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, 16 de abril de 2014


"Willing to go" - These three words written the 11th july of 1845 show the spirit of a man, not a very well known man  indeed. These three words show actually the spirits of the whole companionship who went together with Sir John Franklin to the Arctic.

Time ago I published a short post here where I tried to draw him. On that time I couldn´t find any specific information about this man. I didn´t have even read the description of him made by james Fitzjames in one of his letters where he was described as a rough but affable man.

James Reid Ice Master of HMS Erebus - Franklin expedition of 1845
From: www.luminous-lint.com
It has been now that I have discovered this short article in The Register (or also called the South Australian Register)   where I have found much more valuable information on which this man is well described and what is even more curious, I have discovered on it that he had in his hands the opportunity to avoid the disaster.

James Reid was a man who kept an intense correpondence with his wife. On one of his letters written to her the spring of the fateful year of 1845 (22th of march 1845) he told his wife that he had been asked by a shipowner to go on board the ship Neptune to sail to Quebec in April. He told her spouse that he refused that offer because he was at this point committed with  Sir John to depart in the Franklin expedition to the North.

His fate was then sealed but his words show an involved man with high expectancies on this particular journey:

"It may be two years, it may be three or four, but I am quite willing to go"

This phrase not only is a demonstration of his mood but it is also the key which teach us that this man, at least on these previous stages of the preparation of the expedition, was more than concious that the expedition could last even four years. A point which has been sometimes questioned, however after, in a letter sent from Whalefish Islands, he mentions that they were carrying only provisions for three years. He continuous:

"Sir John told me that if I went the voyage with him  and landed safely in England again I would be looked after all my life"

In this case, another fact is revealed, the trust which the men of the Franklin expedition had laid on their Commander. A thing which one could easily believe if one analyses the treatment received after previous expeditions for other of his previous companions.

Reading forward he wrote this dark forecast:

"Mr Enderby has been a good friend to me. He will look after you if I should never return"

And follows:

"No doubt there will be a great talk about me going this voyage. . It will show that I am not frightened for my life like some men. It is for you and the family. Why should a man stop at home?"

Saying that "he wouldn´t show he wasn´t frightened" implies to me that he was scared to death about this adventure. Precisely because of his knowledge of the arctic regions and the dangers which the ice involves James Reid surely was one of the more aware about the hell through which they were going to sail .

Another curious thing mentioned in the article is that the officers "had to" buy their own silver spoons and forks. Reid complains about those expenses. Were they obliged to buy their own cutlery?, Was that a formal prescription for the officers?. 

I really don´t know, but if that thing is true, it could explain why so many of this items were found among the belongings of the bodies of the men scattered in King King William Island. If some officers incurred on heavy and disproportionate expenses to afford this purchase, perhaps some of them succumbed to the temptation of carrying those valuable spoons and forks till the end.

And now I have found an astonishing thing. James Reid says:

"Lady Franklin has ordered all the officers' likenesses to be taken, and mine among the rest, with my uniform on. She keeps them all by herself."

My knowledge of English is well known to be insufficient, but I believe this phrase means that it was Lady Franklin who ordered the famous pictures (daguerrotypes) of the officers to be taken by Richard Beard? I didn´t know that detail. I have always read and believed that the idea have come from John Franklin himself. Perhaps Reid was wrong, and was actually Sir John the promoter of such historical action.

The letter continues and then arises another remarkably assertion which hurts for the hidden true it contains and for the sincere love it shows to his beloved wife:

"Keep your heart up. We will both meet again. This voyage will be the last that I will never make."

The next letter was written 80 miles west from Stromness and it show us how this old lad was indeed loved by her employers:
"The first lieutenant calls me his Jolly Old Hero.' He is a good seaman, and so is Capt. Fitzjamcs. He is a fine man, and is next to Sir John Franklin."
Writing from Whalefish Islands in july 1845 he confirms the suggestions that Sir John was in a poor state of health when they departed from London, and that surely the fresh air of the sea had helped him to recover:
"I am glad to acquaint you that Sir John Frankin is quite well, and enjoying better health than when in London"
References to the unusual warmth of the present and the previous seasons are done a couple of times, one mentioning that the previous season the winter was defined by the locals of Greenland as "mild" and other is this:
"I have been a number of 'years in this country, but I never saw it so warm as it has been during the past three days."
I don´t know why but James Reid always had attracted my attention, there was something in his look and posture who inclined me to feel certain fondness to this man.
James Reid left a wife and three sons, who he demonstrated through his writting he loved more than anything else in the world. The apparently rough and veteran seaman had a story behind, a story which was shared by other members of the crews. He had a live, family and friends. He, and the other members of this expedition, abandoned them all forever in the pursuit of a dream.
Good journey "Jolly Old Hero" I sincerely hope we could meet each other someday.

jueves, 6 de marzo de 2014


I wonder what would have happened if Crozier and his men would have reached England after all.

After knowing that Ron Howard is making a film (*) about the Essex case, I have been searching for further information of others terrible manifestations of this one particular of those non-written rules which were then called "The customs of the sea".

"Custom of the sea" by Richard Lewer
(*) While reading about this new movie I have been asking myself why every movie´s Director and Producer of this planet is spending money in bad movies instead of spending it into a good movie or serie about the last Franklin expedition, or why not, about the life of Sir John Franklin. 

Whaleship Essex
Of course, I quickly remembered the case of the ship Mignonette which in 1884 was also a famous case of this sad and morbid custom. But this time, the case didn´t finished as another mere example of how cruel were the conditions which the castaways should afford. The trial and its verdict established certain jurisprudence about this subject. 

That ship, the Mignonette, shipwrecked in the surroundings of the Cape Good Hope. The crew, four men, managed themshelves to take the lifeboat, and with it they saved temporarily their lives. They were wandering by the sea for some time. The situation lasted too much and it enworsened quickly to the point that they finally resorted to kill the cabin boy to feed the others. According with some testimonies, the boy was by then in coma, though this point is not completely clear. The Cabin boy beared the name of Richard Parker which would become soon an eternal synonymus of martyrdom and inspiration for writers and film makers.

One curious detail is that the ship which found and saved the survivors from a certain dead was a German ship which was called Montezuma. In my opinion, this fact, could only be interpreted as a signal or as a forecast of the storm which was going to come after and as a forecast of the fear which the accused surely felt during the process: The Montezuma´s revenge.

Those men were judged and, yes, they were condemned after a long and controversial trial to the death penalty, in part to serve as an example for the future. However, their sentence was after all conmuted for only six months of imprissonment and the men saved their lifes. 

Searching a little more, and digging into the neverending source of information of Google, I have learned about the existence of this other, and apparently very interesting, book:

Is Eating People Wrong?
Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World

As if I were reached by an harpoon, a question has then suddenly raised  inside my mind. The question is clear, the title of the book says all:

                      "Is eating people wrong?" and what is more "Is eating people legal?

(of course, considering the above mentioned mitigating circunstances of being a survivor of a shipwreck and of being wandering for weeks helplessly in the sea).

My question or questions, which have to be necessarily matched to the Franklin Expedition in one or other way, goes even further:

"What would have happened in 1849 or 1850 if the crews of the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror would have managed to reach England? Would  have they been judged and condemned?"

Supposing, and this is the key assumption, that they applied the "Custom of the sea" while they were fighting for their lives in King William Island or in Starvation Cove, surely, the same justice which fourty years after condemned those survivors of the Mignonette to death surely would have condemned this others men to a similar fate if they would have find a way to return home.

I guess that this could be a good script for a fiction novel: 

The men of the Franklin expedition didn´t perished and they don´t dissapeared forever. Some of its members reached their homeland safe and sound, yes, but only to be severely judged and to be condemned to death!.

P.S.: If someone wants to write a novel using this idea, please feel free to do it... always that you mention me in the Acknowledgement section of your book. He he he!

miércoles, 26 de febrero de 2014


It was always been said that little ships were better suited to cross the shallow and treacherous waters of the Northwest Passage, there were several explorers who affirmed that thing (Hall, Hood, among others), but of course the Admiralty was thinking on a different way, because they persevered on sending to the NWP heavy expeditions. 

William Edward Parry: From: WahooArt.com
What have surprised me is that William Parry, a man already experimented in the arctic hazards, said this on the narrative about his first Voyage: 

"On the 5th, it was necesary to pass through some heavy streams of ice, in order to avoid the loss of time by going round to the eastward. On this, as many other occasions, the advantage possessed by a ship of considerable weight in the water, in separating the heavy masses of ice, was very apparent. 
In some of the streams, through which the Hecla passed, a vessel of a hundred tons less burthen must have been immoveably beset. The Griper was on this, and many other occasions, only enabled to follow the Hecla by taking advantage of the openings made by the latter. "

He thought, and likely correctly, that the weight of the ships could help them on saving time ,while sailing on a straight line breaking the ice, as the heavy ice breakers currently does, pushing the ice and climbing slightly over the borders of the floes to break it with their weight.  But Parry had been beset before by the ice, he should have known the dangers of sailing in icy waters with such heavy ships. He should have known by then that the seas on those latitudes are not always covered by thin ice but for thick ice which can trap easily a heavy ship. A more maneuverable ship could have helped him to sail closer to the shores when the waters would be impracticable and a smaller and lighter ship could take the advantage of using whatever lead opened in the ice, no matter the smaller the lead could have been. He should have known or deduced that.

Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky - Ships in a Storm From Wikimedia Commons

Wasn´t Parry wrong on their appreciations? Was he only refering to the kind ship which could be best suited for navigation on open waters or he meant what kind of ship could be suitable for the whole expedition? Did he change his mind?

 I have read several original narrations about arctic expeditions and I don´t remember that any of their commanders would propose the use of lighter ships. It is true, on the other hand, that previously to these expeditions of the nineteenth century, there were several cases of small  ships, which were accompanying others of a bigger size, which capsized during storms, sometimes even before reaching the shores of America.

miércoles, 19 de febrero de 2014


Time ago I wrote several posts about John Hepburn, the sailor who accompanied John Franklin on his expedition to the mouth of the Coppermine river and who played a very important role on their final survival. John Hepburn even took part together with Joseph René Bellot in one of the rescue expeditions after Sir John Franklin disappeared, but there is another man, another sailor whose behaviour and mood gain for him an outstanding place on the oficial journals of some of the first expeditions performed by John Franklin.

Robert Spinks is the actor of a funny, though dangerous, anecdote in the expedition towards the North Pole of 1818 commanded by David Buchan and described by Frederick William Beechey here

While some of the men of the crew were on shore in Spitzbergen, Robert Spinks trying to descend the first of all to the ships he tried to go down by a steep glacier. He slipped and fell thousands of feet in an apparently uncontrolled way. 

Fortunately for him, the fallen resulted in no hurt for him and the anecdote was such that it resulted worthy of being published on the oficial account when it was finally published. The funny thing was that, after being able of stopping the dangerous fallen, he had broken the pair of trousers he was wearing and, as Beechey describes, "something more". Spinks, stood up laughing heartily and the rest of the men who were attending the spectacle joined him. This scene could easily be part of an old adventure film. 

Beechey even tells on this book how Spinks also accompanied Franklin and Back on their second expedition towards the north shores of Canada, giving him a little homage. Spinks is described by George Back as a man of great zeal, fortitude and perseverance and as a man of an unusual degree of good humour and who was of the utmost use on keeping up the spirits of others. 

After reading this, one thinks that sometimes we focus our attention on the great names of the polar exploration and that sometimes we forget that those great men were surronded by humble sailors which acts were so heroic or even more heroic than those performed by his commanders and that without those men those expeditions simply couldn´t have been posible. 

 Robert Spinks must have been a man worth of knowing, a good friend and a good man. Unfortunately he died soon after having being promoted as a gunner on the ship HMS Philomel in Gibraltar, the cause of his dead is not told by Beechey.

lunes, 23 de diciembre de 2013


Today I have been doing some tests with my new "close up" camera lenses. As I am obsessed with the Franklin expedition, one of my first ideas has been to take pictures of the book "Sir John Franklin´s Last Arctic Expedition" by Richard Cyriax, surely one of the bests and more complete books which treats about this subject and which could be considered its encyclopedia.

Here we have the review about the book by William Battersby, done time ago, in Goodreads, here we have the review done in the Cambridge Journals and here an abstract of the book. Unfortunately, the book is not longer printed but you can still find the original, or more likely, its facsimile version of 1997 with prices which can vary between 20 to several thousand pounds.

The book itself had a turbulent life. It was published for first time in 1939 and most of their copies were destroyed while they were stored during a German bombing in the second World War. Long time after, in 1997, it was re-published again. However, even after this re-edition, the book is hard to find at a reasonable price. Perhaps, after this new and unexpected revival  of the interest about this matter provoked in my opinion mainly by the succes of the Dan Simmons´s novel "The Terror" and the project of making a film about it,  we could soon see a new edition of this magnific book which almost surely won´t be an accurate copy of the original as the edition of 1997 actually is.

Little is known about Richard Julius Cyriax, the author wasn´t an historian as many can think, he was a physician who was in his time, as many others still are , captivated by the fate of the last Franklin Expedition. I have not been able to find any picture of him, the man who wrote one of the books which perhaps could be a best-seller in the years to come is a mistery by himself or at least he is for me and for the general public.

While I was taking these photographs I would have liked to find through them some hidden secrets, perhaps something hidden among the paper fibers which at a short distance resembles me like ice crests. I would have liked to find some new clues in its pages and maps that could have given me some answers to the neverending questions, but the result has been the same as always: no answers.

Cover of  "Sir John Franklin Last Expedition" by Richard J. Cyriax.
My beloved copy find in England by my friend William Greenwell

The Arctic Press Logo.
To them we owe the privilege of having this copy in our hands.

The "King William Land" after known as "Island".
That tiny piece of Earth still hide secrets and generates long  and neverending discussions and it will keep doing it for many years or even forever.

Through the pages of  "Sir John Franklin Last Expedition" you will find the entrance to the mistery which wrap the fate of the last Franklin´s expedition but, like in an impossible labyrinth, you couldn´t find the exit.

Not only more than a hundred of men were lost in those remote lands but two big and well built ships. Perhaps they will be the only witnesses that we can aspire to find which, with some luck, could add some new information which could help to solve the mistery or which could only aid to generate new questions to the list.

viernes, 29 de noviembre de 2013


The arctic has been, for centuries, the stage of  numerous deaths, some of them were provoked by starvation, exposure, Polar bear attacks, etc. but some of these deaths were provoked for the same people who participated on these expeditions. The frontier between what was called  "executions"in the official transcriptions of the journals  or what could had been called  "Crimes" is sometimes a thin line and, depending on the point of view, the "Execution" denomination could be considered even arguable.

This is not an exhaustive list, but to my mind come these cases:

Robert Hood and Michel Terhoaute, First Franklin expedition descending the Coopermine river in 1819.

Robert Hood was allegedly, and almost certainly, killed by the indian Michel Terohaute while they were on their way back towards Fort Enterprise. The things were terrible wrong, John Franklin had gone ahead with the rest of the party leaving at Hood, Dr Richardson, John Hepburn and Michel behind. Michel Teroahute shot Hood in the back of his head after a bitter discussion while they were camped. In this case the situation was clear, it seems that it was actually a crime (Fergus Fleming in "Barrow Boys" suggested boldly that Hood could have been killed to be eaten for the rest of his British mates).

Dr. John Richardson
When Dr. Richardson and the sailor John Hepburn decided to move forward  towards Fort Enterprise Midhel Terohaute began to behave strangely and violently. John Richardson then killed him shooting him in the head. This was officially considered an execution, though Willard Wentzel, the Northwest Company representative asked for doing a proper investigation, but nobody listened to him.

Patrick Coleman  Second Hall expedition to locate the alleged survivors of the Franklin last expedition. 1868.

Charles Francis Hall
Charles Francis Hall, during his second expedition shot on the 31 of July of 1868 one of the five sailors he had previously hired  after a bitter discussion with them. The discussion was provoked by Hall who went to the tent, where those men were resting after having been out the whole day. He asked them for an explanation about why had they spent so many time out the camp to do a job which must have lasted only a few hours.
Hall asked for the rifle which one of the sailors had, went to his tent, took a revolver, came back to the tent and shot Pat. The poor man agony lasted two weeks before dying. Some of the Inuit witnesses said that they were afraid of the life of Hall because the discussion was very violent. However, one of the sailors said time after that the situation could have been controlled with the proper management, perhaps for a more tempered man than Hall.

This is not clear if it was an execution or a crime or none of both, it seems that Hall acted in self defence, but the fact that Patrick was unarmed and that Hall could have gone to his tent and return with his gun without being stopped by the sailors suggest that the things weren´t so extreme.

Thomas Simpson Return expedition to England 1840

Thomas Simpson

This is one of the darkest stories of crime of the Arctic. Thomas Simpson was on his return trip towards England after the authorities had not answered his proposals to complete the location of the Northwest Passage. On his way back, the description of his death says that on June 14 he and some of his Indian mates died in a shoot-out. it seems that Simpson had become crazy, violent and paranoid. Thomas even thought that some of the Indian were trying to kill him. He killed them, and the rest of the men fled. These men found him dead of a shot and his gun was besides him.

Private Charles Henry  Greely expedition in 1884

Private Charles Henry

About this specific matter I have few things to say, a complete and thorough description of the facts was done by Glenn Stein on his wonderful article: "An arctic execution" which is available here:


This is perhaps the clearest case. The commander of the expedition ordered his execution, and the order was even written down. Therefore, this was clearly an execution. What perhaps it wasn´t so clear is that the facts had  happened as it was told in the oficial account of the expedition and that is the reason why I reccomend, to those who haven´t do yet, the reading of the Glenn´s article.

Well, I am sure that there are a much higher number of "crimes-executions-self defending killings", but to my mind only comes these ones right now. Anyway, one thing is clear, the Arctic, a place on which I have never been, seems to exert a great and magnificient attraction towards the sensitive people and it makes arise on them the best and most wonderful feelings, but it seems that it has also the capability to transform other kind of people on murderers and paranoids. Cases of paranoid seems to be frequent on these latitudes and, perhaps justified or not, this paranoia usually ended with a murder or with a dead.

To me it is clear that the power of those regions are beyond the limits of understanding of those, like me, who have not been there and that a person, no matter how strong this man or woman could be, phisically or mentally, it is no more than a puppet on the claws of its nature.

lunes, 16 de septiembre de 2013


Reading, as I am doing now, "Weird and Tragic SHores", I am now aware that the first transatlantic cable was laid on the ocean between the British islands and America during the years 1854 and 1858. I´ve always supposed that it was laid soon before the first world war, but it was not. It was much sooner.

Charles Francis Hall was fascinated by this demonstration of science, (almost science fiction) and of modernity, a demonstration which could be compared perhaps on that time to what the human kind would think about the Moon landings years after. I am also fascinated now by this achievement, and oneself cannot, but being amazed about how a steamer and a barge crossed the Atlantic, more than one hundred and sixty years ago, laying the longest cable of the world to be able to communicate with people at thousand of miles of distance. And one also can´t avoid being less than fascinated if thinks that, while this operation was happening, the Henry Grinnell expedition together with the biggest amount of ships had ever been in the Arctic were trying to find Sir John Franklin and his lost expedition.
When Franklin was lost in the Arctic the comunications in the world were based on letters which crossed the earth from one side to the other. The Postal service in Britain in  the nineteenth century was surely the most effective, sure and quick one. Remember that following a postal service line, George Back crossed England from the south to the north during the beginning of the first Franklin Expedition when he lost the ship in the southeast shores of England to end reaching them in the Orkney islands soon after.
 It is true that the Telegraph had been already discovered, but it was still on its beginnings and, of course,  there weren´t telegraph lines in the Arctic and there weren´t neither post offices in the Arctic Archipiélago nor horses to carry rapidly to the civilization their messages with news about their discoveries, with their letters addressed to their families containing their dreams, fears and anxieties and with their SOS messages.
Franklin couldn´t use all those wonders, Franklin couldn´t use the telegraph though it already was a reality on that time. Balloons, bottles, pigeons, cairns and medals tied to arctic foxes were the only means available on that time for the expeditions which were in desolated regions to communicate  with the rest of the world.
In a crazy world which was witnessing an eruption of  discoveries and amazing scientific achievements  which increased and improved the communications in a way never seen before, paradoxically, the last and lost Franklin expedition was without any question alone.