rae, McClintock, Hall, and Schwatka could be readily associated with their owners, these are the very first items I can think of recovered during the modern archaeological work by the divers of Parks Canada's underwater archaeology team that can be fairly definitively associated with a single individual.

Epaulets -- or epaulettes if one prefers -- have featured in the Franklin story before. Captain Henry Kellett of HMS "Resolute" left his behind when he (very reluctantly, and only under direct orders) abandoned his ship. Against all odds, they were returned to him, brightly polished and still in their case, when the Resolute was returned to Britain in 1854; you can see him wearing them in a portrait painted the following year. Lieutenant Fairholme, alas, is long gone, and can know nothing of this remarkable discovery, though I'm sure it's quite significant to his living family members in Canada and around the world.

More astonishingly still, these are but one of 350 artifacts announced today as the results of Parks Canada's dives in 2019. It was a gloriously long and productive season, and -- despite some rough weather near the end -- has set new benchmark for both the quantity and quality of artifacts recovered. We have seen only a small smattering so far -- a platter, some plates, a pencil case, and a few other items -- mostly from Franklin's steward Edmund Hoare's closet -- but clearly, there are many more to come. Many of them were unveiled in an event today in Ottawa at Parks Canada's conservation center, attended by senior government ministers along with Pam Gross, the head of the Inuit Heritage Trust, along with Stanley Anablak, president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association. One of the key notes struck was that of continued co-operation and co-curation of all artifacts with Inuit, a crucial element which both underlies and augurs well for these extraordinary finds, and many more to come.

And the story is larger still -- for, even in the most seemingly minor details of each item, many stories more than one remain to be told. A good example is the epaulettes themselves -- for, although found in Fairholme's cabin, they are certainly not the ones which he was photographed wearing in 1845. Why not? Because, as he confessed in a letter home to his father,
“I hope Elizabeth got my photograph. Lady Franklin said she thought it made me look too old, but as I had Fitzjames’ coat on at the time, to save myself the trouble of getting my own, you will perceive that I am a Commander! and have anchors on the epaulettes so it will do capitally when that really is the case.”
Commander Fitzjames's coat -- and its epaulettes -- remain to be found. But this fascinating item never the less tells us of something far more personal than any other artifact yet recovered. It is just a touch, lightly upon the shoulder, to remind us of those who have gone on.