Friday, December 30, 2011

Strange Graves

When the New York Times ran a blog post on its Dot Earth blog about the ballad "Lord Franklin," they chose as an illustration a curious engraving. It comes from a June 1881 issue of the Illustrated London News, and was one of many large plates showing scenes from Schwatka's search for Franklin. This one was captioned: "THE AMERICAN FRANKLIN SEARCH EXPEDITION: GRAVES OF THE COMRADES OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN." So it would seem an ideal illustration for blog about the famous ballad lamenting the lost of Sir John and his "gallant crew," except for one detail: the graves shown here are certainly not those of Franklin or his crewmembers. The only graves, in the sense of organized burials with grave markers, are those found on Beechey Island; there were only three, until an unlucky crewman aboard the "North Star" joined them to make a party of four. And yet here we see what appear to be sixteen graves, three of which feature enormous columns that would seem to be made of wood or stone -- two obelisks and one cross.

So where is this graveyard -- with a village of igloos and an ice-bound ship near at hand? I think I have a likely answer, but rather than offer it here, I thought I'd "crowd source" the question: whose graves are these, and how did they end up being depicted in such a lovely but mistitled engraving?

(p.s. the version here is scanned from my own personal copy, not from the Times or the collection credited there).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Lee and others at the Facebook page "Remembering the Franklin Expedition" for finding the right solution: This is "Deadman's Island," the other side of Marble Island, which had a graveyard whose ranks were greatly swelled by the terrible winter of 1873, when several whalers were crushed, and the conditions of the survivors on the remaining ships were horrific. Legend has it that this was the place where the last two survivors of the Knight expedition waited for a rescue that would never come, the survivor of the two too weak to bury the other ... see this site for details ...