Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Northward, Ho!

Image courtesy London Science Museum, cc-by-SA 4.0
It's that time of year again. And although, unlike last year, there aren't any eggs frying on any sidewalks in my neighborhood -- in fact, it's been an unexpectedly mild August so far -- the lure of the Arctic is as inviting as ever. Each year, I understand more why so many people -- explorers, adventurers, scientists, and artists -- who've experienced the wondrous beauty of these regions yearn ever to return to them.

I'll be on a different route this time, working my way up the Greenland coast from Nuuk northward, then crossing over and heading north along the coast of Baffin Island, calling at Clyde River before I get to Pond Inlet, where I hope to meet up with old friends and see some familiar sights. Soon after, it's on to the Franklin expedition graves on Beechey, which due to heavy shore ice I was unable to reach last year. The ice charts, so far, look favorable, although the complex nexus of the Bellot Strait and the northern tip of King William Island is still in flux.

And of course I'll be eager to gather news of this year's search by the underwater archaeology team at Parks Canada, working with the cooperation of Inuit organizations and the Guardians program, as well as the dedicated support of the newly refurbished RV David Thompson; their work this summer on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror promises great things. And, as time away from my other duties allows, I hope to share what I find here, with the readers who have followed me on my previous journeys north. I have a feeling it's going to be another memorable year!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Black Graves of Beechey Island

Photo courtesy of and © 2019 Derbyshire Record Office
Every so often, a discovery is made in the archives that completely upturns our assumptions about the history of the Franklin expedition. For most of the past century and a half, almost all of us have thought of the graves at Beechey Island as white -- whether we've seen the current replacement markers, or photos of the originals in the archives of the NWT or Nunavut, or the scarcer ones of the monuments prior to their initial removal in 1972 (I shared a selection of these in my last post).  The visual identity of the grave markers, indeed, was tied up with our idea of these lonesome white headboards surrounded by a wilderness of white.

It was easy to dismiss or set aside Miertsching's account of the headboards as being black, even when it was echoed by Robert Goodsir -- by his account the first person to stand beside them after Erebus and Terror departed. And yet, thanks to a fortuitous discovery among the Franklin materials at the Derbyshire Record Office, we now have an image that shows -- definitively -- that they were originally black, with the incised lettering in white.

The discovery was made by assistant conservator Clare Mosley, who discovered the photo carefully lain within a volume of "Arctic Scraps"(as in scrapbook) atop two newspaper clippings. These clippings appear to date to the period between June and September of 1851, which might possibly help date the photo. Since the other exposures made at Beechey by Leopold McClintock and Dr. David Walker date to 1858, if the photo is from 1851 it is by far the earliest. Like McClintock's and Walker's, it is a paper positive print made using the Calotype or "Talbotype" process, but its dimensions don't correspond with theirs (since Calotype cameras used a wooden frame to hold the sensitized paper, and all prints were "contact" prints, each camera produces prints of the same size). Research is ongoing to determine whether anything more can be learned about the image from other materials in the archives.

So what does all this mean? For one, it would suggest to me that further examination of the surviving original headboards be made; knowing the original paint scheme should enable us to look for traces of the pigments used. The Royal Navy employed black paint for a number of shipboard uses, and it may be possible to match the chemical profile of any surviving pigment to that of other period painted fixtures. Why and how the markers came to be painted white, and the incised white lettering switched to black, is also unclear. As late as 1972, seems that the three Franklin crew markers still appeared to be black, though Torrington's was now framed in white trim; the actual markers (now part of the Archives of Nunavut) show no outward trace of this scheme (we know this thanks to this photo taken in 1972 by Stuart Hodgson). That photo also shows the "tablet" marker at far left, and the "door" marker with its horizontal crosspiece at far right.

There are still more mysteries, it seems, yet to be probed when it comes to the graves of Beechey Island.

NB: The Derbyshire Record Office is in the midst of a fundraising campaign that I urge all readers of this blog to consider supporting: check out the Lady Jane's Museum Crowdfunder website where you can learn more, and make a contribution to this very worthy effort. Discoveries such as this one are a dramatic example of the enormous value of archival work that is being done at local and regional archives such as the DRO.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Earliest photos of graves at Beechey

Graves at Beechey; photo by Allen Young (courtesy of Doug Wamsley)
In the quest to understand the history of the graves of Franklin's men at Beechey Island, and more particularly that of the markers themselves, I've had occasion to track down the earliest known photographs, which are seldom seen today. With the invaluable help of my friend Doug Wamsley, I've been able to see two of the very earliest: that taken during Sir Allen Young's "Pandora" expedition in 1876 (above), as well as an earlier, though much faded, image made in 1858 by Dr. David Walker, who was then aboard Sir Francis Leopold McClintock's yacht the "Fox" (below). These two photos give us invaluable evidence as to the early state of these graves and their markers, and may help clarify the situation today, when some of the replica markers are likely to have been inaccurately placed.

1858 image by David Walker, courtesy Doug Wamsley
One of the more confusing features of these graves is that they seem to have had markers or stones at the foot of the graves, as well as headboards. The gives the leftmost grave in the Young image of being two graves, until one sees the burial mound that connects them; the same applies to the middle grave. In the grave mound closest to the shore (the rightmost), the foot marker is obscured, I think, by its neighbor's headboard. Lastly, at the far right, one can see a tall, rounded white board unlike the others in scale and shape -- this is almost certainly the one made from a repurposed door, which Todd Hansen believes was most likely that of Thomas Morgan. There is one further headboard visible at the far left, which, if Hansen's conjecture is correct, must be the cenotaph erected in memory of Bellot.

With Dr. Walker's image, which has faded considerably, we're on somewhat firmer ground: the perspective is head-on, with only the headboards visible. By turning up the contrast, as I've done here, we can see four clear markers, as well as a dark area at the far right which may be in imperfect image of the marker closest to the shore (or that marker may have fallen).  From this angle, one can see that the furthest shoreward marker is set apart from the others by a greater distance, which again seems consistent with its being Bellot's; in neither image is any grave-mound seen in its vicinity.

There is one last image, which may well have been based upon Young's; this was an engraved vignette in the Illustrated London News article about his voyage. The engraver here has helpfully separated out the headboards by showing them in lighter colors, with the mounds and foot-markers much more darkly shaded. This version also seems to show a cross-piece on the rightmost marker, clear evidence that it must be the modified door, as this was the only marker to have that feature.

So what does this all mean? Well, we can judge something by the shapes: the innermost marker, has the same squared-off rounded shape, which corresponds with Torrington's marker (the second to outermost) as well as the large "tablet" marker Hansen believes was Bellot's. Hartnell's similarly-shaped but far shorter headboard seems to come next from the left, though it's similar enough to Braine's that it's hard to say precisely; it's perhaps no wonder that the NWT staff charged with inserting the replica markers got these reversed.

These features correspond with Walker's and Young's photos -- and Young's adds one further, striking detail: just as described by Miertsching and Robert Goodsir, the three Franklin graves appear to be quite black, while both the "tablet" and "door" markers are brightly white.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

First sight of the graves at Beechey

We often hear about the first discovery of the graves of Franklin's men at Beechey Island -- but not, before now, have we had a vivid a first-hand description of the event. Thanks to the discovery of an 1880 newspaper article by Alison Freebairn, we now have a reminiscence by none other than Robert Anstruther Goodsir, brother of Harry, who by his own account was the first to reach the graves originally sighted by Carl Petersen. It's such a fascinating, gripping account that I'm going to give it almost in its entirety. In my next post, I'll give the rest of his account, which has elements in it that suggest that his memory was not quite as "undimmed" as it seemed, but never the less there's no question that he still recalled -- and felt -- the events with extraordinary vividness some thirty years after the events.

It is to the day on which we discovered the first traces of the ill-fated ships and their crews––ere yet we had come to talk of " relics," ere yet the least sanguine had lost hope. And albeit it is but an old tale re-told, I can tell it with undimmed memory, for as I put down the paper I have just been reading, and with closed eyes sadly allow each clearly cut outline, each unblurred detail to display itself to my mental vision, I forget that I have to bridge over 30 years and three months to do so; I forget that most of the eager faces I see so plainly about me have long been dust; I forget that nearly all of the well known voices I hear so distinctly have long been stilled in the grave.

I write now of what I saw, and what I did and felt on that day with as little stretch of memory as when I sat down the same evening to enter it all in my journal. Much writing in journals and filling-in of log-books was done that night. There are but few who may read these lines that can recollect or realise the intense interest with which everything connected with the name of Franklin at that time excited. Five years and six months had then elapsed since they had sailed from Greenhithe on the 15th of May, 1845. Alas six times five years have now run into the past, and still all we hear of is––relics. Sir John Ross that night, in his close little cabin in the Felix, recorded many marvellous things. Kane, in the Advance, was inditing all that his bright, observant eye had seen. Sherard Osborne that night must have filled sundry folios of that huge, ponderous bank-ledger-looking tome––an awe-inspiring volume it was, which used to make us wonder at the man who could have the courage to contemplate the idea of ever living to cover its wide-spreading pages with closely, neatly written MS.

The day previous to that of our memorable landing at Beechey Island (which had been appointed a place of rendezvous by the different commanders), we had crossed the mouth of Wellington Channel and stood some ten miles to the westward. Here Captain Penny, of the Lady Franklin brig, examined a bay with the view of making it his winter quarters. Captain Ommany had also before this examined the bay with the same view, and named it Assistance Harbour, though, as it turned out, only Penny's two brigs and Sir John Ross's little Felix ultimately wintered in this place. Here a party, of which I was one, was landed to examine the coast thence to Cape Hotham, on the western side of the mouth of Wellington Channel, whilst the vessels put about and ran back under easy sail to Beechy Island, where theymade fast for the night to the "land ice."

During our walk that day, and close examination of the beach, we found various undoubted proofs that parties from the Erebus and Terror had been here before us, but still nothing of any importance. At one place, which I recollect looked as if it had been camped at for some time, I picked up a nondescript sort of apparatus made of hoop iron, something between a long grappling iron and a naturalist's dredge. Many conjectures were formed at the time as to what this had been need for. During the whole day's march a bright look-out was kept for cairns, which we expected to find papers left by the Erebus and Terror, but we did not fall across anything of the kind.

We returned on board that night in a hopeful mood, for, although we found nothing of importance, yet we knew that we had struck the trail, that the scent was strong, and that we were in a fair way of soon gaining more explicit tidings of the lost voyagers. I was the first to start early next morning for the shore, accompanied by John Stuart (the late Dr. John Stuart, of Sandhurst), Petersen, the Esquimaux interpreter, and Alexander Thompson, a seaman. Proceeding across the land ice, we could see on our right front to the eastward the precipitous limestone cliffs and the flat table-top of Beechey Island ; to the left, and stretching westward, the long, gradually sloping and descending gravel spit nearly reaching the opposite cliffs, which there trending northwards, rounded into Wellington Channel.

Our little party made for the lowest orwestern end of the spit. Where we struck it, it rose rather abruptly from the ice, about 10ft, but before we had put foot upon the shingle the quick eye of Petersen had seen something, and his shrill cry in broken English of "Caneesterres! Caneesterres !" made our hearts beat faster with the knowledge that the scent was again breast high. I can hear Petersen's cry, and his next more stirring exclamation ringing in my ear at this moment. Quickly breasting the loose and shifting shingle, we saw before us a neatly-built pyramidal cairn of canisters or meat tins, about 9 ft high, a little broken at the corners by the bears or from other causes, but still evidently carefully constructed ...

Our excitement was at fever beat, for scarce a second elapsed between Petersen's first exclamation and his next more startling cry of " Mans! mans!" his Scandinavian features all aglow, and his blue eyes almost starting from their sockets. Almost at the instant of his utterance I had descried three dark objects about a mile off, where the spit merged into the talus at the foot of the cliffs of the northern sideof Beechey Island. God! Can I ever forget the strange feelings of that half-hour of half hope-the deep excitement with which I started off at headlong speed towards these dark objects, all too willing to be cheated by the thought that the Dane's vision was quicker than mine, and that they were, indeed, men? I recollect dashing down my gun ere I had gone many yards; I recollect tearing madly at the strap of my telescope (a rare Dollond, the gift of ever good and kind Lady Franklin), and of recklessly casting it on the stones. Ammunition belts and pouches were cast aside. I recollect slackening pace for a second or two to get rid of my heavy pea coat and sealskin cap until I could speed more freely along, with the panting Petersen well behind, whose wind had not been improved by years of semi-Esquimaux habits. I recollect noting as I sped along the thousand articles with which the beach was bestrewn, pieces of rope, fragments of timber, scraps of iron, but I did not pause, though I remember me well of gasping out to myself the word 'wrecked.' I recollect that soon after starting I became satisfied that the objects towards which we were so anxiously pressing could not be men.

I recollect that my next idea was that they were huts, and deluding myself into the fond fancy that a filmy smoke rose from one or all of them. I recollect how soon this idea also proved a mockery, and that as I quickly, stride by stride, drew closer and still closer to the dark objects, the ghastly truth dawned upon me that it was their graves that I at last stood beside. Three heavy slabs of wood shaped like humble headstones, painted black, their backs to me, and on the other side the low, oblong-rounded mounds, under neath which three at least of those we were in search of were peacefully lying. 

How well do I remember the pause I made, when the still, quiet desolation of all around me was unbroken, save by the quickly-advancing steps of Petersen crunching over the gravel, the loud beating of my heart and quick-drawn breathing, ere I could gather courage to advance and read the inscriptions that I rightly guessed would appear on the other side of the headboards. I dreaded seeing the name of one near and dear to me who had sailed in the Erebus. After the names, my next glance was at the dates: from these I could judge that in this bay the Erebus and Terror had lain during the winter of 1845-6.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Grave mysteries of Beechey Island

The Franklin expedition graves on Beechey Island are probably one of the best-known and most often visited sites in the Canadian Arctic, and have been a place of pilgrimage almost since their first discovery -- made by a detachment of men from William Penney's search expedition in 1850. The graves of their three most famous occupants -- John Torrington, William Braine, and John Hartnell -- were opened in the 1980's, and a forensic examination of their remains made by the anthropologist Owen Beatte -- during which time photos of the men's faces made headlines around the world, and were the subject of his and John Geiger's groundbreaking book, Frozen in Time.

But what's far less well-known about the Beechey graves is that there's still a measure of uncertainty about which is which. I've guided expedition cruise passengers there for years, and the first question I'm inevitably asked is, what's with that first seeming burial mound -- closest to the shore -- without a marker? The traditional answer has been that this was the site of a memorial to Joseph René Bellot, which was shaped in the manner of a wooden headboard. This headboard, along with all the others, was removed in the 1970's by the NWT government, and taken to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre for conservation and storage. Resin replicas replaced them, but these did not last well; treated wooden boards with bronze plaques replaced those -- and these are the markers we see today. It was decided at that time not to replace Bellot's marker, since that would confuse visitors by making them think he was buried there, rather than lost in the sea-ice some miles distant. And yet, to this day, other sources of confusion persist.

To begin with, there are not three graves but four -- the fourth had was added early on, as Thomas Morgan, late of HMS Investigator, died on his way home while aboard HMS North Star -- this has been assumed to be the grave furthest from the beach, and the replica headboard is there. Then, due to a mixup when the replacements were installed, Braine's and Hartnell's markers were reversed, adding to the work needed to properly interpret the grave sites. And now, thanks to a recent study of the original markers by Todd Hansen, it seems there may be a further issue: the wooden door originally thought to have been the Bellot marker is not nearly as tall as the other markers; it seems unlikely to have been large enough to contain the lengthy tribute -- 17 lines -- it was said to bear, while a taller, rounded "tablet" marker" seems more likely to have been his. But if that's the case, the taller marker -- which originally adorned the furthest grave -- suggests that that it -- not the first one -- was the site of the Bellot marker, and that the closest grave may actually be a grave, with Morgan at rest beneath its stony mound. Corroborating this, no such substantial mound is to be seen behind the present-day Morgan marker.

Hansen's inference seems to me a sound one -- but it's complicated by the fact that neither panel has any surviving writing legible upon it. It's possible that the inscription for Bellot was stamped into lead tablets, similar to those that originally hung on the pillar next to Northumberland House; since the "tablet" marker is extremely worn down, it's also possible that the wood containing painted letters simply wore away. All the markers, now part of the Archives of Nunavut, are presently in temporary storage outside Ottawa at a facility operated by the Canadian Museum of Nature; one can hope that, when the time comes for them to be sent to a permanent home in Nunavut, further study can be conducted using modern, non-destructive techniques.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Frederick Schwatka

Of all the 19th-century Americans who spent a significant part of their lives searching for traces of the Franklin Expedition, Frederick Schwatka is perhaps the least well-known. Elisha Kent Kane, Isaac Israel Hayes, and Charles Francis Hall have all had their biographers, but Schwatka alone has yet to meet his modern chronicler.1 Part of the problem goes back to his original mission; William Gilder, a newspaperman chosen as his second-in-command, used his ties with newspapers and publishers to make sure that his account of Schwatka's search became the most popular and profitable. Schwatka's own narrative appeared only in obscure periodicals, and was never published in its entirety in his lifetime. And, although he subsequently led two further expeditions into Alaska, Schwatka's addiction to laudanum put an early end to his career as an explorer. He was able to turn his experiences into popular lectures, but his abuse of the substance led to embarrassing incidents; in 1891 he fell from a balcony inside his hotel in Mason City Iowa and was believed for a time to be close to death -- but he recovered. Finally, in 1892, while in Portland Oregon to give a lecture on his Arctic exploits, he overdosed one last time, and was found dead in a doorway, a bottle of the fatal drug still clutched in his hand.

Fortunately, we today have the ability to study Schwatka's own account of his Franklin search in detail. Thanks to the archivists at the Mystic Seaport Museum -- where his manuscript is held -- we can now view the original pages online -- and, thanks to the the diligent work of Jacci Greenlee, we now have access to a .pdf which contains a diplomatic transcript of his entire narrative. These materials will surely be the basis of much valuable research to come, we can now both search the transcript and examine the original manuscript to confirm any doubtful readings. Other sources for Schwatka's life and career include his account of his 1883 expedition in Alaska, the records of the American Geographical and Statistical Society (Schwatka's sponsors), and the published narratives of Gilder and Heinrich Klutschak, the expedition's gifted artist. As one of a relatively few nineteenth-century explorers to value and record Inuit oral tradition, Schwatka -- despite his prejudices about indigenous people -- remains a key figure in the early documentary record, upon which we today must draw if we are to connect historical testimony to modern-day archaeological findings.

1 There have been two near-misses -- Schwatka's granddaughter worked on a biography in the 1950's, but it was never completed or published, though in 1984 her collaborator Robert Eugene Johnson published a "précis" of that biography, running to 26 pages, but no more.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Videos from "Franklin Lost and Found" at Mystic Seaport Museum

Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport Museum; key at bottom of post
I'm delighted to be able to announce that our wonderful hosts for "Franklin Lost and Found" on April 5th at the Mystic Seaport Museum have now made available videos of the event. I know how many people around the world had very much wanted to attend, but for varied reasons weren't able -- these videos will give them a sense of the many exciting presentations and panels that day. And, even for those of us who were there, they're a valuable record of our proceedings, one which we can now peruse at any time, and check against those hastily scribbled notes we may or may not have not thought to make at the time.

First up are the opening remarks by Steve White, the President and CEO of Mystic Seaport Musuem, followed by David C. Woodman's keynote address, complete with his slides; as the key figure in understanding Inuit testimony and the search for Franklin's ships, I know his was perhaps the most anticipated of the day.  And then, in order:

• The panel on Inuit oral histories, featuring Fred Calabretta, Lawrence Millman, and Kenn Harper.

• The panel, "Of Ships and Men," about forensic work on the Franklin mystery, featuring John Geiger, Peter Carney, and Keith Millar.

• The panel on current archaeological work on Franklin, with a report from Doug Stenton on past and ongoing land archaeology.

• The panel on Franklin and Popular Culture, with myself and Leanne Shapton in conversation.

• The overall Q&A following all the panels (with a great opening question from my friend Frank Michael Schuster.

• The wonderful musical send-off from Geoff Kaufmann!

KEY: In the photo, from left to right: Jonathan Moore, Keith Millar, Peter Carney, Kenn Harper, Dave Woodman, Steve White, Leanne Shapton, John Geiger, Russell Potter, Lawrence Millman, Nicholas Bell.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Tasting "Tripe de Roche" at Mystic

Photo courtesy Peter Carney
One of the highlights of our time at the "Franklin Lost and Found" event at Mystic took place a bit out of the public eye, in the upstairs area that served as a sort of 'green room' for the speakers. There, thanks to the inestimable Arctic author (and mycologist)  Lawrence Millman, a serving of genuine tripe de roche -- rock tripe -- was available. As those who've studied Franklin know all too well, this humble lichen was, for the final weeks of his disastrous first land expedition, one of the few reliably available foods. As Franklin described it in his Narrative:
The tripe de roche, even where we got enough, only served to allay the pangs of hunger for a short time ... this unpalatable weed was now quite nauseous to the whole party, and in several it produced bowel complaints. Mr. Hood was the greatest sufferer from this cause.
Species of tripe de roche, after Richardson
Hood's sufferings, according to Millman, may well have had to do with the fact that the Franklin party didn't always boil its tripe de roche; when eaten raw, it contains an enzyme -- employed to help dissolve the uppermost layer of the rock surface -- which can cause intense intestinal discomfort and diarrrhoea. Thankfully, the samples I tasted -- both of a North American and Japanese species -- had been cooked in advance. As to their taste, I would say this: imagine that, by some magic, a piece of textured silk or rayon fabric were to be rendered soft and edible -- that is the texture, but taste there is none. Apparently, the texture alone makes it specially prized by the Japanese, who treat it, like tofu, by adding various flavors.

In fact, as to boiling, there are relatively few references to it in any part of Franklin's account. They boiled all sorts of other things -- deer bones, bear paws, buffalo robes, "iceland moss," and of course shoe leather -- but of the 25 appearances of the word "boil" in the text, only three refer to tripe de roche! In their last extremity, they were too weak to leave the "fort," or even drag out the bodies of their dead companions -- and so of course the boiling of anything was quite impossible. If only they had known, they might have saved themselves a tremendous amount of discomfort, and perhaps even poor Hood might have been in better health, and able to prevent his apparent murder by Michel Terrehaute, which seems to have been a crime of opportunity, by all accounts. I'm glad that, from now on, I can speak from experience as to the perfectly healthful -- if not especially tasty -- experience of eating it.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Death of Cudlargo

Memorial to Cudlargo (and others) in Groton
Not a great deal is known about the Inuk known as "Cudlargo," whose brief moment on the stage of history has left such a resonant mark. As Kenn Harper has noted, his actual named was probably Kallarjuk, but to western ears this was rendered as as "Cudlargo"; Charles Francis Hall, who met him aboard ship while sailing north for the first time with whaling captain Sidney O. Budington. recorded his name as "Kudlago." Kallarjuk had come south with Budington in 1859, and was on his way home when he fell deathly ill. From what would turn out to be his deathbed, he repeatedly called out "Taku siku?" -- whaler pidgin/Inuktitut for "Do you see ice?"  -- but sadly, died before he reached home; his question has since become the title of Karen Routledge's excellent book on Inuit and whalers, Do You See Ice?

Hall, who had never before seen an Inuk, had decided that "Kudlago" would be the first recruit to his Franklin Search Expedition and appointed him as his interpreter; he described him as a "remarkably modest and unassuming man," one who as "quick to learn" and never seemed to express surprise at anything. His sudden illness and death, which Hall attributed to the cold fogs off the coast of Newfoundland, made a deep impression on the would-be explorer:
As he expressed a desire to be on deck, a tent was erected there, that he might enjoy the sunshine and the air. But nothing availed to save him. The following day he was again taken below, and never again left his berth alive. He died about half past four on Sunday morning. His last words were, " Teik-ko se-ko? teik-ko se-ko?" — Do you see ice? do you see ice? His prayer was that he might arrive home, and once more look upon his native land — its mountains, its snows, its ice — and upon his wife and his little ones; he would then ask no more of earth. We had sighted the Labrador coast on our way, and after that we sailed several days without seeing ice. Kudlago kept incessantly asking if we saw the ice, thinking, if so, we must be near to his home; but, poor fellow, he was still far away when his final moments came. He died in lat. 63° N., when near the coast of Greenland, and about 300 miles from his native place.  
Suitable preparations were soon made for his burial in the sea, and as I had always thought a " burial at sea" must be a scene of great interest, the one I now witnessed for the first time most strongly impressed itself upon me. Never did I participate more devoutly in what then seemed to me the most solemn scene of my life. There before us was the "sheeted dead," lying amidships on the gangway board, all in readiness for burial. The whole ship's company, save a solitary man at the wheel, had assembled in sorrowful silence around our departed friend, to pay the last respect we could to him. By the request of Captain Budington, who was bound by strong ties of friendship to Kudlago, I had consented to take an active part in the services. During these services the breezes of heaven were wafting us on — silently, yet speedily to the north. At a given signal from the captain, who was standing on my right, the man at the helm luffed the ship into the wind and deadened her headway. William Sterry and Robert Smith now stepped to the gangway, and holding firmly the plank on which was the shrouded dead — a short pause, and down sank the mortal part of Kudlago, the noble Esquimaux, into the deep grave — the abyss of the ocean! 
Image courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum
Just a few short days ago, Kenn Harper and a group of us from the Franklin symposium at the Mystic Seaport Museum stood in the Starr Burying Ground at Groton, and there beheld the memorial stone erected by Budington to his friend. Later that day, while enjoying a tour of the archives and collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, we had a chance to look at the log of the George Henry, the ship on which the sad drama had taken place, and were astonished to find, amidst numerous brief entries on the wind and weather, a strongly-lettered entry for July 1st 1860, edged all about with black ink:
He who had endeared himself to us all, "Cudlargo," the Esquimaux, died at 4:30 A.M.. After appropriate services in which the ship's company participated with deep interest, we buried him in the Sea. Requiescat in pace.
I do not believe this entry has been published before, but it discovering and reading it had a profound effect on all present.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Franklin Lost and Found

At the grave of Hannah ("Tookoolito")
It was truly a memorable gathering; for a day, the geographical center of gravity of the Franklin expedition and everyone whose work has contributed to our understanding of it, was fixed at 41.36° N, 71.96° W -- at the Mystic Seaport Museum. The next day, many of us went to visit the grave of Hannah, where two of her children are also buried; from left to right: Frank Michael Schuster, Russell Potter, Kenn Harper, Peter Carney, Regina Koellner, Steve and Mary Williamson, and Dave Woodman. We all felt especially honored to have Mary with as, as she's Sir John Franklin's great-great grand niece; her uncle, Roderic Owen, was the author of 1978's The Fate of Franklin. Also at the daylong event were Jonathan Moore, John Geiger, Keith Millar, Lawrence Millman, Leanne Shapton, Fred Calabretta, and -- by way of Skype -- Doug Stenton.

The event was videotaped, and in the near future the Museum plans to make video available -- when it does, I'll add a link here on this blog. But in the meantime, some highlights of the day:

• Dave Woodman, in his keynote address, gave the history of his work, both in the archives and in the field.

• Kenn Harper gave an excellent analysis of the history and merits of the many translators of Inuktitut who played a role in recording early testimony about Franklin.

• Fred Calabretta noted the key role that New London whalers played in early interactions with Inuit, and advising Charles Francis Hall before his first trip north.

• Lawrence Millman shared some of his experiences in collecting Inuit oral traditions from elders.

• John Geiger reflected on the impact of the forensic work at Beechey Island as detailed in his and Owen Beattie's Frozen in Time.

• Peter Carney and Keith Millar discussed their research on the question of lead poisoning and other health issues affecting Franklin's crews.

• We had a full and robust report on ground archaeology, directly from Doug Stenton, followed by a detailed account of the current underwater work from Parks Canada's Jonathan Moore.

• Leanne Shapton and I reflected on the place of Franklin in pop culture, from Staffordshire china figures and illustrated newspapers to graphic novels and AMC's series The Terror -- we were especially fortunate that several fans of that series, who've brought its characters to life via cosplay, were in the audience and at the Q&A.

The questions asked at the general session were fantastic, and showed that the audience was as keen on the story as any of us on the panels, and very much steeped in Franklin lore. We concluded with some sea-chanteys and a rousing sing-along of Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage," and then a big collective book-signing in the foyer of the main exhibition building. All of us felt very grateful to the Museum for bringing us together; in all my time working on these histories, this was surely the largest and most complete assembly of "Franklinites" that I have known.

So watch this space for further stories that have sprung out of this gathering -- and see your host try a healthy bite of tripe de roche (it's not bad, actually!).

Friday, March 1, 2019

Franklin Symposium at the Mystic Seaport Museum

Keynote speaker David C. Woodman
In what will be the most significant gathering in many years of those who have searched for, researched, and written about the Franklin mystery, Mystic Seaport Museum will be hosting a symposium on April 5th, 2019. The keynote speaker will be David C. Woodman, who is in many ways the man most responsible for gathering and analyzing the historical Inuit testimony that eventually led Parks Canada's underwater archaeology team to the wreck of HMS "Erebus" in 2014. Woodman's two books -- Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, and Strangers Among Us, form the core of the modern understanding of this large and complex body of oral tradition; Woodman also followed up on his books by leading a number of expeditions on his own in the years before Parks became involved.

Joining him will be a number of other key figures in the modern history of the search for Franklin: from the Parks Canada team, Jonathan Moore will give us the latest on the dive team's work and plans; representing ground-based archaeology will be Doug Stenton, who has been a part of the most numerous and extensive excavations on King William Island since the search began. We'll also be joined by John Geiger, the CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, whose 1988 book, Frozen in Time, described the exhumation and study by Dr. Owen Beattie of the three sailors buried at Beechey Island -- a groundbreaking book in every sense of the word. Others who have taken up this angle of research, including Peter Carney, who has extensively studied the ships' engines, heating apparatus, and water systems, and Keith Millar, a co-author on a number of key studies in recent years that have re-examined and built upon Dr. Beattie's work, will join the discussion.

Two other sessions will be no less vital -- I'll be on a panel alongside Leanne Shapton, whose feature article in the New York Times Magazine on the Franklin relics brought this fascinating history back before American eyes; we'll be looking at the broader history of Franklin in popular culture. Last but very far from least, esteemed historian and author Kenn Harper will host a session on the nature of Inuit oral tradition, as well as the role of individual Inuit in the Franklin search; he'll be joined by curator Fred Calabretta, along with veteran Arctic author Lawrence Millman. Millman, who is also a well-known mycologist, has promised to bring along some tripe de roche -- the lichen that Franklin and his men subsisted on in the last days of their first Arctic land expedition.  After the sessions, there will be a book-signing event with all the authors present, and rumor has it that sea-chanteys will be sung!

Tickets for the day's events are now available; for more information you can contact the Mystic Seaport Museum here.