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.

miércoles, 25 de marzo de 2015


The Erebus has been found and new divings are scheduled for dates as early as this coming month of April. However, imagination it is a powerful tool which can fly faster than actual facts and I am sure that not few of us have been already diving through the guts of the ship. In my case, I have found an unspoilt skeleton lying in a bunk and have opened a box full of valuable documents. I have also personally lifted the ship and put it to dry in the historical dockyard of Portsmouth. This last action is not merely the result of my feverish imagination but a reality which have been accomplished a certain number of times before. It is true that all of those previous cases were lying at further south latitudes than the Erebus and in much more accessible areas but I want you to live with me this dream and make your mouth water through what it could be done with some money and will.

Marine salvaging is not a modern technique which eccentric and romantic historians have developed to waste the money of the  tax payers but a technique which was in the mind of ship owners centuries ago. Nicolo Fontano Tartaglia side - passion to mathematics was marine salvage. As early as in 1551 he wrote a treaty about this issue including the design of several diving bells and methods to raise sunken ships. His live, by the way, deserves a quick look.  

The fact is that building a ship cost then, and costs now, a fortune, and there must be a no lesser drama than losing a ship during its maiden voyage.

Illustration from a treatise on salvaging from 1734, showing the traditional method of raising a wreck with the help of anchors and ships or hulksas pontoons, basically the same method that was used to raise Vasa in the 20th century.
Nicolo Fontano Tartaglia Marine salvage handbook.

I am not going to talk here about the recovery of the sunken navy from Scapa Flow for making them scrap or about the recovery of the ships which sank in Pearl Harbor but about those old  and fragile wooden ships which were taken from their water graves. Sadly I have not found  a lot of cases as  I initially thought, in fact, I have only found those which I already knew. Let´s review them and see what was done to rescue them:

THE VASA sank outside the Stockholm harbor in 1628 (32 m depht):

It sank in the seventeenth century and rediscovered in 1950´s. It took more than one thousand divers and two years of digging tunnels below the ship to make it see the surface of the water. It was a hazardous and long job on which it was necessary to close its hatches, plug the holes which some nails have left, repair the stern castle and deploy the cables under it which would be responsible of its final lifting. At last, from a depth of 32 m, after having been underwater for 333 years, the timbers of the Vasa rose over the surface. Personal possesions from the sailors were found together with the skeletons of at least four men of the thirty who lost their lives. Interestingly there were premature attempts to rescue it right after its sinking (See picture above).

Vasa in the shipyard.
Those who could be interested in what could be done to repair the ship should visit the Vasa museum website. The job those people did to restore it is simply incredible. Those who could still think this is a waste of money should think in the counterpart which would imply giving job for hundreds of professionals.

BATAVIA 1629 Struck in a Reef near Beacon island, Australia (Depth: shallow)

The story which surrounds the shipwreck of Batavia is as interesting as any other story about pirates you could have heard before: mutinies, killings, executions, etc. However, from the Batavia, only portions have been able to be salvaged from the sea like this portion of the stern:

Restored stern section and archway as display at the Fremantle Maritime Museum
Bodies and other items were also found and rescued from the sea during the more than 1.600 hours-diving. Its remains must not lie very deep underwater.

MARY ROSE 1545 Sank during the Battle of Solent  (11 m below water)

The decision to raise the ship was shaped in the form of a charitable trust. The later participation of the National Maritime Museum, Royal Navy and the BBC made the dreams of archaeologists and historians come true.

Could these same three actors save the Erebus too? The previous experiences on this field were the raising of the Vasa but this task was going to be much more difficult to accomplish. This time, 500 divers making 22,000 hours diving, made the miracle possible. Only a third of the ship was intact, so, raising it in one piece following the traditional way of using cables below the hull was quickly discarded. The construction of a cofferdam was discarded too. As it happened with the VASA it was proposed the using of ping pong balls to increase its buoyancy and other apparently bizarre ideas. Finally, it was decided to use a metal frame to lift it with a huge crane over a barge.

The interesting thing here is not only the technical part of the project but the cooperation between private and public partners which made it possible. Any project manager knows that money is as, if not more, important as the technical part is, but with money, oh friends!!, everything is possible.

Remains of half of the crew were found and detailed studies over them have helped to reconstruct how their lives were by that time.

The wreck of the Mary Rose clear of the water on 11 October 1982

HMS ROYAL GEORGE  1756 (20 m depth)

The Royal George was an enormous ship which sank close to the Wright island with 800 souls on board. The attempts to rescue it were mainly due for safety reasons. Its position presented a danger for navigation. First items were rescued in 1782 using a diving bell, after in 1839 the Major General Pasley, far from attempting the rescue of the ship, drove the obliteration of it using powder barrels charged with lead.

A contemporary illustration of theRoyal George resting at the bottom of the Solent with its masts sticking up from the surface.
The pragmatic Pasley destroyed the ship "in a huge controlled explosion that shattered windows as far away as Portsmouth and Gosport."

Why mention then the techniques used here if there was never the intention of recovering the ship? I have chosen to tell this story for two reasons, firstly because the means which were used here implied the extensive and successful use of the Deane´s diving helmets during the complex siege of the shipwreck which lasted years. And secondly, because one of those casualities which sometimes happen, our well known Doctor Richardson  was involved in the treatment of the injuries suffered by Roderick Cameron, one of the divers. I have not researched further on this matter, but surely, his diagnosis and analisys was one of the first about the issue of decompression. Amazing, isn´t it?

No matter how intense could be our thoughts, the truth is that our beloved ship, the HMS Erebus, is located in an inaccesible position, subjected to such weather conditions, that it makes very difficult to gather, not months, but weeks to perform a proper diving expedition. The cost of refloating it could be compared with the cost of launching a satellite to the Moon´s orbit. Erebus is a much more recent shipwreck than the Vasa´s one and its grave of cold arctic waters is a waranty for its good preservation. The money and the logistic is the closed door which separate us from its hidden treasures. The will of those who are hooked by the fate of the Franklin expedition and the money of big public and private corporations is the key to open it.

Could a huge glass dome in Gjoa Haven shelter the ship? Could this be a balanced solution? Time will say and I hope I could live to witness it. My first thought about this is that it would be easier and cheaper to build a replica instead of rescuing the actual ship. Some cards play against us. Definitely, the stout and gross shape of the Erebus cannot compete with the  elegancy and fine decoration of the Vasa but undoubtedly her tough silhouette, surrounded by the cold and harsh atmosphere of KingWilliam Island, would impress us one thousand times more than any other museum-ship in the world.

For ending, recently, Wolfgang Opel shared with the Franklinite society a piece of news which tells about what this discovery could imply for the tiny and economically and socially depressed Inuit community of Gjoa Haven. The title reads: "Franklin wreck could help float fortunes of Arctic community".

Rumors have spoken about the fact of creating a National Park: "to set up a Franklin Committee of community elders and other leaders who will lead the community in discussions about building tourism capacity, infrastructure and protecting the Franklin sites." This measure would have its upsides and downsides, like everything.

Several cruises are expected to reach King William Island this summer and it is supposed that hundreds of tourists are going to land there. Is the Everest phenomenon coming to this inaccesible island? Is this a threat for this small community or is it its salvation? The salvage of the Erebus and the construction of a museum for it, either in situ or right in Gjoa Haven would multiply undoubtedly this effect. There would not be in this scenario tens of dead people lying over a route up in the dead zone and Sherpas guides risking their lives, but cozy igloos to accomodate tourists, hotels, an ice bar and lots of work for the Inuit community.

I have experienced the results of a similar case in my birth town, a depressed city from where all the young people had to flee looking for a job. Now a big cruiser vomits daily thousands of tourists in the city. My only complain about that is that now it is more difficult to walk by the streets in the center and that here and there people two-meters tall ask me for this and that direction (I really love that), but to consulate a bit my (fake) grieve, the activity now in the region is crazy, lots of shops have reopened, pubs and bars are proliferating and the young people stay in the town, are learning foreign languages and are working as tourist guides, waiters, museums, and so on.

miércoles, 18 de febrero de 2015


Surely a lot of you know well Beechey Island, where it is and what you can be able to find there. Beechey island is that desolate piece of land where the Franklin expedition spent its first winter of 1845-46 and where their first three casualties were buried.

It is somehow, less know that about 500 km (260 nmi) west from there is another tiny island where other three graves are looking at the icy sea of the Melville sound. All the information I have summarized here comes from a 1964´s article in Canadian Geographic  written by C.R. Harington and has been completed with some data which comes from my recent research done to allow me draw the "Arctic Graveyard" map.

William Edward Parry named the island after one of his midshipman of the HMS Hecla, William Justin Dealy, on his voyage towards the discovery of the Northwest Passage in 1819. It wouldn´t be until years later, in 1851, when another celebrity of arctic exploration will step on that island. He was Leopold McCLintock, who leading a sledge party as part of the Horatio Austin´s expedition, mapped and described the island.  A year later, in 1852, again McClintock as second in command of the Kellet´s expedition reached again the island on board the ships HMS Resolute and his tender HMS Intrepid.  This time they had to winter there. On doing that they put a flagstaff and stablished a big depot of supplies. 

It was that winter when Thomas Mobley, steward of the HMS Resolute died. It seems that he had been "incapable of any great exertion" for a long time, apparently because a latent heart disease. The 18th of october he went up to the upper deck without the proper clothing. The difference of temperatures did the rest of the job. He died almost instantly and, according with the narrative of the voyage: 

"...many days were occupied in getting sufficient depth beneath the surface, and even then we were compelled to rest satisfied with only two feet eight inches, and to effect this, powder was obliged to be resorted to, in addition to pickaxes, shovels, and the usual implements for digging."

Those are the virtues of the permafrost. Eight days after his death, the 26th october the crew of both ships were gathered in the island to perform the funeral after having dragged his coffin on a sledge from the ships to the coastline.

Ensigns on board were hoisted half mast and the bells tolled. It was a windy and unpleasant day, but they always are under those circunstances, aren´t they?.  His grave was located in a place near a beach in the eastern shore of the island. 

There is another version of his death which tells a very different story, the one above comes from "The eventful voyage of HM discovery ship Resolute  to the arctic regions", the official account. The other comes from the book HMS Resolute. On it, is described how Thomas Mobley fell to the cold water while coming back towards the ships in the course of a sledge trip which was lead by Hamilton. It is said that he was taken out from water already dead. As Elizabeth´s book is a sort of a dramatization of the adventure, we should take for granted the description of the original and official narration. The grave of Thomas was soon accompanied by the grave of George Drover, Captain of the forecastle of the Intrepid. The difficulty of digging his grave is described in the narrative of the voyage:

"The deceased was then conveyed to his last resting place, beside the grave of our much regretted steward. Much difficulty had been experienced in digging a grave; for in addition to the the heavy gale, ..., the ground was frozen as hard as granite, on which the crow-bars, pickaxes, and shovels made little or no impression. ... After a week´s labour a depth of two feet ten inches was obtained".

The sketch (below), which appears in Harison´s article and whose origin is the book "The eventful voyage of H.M. Discovery ship to the arctic regions", shows three graves. The third man buried in Dealy island  was John Coombs, the Stoker of the HMS Intrepid. This man died during a sledge trip to the north part of Melville island, his mates insisted on carrying the body back to the winter quarters to be buried together with the rest. Not a small feat, indeed, which deserves a couple of "Hoorays" for those men, specially if we consider that the sledges were man-hauled and that the distance covered was over 80 km overland. 

His death is described as being provoked by a fall on frozen waters and it is said, this time in the official narrative, that his death was similar to that of Thomas Mobley. Then? what was the real reason of Thomas´s death?, I  don´t really know. 
Graves of Kellet´s men on Dealy Island.
The ships Resolute and Intrepid are in the Background.
From: the Eventful Voyage of the HM discovery ship Resolute to the arctic regions
From: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition/docs/1964_March_Canadian_Geographic.pdf
It was during this expedition when contact was made by Bedford Pim, from the Resolute, with Robert McLure, who was in ice-choked HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay. Pim appeared as a ghostly vision to rescue a "sat on the verge" Robert McLure from the disaster. It was in Dealy island where both expeditions get together. 

Meanwhile, Kellet have ordered the construction of a stout store house of big dimensions (40 feet x 14 feet) with thick walls. Remains of this building were still visible in 1978 as you can see in the picture below. As a curiosity, among the hundreds of items left in that caché there was a Halkett boat.

Kellet´s store house
Parks Canada 1978
One of the things which has impressed me more is the fact that one of the Kellet´s boat was found in pretty good conditions even after 54 years of its abandonment (see picture below). The Canadian Captain J.E. Bernier on board the D.G.S. Arctic, landed in the island in 1908. He discovered that the Kellet´s caché was still  untouched. Documents were found in containers which still preserved their seals. They also found the three graves with their respective tombstones still erected, and, yes, a 14 feet whale boat which was hurriedly left behind by Kellet after the ice suddenly had released his ships from their trap.

The innaccesibility of the location of Dealy Island made possible this little miracle, this time the boats remained untouched by human hands. The reason of the abandonment of this boat makes me think about the reasons which could have forced the men of the Franklin expedition to abandon their own boats while trying to escape from King William Island. Dealy Island´s boat is an opportune clon of those abandoned boats of King William Island and its picture allows us to travel in time to see or imagine what McClintock saw when he found them. The boat was taken on board the D.G.S Arctic and carried to the National museum.

From: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition/docs/1964_March_Canadian_Geographic.pdf

The three graves with its tombstones were still there in 1917 when Steffanson arrived at the island, but the tombstones covered by moss were not standing anymore. Even in 1961, when the men from an aircraft landed in the sea in the eastern side of the island, they were still easily recognizable. 

That is the last time it is mentioned its existence in the Harington´s article. However, there were more visits after those mentioned and defenitely the graves were always seen by all the subsuquent expeditions. The place is described in this article where you could find detailed pictures of the store house with interesting pictures of some of the goods left there, leather boots, and so on....even more could be found in this unpublished article if it had been published..."Yorga, Brian 1979. Kellet's Storehouse, Dealy Island, Canadian High Arctic." 

All those expeditions which ended on that island tasted the mid nineteenth century delicacies stored there but any of them disturbed the graves. I wonder if the resting place of these three men, much less known than the three Beechey Island men, is still untouched. I wonder why any of those numerous expeditions took the oak tombstones with them and replaced the originals for new ones as it happened in Beechey Island.  I wonder where the Resolute´s boat will have ended its days and if it is still visible for the public somewhere or if it was tore into little pieces to feed some fireplace. 

I wonder I wonder I wonder...

sábado, 7 de febrero de 2015


It has been widely discussed if the killing of Michel Terohuate, the Iriquois who killed the Midshipman Robert Hood during the Franklin Coppermine expedition (breath), was an unavoidable execution or just a murder. Williard Wentzel appealed then for a formal investigation but he was basically ignored. However, it has been forgotten the fact that not too many days before this happened, the Inuit Junius (Hoeootoerock-"The ear") was merely and apparently abandoned while he was hunting to feed the party. Franklin and the men had been stopped by the course of the Coppermine river on their way back to Fort Enterprise. They hadn't boats to cross the river so they were detained for sometime to build a small one and then they crossed the rapids leaving Junius behind.

Junius and Augustus

Just before crossing Junius shots were heard by Credit (one of the voyageurs) who had been sent to hunt with him. His mate, Augustus told Franklin not to worry about him because he surely would manage to survive the winter by his own.

The fact that Augustus after crossing the river marched always onwards and always separated from the main body of the group is significative. He managed not only to reach Fort Enterprize but to reach Akaitcho camp before than the rest of the pary safe and sound. He likely prefered or even forced that not stay with the rest of the party, which surely was considered by him as a deadly burden.

If the disspeareance of Junius was previously planned by the inuit couple or just by himself or if it must be considered an abandonment and therefore a crime, is a matter of conjecture and reflection. Junius was by then well equipped with enough ammunition, blankets, knives and a kettle. If someone was predestined to survive through all those harsh conditions those were the inuit people, they were survivors by nature, they were get used to overcome worst conditions than the ones they were suffering. They knew perfectly well how to live and survive a winter. There is a number of stories about indian women who survived whole winters in the northern arctic by their own after being abadoned by their tribes. Franklin himself tells one of these stories in his narrative of this journey.
A lonely but well prepared man, as Junius surely should be considered, had more chances to survive than twenty badly prepared men. My guess and bet is that Junius survived that winter and that he likely reached some Fort or indian camp. We will never know,  he could have even come back to the north in the spring and joined again the Inuit people who they met in Bloody falls. We should remember that  Augustus was offered a bribe to stay with the old man (White Fox) who they talked to when they reached the inuit camp of Bloody Falls the summer of 1821. That bribe  consisted on offering Augustus the daughter of the old man.

Augustus was latter contracted for subsequents overland expeditions. His achievements piled stuff enough to feed another blog post. He gained a position in several accounts and even a place of honour in the Dictionary of Canadian  Biography.

And for Junius, Franklin mentions only cursoryly how they were worried about his whereabouts, but not too dramatically in my opinion. He didn't express any remorse and it doesn't seem he had even thought on staying there longer to wait for him.  On the other hand, the voyageurs and Augustus were confident about his chances of survival. He was a good hunter, his achievements are described here and there in the Franklin's narrative. Why then should we think otherwise? He could have found a wife in one of the inuit settlements located north of point lake or he could have just died alone of starvation, being attacked by wolves or have fallen ill in some place east of the Coppermine river. In that latter case his body would be feeding the massive graveyard which the arctic would become whithin the coming years.

viernes, 30 de enero de 2015


The three men buried on Beechey Island are sadly and mainly known because they were virtually frozen in time, as wisely John Geiger and Owen Beattie titled them on their book, and also because they were part of the equally sadly known last Franklin expedition. Their macabre grin will smile to us forever in our dreams, at least till the moment we could smile grotesquely them back in return from our own graves. 

However, though it was their exceptional state of preservation and not their link with the Franklin expedition which have given them their fame, the fact is that there are other graves dispersed all over the arctic archipielago which could contain men as well preserved as the men buried in Beechey Island. Graves which belonged to other expeditions. For example, we have the case of the three men who were buried very close to the place where the HMS Investigator was found. No attempts to unbury them have been made yet and it seems they won´t be done in the short term.

Recently, I have found in the Manitoba museum web site the wooden leg which was worn by the Inuit Tulluahiu. This man, luckily for him, crossed his path with John Ross during his expedition in the ship Victory during the years 1829 to 1833. It has been his story which had led me to the sad story of Chimham Thomas, the carpenter of that expedition.The journalist Ken Harper told the story of this man and his leg in this article.

It is almost certain that Chimham saved the life of this man who was found being pulled in a sledge by his relatives and who ended walking and hunting as any other hunter of his tribe.

Tulluahiu and his wooden leg.

Chimham not only did a wonderful job making that wooden leg which would last hundreds of years, he also mended it several times, did improvements and even produced spare parts for being used for the man when the expedition would leave.

Wooden leg

Unfortunately, the poor carpenter died the spring before the men of the expedition were rescued in 1833. It has been his death, in his turn, which has led me to discover that two other men had previously died during that. James Dixon and James Marslin. It  is the description of their burials which has made me think that perhaps those two men could be beautifully preserved. In the case of Dixon, John Ross describes how digging his grave took the men approximately a week. In the case of Marslin, it is only said it took too much time .

One could imagine, that as these two graves were dug while the things were still not too bad in the expedition, perhaps they could be in the same perfect shape than those of Beechey Island, therefore, their bodies could be at least as well preserved as the bodies of John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell.  The position of the Dixon´s grave is indicated in this article published in Northern News in 1957. It should not be far from the place where the Victory cache was deployed. It seems that a Patrol from the R.C.M.P discovered in the 1970 a skull which could have belonged Dixon. I doubt it, I can´t believe that after a week digging someone or something could have had access to his coffin, opened it and had taken apart his skull. However, there is another likely possibility, and that is the fact that the permafrost is melting.

There are more and more cases in the news of  graves which had been dug in the permafrost  which are now appearing in surface. Like in an horror movie, coffins and bones are emerging from the ground to salute the people walking around.

Pipsuk grave?According to Russell Potter who make the suggestion, this grave could have belonged to Pipsuk.

Wolfgang Opel, the co-author of the book Eisbären, also called my attention about the case of the grave of the explorer Hermann WalterRussian Polar expedition of 1900-1902who, it seems, also decided to breath some fresh air.

This, in my opinion, could be the case of Dixon, whose grave would be located about four degrees south of the latitude where the graves of the men of the Franklin expedition are located in Beechey Island. In the article mentioned above is described and discussed the location of his grave and the location of the tunnel where John Ross put his cache of food and instrumental in Victoria Harbour before abandoning his ship. They built it during the first days of january of 1832 as if they were pirates hiding a treasure. To add more mistery and glamour to this scene, one day, as if it were a signal, an enormous meteor crossed the sky illuminating the whole valley (Chapter 48 of the narrative of the expedition). I haven´t found traces which could determine where James Marslin could have been buried, I only known that he died earlier and that he likely was buried during the winter of 1830-31.

Globalization,  if we want to call this way, with the pass of time is bringing us to our homes through internet more and more pictures of inaccessible places. There are some  photos of Fury Beach which could excite our imagination, These pictures show us places which we have seen countless times in paintings. They show us quiet beaches, narrow gorges, and steep cliffs. We could easily imagine that in one of those stony beaches could have been buried for example the good carpenter Chimham Thomas. 

To finish, I would like to make some reflection. I have read somewhere that more men died trying to find the Franklin expedition than in the Franklin expedition itself. I would bet that this assertion is false. If we don´t count those 129 men, I find dubious that such amount of men had died in all the expeditions which went towards the North west Passage before and after of the Franklin expedition of 1845. Here and there men died  in the arctic archipielago, some them are now only a handful of bones are scattered in the bottom of the sea as happened to René Bellot, others are well buried in unknow places, others were half buried and where disturbed by wild life and others simply dissappeared forever without leaving a trace. All of them are there, in some place. It would be interesting to make an inventary of the deceased men during all those years, if possible, marking the conditions of their burials and approximate location.

James Dixon and James Marslin were part of those who were well buried in Boothia peninsula. Presumably, they are with all their flesh on and opened eyes staring the back of the lid of his coffin patiently waiting for us to be rescued from the forgotten. 

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.