Burial of John Franklin. Author: me


Kabloonas is the way in which the Inuit who live in the north part of Canada call those who haven´t their same ascendency.

The first time i read this word was in the book "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan, when, as the result of the conversations between John rae and some inuit, and trying to find any evidence of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition, some of then mentioned that they watched how some kabloonas walked to die in the proximities of the river Great Fish.

I wish to publish this blog to order and share all those anecdotes that I´ve been finding in the arctic literature about arctic expeditions. My interest began more than 15 years ago reading a little book of my brother about north and south pole expeditions. I began reading almost all the bibliography about Antarctic expeditions and the superknown expeditions of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, etc. After I was captured by the Nansen, Nobile and Engineer Andree. But the most disturbing thing in that little book, full of pictures, was the two pages dedicated to the last Franklin expedition of the S.XIX, on that moment I thought that given the time on which this and others expeditions happened, few or any additional information could be obtained about it. I couldn´t imagine that after those two pages It would be a huge iceberg full of stories, unresolved misteries, anecdotes, etc. I believe that this iceberg, on the contrary than others, would continue growing instead melting.

jueves, 22 de enero de 2015


Yes, here we are again speaking about balloons and arctic expeditions, one of my favourite topics.

The Andreé expedition of 1897 has always mesmerized me. The Quixotic adventure and its dramatic end makes the perfect recipe for morbid minds like mine. The fact that the ill-fate of the three poor men who participated on the expedition was sadly ascertained 30 years after, when their journals and the pictures which were taken were discovered, only could add more fascination to the story. 
Eagle Crashed (Andreé´s balloon)
From Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Eagle-crashed.jpg

But from the reading of the story about the expedition, quickly, a question has begun to dominate my mind: Why there was not any attempt to explore the different waterways which forms the Northwest Passage with balloons during the peak years of its exploration? Why then waiting till 1897 to use them in the arctic regions? Was Andreé´s one the first attempt to use a balloon over the ice?

He likely was the first on attempting a manned one, but there were previous experiments with balloons in the arctic time before, as it is possible to see in the illustration below (about which case I couldn´t find any further information):
 Natives of Tornea Lapmark asembling at Enontekis to witnes the launching of the first balloon within the Arctic Circle. Published 1 January 1819 by T Cadell and W Davies
I find astonishing that in the middle of a voracious balloonmania, which surely was steaming in the minds of all Victorians in Britain, nobody would have even proposed to make a serious attempt to help to discover the Northwest Passage with a balloon.  I don´t want to show myself too naive saying here that a balloon could have crossed the whole passage in a single and successful attempt, of course, but, why not using it to help to do some small and parallel explorations. For instance, to discover if a bay was really a bay, or to analyse the direction of the shoreline of the new discovered lands, etc.

"Three Musketeers" by Peter Popken
Somebody could think: Well, they were looking for a waterway suitable to be used for ships, large ships. We should not forget that the main objective which lies under the discovery of the Northwest Passage was to open a trading route, there were not scientific or sportive motivations. Well, that´s true, but at the time the Franklin expedition dissapeared forever in the arctic, there was not even a map of those northern regions. Aerial reconaissance would have been crucial at least to define where the waterways were and if they were blocked with ice or not.

Said that, now comes the technical matter, which surely is going to destroy any support to this theory.

We should talk first about flight range. How far could reach a balloon built in the mid 1800?

As early as 1785 the eccentric Jean-Pierre Blanchard had crossed the English channel at the same time he lost literally his trousers in the attempt and was threatening his companion with being thrown in case the things were wrong. Balloons had performed by then long trips of hundreds of kilometers and ascended heights as high as 9.000 feet (3.000 m) as was the case of Jacques Charles. In 1852, when numerous attempts to find Franklin and his men were being performed, the first dirigible made by Henrry Giffard was successfully performing its first flight.

Traversée en ballon du Pas-de-Calais par Blanchard et Jefferies (1785)Crossing of the Strait of Dover by Blanchard and Jefferies · Überquerung der Strasse von Dover durch Blanchard und Jefferies
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Early_flight_02562u_(7).jpg
Giffard 1852´s dirigible
From Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Giffard1852.jpg
Without any doubt, it could have been Charles Green the man for that task, with more than 500 flights at his back, he performed the longest flight of that time. Taking off from Vauxhall Gardens in London he landed 770 km away in Germany after having been flying during the night. It was the year 1836, and this feat was not overcome till 1907. Green had performed experiments through which he had reached heights of more than 9.000 m

Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Green_(balloonist)
Then it is clear that ballooning was developing fast at the same time the expeditions were being sent to the arctic. Why don´t introduce then this new technology in the arctic expeditions?

The fact is that the technology was already being used by the Admiralty in their exploration ships, till certain point at least. They were not using manned balloons, but small ones which were widely employed  to send messages. The Franklin expedition was equipped with them, and the expeditions which went after them carried ballons too.

But why they weren't used to send a man up into the air to take a look at what was in front of the ships? Climbing perhaps not as high as 3.000 m but to 300 m could have been a good help in most of the cases to determine if a waterway was practicable or not. There must be something which made them to abandon the idea.

Balloons of that time were not that big not to be able to be carried in the big ships which conformed arctic expeditions, though perhaps they were too fragile. They were built of silk, paper and ropes, so this should not be considered as the main cause to dismiss them. Balloons, on the other hand can be filled with hot air or gas (mainly Coal gas, helium or Hidrogen) it would have been difficult to carry the necessary equipment to produce the necessary amount of gas to fill a balloon big enough to lift a man, however, that is not the case of using hot air. In fact hot air was being used even before the first experiments with gases. Why don´t using that method to inflate a balloon where access to gas was imposible otherwise? Well, naturally here we encounter our first barrier, is it logical using hot air in an enviroment where the temperatures hardly reach the freezing point? I would say this would be the main issue to take into consideration. Keeping  floating a balloon in air despite the ambient temperature would require a strong source of energy capable to produce enough hot air under almost any circunstances. Such source of energy  could only increases the risk of setting fire to those enormous balls of paper.

An illustration published in 1887 depicts French scientist's Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier's balloon catching fire before it crashed in 1785. ILLUSTRATION FROM SSPL/GETTY IMAGES
It was the humidity of the air together with the cold which threw down Andreé and Nobile to the ground  during their respective attempts to reach the North Pole. But, as I said before, we are not speaking here about the possibility of crossing the whole Northwest Passage from east to west, thinking that favourable winds could carry a happy Franklin from London to Vancouver in a matter of some days. I was thinking more on why was not used such new, sophisticated  and helpful mean, like hot air balloons were, for short vertical flights of observation during the summer season which could have catapulted arctic expeditions to a third dimension, the height, from which it would have been possible understanding the ground and waters which surrounded them in a way never seen before in those remote places.

martes, 23 de diciembre de 2014


Time ago a follower of my blog, personal friend and archenemy of mine irrupted in one of my posts saying that he was dissappointed because he was expecting to read something about Doctor Who and there was nothing about him on it. Now, I can say that I consider I could have fulfilled his expectancies because finally, I have found the "lost link" between the Franklin expedition and Doctor Who.

Followers of both topics will be delighted of knowing that there is a fictional story available in the form of podcasts in internet. It is composed of eight episodes through which you can spend several days with the men of the Franklin expedition, listening their voices, while they were trapped in the ice.

I have begun to listen them and I have to say that I am enjoying it. The writer was well informed, there are certain small details, like for example the fact that the surgeon John Smart Peddie was recently married, which makes the atmosphere more credible. There is a review about the story here.

The story has been written by Richard A. Franklin. I wonder if there is any family connection between him and Sir John Franklin, that would undoubtedly close the circle. But, not only that, could exist also a relation of descendancy between William Hartnell, the english actor who incarnated Doctor Who from 1963 to 1966, and the Hartnell brothers which were on board the Franklin´s ships?. 

It could happen that after all it might be more than one simple connection between the Franklin expedition and Doctor Who...

William Hartnell - English Actor

Time will say, but for the moment I have been able only to climb his family tree to his grand parents (mother side) who were Elizabeth Hartnell (b. 1851) and William Hartnell (b. 1848) both from Devon. I have no idea about who could have been his father. The Hartnell brothers comes from Gillingham, Kent which is right on the opposite side of the island.

 The three remaining siblings of John and Thomas were born in the eighteen twenties: Mary Ann (born 1826), Charles (born 1828), and Betsey (born 1832). So, I would only need to climb a branch more of the William´s family tree to find if there really is any connection between William Hartnell of Doctor Who and the Hartnell family of the Franklin expedition. However, as it used to happen with Franklin expedition issues, that link is impossible to find. 

You can find and download the podcasts in this link:


lunes, 22 de diciembre de 2014


After the recent discovery of a portrait of Lt. John Irving by a fellow Franklinite in an on-line picture library from Edinburgh called Capital Collections, I thought, why could not I find another portrait of a member of the Franklin expedition in that same place? 

I, obviously, took the muster roll of the HMS Terror, and began to check the origins of her officers. Then, I found that John Smart Peddie, the surgeon of the Terror was from Edinburgh too, like Irving. Well, I have to say that I found nothing in Capital Collections but while I was digging in his life to ascertain where did he came from, I learnt some details about his life which I didn´t know. 

First, I was surprised when I learnt that he joined the Franklin Expedition with 29 years old. He had been recently promoted from assistant surgeon to surgeon few months before departing in 1845. Wouldn´t have been more appropiate for an expedition like that a more experienced surgeon? The age of Stephen Stanley, the surgeon of the Terror is not known, so, I have nothing to compare with ...unless I began another study about average ages of surgeons in Polar expeditions, which, thinking on it well, I could do too....why not?.

I read the article named "The men who sailed with Franklin"  where is mentioned that previously to get on board the Terror, Peddie, came from the ship "William and Mary", however, it is not mentioned which may have been likely his first appointment. A ship with the evoking name of HMS Sparrow, where he, allegedly, entered the 20th of december of 1836 not long after  having obtained the licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh as assistant surgeon. Interestingly, the HMS Sparrow was built in Pembroke docks, the same shipyard where it was built the Erebus. 

HMS Sparrow??
View of the Harbour of Port Louis - Berkley Sound, East Falkland

The HMS Sparrow was, during the years 1837-39, part of the British Naval Expedition to the Falkland Islands commanded by Lt. Robert Lawcay. We have no reasons to think that Peddie did not form part of that expedition, so, if this fact is true, then we would have added a significant piece at his biography.

As I said before, I could not find any portrait of him, not even searching with the key words of "Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh". I thought that all those men might have been portrayed to be shown in a gallery of the college...but they are not. I found, though, which could be the portrait of his father, James Peddie, an architect of Edimburgh, who was born in 1776 and who died in 1837, a year after John Smart Peddie had joined the Royal Navy. Dates and name are coincident, which is not much but for now, and for me,  enough  to consider it as "likely":

James Peddie, Likely the father of John Smart Peddie
What remains of John Smart Peddie is a spoon which must be in some drawer at the Royal Maritime Museum of Greenwich. It seems that it was found in Starvation Cove to be given afterwards by some Inuit to John Rae. 

A fiddle-pattern silver dessert spoon owned by John Smart Peddie 

If Peddie was the one who was still using this spoon till the moment it was dropped in the muddy ground of the Starvation Cove beach, then, it was Peddie one of the ones who reached the farthest point of the route. It is a moving thinking consider that Peddie could have been driven by the powerful desire to see his daughter again, a daughter who was born in july of 1844 and baptised in january of 1845.

He could have been one of the few who found strength beyond the human limits to try to save his life pushing his will against the boundaries of his physical and psychical resistance. Unfortunately, he did not succeeded nor his daugther succeeded on surviving too. By the time Peddie was struggling  in 1849 against all hope to reach his family, his little daughter was dying in Woolwich, Kent.

As it happened with the vast majority of the 129 men who were on board the Erebus and Terror, Peddie doesn´t have any grave which you could visit to pay respects. From 125 of the men, you can  only find pieces of bones and skulls scattered all along King William Island or memorials distributed among Britain and other far places like Hobart in Tasmania. 

In the case of John Smart Peddie, he and his daughter were lucky enough to count with a small plaque as an individual memorial It is in the pathway of a church in Charlton, in the south east of London. This small stone, with some moving words carved on it, still provokes sad feelings on those who read them and it brings you to the reality that each of the men of the Franklin expedition left a life behind.

Those words are slowly dissapearing but they are still visible. Surely, this plaque was ordered by his wife, Eliza Matilda Harcorn, who lived till the year 1906. She surely would have prefered to avoid being witness of how subsequent  searching expeditions, year after year, brought news from the arctic with no essential new information. Nothing of which was brought from the arctic told her where his husband had breathed for last time or where his bones were resting.

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014



Not few of us have felt frustrated at some point for the lack of daguerrotypes available about the Franklin expedition itself and about other expeditions of that time. It is true that photography was beginning to walk its first steps, but by the time of the Franklin expedition some photographers were quite active and thanks to them we have a handful of Dags where we can admire part of the participants of that expedition. Sometimes we only have had access to engravings published on the newspapers of the time which were in turn based on actual daguerrotypes. Likely, those original pictures are not longer available, and this is even more frustrating, because you can scratch the image with your fingers, get a general idea about how those men really were, but at the same time, you are also conscious that there will never be chances to contemplate the actual countenances of the men who made possible the discovery of the Northwest Passage. 

This is the case of Kalli or Caloosa or Qualasirssuaq or of the also called Erasmus York. He was one of the Inuit guides who accompanied the Horatio Austin expedition from 1850 to 1851. He was photographed at some point, surely the same day he reached British shores, by the famous photographer Richard Beard. His portrait appeared in the cover of the Ilustrated London News the 25th of october of 1851. Much have been written about him, specially here on its Memoirs. Through the reading of this document written by the Rev. T.B. Murray, you will get closer to this poor man. You will cry with him the death of his father, will breath the cold air of the arctic during his days in the Penny and Ommanney expedition, will live with him during his stay at Canterbury, will visit London and will learn other astounding things about his life, like for example that Kalli had a twin brother.

But his life, though interesting is not the subject of this post. Summarizing, Qualasirssuaq was picked up in Cape York  to guided the Captain Erasmus Ommanney on board the HMS Assistance. His main task was contrasting the information supplied by Adam Beck, an Inuit interpreter, which had asserted that the crews of the Franklin ships have been massacred while they still were on their ships. He could not be returned to his land during the return trip and ended studying in St Agustine´s College in Canterbury. There he helped to finish a dictionary Inuit - British and was baptized in St. Martin´s Church near Canterbury in 1853 in the presence of the John Franklin´s daughter, Eleanor, while the sermon was performed by her husband Joseph Phillip Gell.

NOTE: It deserves to make a short stop here, and extract from the book refered above an anecdote which happened during his time with Erasmus Ommaney during the 1850-51 expedition. It is about when his tribe was invited to see how the steam engines of the ships worked :

"As no steamer had ever before found its way to these seas, it was interesting to watch the impression upon the singular beings now visited, when they descended into the engine-room. The large furnaces and machinery astonished them. The latter, on being put in motion, made them take to their heels with fright, and they ran out of the engine-room on deck as fast as they could."

One can´t help thinking on if a visit could have been performed by the Inuit to the ships of the Franklin expedition when they met near King William Island.

It seems that during his stay there he made some sketches about Inuit life which are still preserved in the Canterbury Cathedral and it seems that he even made a chair which still exists in the St Martin´s church gardens.

The Esquimaux Erasmus York

The posture of Kalli in the picture is strikingly similar to the pose of the officers of the Franklin Expedition who were photographed by Richard Beard. Does that mean that Beard, after taking those pictures of Franklin and Co. was somehow captivated  about their fate? I would say, judging for this picture and others allegedly taken by him of McClinctock and others, that he closely followed the steps of all of the men who went to the arctic after Franklin till the point that I would swear that he could have been waiting for them in the docks.

Illustrated London News 25th October 1851

Qualasirssuaq was also portraited in several paintings. The first portrait (below), dated in 1851, surely was made while studying in Canterbury or perhaps after recently arrived (notice his smiling face): 

Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), circa 1832/5-1856


This second portrait dated in 1855 is quite different, surely done back in Labrador, his posture makes him resembling older and you can notice his sick-like countenance:


His end, unfortunately, was not very different to that of some of the men of the Franklin expedition, he acquired a mortal sickness during the winter 1855-56  which ended fatally after he had a bath in the cold waters of a lake close to the place were he was continuing his studies in Labrador. The surgeon report said: "Melanosis. The whole sustance of his lungs was black". This is in fact an early and sad end for a man who had been loved for all the people who had surrounded him all his time since he was picked up in the HMS Assistance and for a man who had been dramatically separated from his family.

Kalli´s Memorial in Newfoundland
The case of Kalli was nor the first nor the last of others on which Inuit people were brought to Europe. Thank Goodness, this time he was not exhibited as a part of a show like Francis Hall did time after with Tookolito and his family, but more the contrary, he was taken to London by Erasmus Ommanney to visit its most beautiful monuments, exhibitions and museums and taken to Canterbury to visit the Cathedral.

Legacy:  It seems that in the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum exists a copy of the book "Arctic Miscellanies" based on the articles writen by the men in a newspaper called: "Aurora Borealis" during the Ommanney´s expedition of 1850-1851. The book has been, or currently is, available here. In this book there are present some of the Kalli´s thoughts or quotes during his days on board. The one I have read in this link which I have consulted (posted by K. Martin) could perfectly have been used as his epitaph and sounds ironic considering his story and final fate:

"If England is so great, why did you leave?"

Note about the origin of the title of the post: From the memoirs of Erasmus York 

"Compliance with the precept in the Old Testament, "Love ye the stranger," becomes a delight as well as a duty in such an instance as that about to be recorded, especially when we consider the affecting injunction conveyed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

domingo, 19 de octubre de 2014


How many times have we heard or read this sentence or similar others like this?: 

"In 1845 the one hundred and twenty nine men of the Franklin expedition dissapeared in the Arctic and were never seen again".

Could we assert this fact and be one hundred percent sure we are right? or perhaps should we consider the possibility that the composition of the expedition was in fact one hundred and twenty eight men and a woman? Could we say that each one of the  components of the Franklin expedition was a man?

Why should I suggest that there could be women or girls on board one of the ships, Erebus or Terror, or perhaps in both of them?. Unfortunately, I haven´t any clue which could suggest such thing, any at all, but agree with me that this is a tempting thought and besides, they wouldn´t be the first ships on doing it. There were precedents.

The Royal Navy didn´t accept women on board their ships in the nineteenth century and before, they were considered a bad omen but, however, it happened, and it happened with some frequency. Who could distinguish a girl from a boy of around ten years old dressed with the clothes of a cabin boy.

There are a few number of documented cases of women who went on board ships. Sometimes they boarded voluntarily looking for earning more money, looking for freedom or only to accompany their lovers. In other cases, the less glamurous ones, they were forced by their partners to go on board. In both cases they had to conceal their gender having to dress up like men. 

Cabin Boy (*)
(*) If I had to bet, I would bet that this particular Cabin boy appearing in Wikipedia was in fact a girl. Were all the cabin boys of that time disguised women?

If we study the particular case of the nineteenth century polar expeditions..., What could be more tempting for a sailor in love than bringing her beloved girlfriend on board his ship when this was destined to stay at least three years far from her? What could be more tempting for a girl or woman than participating in the longest and more isolated expeditions of that time?. In case of being discovered they couldn´t be dismissed in the middle of the arctic archipielago, and the layers and layers of thick clothing will help them to protect their hidden secret. What better chances could have a woman than in an enviroment of a relaxed discipline and of not much corporal higiene where flogging was scarce and bathing was even more scarce?.

There are a number of known cases. At least three happened as early as the eighteen century: Hannah Snell, Mary Anne Talbot  and Anna Maria Real others  were reported in the mid nineteenth century like the one of Anne Jane Thornton who travelled from England to America after her love.

Mary Ann Talbot

The stories of some of the women mentioned above are described with some detail in the blog "Sailors in disguise" and also here in the section "Crossdressing sailors" of this blog. Of special interest is the case of Mary Anne. The story of a young girl of about ten years old which enroled the Royal Navy as a consecuence of a dramatic family situation. The story is told here by one of the officers who discovered the issue and who, through his words, reveals the crew´s fondness toward this girl:

Though perhaps it could be considered strange, women caught while acting as men were simply dismissed from the Navy without retaliation, however, those caught practicing sodomy, were not so lucky. There is a particular case where in the same ship were caught a girl who pretended being a boy and also a Lieutenant who was reported for abusing of a boy. The Lieutenant was condemned to gallows and a testimony of the girl against the lieutenant was taken into consideration during the trial even after having revealed her identity,

The astonishing case of William Cavendish (Mary Lacy) who was carpenter of a war ship during the seven years war, reveals that, at least for my understanding, somehow, the Admiralty was aware of these kinds of practices. She was not only not punished  but she even received her deserved pension  when she retired after revealing the authorities she was actually a woman. Her case was famous later after she published her own experiences in the book: "The History of the Female Shipwright".

Other tales are more tragic, sometimes sailors were found out to be women when their bodies were recovered from the sea. I wonder if we still could be surprised if the forensic analisys of some of the skulls found in King William Island reveals some day that one of the men of the Franklin expedition was in fact a woman.
Hanna Snell

There are several subjects related with the Royal Navy about which is hard to find enough literature, I talked about one of them when I dug about sexuals aspects of  polar expeditions. The other subject is this one, the presence of women at sea in the Royal Navy during the age of sailing. The National Maritime Museum has made a guide which compiles several sources of information which address directly this issue:

In the National Maritime Museum link you can find interesting titles which one can´t avoid feeling tempted to read:

Iron Men and Wooden Women: Gender and seafaring in the Atlantic World 1700–1920

Women Under Sail: Letters and Journals concerning eight women travelling or working in sailing Vessels between 1829 & 1949
Sailors in Skirts : a Serendipity of Sea-faring Incidents

One thing is certain, it was a common fact that those women who enroled in Navy ships outstanded by their bravery and sense of duty. Some of them even climbed ranks to the point of becoming captains of the foretop and they  always were very well considered by their mates.

However, I believe we have little chances this fact could have happened in, for example, the Franklin expedition. The boys on board Erebus and Terror were not so young to allow a girl could be confused for a boy. Robert Golding, Thomas Evans, George Chambers and David Young were all of around eighteen years old.

martes, 30 de septiembre de 2014


Today, it has been unveiled a plaque honouring Dr John Rae, the explorer, "The greatest Arctic explorer of them all", said some people, the "Peerless Rae" said others, "The forgotten", "The vilifed" think others.

Dr. John Rae
By Beatriz Garrido Ponce
And yes, it is true, he was forgotten, he was criticized and he was never forgiven by some people, and the things remained in that way for ages. But, like the history of the discovering of the Northwest Passage continues demonstrating us, recent chains of unexpected events will shift the course of the waters and this "status quo" could be changed after all. 

The waters would be again in movement after the melting of the ice of the frozen waters of the merits and credits deserved for this great man. It wasn´t till "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan was published that a truly movement to recover the image of Rae began to fill the minds of those who have been always interested in some way or other in the fate of the Franklin expedition. A movement which even has been given form of a Society, The John Rae Society.  

John Rae is being now, surely while I am writing, forgiven for something that he did not do. Rae, had the dubious pleasure of being the first on discovering the fate of the Franklin expedition during his expedition of 1854. His sin was discovering something that anybody in Britain actually wanted to know and he bore news the world was not prepared to understand. He was criticized for telling the world that the men of the Franklin expedition had resorted to Canibalism to prolong their existence, he was blamed for believing the Inuit, who told him all those incredible and awful stories, and he was pursued for not having gone to King William Island when he had the chance to corroborate all that madness.


He was blamed in the same way that Apsley Cherry-Garrard would be attacked after the last Scott´s expedition. Thousands of voices cried and never forgave Cherry-Garrard for not pressing harder, for not reaching the place where Scott was staying inside his tent, thousands of voices cried and  never forgave Rae for not reaching King William Island and not verifying the stories which were told him by the Inuit in 1854. 

The sad truth and real pity, though he was never criticised for it, was that he was really close to find some decisive clues during his expedition of 1851, if not eventually a member of the Franklin expedition still alive,  when he repeatedly tried to cross Victoria Strait towards King William Island, thing that unfortunately never happened. 

King William Island and Surroundings

Now that one of the ships of the Franklin expedition has been found, exactly where the Inuit said it would be found, it is clearer than anytime, that the Rae´s sources were highly reliable, that it wasn´t necessary to travel to King William Island to check all those testimonies, that he took the good decisions and did the correct thing. 

It is almost ironic than within the same month these two events have taken place. Three if we consider that Scotland had a Referendum and voted No to the independece. The world should recognise this, the Inuit, were right, the ship was where it was supposed to be, and that Rae, was right too, the Franklin expedition ended as the Inuit told him, as forensic analisys of the bones found, revealed time after. And one have to wonder (thinking bad) if this homage would have been canceled if Scotland would have said yes.

But, the truth, is that Rae is going to be forgiven for something he  didn´t actually do. He discovered the sad end of Franklin and his men but he never pretended to unveil the darkest details of what was told him. His news traveled fastest than him and reached the newspapers in Britain before he could do anything against it. Even Dickens conceded him that it was the Admiralty´s fault.

Charles Dickens circa 1860
It is tempting to think that Rae could have intentionally delivered  this information to spread the image of how futile were the old fashioned ways of the Royal Navy of performing Arctic expeditions, though this I find this very unlikely, and the history says that it was the Admiralty which finally delivered those news to the general public. Who knows, perhaps there was a mole in that hole...

The mortal duel performed by  Rae and his archenemy Dickens, the armed wing of Lady Franklin, lasted years and there were no winners, but there was a loser. Rae´s image received damaged to the core and he spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions. Interestingly, Rae, applied a similar treatment to Charles Francis Hall, this is a fact not very well known which I have learnt reading "Strangers Among us" by Woodman. Rae tried to discredit all the Inuit´s stories told to Hall.

But that duel was condemned to last from his death to these days. The credit for the discovery of the last link for the Northwest Passage has been discussed, is being discussed now and will be discussed perhaps forever. Rae discovered one of the last pieces of the puzzle, Rae´s strait, a detour which Amundsen took during the first sailed crossing of the passage, a key piece.

Rae not only played the role of Cherry-Garrard in the sense of being the target of the wrath of the media but also acted as a sort of Amundsen. To me, Rae was one of the first man on practicing a modern way to explore, a sportive way of exploration. He performed astonishing trecks alone in the coldest months of the winter in a way that now only the best prepared sportsman can do. He learned the way to live off the land frome the Inuit and knew well how to travel fast on the snow as Amundsen knew too.

Roald Amundsen
By Beatriz Garrido Ponce
John Rae´s revenge is not that he could be proclaimed as the first on discovering the last link of the Northwest Passage, to me his revenge is that he can be proclaimed an authentic and modern explorer, revolutionary for his time, a resortful man who really had chances to survive in that enviroment. The comparison betwen Amundsen and Scott at this point is inevitably. That is to me his real revenge that he should be considered as a real explorer even compared with the current standards.

Acnowledgements: Special thanks to my friend Beatriz Garrido Ponce for giving me this wonderful portraits of John Rae and Roald Amundsen which were painted by her. My interest about the Franklin Expedition has present me with a lot of friends all over the world, some of who I have the inmense pleasure to meet in person. She is one of them, Thanks Bea!.

Thanks also to Ken McGoogan for serving me as inspiration as the title of this post.

sábado, 27 de septiembre de 2014


That would be a dream, wouldn´t it? or perhaps a nightmare,  depends on the point of view.

Many of us would consider it a miracle, and we would have, for sure, thousands of questions to ask him, but, no, I am not a post modern version of Charles Francis Hall. Too much time has passed and no matter how naive we could be, there are no chances to find any of the members of the Franklin expedition wandering in the cold air of that flat piece of ground called Hat Island.

No, we are never going to find them alive, but we have been pretty close to do it. The three men buried in Beechey Island, who will be forever sadly remembered for having those sinister grins, were so wonderfully preserved, that some people have dared to say that one even could expect them to speak. Not so well preserved, though, as Walt Disney, of course, who is waiting in his frozen throne and will wait forever to be woken up in the future, but quite well, indeed. 

The rest of the men of the Franklin expedition, found in King William Island, Todd Island, Starvation Cove and Montreal Island, were far to be considered alive. Skulls and bones spread all over the ground. The identification of almost all of them has been impossible. Most of them have been gathered, buried and put under cairns or into boxes. 

Skulls and bones of the men of the Franklin expedition
Two lucky men were buried back in Britain, one in Edinburgh (allegedly identified as Irving) and other under the Franklin Memorial in Greenwich, (Identificated at first as Le Vesconte and more recently as Harry Goodsir).

Grave of Lieut. John Irving, RN, who died on Franklin's expedition

But, don´t desperate, there are still chances to find well preserved bodies of the Franklin expedition, though this time I hope they won´t be shown  naked and emaciated so publicly, as if they were the poor and old Ötzi the iceman. 

Some of us are still dreaming with finding a well constructed grave with an undisturbed Franklin buried inside. A Franklin with a calmed countenance, as if he were sleeping. But now a new field of hope has appeared in our frustrated horizons, now we have the chance of finding bodies or parts of them under the sea. The recent discovery of one of the ships, (The Erebus or the Terror) in the vecinity of O´Reilly Island, and above all, its wonderful state of preservation, make us to think that some human remains could be found on board.

As far as I know, it is extremely rare to find human remains in such old shipwrecks, but it is not  completely impossible. In fact there are more cases than I thought at first, and some of them have revealed  astonishing findings to the world.

I am going to review, cursorily, some of the most impressive cases which I have found:

1.- Royal ship Kronan sank in 1676 during the battle on Öland in front of the shores of Sweden with 800 people on board .

Photo by Lars Einarsson/Kalmar Läns Museum

The bad news are that of the total of losses, only the rests of two men were found. The good news are that these remains were found after 340 years lying under the sea. They were so well preserved that even one of the skulls had traces of brain tissues. This happened because the men remained enclosed in an air bubble in one of the decks. That fact, which was a blessing for the archaeologist and scientists, surely meant a nightmare for the poor two men who were carried to the bottom of the sea while they were still able  to breath, condemned to a slow and tragic death. 

2.- HMS Victory, not the one which is still floating in Portsmouth, but one of its predecessors which sank in 1744 in the English channel.

Canon of the HMS VIctory
NOTE: That rounded thing under thoses fishes is not the skull though it looks like one.
The human remains, a skull and few bones were found under one of the cannons. There is an article about them, a very interesting one, where you can see the skull and bones. The bones under the cannon shows still a pale yellow colour, while the skull and others, exposed directly to the water were black as coal.

3.- La Belle sank in Matagorda in the Texas´s coast in 1686 after a dramatic struggle of the crew to  stay alive. 

The French sailor of La Belle had a wallet with him with two combs. The amazing fact, is that this skeleton was still articulated, it had tendons and soft tissues which  kept joined the bones. The skull still had part of the brain intact inside.  It is encouraging the thinking of that if any body is found in the Franklin ship, it could still have some documents with him or some belonging which could help to identify him.

These three cases are the most significant which I have found but there were other cases: The Vassa, HMS Pandora, Orient, Fitzgerald, etc..


As the article mentioned above reads, the searching of human bones in shipwrecks is an undeveloped area, which is a pity. This, must be a frustrating discipline. Each one of those old shipwrecks was usually accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of deaths, so, why is commonly so little found bones?. 

With some luck, divers have been able to find only two or three skulls and a small number of bones in a shipwreck on which hundreds of people have drowned. The chances of finding human remains in shallow waters increases. A human body decompose in water much more quickly than when it is buried in the ground, In less than three weeks only the bones remain. The probabilities increases when the bodies have been caught under the decks or when they have been caught under some sort of load. The main enemy of the recovery of human remains are the exposure to underwater currents. Lying under some sort of cover or buried in sand can prevent the corpses of being exposed to aerobic enviroments. When this happen, then, there are even hopes of obtaining DNA from those bones. 

Nothing is mentioned in the article or in the news which I have read about the effect of cold waters on these stages of preservation, but it would be interesting to know what effect could have this parameter in the formula.

You can find the examples exposed here and others in this interesting article: