Recently, posted by my collegue Beatriz, I´ve read an article about the content of the new and modern medicine kits which are now used on Polar expeditions. On it, is mentioned that nowadays part of them are now contraceptives, the Pill, and the morning-after pill, far from the reality of the content of the old and sober medicine chests of the nineteenth century expeditions like the medicine chest found by Lt. Hobson of the last and lost Franklin expedition in the Point Victory. That medicine chest is wonderfully described and the use of the medicines inside was analized here by J.Cyriax in order to try to determine what diseases were suffering the crews at the moment of abandoning the ships.
Why then the modern expeditions include this apparently "out of place" items? Because: "Thank goodnes" the current expeditions are not anymore "All men - expeditions", It is clear that the sexual question (at least) in the civil expeditions have been solved in the XXI century.
But after reading, in a couple of fiction books about the Franklin expedition, at least two episodies about some intimal behaviour between men. I´ve wondered what happened actually (sexually spoken) on those arctic expeditions. I know, or better said, I can deduce through some references and quotes about some arctic expeditions in that time that there were intimal contact between the crews and the Inuit during the course of the years which lasted those expeditions.
Why are there so many references in the fiction books to the same fact?, How would it be the sexual live on board ships which were trapped in the ice for more than three years, if they had one? How the commanders of isolated expeditions like these dealt with them?.
I´ve done some cursory searching and I´ve found, reading quickly, an interesting article called "Buggery and the British Navy: 1700-1861" that the punishment for those kind of behaviours, besides of course being awfully unfair, were absolutely disproportionated, causing the death of innocent men till the end of the first thirty of the nineteenth century. Some sailors received till 1.000 lashes and some officers were even hanged for that. Between 1756 and 1816 four ship´s captains were accused, one was hanged, other cashiered and two acquietted.
The numbers published on this article speak: the second reason in the eighteen century for deserving a Death sentence was "Buggery" after the accusation of Desertion. How many innocents were killed by this "Naval laws"?
But what happened after in the nineteenth century? The martial courts fortunately decreased. It seems that it was a direct relation between the periods of war and the number of Death sentences and punishments provoked by these causes. In the first place because the cases of "buggering" decreased and also because the naval officers and sailors were more reluctant to report the known cases and this find its explanation on that there was a change of mind of that time that related the homosexuality with some kind of mental disorder. The explanation about the correspondency between the war time and the increasing of buggery accusations seems to be based on the increase of the number of people recruited to fill the war ships, which were taken from all kinds of background levels and countries.
The last man executed by this accusation was William Maxwell, a boatswain who was hanged the 7 of january of 1829 and, as far as I know, there weren´t sailor, officer or captain who were executed in any artic expedition.