Sunday, November 29, 2009

Digitized Arctic Charts at Library & Archives Canada

A major new digital initiative of the Library and Archives of Canada has recently been completed: the digital scanning of all the British Admiralty Charts of Canadian waters. It's an impressive feat, the more so in an era when the Library has had severe cutbacks in staff and funding; perhaps the present Government's interest in the Northwest Passage and issues of Canadian sovereignty helped ensure that the project would be funded. Whatever the reason, it's cause for celebration among Arctic researchers. Among the digitized, zoomable charts is the original full-colour version of Rupert Thomas Gould's map of King William Island, officially known as Admiralty Chart No. 5101. To help users of the map weigh the evidence from different sources, map indications based on Naval observers were given in red ink, while Inuit testimony was shown in blue. You can now zoom in on any detail, and drag the zoomed image to show adjacent areas; it's almost as good as having the chart in your hands.

The only drawback of the project is that, vaster (or at least as vast as) Empires, it moves more slow -- much more slow. Even on a high-speed internet connection, searches seem to take a minute or more to run, and the full map image can take up to five minutes to finish loading. The search indicators and limiters are few, and are also slow to run, making it difficult to navigate that especially treacherous strait between too many and too few (or no) hits. Searching by name provides a potential shortcut, but this search option looks through all digitized materials, not just the maps; for places where there is a lot of other material, such as photographs, this can mean searching for the same needle in an even bigger haystack. Nevertheless, the results, when one does locate the chart wanted, are spectacular indeed, and will certainly reward the patient searcher.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Franklin curiosities: Toy replica of Goldner's tin

In my last posting, I mentioned another remarkable item in my collections, a small toy replica of one of Goldner's infamous red tins. It's about an inch tall, and is made from a wooden spool and painted with (non-toxic) red paint; wrapped in tissue, it fits snugly inside a box decorated with woodcuts of Arctic explorers, with the label "Franklin Expedition Arctic Discovery Play Set." A small leaflet within outlines the essential history, and explains the possible role of Goldner's tins in Franklin's demise. This remarkable item is the work of Ron Toelke, a graphic designer with many years of experience in the book trade, who has taken up the sideline of making extraordinary toys and gifts using old engravings and woodcuts of Polar voyages. In addition to the Franklin play-set, he's worked on a set of Franklin expedition playing cards, with Franklin and his officers as "Kings" and the ships as "Queens." (Interestingly, there was a set of such cards made back in the 1850's for Dr. Kane's Second Grinnell Expedition; these are on display at the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia).

Goldner's tins, of course, excite a sort of morbid curiosity -- and here Toelke has chosen the infamous "Ox Cheek" soup, which one imagines, even if wholesome and properly tinned, might cause some (understandable) queasiness. I've had some experience with these tins -- there's an original one in a glass case at the airport in Resolute, Nunavut -- and for the Franklin documentary I was in, the producer had made a number of cans spray-painted red. When I was in Los Angeles as the Velaslavasay Panorama, they made lovely full-size tins (Ox Cheek Soup being again featured), which were placed around the tables from which period Arctic fare was served. The actual degree to which these cans -- either from the lead in their solder, possible contamination with botulism, or simple putridity -- contributed to the demise of Franklin and his men remains a subject of fierce debate. I would only observe this: the much higher death rate among Franklin's officers, as opposed to ordinary seamen, must correlate with something -- and officers were regularly issued several times the tinned rations of sailors. Sounds like a fun game to me -- say, kids, who wants to go first?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Franklin curiosities: Erebo y Terror

Over the years, I've come to acquire all sorts of oddities and ephemera relating to the Franklin expedition, including chapbooks, newspaper articles, trading cards, and even toys (in the form of a lovely replica miniature can of poisoned beef, complete with box and informative notes -- it will be the subject of my next posting). But by far the rarest and most curious printed item is this tiny book, Erebo y Terror, published as part of a "Library of Micronesia" by Juan Miguel Muñoz, who at the time (2004) worked at the Spanish branch of Random House publishers. The book, bound in red, is accompanied by a small leaflet and a copy of Beard's daguerreotype of James Fitzjames, which themselves are contained in a CD jewel box, on which a tiny miniature compass is mounted (see photo). Both are enclosed in a slipcase featuring the logo of the Library, a tooth with the motto "De la pulcra Ceniza," which as far as I can make out with my limited Spanish, means "a little bit of ash."

I do wish I had better Spanish, as the book itself is entirely written in that language. Happily, the accompanying materials, including a little sheet of glassine which is folded inside the cover, have both English and Spanish texts. The publisher informed me that the book's first three sections -- Introducción, Prólogo, and Los pergamos del cabo Félix -- are fiction, and intoduce a fabulous manuscript said to be found among Franklin's relics, written by Paco Alarcón. The latter parts -- Mallory y Hatteras and El Paso del Noroeste -- are nonfictional accounts of the search for the Passage from Frobisher to Amundsen. According to the publisher, Franklin was never a major figure of interest in Spain, which was why this limited edition of 250 had, as of the time of his writing, not sold a single copy; 50 were sent as gifts, of which mine is numbered (paradoxically) A63. It seems like the sort of little book that might have been imagined by Jorge Luis Borges, and lain on a shelf between a Wycliffe bible and the Book of Sand -- and yet here it is, in my hand.

If anyone knows more about this curious volume, I'd be very happy to hear from them! I'll be featuring a different item from my collections every week or so, so if Arctic cabinets of curiosity stir your interest, do 'stay tuned'!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Copper sheathing of "Erebus" and "Terror"

The question of copper sheathing recovered during recent searches for HMSS "Erebus" and "Terror" has certainly piqued my curiosity. Robert Grenier tells me that only the Royal Navy used pure copper sheeting, although other sources say that pure copper was worn away too quickly, and alloys soon came to be preferred. The impurities in the copper, it turned out, toughened it just a bit, while still allowing some of the surface to be sloughed off along with the attendant bits of marine life. As one manual drawn up in the late nineteenth century put it:
"It is now known to all who have studied the subject that the cause of copper, yellow metal, zinc, and other metallic alloys placed on a ship's bottom, keeping clean and free from fouling, is the exfoliation of the metal and the constant renewal of the surface caused thereby, through which the adherent matter is, as it were, sent adrift, by the friction of the water against the metal sheathing washing off the exfoliated parts or films."
The Royal Navy took some time to realize this. John Bingeman, who has made an extensive study of the copper sheathing applied to HMS "Victory" and other ships of the era, notes that uncertainty over the ideal composition led to the practice of stamping each plate so that its origin and date of application could be compared with its rate of wear (see photo). This, it was hoped, would help identify the "good" copper, which sloughed off marine residue at just the right rate, from "bad" copper which wore away too quickly (thus being expensive), or did not wear away (thus allowing marine life to accumulate and foul the plating):
"I believe the reason for dating was an attempt to discover why copper varied from good to bad. Coppering ships served two purposes. It prevented worm attack, especially important in the West Indies where new hulls could be destroyed in under two years. The second need was for the copper to erode slowly preventing excessive fouling. This was known as "good" copper and relied on small quantities of impurities to achieve this effect, since completely pure copper eroded quickly and neededreplacing in less than two years. Really bad copper had too many inclusions and did not erode at all; fouling was then just as bad as plain wooden hulls. In an attempt to recognise good from bad, the Dockyards recorded the plate's life by dating each sheet. I would stress that these copper marks are not easily discernable when hidden by an oxide coating."
So if "good" copper relied upon small amounts of impurities, how is it that Robert Grenier can say with such confidence that Royal Navy copper plating was "100% copper"? He may simply be rounding things off, as the impurities in RN copper were relatively slight. Merchant vessels, in contrast, tended to use an alloy known as "Muntz's Metal," which was only 60% copper alloyed with 40% zinc and a trace of iron. This material, in fact, was used for the sheathing of the Cutty Sark, one of the most famous vessels of its day, or ours.

There has been some uncertainty in the past as to whether "Erebus" and "Terror" were in fact copper-sheathed. I talked with Dave Woodman about this, and he notes that they had been copper sheathed during their Antarctic service just prior to being re-outfitted for Franklin, and that he has seen work orders for the removal of some of their copper sheets. This may have been a prelude to re-sheathing, or because copper had to be removed from the parts of the ship that were to be sheathed in iron (copper and iron could not be allowed to have direct contact, as this created a "galvanic effect" -- essentially turning the plating, and the sea-water around it, into an electrical cell which resulted in rapid corrosion of the metals).

Woodman believes that the copper pieces that Grenier has been discussing were not in fact found in 2008, but rather as part of the the original Project Utjulik in 1997. He describes the location and significance of this copper as follows:
"These copper sheets and other artifacts were not found on the beach but associated with Inuit tent circles on one of the islets to the north of O'Reilly Island, so they were not primarily associated with a ship at all. They could have been transported there by either drifting wreckage from the north or Inuit travel (as could the relics recovered by the 1967 Project Franklin group) but since some of the testimony indicates a wreck nearby they could also be corroborative. Even if from the ship it may not be external sheathing but 'trade copper' or the remnants of copper sheeting carried by the expedition for making pots etc."
You can see an image of this copper here in the original report. One of the sheets had a tarry substance adhering to it, with traces of what may have been oakum (a mixture of tar and hemp used by carpenters to fill cracks and irregularities in a ship's planking), which suggested it may have been attached to a ship or boat, but tests at the time showed it had not been immersed for a long period in salt water.

What I would suggest is that Grenier, and others hoping to follow this trail of copper, get a hold of some of the bits of copper recovered by earlier searchers, such as Charles Francis Hall. Hall's bits were marked with the broad arrow; their metallic composition and thickness could be readily compared with the Utjulik finds. I believe that even the best Royal Navy copper probably had some trace impurities, and these could be used to help make a definitive match. What's more, if any additional copper is found next summer, there would be a ready way to evaluate it and determine if it resembled material known to have been recovered from Franklin sources. We have the technology, after all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Solving the Franklin Mystery

In an earlier post, I said I'd return to a detailed account of Grenier's approach, and say where and why I think he ought to look -- so here goes. For one, I would actually say that finding the remains of Franklin's ships, while a laudable goal which surely fires the imagination -- wouldn't be my first priority. When you have only a small window of funding and opportunity, I think you should go for the search method most likely to yield definitive results, and that would be a search on land. When you think of it, of all the known Franklin sites on land, only one -- NgLj-2 on King William Island -- has been examined with modern archaeological and forensic tools. A similar examination is long overdue for the Todd Islets site, which is certainly where at last one group of survivors met their end, and the location of which is well-known, especially to Louie Kamookak, whose grandfather reburied the remains there, and who is on Grenier's team. A visit to the area of "Starvation Cove" might also be worthwhile, as there are several indications that a box of records or papers was brought this far. All of the remains there have sunk into the coastal silt, which may make them harder to locate, but should also have preserved them. Similar sites at Ogle Point, Grant Point, Cape Herschel, and on Montreal Island, have not been examined in modern times. Small "away teams" could reconnoiter these sites, most of which are near enough to Gjoa Haven that getting people and supplies there would be relatively inexpensive, while Grenier's ship-bound team monitors its sonar scans.

For, as tempting as it is to imagine that side-scan sonar will reveal one of the ships, the area to be searched is so vast that it would take many years to search it all effectively. Dave Woodman tried to limit the search area with a magnetic survey, hoping that the ships' engines would be detectable -- but his targets turned out to be natural features. Nevertheless, the areas he has surveyed offer at least a negative map, of places where it wouldn't be necessary to search again. I suppose this is why Grenier is so focussed on the Royal Geographical Society Islands, as one or both ships must surely have passed near them -- but this area is far from where Inuit testimony placed the re-manned ship (which would be near Grant Point or O'Reilly Island, as shown on this map) -- so I should imagine that all he'd find there would be bits of debris brought along by ice and currents from the ship which sank close to the coast of King William Island.

Some, such as Andrew Lambert, regard the Inuit testimony as too convoluted, too mangled up in its sources, too damaged by errors in transmission, to be of much use. Yet when you look at this testimony, there are certain features that, I feel, make some stories more credible than others. There are accounts of the abandoned ship on the ice from numerous witnesses; the story was told to Hall by several persons; it was told again to Schwatka, and indeed it was told again to Rasmussen a generation later, with much of the same detail. I think it's probably the most credible single account we have, and there's good reason to trust it. It comes from the Ootjoolingmiut, the very band whose original territory lay closest to the site. The most dramatic version is that given by Schwatka, and I will close by quoting it in full. This is the ship that I think could yet be found -- if only Grenier would look for it:

Colonel Gilder and I [interviewed] old Ikinnilik-Puhtoorak, the head man of this tribe, with Joe Ebierbing as our interpreter. The old man, then about sixty years old, had an intelligent, open face, and all his answers were given without hesitation, in a straightforward manner which carried the conviction of truth. In response to our questions he stated that he had seen white men before in this country. Almost impatiently we waited Joe's interpretation of the old man's statements. His next remarks electrified us.

"A long time ago, said Puhtoorak, "when I was a small boy living with my people just below the bad rapids near the mouth of the Great Fish River, we saw a wooden boat with white men going down the river. The white men shook hands with the Innuits and the latter rubbed their hands down their breasts, a sign of welcome."

There were ten men in the boat, and the commander's name as near as he could remember it was Tooahdeahhrak (probably Lieut. Back on his first exploration of the river).

Continuing his story, Puhtoorak told Ebierbing that the next time he saw a white man it was a dead one in a large ship about eight miles off Grant Point. The body was in a bunk inside the ship in the back part. The ship had four big sticks, one pointing out and the other three standing up. On the mainland, near Smith Point and Grant Point on the Adelaide peninsula, an Esquimaux party which he accompanied saw the tracks of white men and judged they were hunting for deer. At this time the tracks indicated there were four white men but afterwards the tracks showed only three. He saw the ship in the spring before the spring snow falls and the tracks in the fresh spring snow when the young reindeer come of the same year. He never saw the white men. He thinks that the white men lived in this ship until the fall and then moved onto the mainland.

Puhtoorak told how the Esquimaux, not understanding how to get into the ship, cut through one side. When summer came and the ice melted the ship righted herself but the hole in her side being below the water line she sank as the water poured in. After the ship sank, they found a small boat on the mainland. When he went on board the ship he saw a pile of dirt on one side of the cabin door showing that some white man had recently swept out the cabin. He found on board the ship four red tin cans filled with meat and many that had been opened. The meat was full of fat. The natives went all through the ship and found also many empty casks. The found iron chains and anchors on deck, and spoons, knives, forks, tin plates, china plates, etc.

When the ship finally sank her masts stuck out of the water and many things floated on shore which the natives picked up. He also saw books on board the ship but the natives did not take them. He afterwards saw some that had washed ashore. He never saw any stone monument or cairn on the mainland near where the ship sank. There was one small boat hanging from the davits which the natives cut down. Some of the ship's sails were set.

Monday, November 9, 2009

With Grenier in the Nelson Room

To the unsuspecting passer-by, the little art-shop in an alley off the Nelson Road in Greenwich might almost be missed -- a few nautical paintings, some marine instruments, and a little row of alphabetical pins that spells out "ENGLAND EXPECTS ... " -- and yet what lies upstairs might inspire more than a little wonder. For it's there, in a chamber known among the cognoscenti simply as the "Nelson Room," where history lies deep upon shelf and wall, that some of the most remarkable gatherings in Greenwich take place. The shelves are bowed with Nelson biographies (in one of which a little bit of his blood-stained kerchief is lain); Nelson lithographs and etchings line the walls, and every cranny is crammed with Nelson tchotchkes. A full-size replica of Nelson's personal chair -- complete with leather "in" and "out" pockets -- adorns one corner, while in another a Marine's cap-band is wrapped whimsically about a marble bust.

On this day -- the eve of Robert Grenier's talk in the Painted Hall, I was in this very room with Kenn Harper and a few other Arctic mavens, hoping for an advance chat. Grenier was due to arrive by Thames clipper, his preferred means of conveyance, and -- provided that my friend Huw Lewis-Jones, who'd organized the event, could manage to keep his handlers from whisking him away prematurely -- we'd have a chance to ask our questions in person. Having been informed that he fancied a bit of Cognac, an excellent bottle was on hand, along with rum, single-malt whiskey, and some soda water.

And, after a quick rattle of footsteps on the narrow, spiral staircase, there he was! Of course, as have 'Franklinites' the world over, I'd been following his work closely these past few years, but I had little idea of what sort of man to expect. In the past, he'd rarely gone out to publicize his work, and had never replied to my (relentlessly courteous) e-mails, so aside from having heard his voice in a CBC interview, I had little to go on. He was, as it turned out, very charming and soft-spoken, with the manner of a careful, quiet practitioner. He declined the proffered cognac -- thanks, but he needed to keep his head clear for the talk. Where was I from? Rhode Island -- did I know that there had been a number of Greniers in Woonsocket? I had not. After these preliminaries, of course, Kenn and I got right down to Franklin business.

It was curious that, given our shared interests over many years, Grenier hadn't, apparently, heard of either of us. Nevertheless, he could tell from our questions that we knew something of which we spoke, and he was very direct in his replies. We were curious about persistent Inuit accounts of buried papers, some of which had cropped up just recently -- it turned out he had heard from the same people we had. Of course, he said, these should be looked into, but much as ourselves, he was skeptical as to whether, at this late date, such claims were likely to be accurate. We talked about (Gjoa Haven resident) Louie Kamookak, and what the Franklin story meant to local Inuit -- certainly there were hopes that new finds would bring tourists, money, perhaps a museum to the region.

The copper, which would be the subject of his later talk, was our next topic of conversation. I mentioned to him the copper bits recovered by Hall from Inuit near Booth Point on King William Island; these had borne "two stamps of the broad arrow." Had any of the pieces found by Grenier been stamped? No, he replied, but the high copper content was a sure sign they were from a Royal Naval vessel. He asked me about the copper found by Hall, and I told him it must be either at the Smithsonian or the NMM; he noted this down on a pad, and told me he'd definitely look into it. He recalled the copper found in 1997 with David Woodman, and felt that these finds were definitely the "footprints" of Franklin's men. Next summer's search, he hoped, would lead him to the end of that trail.

Grenier clearly has a genuine passion for the preservation of Franklin's ships, and his greatest anxiety was that someone would make some private claim upon them before the sites could be properly secured. As an archaeologist, he said, it was his job to learn what could be learned from them, and make certain that this knowledge became part of Canada and Britain's common heritage. Grenier, now 72 years old, has the energy of a much younger man, and possesses the persistence needed to fulfill his quest. I only hope that the Canadian government, which helped roll out the red carpet for Grenier's appearances here, will maintain its support when it comes to securing an icebreaking vessel for his work. It's a small -- perhaps a very small -- window of opportunity, and it would be a real shame were it to be missed due to bureaucratic infighting.

Just at that moment, the "handlers" appeared -- their dark suits bulging with biceps, and one with a little ear-bud that put me in mind of Agent Smith in The Matrix -- and whisked Grenier off in the direction of the Chapel. Kenn and I exchanged glances, clinked glasses, and turned to follow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Night of Polar Stars

Following the very touching memorial to Lieutenant Le Vesconte and the men of the Franklin expedition, we walked the short distance across the courtyard to the entrance to the Painted Hall. No better venue could be imagined for a Franklin gathering, for it was here, in 1854 and again in 1859, that the relics of his Expedition were put on display for an anxious, and then a grieving, nation. I believe it's safe to say that seldom, since that era, has this storied chamber held such a sky-full of Polar stars, nor such a broad gathering of family members of the Franklin expedition and those who searched for it. Among the former were Glyn Williams, masterful historian of the search for the Northwest Passage; Kenn Harper, author of Give Me My Father's Body; Franklin biographer Andrew Lambert, Crozier biographer Michael Smith, and Jonathan Dore, Arctic editor and book reviewer extraordinaire. Among the latter were present Lady Marie Herbert, Sylvia and Paddy and a great many other McClintocks, Martin and more than 25 other Croziers, the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, Sir Nicholas Bayne (Sir John Ross), and members of the Wills family, descendants of Lieutenant Henry TD Le Vesconte. Not the least in this constellation were our hosts, Dr Huw Lewis-Jones (Face to Face: Polar Portraits) and Kari Herbert (The Explorer's Daughter, Heart of the Hero) of Polarworld.

The centre of the hall was open, with candlelit tables along each side crowded with Arctic-themed canapes; uniformed servers offered guests their choice of Georgian wine or Siberian vodka drinks. A podium had been placed at the front of the Hall, and it was from here that Robert Grenier, the star toward whom all eyes that night were directed, was to speak. He was introduced by the Canadian High Commissioner, James R. Wright, who spoke of Canada's renewed emphasis on its unique and shared Arctic heritage with the United Kingdom. Then, to a warm round of applause, the man of the hour approached the podium and began to speak.

Grenier picked up on the Commissioner's points, emphasizing the tremendous historical importance of the wrecks, should either survive, of HM Ships "Erebus" and "Terror." Unfortunately, due to the nature of Canada's current salvage laws, it's possible that these sites could be claimed by private parties. Nevertheless, with the support of the Canadian government, they have been declared in advance to be significant sites of national heritage -- the key is that Grenier's team must reach them first.

Grenier then spoke of the significance of Inuit testimony in his search, and the co-operation of Inuit today. He first witnessed its value when working alongside David C. Woodman on "Project Utjulik" in 1997. Then, as on his most recent mission, pieces of sheet copper were recovered very near where Inuit testimony had placed one of Franklin's ships. The copper found most recently has been tested, he said, and found to be nearly 100% pure. Such unalloyed copper sheeting was used only by ships of the Royal Navy, and thus was clear evidence that the 2008 search was also near an area of significant Franklin remains, as his had been the only such ships of that era in that region.

He acknowledged the disappointment -- most keenly felt by himself -- that other missions and tasks had prevented any of the region's icebreaking vessels from providing support for this summer's planned search, but reassured all present that plans are in place for next summer, and prospects good. Finally, he addressed himself very directly to the families of Franklin's men and those who searched for him, speaking of the enormous significance of their ancestors' sacrifice, and his great desire to do them honor by determining more clearly the final fate of the lost explorers.

His remarks were welcomed by all present with much applause, and afterwards he generously took time to talk personally with a great many of those present. He was, of course, due to speak again the following evening at the National Maritime Museum, but that would surely have been an anticlimax after a glittering evening such as this. I'm grateful, as ever, to Huw and Kari, for their enormous efforts in making this event such a success, and I'm certain that it marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation and connection between Polar scholars, family members, and the growing number of Franklin buffs in the British Isles and North America, and around the world.

Next up: a behind-the-scenes chat with Grenier, and my own thoughts on his approach to the ongoing search.

Photo credit: Nick Garrod

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Memorable service for Franklin sailors

This past Thursday, on the 29th October, I was the guest of Dr Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert of Polarworld, joining over 200 of their other guests for a special Service of Thanksgiving and rededication of the Franklin Memorial at the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

Having attended a number of Franklin memorials and commemorative events over the years, I can say that this was, by far, the most solemn and moving service of all such memorials, and the most beautifully conceived and presented. Of course it had one distinction that all other such services lacked: the bones of one of Franklin's men -- Lieutenant Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vesconte -- brought back in 1869 from King William Island by Charles Francis Hall, and sent to England in 1873. For many years, the monument in which these bones lay was subject to benign neglect in a dusty stairwell behind the altar, out of public view and access. This special service celebrated the move and restoration of this memorial to a place of honor and prominence inside the vestibule of the main entrance, where everyone from this moment forward will readily be able to see it. Dr Lewis-Jones conceived and directed the event with the support of the Greenwich Foundation and the Canadian High Commission, acting in unique partnership with his company Polarworld.

The service, presided over by the Rev. Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Woolwich, along with the Rev. Jeremy Frost, Chaplain to the Greenwich Foundation, opened with Beethoven's Funeral March on the Death of a Hero, beautifully played on the Chapel organ. The clergy and choir then entered, and took their places about the altar. Throughout the service, the choir was magnificent, singing both traditional hymns and more complex modern choral works with a rare combination of verve and purity of tone. The service was opened by the Rev. Frost, who welcomed all present with these words:
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 ..
The reading, appropriately enough, was from the Book of Job. Afterwards, Bishop Chessun ascended to the pulpit and delivered quite a lovely address, in which he extolled the merits of the urge to explore, to risk life and limb in the pursuit of expanding geographical and scientific knowledge. The Canadian High Commissioner, James R. Wright, offered a poignant excerpt from Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen's poetic cycle "Terror and Erebus."

The congregation then turned, en masse, to face the rear of the chapel, and the clerics and descendants of Franklin's men processed to witness the monument's re-dedication. Holy water was sprinkled upon the marble, and a lovely, hymn, "Take him, earth for cherishing" (Herbert Howells), was intoned by the choir. It was a deeply moving moment, and I could not help but think how much easier Le Vesconte's bones would rest, now that they were ensconced in a far more visible and honored location, re-interred with all the rich ceremony omitted on earlier such occasions.

Of course, although we all were there to honor Le Vecsonte and all of Franklin's officers and men, we were also present out of a strong shared interest in finally determining what happened to make the Expedition collapse so utterly, and what might have been the actions and thoughts of its men in their last moments of hope and despair. And, in a modest way, the re-interment gave us insight into the disposition of his bones, and the interest which attended them when they were first brought back to England in 1873. During the renovation and relocation of the Monument, under the direction of the Greenwich Foundation, Dr Huw Lewis-Jones and English Heritage, the sarcophagus was opened, and a wooden coffin found with a plaque identifying its origins. Inside, along with the skeleton (which was wrapped, curiously, in a large Admiralty chart of New Guinea) was a pasteboard cross adorned with flowers, a map of the Arctic, and a note from the Hydrographer Royal. These, and other aspects of the remains, along with a summa of Le Vesconte's career and some quite remarkable never-before-seen images, are the subject of a forthcoming article by Dr Huw Lewis-Jones in the 2009 issue of the Trafalgar Chronicle, an annual international journal devoted to sailing navy history and maritime memorials. I am delighted that Huw has offered to make this special paper available to readers of this blog here.

After the memorial service, we walked across to the Painted Hall for a gala reception featuring remarks by Robert Grenier, Chief Underwater Archaeologist for Parks Canada, whose recent search efforts were of so much interest to us all. In my next post, I'll recount the highlights of his address, along with an account of those present.

(Photo credit: Mike Almond)