Tuesday, November 30, 2021

May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth

At last it can be told: after more than five years of work collecting, transcribing, and annotating -- not to mention permission-getting, proofreading, and all the other thousand-and-one tasks that go into making a book, our volume of Franklin letters will be coming out in 2022!

One aspect of the challenge of this collection has been that there were many more letters than we'd originally thought -- when we started, we knew of only around 150 letters, but in the end we found nearly 200-- 195 to be exact. They include every known letter written by Franklin and his men from aboard ship, as well as letters written about the expedition during its planning stages. In addition to these letters -- 173 of them -- we have twenty-two additional letters written by friends and family members of the lost men during the early years of the search, in which hope still held that they might someday be delivered.

To give context to these letters, we've also prepared a series of chronologies, showing each stage in the preparations, and all the stops along the route the ships took on their way to Greenland; these are accompanied by detailed maps showing each stage of the voyage. In a series of Appendices, we offer other documents from the voyage, including a scientific report by Harry Goodsir, Franklin's official dispatches to the Admiralty, and three letters whose authors are unknown, as their only extant versions are from their appearance in newspapers. The book is also illustrated with drawings and charts made on board, ranging from the dramatic naval sketches of Owen Stanley, the playful doodles of James Fitzjames, and an engraved plate of natural history specimens based on sketches made on board by Goodsir. To top it all off, Sir Michael Palin (Erebus:The Story of a Ship) has contributed a Foreword!

So far as we are aware, the majority of these letters have never appeared in print before; those few that were printed during the living memory of the expedition were often redacted to remove personal information (these parts have been restored). Some others have appeared in books about the expedition, or biographies of its key figures, but others were unknown until quite recently. Among these are the letters of James Reid, Ice-Master aboard Erebus, which turned up in the State Library of New South Wales (his family members emigrated to Australia); Henry Le Vesconte (much of his family settled in Newfoundland, in whose archives his letters ended up), and Harry Goodsir, whose correspondence has been preserved in the archives of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Family members and descendants have also provided scarce letters, and we've also been the beneficiary of the family archive maintained by one of our editors, Mary Williamson, who is Sir John's great-great-grand-niece.

UPDATE: Originally slated to be released on July 15th, the book will now be available in the first week of September (dates may vary slight by country and vendor). As the publication date grows closer, we hope also to share news of book-related events, podcasts, and other social media happenings related to its release. It's an exciting time -- we can't wait to share our discoveries -- and give everyone some hints about what's to come!