Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where to look for HMS "Terror"?

With the discovery by Parks Canada's marine archaeologists of HMS "Erebus" in 2014, the burning question has been the location of her sister ship, HMS "Terror." This year's search by Parks is planned to focus on the Terror, though there will be some new dives on Erebus as well. One might assume that, with one ship located and identified, it might be possible to narrow the range of sites to search for the second vessel, but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, since the Inuit never knew the name of either vessel, it takes some considerable review of the available testimony to sort out which tales refer to which ship; only then can we begin to form a clearer view of the possibilities. And, as was true of the 2014 find, it's mainly but not solely Inuit testimony that we need to consider.

One account that may deserve fresh attention is that given to L.T. Burwash by Enukshakak and Nowya in 1929, describing a cache of crates "northeast of Matty Island," along with wooden planks washed up on the shore, presumably from a wreck "three quarters of a mile off the coast of the island." Since we know that, if indeed this is a Franklin ship, it could only be the Terror, then this testimony offers one line of possibility. Similarly, any other sightings of ships at sites some distance from the known location of Erebus can, if accurate, only be of Terror -- these would include the ship possibly seen by Anderson's men in 1855 somewhere off Ogle Point.

These stories, though, are outliers to the main threads of Inuit tradition, which have the advantage that they begin with two ships, and include eyewitness accounts of one of them sinking. The most dramatic account of this was given to Hall by Kok-lee-arng-nun:
The old man and his wife agreed in saying that the ship on board of which they had often seen Too-loo-ark was overwhelmed with heavy ice in the spring of the year. While the ice was slowly crushing it, the men all worked for their lives in getting out provisions; but, before they could save much, the ice turned the vessel down on its side, crushing the masts and breaking a hole in her bottom and so overwhelming her that she sank at once, and had never been seen again. Several men at work in her could not get out in time, and were carried down with her and drowned.
Apparently, this ship's sinking was visible from on or near shore, and Inuit were present to witness it. Since the Victory Point record indicates both ships were intact when abandoned, and Inuit only learned of the Crozier's landing site (from McClintock's interpreter) in 1859, this event must have taken place after the ships were re-manned. There's good circumstantial evidence that this was the Terror; if we take the "Too-loo-ark" of this story to be Crozier then it would be the ship aboard which the Inuit often saw him, and the line in the "Peglar Papers" about the "Terror Camp" being clear suggests that the survivors from that vessel camped on the land. The likeliest site for this would seem to be Erebus bay, and as Dave Woodman has noted, the "visibility from shore" horizon line enables one to project an area of high probability (you can read his new, detailed account of this here or via my Franklin search archival pages).

At the same time, there are those who still believe that it's more likely that the Terror foundered before reaching that area. It seems significant to them that much of the recovered material from the Erebus Bay site is in fact associated with the Erebus, whereas if the Terror sank near there, more material from that ship might be expected. This was the original plan of the 2014 expedition, which took its name from the Victoria Strait, the goal of which was to locate the wreck or sunken debris from Terror. And now, in 2016, it seems that this is once more the primary search area that's been chosen, though of course it's also possible that ice conditions may limit or prevent a search there, as they did in 2014. It should be remembered that it was only after the disappointment of being unable to reach that year's goal that the Parks Canada team fell back on a further search in the Wilmot and Crampton Bay area -- and that it was that very search that finally revealed the golden sonar shadow of Franklin's flagship.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Utensils and the Franklin search

Sometimes, the humblest objects of daily use tell a tale more eloquent, more rich and complex, than anything we could gain from written records. Such is certainly the case with the material relics of the Franklin expedition. Setting aside those with greatest seeming significance -- Franklin's Hanoverian badge, the infamous dipping needle, or Des Voeux's shirtsleeve -- some of the most common items recovered have the greatest potential meaning for those attempting to reconstruct the last months of the Franklin expedition. I refer, of course to utensils -- forks, spoons, and the occasional knife -- which were recovered by many early Franklin searchers from Rae to Schwatka -- and which, even today, have not yet been systematically examined for what they can tell.

The utensils, most of them quality silver plate, were initially recognized on account of the family crests on their handles, which showed them to be from the families of officers such as Franklin and Crozier. Franklin's distinctive crest -- a conger eel's head between two sprigs -- was the most commonly found, suggesting that his plate had been first and widely distributed among the sailors; perhaps the most poignant of the crests was that of Fairholme -- a dove with an olive branch and the motto "Spero meliora" -- I hope for better things.

And yet there's more: on the stems and undersides of these same spoons and forks, there are found the scratched initials of other men, most of them ordinary seamen. The only explanation seems to be that, prior to the abandonment of the "Erebus" and "Terror," the silverware of the officers of both ships was distributed to the men for their use. In some cases, as with Franklin's, this was because the officer in question was deceased -- but the principal reason, doubtless, was to preserve the silver plate without burdening any one party with too large a quantity. And, since the silver plate from the officers from each ship was distributed to sailors aboard the same vessel, the discovery of a fork or a spoon -- provided its provenance can be definitely settled -- may give us a very likely indication of the path of the crew of that ship.

The pattern seems suggestive -- for instance, nearly all of the utensils recovered by McClintock at Cape Norton on the eastern side of King William Island were connected with the "Terror" -- there were two Franklin spoons marked "WW" (William Wentzall, seaman) and WG (William Gibson, steward), both of the "Terror," along with a Crozier fork and a teaspoon of Alexander McDonald, assistant surgeon. Only one item -- a Fairholme teaspoon -- was associated with the "Erebus." Now that we know that the "Erebus" was piloted to a point much further south in Wilmott and Crampton Bay, that would seem to explain the paucity of silverware from her officers -- and so, might the frequency of "Terror" forks and spoons then suggest its having sunk nearby? If so, this would certainly fit in with L.T. Burwash's theory that a Franklin ship sank in the vicinity.

When McClintock visited a party of Netsilingmiut near the North Magnetic Pole, which would have been near the next general transit of such a journey, he obtained mostly utensils from the "Erebus," although a lone McDonald fork was among them; this would now seem to suggest that perhaps a party from that vessel passed through this area. But of course, utensils could very well have been obtained through trade with other Inuit. What then, of spoons or forks with a clearer provenance? Alas, even when we have a utensil handed in by someone who claimed to have originally found it, the evidence is very mixed. The famous spoon offered to Schwatka (see above), complete with the Franklin crest and a distinctive mending job where the cracked bowl had been repaired with copper, is one such example; the giver, one Nu-tar-ge-ark, could offer only a clouded account:
He said it was given to him by some of his tribe, and that it had come from one of the boat places, or where skeletons had been found on King William Land or Adelaide Peninsula, he could not remember exactly where. 
(see the "Schwatka" chapter of my Finding Franklin for a fuller account of this spoon).

Since the vast majority of this silverware is now catalogued online, it's a question that offers at least the possibility of an "armchair" solution. Most of them are catalogued at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, with a few others -- part of the Lefoy bequest that included Sophia Cracroft's collection -- are now at the Scott Polar Research Institute. Another small collection was retained by Dr. Rae, and later given by him to the University of Edinburgh, these do not seem to have been given detailed analysis (although, judging from the images as they appear in the SCRAN database, they unfortunately seem to have been polished!).