Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Comfort Cove

The writer of the so-called "Peglar Papers" -- a cache of personal documents and letters found with the remains of one of the ships' stewards -- spoke of "the grave at Comfort Cove" (well, actually, as he preferred to write backwards, he spoke of "eht evarg ta Trofmoc Evoc"). A person of great importance was buried there, possibly Franklin or Crozier or one of the other officers. The name was borrowed, with what seems to us some irony, from the "Comfort Cove"on Ascension Island, which featured a graveyard adjacent to an isolated quarantine camp -- a site since re-dubbed more accurately as "Comfortless Cove." You can see images of it online, and they suggest not so much a place of refuge as one of (final) rest.

But where could this place be? No maps survive among the scraps of paper remaining to us, so it's impossible to know what names Franklin's men assigned to various land or water features. Still, if Franklin himself was buried there, then it must have been established by 11 June 1847. It must have been close enough to the ships that several parties -- those who were to dig the grave, and those who were to preside at and attend the funeral ceremony -- could reach the site. With "Erebus" and "Terror" still some distance NW of King William, this suggests a site nearer to Cape Felix than to Victory Point. I've been discussing this puzzle with Glenn M. Stein and others, and it seems to me one of those things that might best be solved by more heads than two. So let's have at it -- you can get a variety of free maps and satellite images from GeoGratis or (better yet) zoom in on Rupert Thomas Gould's invaluable Franklin search map of KWI from 1927; you can also look at the maps and reports prepared by David C. Woodman on his many search expeditions. What says the wisdom of the crowds?


  1. Hi Russell,

    This is a tough one.

    In responding to your challenge, my first inclination was to search for the relevant information at the Caird Library thanks to the link in your Peglar Papers blog post. After some time searching, it became fairly clear that I wouldn't have any more luck than Richard Cyriax, or yourself for that matter, at deciphering any additional information by trying to translate and interpret the writings. While I've read Cyriax's book, I have yet to see a transcript of his translation of the Peglar Papers: does such a resource exist online?

    My other question would be, and forgive my ignorance of the details of the Peglar Papers, but what passage provided the suggestion that a person of great importance was buried at "Comfort Cove"?

    Given what we know about the Franklin expedition, the conditions they faced at the time they sailed, and the challenges they faced, to me Comfort Cove could only have been a place so named for the things that would have provided comfort to the sufferers of the expedition: shelter, warmth, nourishment (from both food and grog, to whet their whistles), and an opportunity to rest and be healed from their various ailments, of which we can be sure there were many.

    While deliberating the Comfort Cove question, I posed the conundrum to my significant other, who- despite putting up with so many of my late night Franklin ramblings- was blatant enough to say, "...there was no such place as Comfort Cove. And if there was, it was named that because it was a joke." After much deliberation, I can't help but agree with her blatant assessment. Given the brutal weather conditions we know know to have existed at the time, the likely condition of the crew, and the hardships they must have been facing with man-hauling the sledges while affected by scurvy and lead poisoning, it could well be that "Comfort Cove" could have been a name given to a place where some of their worst hardships were endured. Given what we know of James Fitzjames' sense of humor from his writings and from William Battersby's research, this type of irony might even be akin to some sense.

    Since so many have traveled to KWI in search of the grave of Franklin, Crozier, or some other great officer, my best guess to solve this puzzle is that "Comfort Cove" is actually very close to Victory Point and Terror Camp, where they first gathered after abandoning the ships, and that the grave mentioned is that of Liutenant Iriving: arguably the most substantially organized burial effort found so far on King William Island by the crews after the ships were abandoned.

    From a historian's sake, I certainly hope that I am wrong in this speculation, and that others can pose a more meaningful interpretation of the challenge.

    As always, I look forward to your next post.

  2. Hi Greg,

    Many thanks indeed for your comment. I agree that the term "Comfort Cove" was probably applied with considerable irony, much in the way that soldiers in the trenches of WWI named a trench "Park Lane."

    Details on this passage, and an image of the leaf, can be found here. I agree that the place named must be fairly near to the location of the ships; one suggestion is that what we'd thought was Irving's grave (see earlier posts on this blog) was perhaps Franklin's and was the "grave at Comfort Cove" mentioned in the papers. The mystery remains ...

  3. I think there was not room on board for the bodies of the dead seamen but the body of Sir John Franklin was something different. I believe they kept the coffin on board for as long as possible to return the remains to England for appropriate internment. I think therefore "Comfort Cove" will prove to be in the area of Terror Bay- the last resting place of the last remaining ship of the expedition.