Comparison of Irving’s grave drawing (Klutschak) with grave found near Crozier’s Landing by “Project Supunger” 1994 (Woodman). A & B – Head and “pillow” stones, C – Side stone with tapering end pointing towards head, D – Large “foot” covering stone still in placeWoodman agrees that a grave of these dimensions could never have been constructed by exhausted men. In his scenario, though, the 1848 abandonment is far briefer, and the return to the ships far sooner:
This certainly addresses this question. Woodman's key deductive points, if readers will excuse a Sherlockian rehearsal, are these:
You mention that you doubt that a grave of “such size and form would have been well beyond the powers of any group of stragglers returning to the ships.” Actually the fact that Irving was buried here is one of the main pillars of my contention that a return to the ships did occur in 1848 (otherwise they wouldn’t have been manned in Erebus Bay in 1849 when the Inuit met them), but my assessment is that 105 men didn’t get very far and were back in the ships within a month after finding that they managed only 3 miles a day or so. This is a far different scenario than that the weakened survivors were from the southern “death camps” (which in my scheme are two years in the future). Most of the 105 would have walked both ways (only 1 grave in Seal Bay, then 2 in “Two grave bay” that are probably from this first march) and there would have been plenty of manpower available to build the grave that we found.
- The Inuit were never near Victory Point, or Crozier's landing point a couple of miles to the south, until long after all the men had perished. The Inuit themselves stated that they learned of this site from the Kabloonas; this could not have been sooner than 1859. The evidence for this is that there was such a large amount of material still present when the first Inuit, such as Supunger and his uncle, arrived -- and that seems very strong evidence indeed.
- The Inuit describe witnessing the sinking of one of Franklin's vessels. Since the Inuit had not been aware of the site of the original abandonment, this must have occurred a considerable distance further south along the coast, and later.
- The Inuit describe the one ship which did not sink as having been manned and piloted, and this is very likely the same ship that was later found anchored somewhere along the far northwest coast of the Adelaide Peninsula (O'Reilly Island, Kirkwall Island etc.). In order for this to have occurred, there must have been a return to the ships when there were still enough healthy men to pilot it.
- For all the same reasons, the Bayne account, because it includes Inuit witnesses, can't have taken place near Victory Point or Crozier's Landing.
At Dave's invitation, I'm making his entire letter to me available here, which goes into much greater detail about his argument. While I don't necessarily agree with every part of it, there's no arguing with the bulleted points. If we suppose that the officers of the Expedition were not insane, their brains not addled by lead, it's entirely sensible to suppose that they would quickly realize the futility of having all the men travel over land to safety. A return to the ships, or at least a return by some to a "sick camp" near Crozier's landing point, where fresh supplies could be obtained from the ships, makes sense. Then, if we imagine that the ice freed them in the summer of 1848 (or 49), it makes sense that they would be re-manned, as they were the best hope of escape. We can then suppose that they were trapped again, and one of the vessels crushed, off either Erebus Bay or Terror Bay, or both -- the graves there suggest a probable repeat of the sick camp / graves made ashore scenario. Finally, the remaining ship is once more piloted, probably by a "skeleton" crew of a few hardy sailors, and makes it into Queen Maud Gulf, but no further; a small group apparently left this ship but did not make it out.
Meanwhile, those still at the last 'sick camp' on King William Island sent out one last group of men on foot in search of help, and this is the party the Inuit met met at Washington Bay, and which is responsible for the bodies, with only a prefunctory or no burial, scattered along the southern coast of KWI, ending at the Todd Islets.
My thanks to Dave for sharing his thoughts on this -- and I look forward to comments from everyone else!