Thursday, September 2, 2010

Buried Franklin Records to be Uncovered?

Here's a curious story, which I've known about for over a year, and is finally going public: in the midst of the Inuit hamlet of Gjoa Haven, under a memorial to "Paddy" Gibson, some believe there is a cache which contains lost records of the Franklin Expedition, perhaps even Franklin's diary itself! So now at last I am free to speak of it.

Gjoa resident Walter Porter, whose grandfather helped bury the records, is convinced that they are Franklin's. His own father kept the fact secret until not long before his death, when he confided in his son the details of the burial of the records. The news story today at says that the cache is to be opened on Saturday, September 4th, so Franklin buffs the world 'round will not have long to wait!

But I myself do not believe these are likely to be Franklin records. For one, had any records of Franklin's been found by Paddy Gibson, he would likely have done what the Porter family hopes to do now: announce the news to the world, and receive the public interest and gratitude such a revelation would almost certainly elicit. No, I believe these are much more likely records of Amundsen's, who was known to have left several chaches in the area, one of which was found by Gibson, buried by him and then uncovered and reburied in the 1950s under the Gibson memorial. Nevertheless, whichever they are, there will of course be considerable historical interest in their recovery, and rightly so.

Having talked very extensively with Walter Porter, I know that, although he is anxious to have these records uncovered, he emphasizes that his interest is not in personal fame, but in bringing attention to the community of Gjoa Haven, and the situation of the Inuit in general. He repeatedly expressed to me his hope that this discovery would benefit the hamlet of Gjoa Haven, perhaps by drawing additional tourists, perhaps through the establishment of some kind of permanent museum. In a town where more than 1,000 mostly young residents must find their way through life when there are only a couple of dozen year-round jobs, it's an understandable desire. At the same time, though the agreement mentioned in the article specifies that the documents be returned to Gjoa Haven, it also appears to stipulate that they remain the property of the Porter family -- this seems quite a remarkable agreement, as any records found would seem to be more fittingly regarded as national property.

Curiously, the legal correspondence about this excavation -- some of which I have seen -- was prepared by an Inuk lawyer whose name is Lillian Aglukark. Her surname, as fate would have it, is the same Inuktitut name which the Inuit used to refer to the mysterious last leader of the Franklin survivors -- a name which Charles Francis Hall spelled as "Aglooka."

There is only one way to find out what really lies beneath these stones -- and on Saturday, though I am doubtful, there is no one who would be more surprised and delighted were these to turn out to be some of the long-lost records of the final Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin.

[photo courtesy of Walter Porter]

1 comment:

  1. Why keep the records a secret and rebury them? In any case this will probably yield something interesting. Perhaps something related to Gibson's search?

    How far would the last survivors have carried any records? This expedition would have generated a mountain of papers. Diaries, notes, log books, observations and data sheets. If, on average, 15 men generated one page per day for three years there would have been about 16,000 pages of text by April 1848. Many things could have happened, some were left on the ships, they were lost along the way or at least some were cached.

    Excited to see the results tomorrow. Wish I could be there.