Monday, April 8, 2019

The Death of Cudlargo

Memorial to Cudlargo (and others) in Groton
Not a great deal is known about the Inuk known as "Cudlargo," whose brief moment on the stage of history has left such a resonant mark. As Kenn Harper has noted, his actual named was probably Kallarjuk, but to western ears this was rendered as as "Cudlargo"; Charles Francis Hall, who met him aboard ship while sailing north for the first time with whaling captain Sidney O. Budington. recorded his name as "Kudlago." Kallarjuk had come south with Budington in 1859, and was on his way home when he fell deathly ill. From what would turn out to be his deathbed, he repeatedly called out "Taku siku?" -- whaler pidgin/Inuktitut for "Do you see ice?"  -- but sadly, died before he reached home; his question has since become the title of Karen Routledge's excellent book on Inuit and whalers, Do You See Ice?

Hall, who had never before seen an Inuk, had decided that "Kudlago" would be the first recruit to his Franklin Search Expedition and appointed him as his interpreter; he described him as a "remarkably modest and unassuming man," one who as "quick to learn" and never seemed to express surprise at anything. His sudden illness and death, which Hall attributed to the cold fogs off the coast of Newfoundland, made a deep impression on the would-be explorer:
As he expressed a desire to be on deck, a tent was erected there, that he might enjoy the sunshine and the air. But nothing availed to save him. The following day he was again taken below, and never again left his berth alive. He died about half past four on Sunday morning. His last words were, " Teik-ko se-ko? teik-ko se-ko?" — Do you see ice? do you see ice? His prayer was that he might arrive home, and once more look upon his native land — its mountains, its snows, its ice — and upon his wife and his little ones; he would then ask no more of earth. We had sighted the Labrador coast on our way, and after that we sailed several days without seeing ice. Kudlago kept incessantly asking if we saw the ice, thinking, if so, we must be near to his home; but, poor fellow, he was still far away when his final moments came. He died in lat. 63° N., when near the coast of Greenland, and about 300 miles from his native place.  
Suitable preparations were soon made for his burial in the sea, and as I had always thought a " burial at sea" must be a scene of great interest, the one I now witnessed for the first time most strongly impressed itself upon me. Never did I participate more devoutly in what then seemed to me the most solemn scene of my life. There before us was the "sheeted dead," lying amidships on the gangway board, all in readiness for burial. The whole ship's company, save a solitary man at the wheel, had assembled in sorrowful silence around our departed friend, to pay the last respect we could to him. By the request of Captain Budington, who was bound by strong ties of friendship to Kudlago, I had consented to take an active part in the services. During these services the breezes of heaven were wafting us on — silently, yet speedily to the north. At a given signal from the captain, who was standing on my right, the man at the helm luffed the ship into the wind and deadened her headway. William Sterry and Robert Smith now stepped to the gangway, and holding firmly the plank on which was the shrouded dead — a short pause, and down sank the mortal part of Kudlago, the noble Esquimaux, into the deep grave — the abyss of the ocean! 
Image courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum
Just a few short days ago, Kenn Harper and a group of us from the Franklin symposium at the Mystic Seaport Museum stood in the Starr Burying Ground at Groton, and there beheld the memorial stone erected by Budington to his friend. Later that day, while enjoying a tour of the archives and collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, we had a chance to look at the log of the George Henry, the ship on which the sad drama had taken place, and were astonished to find, amidst numerous brief entries on the wind and weather, a strongly-lettered entry for July 1st 1860, edged all about with black ink:
He who had endeared himself to us all, "Cudlargo," the Esquimaux, died at 4:30 A.M.. After appropriate services in which the ship's company participated with deep interest, we buried him in the Sea. Requiescat in pace.
I do not believe this entry has been published before, but it discovering and reading it had a profound effect on all present.


  1. Certainly, Cudlargo being an Inuit was already used to the cold weather before he met the Americans. I would disagree with Hall about Cudlargo the cold fogs causing the death of this Inuit. Rather, I opine that the cause of death was tuberculosis.