Monday, July 25, 2016

Whose are the Franklin relics?

There's been a spate of reporting -- much of it plagued with inaccuracies -- about the ownership and disposition of the relics of Sir John Franklin's expedition, specifically those relics which have been brought back from the wreck of HMS "Erebus" by Parks Canada, and those that will (hopefully) be brought back in the future. Some believe that, under the Nunanvut Land Claims Agreement of 1993, the relics ought to belong to the Inuit; others feel they rightfully belong to all Canadians; still others have put forth the (misleading) claim that Britain will get to "cherry pick" those relics they want to keep. Before I offer my own view, it's best to start by clearing up the considerable -- and avoidable -- confusion over the legal status of these relics.

First off: while certainly the Inuit have a strong interest in the disposition and display of these relics -- after all, they're hard evidence of the value of Inuit oral traditions -- they legally belong to Canada. This is because, under international maritime agreements, the contents of any modern military wreck belong to the nation whose ship it was. In the case of HMS "Erebus," that nation is the United Kingdom. However, there exists a very clear memorandum of understanding (MOI) signed by representatives of both the UK and Canada, transferring salvage rights to Canada (with the exception only of any gold that might be found). While yes, it's true that the NLCA assigns ownership of archaelogical finds to Nunavut, that probably doesn't supersede national and international law (though I should emphasize that I'm not a lawyer); though conceiveably the Government of Nunavut could make a legal objection, that would only have the effect -- to my mind very unfortunate -- of delaying the hoped-for public display of these artifacts, which is something of significant value both to both Nunavummiut and other Canadians alike. It's also unfortunate because, as I understand it, agreements were already at least tentatively in place for the HMS "Erebus" historic site to be co-administered by Inuit and Parks Canada, with an interpretive centre in Gjoa Haven in the works. These plans are said to include working "closely with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association to negotiate an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement as required under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement."

Secondly, despite the recent reporting otherwise, the MOI does not give Britain the right to "cherry pick" relics it would like to keep. The exact language of that agreement is in a proviso to the section assigning Canada ownership of "everything recovered from that wreck," which provides that "any recovered artifacts identified by Britain as being of outstanding significance to the Royal Navy will be offered to Britain for display in an appropriate museum." Again, though I'm not a lawyer, the import of the word "offered" seems to be "for display" -- that is, the objects would be loaned for that purpose by Canada. The loan could, conceiveably, be long-term, but the clause doesn't seem to me to obviate the "everything" of the main section. And indeed, there are plans afoot for such a display, one that would first be mounted at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and then shown at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa. This is just the sort of co-operative bi-national exhibit that I believe the MOI -- written before "Erebus" was found -- had in mind.

I believe -- I hope -- that everyone involved with this magnificent discovery acknowledges two central facts 1) That HMS "Erebus" might well never have been found were it not for the Inuit oral traditions as to its location; and 2) These relics tell a tale of both British and Canadian history, as well as Inuit history, that very much ought to be told from an international stage. The unfortunate truth is that, even were it decreed that these relics were the sole property of the Inuit, there is no appropriate archive in Nunavut where they could be conserved and displayed. The original Archives of Nunavut, created in 1999 with the establishment of that territory, are stored at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, but that repository long ago reached full capacity. Presently, new items for this archive are going to the Canadian Museum of Nature, where they are, as with the Yellowknife materials, held in trust for the Government of Nunavut and its people.

It's my fervent belief that these extraordinary relics and the story they tell belong to all Canadians, including Inuit -- and, in a symbolic sense, to the nation that launched the Franklin expedition. Co-operation and mutual trust between all parties is essential, and hasty and inaccurate stories about the disposition of the relics do nothing to advance this cause.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Named after Franklin

By Tabercil - Own work, under license via CC BY-SA 3.0
One measure of the influence of a man might be considered to be how many others were given his name -- that is to say, his namesakes. By that measure, it would seem Sir John Franklin was a significant figure indeed, one whose name a great number of parents in his day and long after chose to bestow upon their offspring. One of those you might least suspect -- the great Canadian comedian John Candy -- was actually given the name John Franklin Candy at birth; the image at left depicts his star in Canada's Walk of Fame. Born in 1950, Candy is actually one of the more recent Franklin namesakes; the name seems to have been at its peak in the mid-to-late 1850's and then again in the 1890's and 1940's. In the account that follows, I should emphasize that I don't actually have any definitive account of the reason for the bestowal of these names, though certainly Franklin's is by far the best known possible source; I've eliminated cases where the name has a family precedent (father or grandfather), along with those who were born too early (prior to Franklin's name becoming well-known around 1818).

Among those to bear the name during the early Franklin search era of the 1850's, we have John Franklin Crowell (1857-1931) an early president of Trinity College (now Duke University). That same year, John Franklin Alexander Strong shared an Arctic destiny with his namesake; born in Canada, Strong went on to be just the second Governor of the Alaska Territory. In 1860, John Franklin Kinney, and leading New York Democrat and jurist, was born, and in 1862 we have John Franklin Miller, a member of Congress from Washington, DC. Moving toward the end of the century, we find John Franklin Enders (1897-1985), a pioneering scientist known as the "Father of American Vaccines."

The early twentieth century brings us my favorite of all, the novelist John Franklin Bardin, who worked in an advertising agency by day and wrote dark psychological thrillers by night; his novel The Deadly Percheron may be one of the most harrowing, yet whimsical novels ever penned (the name comes from the killer's habit of leaving Percheron horses at the scenes of his crimes; the book is the one being read by Bob Hoskins' character in the film Mona Lisa). A decade later we have the painter John Franklin Koenig, who grew up in Seattle near Lake Union, though he spent much of his artistic career in France.

And there may be many more -- the genealogical research site lists tens of thousands of them; even if only a small minority were actually named after our Sir John, it would be a considerable number. We may never know much of the lives of John Franklin Eustace, John Franklin Bainbridge, John Franklin Pollard, or John Franklin Brearly Goodall (this last of whom, like many others, was an Australian) -- but they remain curiously woven together by the thread of Franklin's name.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Margaret Bertulli

Makeshift crampons for walking on hard snow and ice; found at NgLj-2 in 1993
As part of my ongoing series on those who have searched for Franklin, I thought I'd take this occasion to speak with Margaret Bertulli, who was one of the first professional archaelogists to do work on the western shores of King William Island in the 1990's. These days, she's retired but far from inactive -- indeed, she'll be serving as one of the resident experts on Crystal Cruise Lines' upcoming Northwest Passage voyage, which will be the first to bring a large-size cruise vessel through this route. I reached her at her home in Winnipeg.

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Tell us, what brought you to the search for Franklin? 

In the early 1990s when I was the Arctic Archaeologist at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, Barry Ranford, a school teacher from southern Ontario and his colleague discovered a site with human remains on their trek down the west coast of King William Island. It was very dramatic as skulls and parts of infracranial skeletons were scattered across the ground surface of a small tidal island in Erebus Bay.  Mr. Ranford had long been a Franklin enthusiast and this find was the first in decades with the potential to reveal more information about the fate of the Franklin Expedition.  Mr. Ranford contacted the Heritage Centre and we organized a project for the following summer to conduct archaeological excavation and physical analysis of the human remains.  Dr. Anne Keenleyside was the physical anthropologist who accompanied this project and analysed the skeletal remains.  As the archaeologist in charge of the project, I prepared all of the logistics and conducted the excavation.  It was particularly interesting for me to hear Mr. Ranford describe how he put himself in the frame of mind of the survivors as he walked along the low-lying terrain of western KWI, imagining himself in their footsteps and looking for Franklin-related items.  He found at least two sites in this way.  I remember flying on a Polar Continental Shelf Project Twin Otter from Resolute Bay to the site on KWI.  Looking out the plane’s window, I marvelled at the myriad lakes and how desolate the terrain seemed.  I began to understand a little about how these British sailors could have felt in this landscape.  ‘Desolate’ is not generally a word I use to describe the Arctic because to my mind it is beautiful and full of wonders but, in this case, I could empathise with men far from home and longing to return.

When you first arrived at the NgLj-2 site, what were your impressions? The bones, of course, have been the subject of much discussion, but I'd be especially interested in your thoughts on some of the other material artifacts --pipe bowls, buckles, glass fragments, buttons, and such. What do you think this site and those near it represent?

It was a sunny mid-afternoon when we arrived.  The Twin Otter blew a tire on landing and Mr. Ranford showed the pilot and co-pilot around the site.  After that the pilots retired to the aircraft to await the arrival of another plane carrying a spare for them.  I was glad to arrive at our destination and know the exact location of the site as Mr. Ranford had not been willing to disclose this information, concerned that others would pre-empt his discovery.  In the midst of unloading our supplies from the Twin Otter, setting up tents and radio contact with Polar Shelf, it was some time until I could walk across the tidal flats from our camp to the small island.

The area is very pretty with valiant little flowers and a huge celestial dome; one could see approaching weather long before it arrived at our camp.

The artifacts that we recovered from surface collection and limited excavation that summer were very fragmented.  They were really only bits of bits of artifacts and yet some provided information about how the men prepared for this journey; for example, the fragments of copper gauze and a partial lens of purple glass indicate that they probably used these materials to make goggles to protect against snow blindness.  (I have never experienced that myself but did over-expose my eyes to the Arctic sun one afternoon on Devon Island and can tell you that it was painful—I wore sunglasses even indoors for the next few days.)  One particularly poignant find consisted of cut shoe heels through which copper tacks have been driven so that the points of the tacks would protrude through the heel and provide the wearer with purchase on the ice and snow.  Any material of value had long since been recruited to new purpose by Inuit who had visited the area.

I know that you've returned several times to the western coast of King William Island, investigating other possible Franklin sites. Do you think it's probable that there might still be undiscovered sites of significance in this area?

I’ve been on field projects on KWI in 1993 for the excavation of NgLj-2 and to Cape Felix in 1995.  I think it is highly probable that there may yet be more sites.  Unless one has been there, it is difficult to appreciate how the terrain effects what one sees on the ground surface.  It is easy to walk within several feet of a find or artifact and not see it as the ground is covered with shattered limestone slabs about the size of dinner plates so that one must be careful with one’s footing.  Many of the objects are small and not highly visible.  The low-lying terrain fosters very poor drainage so that in some years previously dry areas may be water-covered.  Of course, a helicopter would be a useful yet expensive way to conduct survey.

What other sites on land would, in your view, be the most promising for additional archaeological work?

One can return to the same site for multiple years and always find something new or re-interpret evidence and ideas so the area around Erebus Bay would be a likely place to recover further information.  I think that Terror Bay could also be explored systematically.

Do you think it would be worthwhile to revisit Starvation Cove or perhaps the Todd Islets/Booth Point areas?

I certainly think it would be beneficial to revisit Starvation Cove, Booth Point and Todd Islets. etc.  I guess the point I was trying to make was that each area could benefit from multiple searches and searchers  because one sees something different every time and different people notice or perceive in various ways leading to fuller and more detailed explanations or ideas.

In the planned exhibition of Franklin relics in Britain and Canada next year, what would you regard as the most significant, in terms of helping the public understand the significance of the demise of Franklin's expedition.

It seems to me that people have expounded on the significance of the expedition’s demise in poetry, song and scholarly articles for over a century.  What is the significance of a well-outfitted expedition failing spectacularly and mysteriously?  What is the significance for us today?  Perhaps, it is not the artifacts that will help us to understand but exploring the human psyche may provide clues to this fascination.  Having said that, those artifacts which are concerned with the minutiae of daily life and the operation of a nineteenth-century sailing vessel would be interesting to the general public.

Is there any artifact in particular that spoke to you?

The artifacts that spoke most to me were the ones that individuals would have worn and used, like the purple lens for snow goggles and the boot heel with the tacks.  Also, the illuminators are interesting, such as the ones that were recovered from the Erebus.