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.