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.

martes, 29 de marzo de 2016


Reading Birket-Smith´s book about Inuit people I have found this pretty song which apparently was sang once by Copper Eskimos. 

"The song of a death man dreamed by an alive one"
Tell me, Was the life in Earth so beautiful? 

Here hapinness fills me
every time aurora raises over the Earth
and the great Sun
slides up in the sky.
But the rest of the time I lie, anxious and afraid 
covered by larva and worms
which quenched in the clavicle cavity 
and pierce my eyes
Aji, jai, ja

I found it creepy and beautiful at the same time, it would be the perfect epitaph to be carved in my gravestone. Any knowledge about its origins would be welcome.

jueves, 10 de marzo de 2016


I am not the kind of people who likes to break myths, but in this case I am afraid someone has unmasked an impostor.

It seems that the only known portrait of Sophie Cracroft, (you know who she is, Lady Franklin´s niece who accompanied her untiringly all around the world), doesn´t belong her. Through a searching I was conducting through Pinterest I have stumbled upon this picture which gives us information about the true name of the pretty girl depicted in that allegedly Sophie´s portrait.

Ex-Sophie Cracroft.

Apparently the woman in the portrait is called Alphonsine Plessis and it was painted by Édouard Viénot. She was a French courtesan born in 1824  ans was the mistress of some important men of the time. She was too the inspiration who embodied Marguarite Gautier from The Dame aux Camelies by Alexander Dumas. 

If you "Googleized" the name Alphonsine Plessis in The Internet, then other portraits will appear with women on them whose countenances coincide with our Sophie.
Alphonsine PlessisFrom Scandolous woman blogspot

Alphonsine Plessis
From Wikipedia
It seems that behind our Sophie was hidden Alphonsine and behind Alphonsise was hidden The Dame aux Camelies. Interesting, isn´t it?

So, this adds a little bit more mystery to her already enough mysterious character. If this is true, which it seems to be, then the only known portrait of her is that photo oon which she appears with Lady Franklin. That one which Russell Potter identified some time ago. 

Alphonsine´s body lies in Montmartre´s cemetery far from Kensal Cemetery, the place where the actual Sophie was buried. Hers was a much shorter life than Sophie´s and judging from what I have read about her infinitely much less interesting.

jueves, 18 de febrero de 2016


There are very few portraits of the mourning wive of our vanished explorer John Franklin and, as far as we currently now, there is only an existing photograph from her which Russell Potter found time ago as if it were a tiny needle in an massive haystack.

This time, while looking for details about a curious Polka, ...yes, a Polka... called "Polar Bear Polka" about which I expect to say something here someday..., I have stumbled upon this unexpected engraving. I have not a clear idea about who its author is and if it is contemporary to the publication of the book where I have found it. 

This engraving appears in the book: "Professor Sonntag´s thrilling narrative of the Grinnell exploring expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the years 1853, 1854 and 1855" which was published for first time in 1857. Lady Franklin was born the 4th of december of 1791, so if the engraving was made by the time the book was published she should be about 66 years old by then, age which, I think,  definitely doesn´t match the age of the woman in the portrait. Judging from her appearance I would say she looks quite far younger than that age. 

Lady Franklin from Sonntag´s book "Professor Sonntag´s thrilling narrative of the Grinnell exploring expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the years 1853, 1854 and 1855" 

Engravings were the way illustrations could appear in a book or newspaper in the past, and they usually come from paintings or even from photographs. Because the pose of our beloved Lady, I would dare to say that this particular engraving must have come from a painting which for some reason has not survived or it just hasn´t appeared yet. Her long hair and uncovered neck makes me think this could be a portrait of her in her thirties. Perhaps the painting was made previous to the day of her wedding.Time will say. 

My first impression when I took a close look to her serious countenance is that hers was a face invaded by a deep sadness. Because of that I thought this was a Lady Franklin on her fifties who was currently enduring the dissappearance of her husband. There are deep tracks of suffering and pain carving her lower eyelids forming dark eye bags which sadden an otherwise determined look, but too, her infinite will and resolution are visible in the pronounced lines around her mouth. It has been the long hair and naked neck which have made me think otherwise. Did her suffering begin before John Franklin sailed towards history in 1845?

The difference is notable if we compared this new portrait which I have found with this other shown below, much more known, on which she shows a much maturer look and which was allegedly painted in 1838 when she was about 46 years old. She still bears a friendly smile, almost affectionate. 

Jane, Lady Franklin, 1838, by Thomas Bock, chalk on paper
In all of her portraits there is a certain hidden pre-Victorian beauty. You can see through her eyes the life of a a pretty, young and visionary girl who got married with one of the most successful explorers of the time, and too, the tiring life of a woman who traveled thousand of miles. 

Lady Franklin besides Sophie Cracroft´s grave in Kensal Cemetery. Lady Franklin´s name appears in the headstone but her actual grave is located below a little chapel, see here.

A controversial figure, lady Franklin, arise on me various feelings, mainly of affection but also of astonishment. She was unquestionably an interesting character who deserves to be analysed in detail. I would love to get deeper on her psyche and ascertain which were her actual drivers to get married with a husband with which she would hardly would spend some few years together. I would give my kingdom to who could explain me which were the reasons why she developed such coldness towards her stepdaughter and why she never untiringly stopped traveling all around the world. 

She was a woman who I would say never found not only John Franklin, her husband, but who never found whatever other thing she was after. I have the feeling that she never filled the blanks of her ambitious life through which she wanted to accomplish everything.

sábado, 21 de noviembre de 2015


Rescue missions after Franklin filled not only the Arctic during the years after his dissapearance but newspapers and narratives of the time as well. 

The short and sad story of one of the Captains which sailed voluntarily after Franklin appears in almost all Franklin related books in the form of not more than three or four pàragraphs, but his name is not as well known as the name of others and he didn´t hardly appear in newspapers nor shared any visible glory though he accomplished certain things.

All stories I have read tell more or less the same thing, that Robert Shedden, thirty years old  by then (*), while staying in Hong Kong heard about Captain´s Kellet searching expedition which was launched by the Admiralty in 1849. He, on board his private Yacht the Nancy Dawson, volunteered to join the HMS Herald and HMS Plover in that eastern attempt to find the two Franklin´s ships. They were supposed to appear in the east side of the northwest passage in 1848 thing that we know now they didn´t.

(*) some sources say wrongly that he was 28
The Schooner Yacht Nancy Dawson

When in June 1849 HMS Herald arrived at Petrovpavlosk, in Kamchatka peninsula, its crew saw with surprise how in the harbour, among some American whaleships, there was a British Yacht of the Royal Thames Yacht club. What was doing that ship that far ?

Yes, what was doing Robert Shedden there has not being enterily clear to me till I read "The Frozen zone and its explorers" and other documents. Though a former Navy man, for that time, Robert had become a tradesman. He had departed from Leith at the end of 1848 with a ship well loaded with provisions.

Was his original intention joining the searching expeditions or was he in the middle of a trade trip which he delayed for a while? It seems that he was in the coast of China before resuming his travel towards Siberia. According with the book above mentioned and those other papers,  he was in the course of a pleasure trip to circunnavigate the world though at the same time it seems that he had stated somehow his predisposition to join searching parties.

Both ships departed together on July 14 to join HMS Plover which was in Chamisso Island in Kotzebue Sound. From there, they sailed north beyond Point Hope, while sailing surrounded by bowhead whales and American whalers, to reach Wainwright inlet. Four years had elapsed since the Franklin expedition had departed and it was this place which the Admiralty thought it could be the farthest point the missing expedition could have reached.

From point Barrow on, waters were unknown. Previous expeditions (Dease and Simpson, Franklin himself, etc.) had assured that those waters were very shoal. Kellet then decided not to go on with his two ships.  It was then when William Pullen, a lieutenant appointed to HMS Plover, was sent ahead with four boats and 25 men. His goal was reaching the mouth of the McKenzie river and return if possible before the winter fell over their heads. In case they couldn´t retreat to the ships they should ascend the McKenzie river towards any trading fort. It seems that Pullen already knew before departing, according with the amount of provisions they carried, that they weren´t going to be able to return to the ships on time.

Pullen had sailed within just 10 miles of Point Barrow when he was stopped by the ice. For his surprise they saw how Nancy Dawson came following them. Robert Shedden wasn´t under Kellet´s command and he decided to give it a try. A risky decission taken into account that his crew had been creating problems from the very beginning of the expedition. As his ship was substantially smaller than the heavy Navy ships, he culd manage to advance further than them. When Shedden reached the boats Pullen went on board the Nancy Dawson to meet Robert, opportunity of which his mates took advantage for strengthening relations with local women.

Ice broke and the four boats and ship resume their trip. They passed Point Barrow, and here comes one of the achievements accomplished by Robert Shedden. His ship was the first on rounding the point by ship. From this place he had to come back, in part because sea conditions and in part because he had to confront the beginning of a mutiny provoked by men who were aggressively reluctant to winter in the north. Surely his health condition didn´t help too much neither in the decission process. He left some stores on shore and sailed back west under a rain of threats provided by his crew. Things were so serious that HMS Plover had to held three men  from Nancy Dawson under custody, in chains.

The brave Robert Shedden, sadly, was so sick of consumption that he died during their return journey the day 16th of november of 1849. He died three days after having reached Matzatlan, in the west coast of Mexico, despite the efforts made by the medical Navy officer. He was buried in a protestant cemetery leaving a widow. Robert was aware he was quite sick even when he decided to join the searching expedition. That decission speaks lots about his character. Perhaps that was the reason why he decided to join the searching, to perform some honorable achievement before departing to the other world. Likely we will never know. HMS Herald´s master, James Hill, was appointed by Kellet to drive Nancy Dawson back to England from Matzatlan.

But this, is the story which relate him with the Franklin expedition, and this is the story which surely made him famous, but, who was actually Robert Shedden? There is not too much written about him, there are no data available in Wikipedia nor in the Canadian Biographical Dictionary. I have been able only to gather some pieces of information here and there to rebuilt his story with the highest number of details I could find. The bigger number of details about his life comes from Mariner´s Mirror. Thanks Peter Carney for your support here!.

Robert Shedden was born in 1819, son of William Shedden of Wimpole street in Southsea. His father William, veteran of Napoleonic wars, was one of the partners of Haworth and Shedden, West India merchants. William died only a year after his son was born.

Robert had belonged previously to the Royal Navy before sailing after Franklin and left it as mate. He was a veteran of Chinesse wars where he was severely wounded. His last appointment was in the Victory. In 1841 he enroled as master of the merchant James Lyon and years after, in 1847, he bought  the yacht Nancy Dawson, a schooner of 163 tons built by  Camper of Gosport yard.

It seems that Rober Shedden was an exceptional good man, he assisted the four boats during the days they sailed eastward together and escorted the two which were sent back towards the Navy ships. Lieutenant Hooper called him "A noble hearted man" and he was not the only one who praised his attitude and kindness, examples of this appear in all accounts.

Only a geographical feature bears his name, Point Shedden. The place is located where he had landed to leave a caché of provisions for the Franklin expedition at the mouth of a small inlet called Refuge inlet, some miles south of Barrow point.

Point Shedden
It seems that his premature departure provoked the making of several memorials. As I have read in the church of Weston Underwood in Buckinghamshire there was once a plaque which it seems it is no longer existing. But there is another memorial which still survives in St Mary´s church of Hardmead. As both towns are quite close, I tend to believe that there must be some sort of mistake about the location of the former and surely the only ever existing one must be the latter.

 This one shows an intense inscription:


But those, or that, weren´t his only memorials. Without any doubt the most beautiful tribute to him was the one his aunt Margaret Robertson dedicated to him. She bought two fields in the council of Kelso to built a park named after her favourite nephew Robert the Shedden Park which still can be visited. Two cannons from Nancy Dawson were taken and placed to guard the keeper´s house door. Sadly they are no longer in its place. Will  they be in some local museum? The only certain thing is that the building is in a deplorable condition, the roof has collapsed and there is a warning signal besides its front door which prevent people to get close.

Keeper´s lodge
The initiative was so welcome by the population that in return, people of Kelso, raised funds to built an arch to homage Mrs Robertson. The arch still presides the park.

Shedden park gate
Picture  by Nikk Watt´s 

I thought at the beginning that perhaps people from Kelso surely would be unaware of the origins of the name of the park and the reason for his construction, but to my surprise I have found that in an astounding and at the same time beautiful homage, people from Kelso built this original playground not to many years ago:

Nancy Dawson, bespoke Galleon, Shedden Park, Kelso
Kelso cuncil received a lottery grant with which they decided to build this playground ship in 2011. The shape of the ship imitates the original ship and details were copied from the only known picture of it to be incorporated to its design. There are panels at its sides which helps to follow the expedition performed by the ship and there are a compass and a weather game too. Who knows how many future generations of explorers this playground will turn up among the little children who are playing and will play in it ...

To end with the number of memorials Robert Shedden inspired, I would like to end with this rare pictura. It exists only a single painting of the ship which you can admire in the National Maritime Museum website, that´s true, but it exists also a litograph based in that painting.
Tnthed litograph based on the only known painting of Nancy Dawson
Its inscription in the top part of the painting which is sold for only 1.500 $ reads the following:

"Presented as a mark of esteem to Dr Francis Douglas MD from Mrs Robertson of Ednam House, in mournful remembrance of her beloved nephew 'The Philanthropic Shedden', who died on board his yacht in his generous search for Sir John Franklin and his [indecipherable] Companions!! Most deeply lamented!!'."

"Most deeply lamented", indeed. Said not only for one but for many. It seems that we are in front of a big lost, the lost of a philanthropic man, as the inscription above says, who could have done many things in favour of his society if he had had the opportunity of doing so. His soul left such print in the memory of his loved ones that it still last till these days in the shape of an original and lovely playground ship which is inmerse in the  waves of the innocent laughs of the children who nowadays play there. A playground ship which proudly bears the name of the first yacht which gave a tour all over the world and which sails are everyday filled by the gusts of imagination of those little kids which take its steer wheel. What better homage could he and his ship have deserved? 

Thanks to Peter Carney for his unconditional support and to Jonhatan Dore and Regina Koellner too for his goodwill.

miércoles, 28 de octubre de 2015


Como es el caso de muchos otros entusiastas de historias relacionadas con la exploración polar, mi aventura personal se inició hace muchos años cuando leí por primera vez un libro sobre la mítica carrera por la conquista del Polo Sur. Aunque ahora mis intereses se centran en un lugar diametralmente opuesto del globo y en un periodo concreto de la historia, hubo un día en el que devoraba aquellos libros que contaban las hazañas de aquellos hombres que sitiaron uno de los puntos geográficos mas inhóspitos e inaccesibles del planeta.

Ha sido Javier Cacho quien a través de su libro, me ha llevado a echar una mirada atrás y recordar toda aquella literatura que ya había engullido años ha. Como ocurre cuando volvemos a ver una de nuestras películas favoritas en la televisión de las que conocemos algunas frases de memoria, he revivido de nuevo la trágica historia de Scott y la también trágica, a su manera, historia de Amundsen. La emoción me sigue embargando cuando comienzo a leer un libro sobre esta expedición. Como un jovenzuelo ingenuo todavía pienso que Scott se va a poder librar de su condena a muerte. Pienso que el final que todos conocemos va a cambiar de algún modo y que esta vez el pobre hombre se las va a arreglar para sobrevivir, pero claro, al final nunca lo hace.

Amundsen-Scott: Duelo en la Antártida
Editorial Fórcola
Con Duelo en la Antártida no solo he revivido esos días en los que me iniciaba en la exploración polar en papel, sino que también he leído algunos detalles sobre ambas expediciones que no conocía y sobre todo y quizás mas importante,  he disfrutado muchísimo con su lectura.

Duelo en la Antártida no es un libro, es un torrente turbulento el cual, una vez pones un pie dentro, te arrastra con fuerza a través de sus páginas de manera que ya no puedes parar de leer. Avanzamos a través de sus capítulos con la misma ansiedad con la que Scott y Amundsen avanzaban por el hielo y la nieve para encontrar sus anhelados depósitos de provisiones. Éstos se suceden de forma fluida trenzando suave y ordenadamente las historias de sus diferentes protagonistas de una manera que no había visto hasta ahora. Con su relato, Javier te conduce inexorablemente hacia el Polo Sur transportado por ambas expediciones de forma simultánea de tal manera que llegaremos a leer el Epílogo del libro con la misma curiosidad y emoción con la que los compañeros de Scott llegaron a leer su congelado diario.

Entre sus páginas no he encontrado las reflexiones partidistas que castigan y condenan a uno de los exploradores aquí y vanaglorian y justifican al otro allá. Un impulso al que parecen haber sucumbido otros escritores que han sido seducidos por hipnóticos cantos de sirena y que podemos encontrar en multitud de libros sobre este tema en cuestión.

Después de leer Duelo en la Antártida seguramente, aquellos para los que esta historia no es nueva, no cambiaremos de opinión sobre si seguimos estando del lado de Scott o de Amundsen. Sabemos bien que inevitable y tristemente, las circunstancias que condujeron a estos dos pesos pesados a coincidir en el tiempo y en el espacio en la Antártida para acometer algo que históricamente ha sido considerado como una carrera, hará que estas dos expediciones sean siempre consideradas por el gran público como dos grandes equipos de fútbol antagonistas. Equipos de fútbol a los que solo se puede apoyar despreciando al oponente. A través de las palabras de Javier lo que obtendremos, sin embargo, no son juicios de valor, sino una información objetiva y meticulosa que nos permitirá disponer de las herramientas necesarias sacar nuestras propias conclusiones.

No suelo resistir la tentación de comprar cualquier libro sobre exploraciones polares que aparece ante mis ojos. Resisto menos todavía si los libros han sido escritos por paisanos nuestros, ya que estos ejemplares escasean tanto como las palmeras en la Antártida, pero la tentación que si que no puedo soportar y que me llevó hace un mes y medio a entrar bailando a una librería, como atraído por el sonido de la flauta de Hamelin, es que uno de estos libros haya sido escrito por un veterano científico español que ha pasado largas temporadas en el continente helado.

Duelo en la Antártida es un libro que no puede faltar en tu biblioteca polar, además, que demonios, ¡su formato es de lo mas atractivo!

miércoles, 14 de octubre de 2015


Not all the officers which participated in the siege of the Northwest Passage earned a vacancy in its explorers hall of fame. Mostly, they had to open their own gates fighting for recognition and had to struggle to take a position in subsuquent expeditions.

Some of those officers, like George Back, succedded on doing that and their names will forever be known because they had the opportunity to command a ship in Arctic waters. Others were known only because they die under sad circunstances, but many others were condemned to stay in the shade of some corner of the history, waiting for some historian, waiting till they pointed them with his torch when they were attracted for the noise of some outstanding naval career or perhaps just by chance.

What is certain is that they, definitely, are not known for the general public as those who can be counted among the heavyweights of polar exploration. This, is the case of William Robertson, first lieutenant of the HMS Isabella under the command of John Ross during his first expedition of 1818 to Baffin bay. A misterious man in several aspects.

William joined the Navy the 9th of june of 1803 and his naval career since he enroled till he died was really impressive. I don´t have too many details about his personal life, not even ablout which was his birth place. The only personal fact I have been able to get is that he got married in 1838 with a woman called Elizabeth Pater in a small village called Bath not far from Bristol. However, from "A Naval Biographical Dictionary" I have obtained details of his achievements in the Navy.

His first appointment was as midshipmen in the 74 gun ship Defence. Almost two years after, HMS Defence was assigned to form part of the British force which would participate in the Battle of Trafalgar under the orders of Captain George Hope .  

Rear Admiral George Hope

HMS Defence was one the last ships in the Royal Sovereign´s column, the ninth ship behind the Bellephoron. However, in the heart of the battle, HMS Defence engaged the Spanish ship San Idelfonso not too far from where Bellephoron fighted against the ship San Juan Nepomuceno.

William´s appointment in HMS Defence not only would lead him to participate in the Battle of Trafalgar but somehow indirectly would lead him to participate in John Ross´s expedition, as we soon will see why. His role in the battle should have left some sort of impression in George Hope because he asked for him time after when George gained the command of the ship Theseus in 1807. This time he came on board as Master mate.

Not long time after, he participated in the battle for Cophenagen in 1807, where he was taken prisoner. He escaped in november of 1809 and was appointed to HMS Victory again under Hope´s orders during the Baltic campaign to defend British trade in the area.

At the end of his career he had served in approximately 18 ships and had participated in important events like the Battle of Trafalgar, the second Battle of Copenhagen, and the supply of troops to support the Portuguese constitutionalist in 1826. A whole life inside his own life.

But, how ended William Robertson being Lieutenant of HMS Isabella? Perhaps we could find the answer in the fact that George Hope had been rewarded with a position as Lord of the Admiralty in 1812 after the end of Napoleonic wars. He occupied that charge for six years and was the man  who sent the letter which arrived at Stranraer, Scotland, at the hands of a surprised John Ross.

The letter asked Ross to participate in the expedition which would condemn him to ostracism by the Almiranty for ever. Was Robertson chosen by Hope? Ross´s orders said that he was going to be accompanied by a man of science. Was William that man? If William was chosen by George Hope, surely in the mind of the later, were those years of faithful service during which they served together.

George Hope died the evening of 2 of may of 1818 fourteen days after HMS Isabella and HMS Alexander departed for the North. This makes me think that before Hope passes away, perhaps he wanted to give William a good opportunity to progress. Due to his position perhaps George Hope knew the race for the Northwest passage was about to begin and he wanted his friend  to take part of it.

We can´t obtain too much information about Robertson from the narrative of Ross´s voyage. He is only mentioned seven or eight times. Specially important is a note which appears in an appendix  of the book were it is described the geology of Four point island. The passage says  the following:

"Liutenant Robertson informs me that he here saw columns resembling those of Arthur´s seat in Edinburgh, resting on a thick bed of clay as bright as bright as vermilion."

From it, should we assume he likely was of Scottish procedence?

But the merit of William Robertson not only lies on being the second in command of HMS Isabella, he fulfilled the meteorological log which almost two hundred years later would be used by modern scientist to ascertain the future of the ice shelf of the Arctic. That´s  the reason why I think perhaps was him the misterious science man appointed by Hope to form part of the crew of HMS Isabell. In the list of crew members a strange "(b)" appears together his name, what could this mean?

HMS Isabella crew
From: A voyage of Discovery

To ratify my guessing, additional orders for the expedition were issued as follows:

"All objects of natural history, geology and mineralogy are (if possible) be brought on board and if any cannot be removed on account of their size, sketches and drawings are to be taken of them."

To perform this task again Lieutenant Rabertson was appointed together with a team of men which included the assistant surgeon and a young James Clark Ross. He was too in charge of taking observations of Aurora Borealis. If you asked me, in my opinion, William Robertson was Hope´s science man.

William Robertson and William Parry were those who were appointed by Barrow to watch from the top of the main mast when they sailed from Cape Clarence to Cape Saumarez in the northern end of Baffin bay. They failed to find any passage to the north on that part. That was another failure to add to the list of failures John Ross made in that expedition. Particularly to the more known one, when he understood that Lancaster sound was not a strait but a bay, and placed, confident, the nonexistent Croker mountains at its bottom.

Baffin bay according to John Ross´s voyage in 1818
William would never join again any Arctic expedition after returning from John Ross´s one, but however, he left some legacy in those regions. At least one geographical feature was named after him by John Ross during his first voyage to the Arctic regions, Its name is Cape Robertson and it is located in the northwest coast of Greenland. 

viernes, 25 de septiembre de 2015


In a cold morning of April of 1851, like a ghost vision, a huge iceberg was seen from a ship which was sailing north ninety miles east off the shores of Newfoundland. Nothing strange till here, all the ships that followed that route, which were many, came frequently along with massive icebergs which sailed south from Davis strait towards the open sea.

The brig "Renovation" of 325 tons was sailing north the "morning" of the 22 th of april from Limerick, Ireland to Quebec. They sailed at a speed of eight or nine knots when they saw five miles away a big iceberg which was carrying a very strange load, two three masted ships which were apparently deserted. One of the ships was standing upright while the other was slightly inclined towards one of its sides.
The brig renovation sights two ships
Those two ghost ships and the five miles long iceberg which were carrying them were in sight during three quarters of an hour. Apparently all the Renovation´s crew and passengers could take a look at them. Though by that time, the Admiralty had announced that there was a huge sum of money offered as reward for those who could bring news about the whereabouts of the Franklin expedition ships and its members, it seems that anybody on board the Renovation was aware of this fact. Surely most of the people on board, if not all, was  unaware that the Franklin expedition had dissappeared. They surely didn´t even know about their existence. If they had had knowledge of this situation perhaps things would have happened differently.

Here, there are two different versions about what happened during those crucial moments. One of them tells the story that Captain Coward of the Renovation, who was ill lying in his bunk, was asked by the acting captain, the mate Robert Simpson, about what to do. According with this version Coward ordered not to approach the iceberg and  to continue the route. The second version says that, Robert Simpson, didn´t ask what to do and that he simply went ahead because he wasn´t familiar with sailing among ice floes or icebergs.

What would have they found on those misterious ships if they had approached them is something that unfortunately we will never know.

The ship Renovation reached her destiny time after, and it wasn´t after a letter was written a month later by one of the passengers, John Supple Lynch, that this events reached the public and attracted some attention. The incredible story was corroborated not only by Robert Simpson, but for other crew members like James Silk. By then, the idea that the ships on the iceberg were Erebus and the Terror began to take shape.

Lynch´s letter was published in The "Limerick Chronicle" but it wasn´t before a year that the shock wave reached London and the Admiralty. When news arrived, the Admiralty convulsed. Well, in fact it was public opinion which set fire on their trousers, people wanted to know. A frenetic activity mobilized the whole world. News not only filled newspapers of the time but also newspapers of almost one hundred years after, like this piece of news of the Argus from Melburne published in 1942 or this other published in 1937.

Erasmus Ommanney, the Arctic veteran, was appointed by the Admiralty to clarify the story. He was sent to Limerick to gather further information. Robert Simpson, as I said above, corroborated the story and even drew a sketch showing the position of the ships in the iceberg. The sketch showed the ships lying over the water line of the iceberg and completely dry. There were other sightings which confirmed the fact, another German brig,  Kneip, had seen the ships too.

Five miles is not a long distance, it is more or less the distance ships begin to dissapear under the line of the horizon. If you have ever seen this phenomenon, you know well you can distinguish a ship from anything else at such distance.

How could the men who saw the iceberg be wrong then on identifying without any doubt that the there were actually two big ships with three masts in it? Robert Simpson and John Lynch explored the ships with a telescope and they took notice of close details about their general state. One of the ships was well embedded in ice, all their masts were complete even with some of the yards still hanging from them. The masts of the other, the one which was inclined, was hanging over the sea and only their lower parts stood. This ship was placed in such position that it was showing her deck entirely to the eyes of the people who was looking at it from the Renovation. The ice which embedded the ships was said to be three years old. They were empty and there were no boats. Whoever had manned the ships had fled on board all their boats.

Captain Ommanney had no doubt about the authenticity of the sighting, but, a question still floated in the air: which ships were those? answering that incognita was a very different question.

The Admiralty produced an extensive report called “Vessels in the North Atlantic: copies of communications between the Admiralty and any Public Authorities at home and abroad, in reference to certain vessels observed on an ice-berg in the North Atlantic in 1851, and supposed to have been abandoned.” which seems to be still in the archives of the National Maritime Museum. I have obtained this particular piece of information from Russell´s Potter blog (infinite source of knowledge). There, he shares a paper written by Joe O, Farrell which deserves a reading.

The role of this report is studied in this paper together with other considerations. Though part of the content of Farrel´s paper is currently out of date, mainly because of the finding of Investigator and Erebus, it is still interesting the reading of his analisys about the sea currents in the part of the Arctic archipielago where Erebus and Terror dissapeared.

The bottom line about the content of the Admiralty report is that it ended without any conclusion. -This is mainly due because the authors dismissed the possibility that a ship could travel such long distances dragged by the ice. The estimated impossible that a ship could travel 2.000 miles from the heart of the arctic archipielago to the east shores of Newfoundland.

It wasn´t till 1855 that the ship Resolute would be found after having traveled the inmense distance of 1.000 miles after scaping her icy prison. Farrell rightly wonders what would have happened if the Resolute had been found some years before. I suppose that perhaps a fleet of Royal Navy ships would have been sent to look for Franklin all around the Atlantic Ocean instead of looking for him in the Arctic.

That those ships were not Erebus and Terror is something we already know. Erebus was found last year at the bottom of the sea west of Adelaide Peninsula, and it is expected that Terror will appear sooner than later too somewhere in front of the west coast of King William Island. So then, which ships are those which rode south on that immensive iceberg?

If you have reached this point and want to know my opinion, I think that more likely, those two ships could have been two whalers. If you have read something about the whaling history in Davis Strait you will soon realise how dangerous that business was. The impressive number of casualties occurred during whaler´s expeditions makes the Franklin expedition tragedy looks like a joke. Tens of ships were lost from the end of the mid eighteen to the twenty century. Hundreds of whalers drowned or perished by scurvy, hunger or cold in the frozen waters of Davis strait. As a sample you can check the list, which appears in the book Arctic Whalers by Basil Lubbock, of whaler´s shipwrecks happened in the Arctic from 1746 to 1907  (I definitely have to read this book).

From Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez´s book, I learnt that in 1777 some whalers were trapped in the ice. 350 souls tried to reach safety wandering on the sea ice but only 140 survived. In 1830 other whalers were also trapped in Melville bay. This time 1.000 men saved miracously their lives. Years after, in 1835 and 1836 other ships were lost and again the number of casualties grew. A dangerous life which equals or even exceeds the risks assumed by our  always beloved arctic explorers.

But there were more shipwrecks years after, some of them happened not long time before the sighting of the two ships. The18th of June of 1849, James Saunders, was commanding the ship North Star in his way north to carry supplies for James Clark Ross´s expedition. They found near Upernavik some whale boats which were sailing south. The boats belonged the whaler Lady Jane, an old veteran from Newcastle which had shipwrecked in the north.  It took Saunders a month finding a way north among the ice, then, he encountered two more whaling boats traveling south. These boats came from the whaler Prince of Wales, an old good friend of some Arctic explorers.

So at least, two ships had been abandoned in 1849 in the ice three years before the brig Renovation found her icy floating treasure. Were those two the only ones left in the ice? If we read about the whaling history of Tyne we learn that at the same time that the whaler Lady Jane was crushed by ice  three ships more were abandoned:

"On 12 June 1849 she (Lady Jane) was crushed in the ice of Melville Bay with three other ships and lost without trace. News of the tragedy did not reach Newcastle until 5 October. Patterson, with a crew of 50, secured the seven boats belonging to the ship and trekked 500 miles across country to the Danish settlement of Proven, without loss of life."

The ships lost in Melville Bay were:

-  Lady Jane from Newcastle, crushed
- Superior from Peterhead,crusshed
- Mary from Aberdeen lost with all hands
- Prince of Wales, wrecked.

If those four ships were close to each other when they were abandoned is something I can´t assure here, but from what I have read and from what I have seen in old paintings of the time, it seems that usually, whalers, stayed close to each other in order to be assisted by their neighbours in case of danger and necessity. Specially when they were surronded by ice floes.

Ships rescuing 32 whaling ships that were lost in the ice off Point Barrow.
Apparently those four ships were crushed by the ice. This doesn´t coincide with the description of the ships seen over the iceberg which apparently were in good shape. But, cannot a crushed ship be lifted by the pressure of the ice and eventually avoid sinking at least for a while?.

The class of the watched ships could perfectly match the class of the whalers which usually hunt in the arctic. Both kind of ships usually had three masts. They were robust ships which could easily be confused with exploration ships. Sometimes exploration´s ships were used as whalers, Don´t you remember that Isabella, the ship on which John Ross sailed in search of the Northwest passage in his expedition of 1818, was also the whaler which rescued him in 1833 near Port Leopold?.
Isabella and Alexander, 1818.
Analysing the list of shipwrecks from the book "Arctic Whalers" we realise that only two years before the tragedy of 1849, three more whalers were "lost in ice", the ships were: Bon Accord, Caledonia and Alfred.  Could be two of these  our ships?

Those same years 1847 and 1849, William Penny, the Peterhead whaling master, somehow, tried while conducting his whaling trips to ascertain too the fate of the Franklin expedition. He entered Lancaster sound in 1847 with the whaler Saint Andrew and attempted to get into it again in 1849 with the whaler Advice. He was lucky and succeded in returning home safely, he even gain the command of one of the exploration ships sent after Franklin sometime after. Perhaps the rest the whalers which were lost those same years were pushing their own luck trying to find any trace about the Franklin expedition too.

I could be digressing here forever and ever but the truth is that we will never know which were the ships trapped on that iceberg. They must be by now somewhere in the bottom of the Atlantic ocean at the latitude big icebergs melt but of a thing I am quite certain now, and this is that our frozen ships were two of those whalers abandoned in the ice during one of those two cold summers of 1847 or 1849.