There is in the Arctic archipielago another island which wears mournfully another grave. How many more do I have to find?
In the process of making my inventory of deaths happened in the Arctic in the nineteenth century I have stumbled upon a new one which occurred during an expedition which I had missed while searching in the numerous narratives about arctic expeditions of the time. This time the turn corresponds to the Horatio Austin expedition of 1850-51. An able seaman, George S. Malcom, died because he suffered from severe frostbites in his feet during a sledge trip during the spring of the year 1851. He belonged HMS Resolute and was buried in Griffith Island, south of Cornwallis land, not too far from Beechey Island.
Griffith Island is a barren land closely related with Horatio Austin´s expedition because they spent many months close to it while trapped in the ice. During that time the island was festooned with numerous cairns, it seems that men found little thing to do there but to pile stones and building snow walls. A particular big one was placed over a prominence which it is said could be seen from many leagues, I wonder if that cairn still exists.
In the narrative of the HMS Resolute and HMS Intrepid journey during the years 1852 to 1854, two years after Horatio Austin expedition, George Frederick McDougall, then master of the Resolute but who was second master in the same ship during the 1850-51 expedition, reflects about this small piece of land which he knows well:
"The sight of Griffith Island afforded a peculiar interest to those who, forming a part of the expedition under Captain Austin, had spent eleven months frozen up in its inmediate neighbourhood. Every point, hill, and ravine was connected with some little incident, during our rambles over its desolate and uniteresting surface."
But what island of that archipielago is not desolate and which don´t have an uninteresting surface? We have already analyised some of them and all those small points of the Canadian arctic shows few, if any, geographical interesting features: Dealy Island, Beechey Island, King William Island, and so on. All of them are horrid places to lie dead but all of them have dead men lying men under their surface.
McDougall continues with a little homage to his old companion:
"Nor did we fail to remember with kindly feelings the sad fate of that brave seaman of the Resolute, George Malcom, who fell victim to the intense cold, and extreme hardships, he had to encounter in the cause of humanity. His remains are interred on the east side og the island. May he rest in peace!"
The source of this last new finding has been this interesting web site where I have found not only a drawing of the grave of the able seaman but also a letter which talks about its death, both performed by Charles Ede, assistant surgeon of HMS Assistance, ship which accompanied HMS Resolute during the expedition of 1850-51.
|Grave of George S. Malcom|
The text under the picture says the painting was addressed from Charles Ede to Adam White and that the cause of the death of Malcom was frostbite in the feet. There were at least eighteen cases of frostbite among the men who participated in the spring and summer sledge parties. According to Sherard Osborn´s account of that journey John Malcom (John?) had been "delicate from the outset, having fainted on his road to the place of inspection and depature in april 1851".
Sherard Osborn from the HMS Pioneer hardly writes some words about the death of this man, he even mention his name wrongly. Perhaps he hardly knew him, after all that expedition was formed by four ships.
But who was Charles Ede? It would be unfair to jump over him after having found this letter and drawing without dedicating him some lines. Charles Ede, as we have seen, was the Assistant surgeon in the Assistance during the expedition of 1850-51. He was the statuary and sculptor of the expedition...sculptor?. He was the author of an arctic theatrical play called "Zero, or Harlequin Light" and acted in several plays as Mr Crank in Did you ever send your wife to Camberwell, Mrs Wiffles in Done on both sides and Adam Brock in Charles XII. As an explorer, he led a sledge party to Cape Walker and finally retired from the Navy in 1852 to open his own private consultation.
There is no mention to his burial nor to his precise date of death, we only know he died during the spring of 1851, likely in april after his sledge trip. I am tempted to think that, as it is said the grave is located in the east part of the island and facing N.N.E. his remains could be located at any place in Dobel point, the only significant geographical feature of that part of the rock and where the steep slopes of the east coast seems to be flatter. More details however can be found about the death of this man in the letter here linked and in the Narrative of the subsequent journey of the HMS Resolute.
|Griffith Island, topographic map|
"Situated on the ice bound and desolate shore of Griffiths .../... future voyages may find the lonely grave of G.S. Malcolm.
Here where the unbroken stillness give a sacredness to the spot, his journying companions erected a tablet to the memory of one who too jealously expressed himself in the great cause of humanity.
While travelling along the southern shores of Parry Gulf at about fifty miles from the ships he was severely frostbitten in both feet and recklessly jepordizing his own saftey in a noble fear of hindering the search became at last unable of proceeding further. Placed upon the sledge protected from the cold by buffalo robes he was born back to the ships but after the first or second day became delirious.
The officers and men cheerfully sacrificed their own comfort to the wants of their brave and unfortunate comrade. after seven days hard travelling they reachesd the Resolute to which he belonged. He then became sensible and expressed his satisfaction at being on board. Too soon however he collapsed and died without much suffering."
Some of the words of this letter will sound us familiar to those wriotten by McDougall in the narrative. Surely they were taken from Ede´s letter. As we don´t know, and perhaps ever will know , what was carved in his lonely tombstone, we could assume that this kind words could shape his non written epitaph from now on.
Apart of what I have just posted above, I am happy to announce here and now that further researching to complete the Arctic Graveyard will be based on the Clements Markham´s book "The Arctic Navy list" where a thorough list of officers and ships related with Arctic missions is presented.
The ship´s list shows on which expeditions each ship participated and how many men died on any of them. I wish I had find this jewell before, it would have save me some precious time. On it, I am sure, you will find too valuable information for your own investigations. On the copy linked below have been scanned pieces of news from the time which, though they hide part of the original texts, offer an added value because they give you further information about some of these men.
|Clements Markham´s book" The Arctic Navy list"|
If Markham is right, there only remain ten men to be identified:
- Three men who died in the Fox in the McClintock expedition of 1857-59
- Three men who died in the James C. Ross expedition of 1848-49 (the fourth has been already identified).
- Three men who died in the Collinson expedition of 1850-54
- One man who died during the Belcher expedition of 1852-54 from the Resolute.
There are, however, some little inconsistencies on Markham´s list which I have to investigate deeper.
If this inventory is correct the Northwest Passage had taken the life of 61 men besides the lives of the 129 men from the Franklin expedition. I will prepare a dedicated blog post when I finish the inventory. There are still lot of blanks to fill in the data base and some work to do. But, if you are so eager than you can´t wait, here you can consult the list as it is right now.