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.

viernes, 30 de enero de 2015


The three men buried on Beechey Island are sadly and mainly known because they were virtually frozen in time, as wisely John Geiger and Owen Beattie titled them on their book, and also because they were part of the equally sadly known last Franklin expedition. Their macabre grin will smile to us forever in our dreams, at least till the moment we could smile grotesquely them back in return from our own graves. 

However, though it was their exceptional state of preservation and not their link with the Franklin expedition which have given them their fame, the fact is that there are other graves dispersed all over the arctic archipielago which could contain men as well preserved as the men buried in Beechey Island. Graves which belonged to other expeditions. For example, we have the case of the three men who were buried very close to the place where the HMS Investigator was found. No attempts to unbury them have been made yet and it seems they won´t be done in the short term.

Recently, I have found in the Manitoba museum web site the wooden leg which was worn by the Inuit Tulluahiu. This man, luckily for him, crossed his path with John Ross during his expedition in the ship Victory during the years 1829 to 1833. It has been his story which had led me to the sad story of Chimham Thomas, the carpenter of that expedition.The journalist Ken Harper told the story of this man and his leg in this article.

It is almost certain that Chimham saved the life of this man who was found being pulled in a sledge by his relatives and who ended walking and hunting as any other hunter of his tribe.

Tulluahiu and his wooden leg.

Chimham not only did a wonderful job making that wooden leg which would last hundreds of years, he also mended it several times, did improvements and even produced spare parts for being used for the man when the expedition would leave.

Wooden leg

Unfortunately, the poor carpenter died the spring before the men of the expedition were rescued in 1833. It has been his death, in his turn, which has led me to discover that two other men had previously died during that. James Dixon and James Marslin. It  is the description of their burials which has made me think that perhaps those two men could be beautifully preserved. In the case of Dixon, John Ross describes how digging his grave took the men approximately a week. In the case of Marslin, it is only said it took too much time .

One could imagine, that as these two graves were dug while the things were still not too bad in the expedition, perhaps they could be in the same perfect shape than those of Beechey Island, therefore, their bodies could be at least as well preserved as the bodies of John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell.  The position of the Dixon´s grave is indicated in this article published in Northern News in 1957. It should not be far from the place where the Victory cache was deployed. It seems that a Patrol from the R.C.M.P discovered in the 1970 a skull which could have belonged Dixon. I doubt it, I can´t believe that after a week digging someone or something could have had access to his coffin, opened it and had taken apart his skull. However, there is another likely possibility, and that is the fact that the permafrost is melting.

There are more and more cases in the news of  graves which had been dug in the permafrost  which are now appearing in surface. Like in an horror movie, coffins and bones are emerging from the ground to salute the people walking around.

Pipsuk grave?According to Russell Potter who make the suggestion, this grave could have belonged to Pipsuk.

Wolfgang Opel, the co-author of the book Eisbären, also called my attention about the case of the grave of the explorer Hermann WalterRussian Polar expedition of 1900-1902who, it seems, also decided to breath some fresh air.

This, in my opinion, could be the case of Dixon, whose grave would be located about four degrees south of the latitude where the graves of the men of the Franklin expedition are located in Beechey Island. In the article mentioned above is described and discussed the location of his grave and the location of the tunnel where John Ross put his cache of food and instrumental in Victoria Harbour before abandoning his ship. They built it during the first days of january of 1832 as if they were pirates hiding a treasure. To add more mistery and glamour to this scene, one day, as if it were a signal, an enormous meteor crossed the sky illuminating the whole valley (Chapter 48 of the narrative of the expedition). I haven´t found traces which could determine where James Marslin could have been buried, I only known that he died earlier and that he likely was buried during the winter of 1830-31.

Globalization,  if we want to call this way, with the pass of time is bringing us to our homes through internet more and more pictures of inaccessible places. There are some  photos of Fury Beach which could excite our imagination, These pictures show us places which we have seen countless times in paintings. They show us quiet beaches, narrow gorges, and steep cliffs. We could easily imagine that in one of those stony beaches could have been buried for example the good carpenter Chimham Thomas. 

To finish, I would like to make some reflection. I have read somewhere that more men died trying to find the Franklin expedition than in the Franklin expedition itself. I would bet that this assertion is false. If we don´t count those 129 men, I find dubious that such amount of men had died in all the expeditions which went towards the North west Passage before and after of the Franklin expedition of 1845. Here and there men died  in the arctic archipielago, some them are now only a handful of bones are scattered in the bottom of the sea as happened to René Bellot, others are well buried in unknow places, others were half buried and where disturbed by wild life and others simply dissappeared forever without leaving a trace. All of them are there, in some place. It would be interesting to make an inventary of the deceased men during all those years, if possible, marking the conditions of their burials and approximate location.

James Dixon and James Marslin were part of those who were well buried in Boothia peninsula. Presumably, they are with all their flesh on and opened eyes staring the back of the lid of his coffin patiently waiting for us to be rescued from the forgotten. 

jueves, 22 de enero de 2015


Yes, here we are again speaking about balloons and arctic expeditions, one of my favourite topics.

The Andreé expedition of 1897 has always mesmerized me. The Quixotic adventure and its dramatic end makes the perfect recipe for morbid minds like mine. The fact that the ill-fate of the three poor men who participated on the expedition was sadly ascertained 30 years after, when their journals and the pictures which were taken were discovered, only could add more fascination to the story. 
Eagle Crashed (Andreé´s balloon)
From Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Eagle-crashed.jpg

But from the reading of the story about the expedition, quickly, a question has begun to dominate my mind: Why there was not any attempt to explore the different waterways which forms the Northwest Passage with balloons during the peak years of its exploration? Why then waiting till 1897 to use them in the arctic regions? Was Andreé´s one the first attempt to use a balloon over the ice?

He likely was the first on attempting a manned one, but there were previous experiments with balloons in the arctic time before, as it is possible to see in the illustration below (about which case I couldn´t find any further information):
 Natives of Tornea Lapmark asembling at Enontekis to witnes the launching of the first balloon within the Arctic Circle. Published 1 January 1819 by T Cadell and W Davies
I find astonishing that in the middle of a voracious balloonmania, which surely was steaming in the minds of all Victorians in Britain, nobody would have even proposed to make a serious attempt to help to discover the Northwest Passage with a balloon.  I don´t want to show myself too naive saying here that a balloon could have crossed the whole passage in a single and successful attempt, of course, but, why not using it to help to do some small and parallel explorations. For instance, to discover if a bay was really a bay, or to analyse the direction of the shoreline of the new discovered lands, etc.

"Three Musketeers" by Peter Popken
Somebody could think: Well, they were looking for a waterway suitable to be used for ships, large ships. We should not forget that the main objective which lies under the discovery of the Northwest Passage was to open a trading route, there were not scientific or sportive motivations. Well, that´s true, but at the time the Franklin expedition dissapeared forever in the arctic, there was not even a map of those northern regions. Aerial reconaissance would have been crucial at least to define where the waterways were and if they were blocked with ice or not.

Said that, now comes the technical matter, which surely is going to destroy any support to this theory.

We should talk first about flight range. How far could reach a balloon built in the mid 1800?

As early as 1785 the eccentric Jean-Pierre Blanchard had crossed the English channel at the same time he lost literally his trousers in the attempt and was threatening his companion with being thrown in case the things were wrong. Balloons had performed by then long trips of hundreds of kilometers and ascended heights as high as 9.000 feet (3.000 m) as was the case of Jacques Charles. In 1852, when numerous attempts to find Franklin and his men were being performed, the first dirigible made by Henrry Giffard was successfully performing its first flight.

Traversée en ballon du Pas-de-Calais par Blanchard et Jefferies (1785)Crossing of the Strait of Dover by Blanchard and Jefferies · Überquerung der Strasse von Dover durch Blanchard und Jefferies
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Early_flight_02562u_(7).jpg
Giffard 1852´s dirigible
From Wikipedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Giffard1852.jpg
Without any doubt, it could have been Charles Green the man for that task, with more than 500 flights at his back, he performed the longest flight of that time. Taking off from Vauxhall Gardens in London he landed 770 km away in Germany after having been flying during the night. It was the year 1836, and this feat was not overcome till 1907. Green had performed experiments through which he had reached heights of more than 9.000 m

Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Green_(balloonist)
Then it is clear that ballooning was developing fast at the same time the expeditions were being sent to the arctic. Why don´t introduce then this new technology in the arctic expeditions?

The fact is that the technology was already being used by the Admiralty in their exploration ships, till certain point at least. They were not using manned balloons, but small ones which were widely employed  to send messages. The Franklin expedition was equipped with them, and the expeditions which went after them carried ballons too.

But why they weren't used to send a man up into the air to take a look at what was in front of the ships? Climbing perhaps not as high as 3.000 m but to 300 m could have been a good help in most of the cases to determine if a waterway was practicable or not. There must be something which made them to abandon the idea.

Balloons of that time were not that big not to be able to be carried in the big ships which conformed arctic expeditions, though perhaps they were too fragile. They were built of silk, paper and ropes, so this should not be considered as the main cause to dismiss them. Balloons, on the other hand can be filled with hot air or gas (mainly Coal gas, helium or Hidrogen) it would have been difficult to carry the necessary equipment to produce the necessary amount of gas to fill a balloon big enough to lift a man, however, that is not the case of using hot air. In fact hot air was being used even before the first experiments with gases. Why don´t using that method to inflate a balloon where access to gas was imposible otherwise? Well, naturally here we encounter our first barrier, is it logical using hot air in an enviroment where the temperatures hardly reach the freezing point? I would say this would be the main issue to take into consideration. Keeping  floating a balloon in air despite the ambient temperature would require a strong source of energy capable to produce enough hot air under almost any circunstances. Such source of energy  could only increases the risk of setting fire to those enormous balls of paper.

An illustration published in 1887 depicts French scientist's Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier's balloon catching fire before it crashed in 1785. ILLUSTRATION FROM SSPL/GETTY IMAGES
It was the humidity of the air together with the cold which threw down Andreé and Nobile to the ground  during their respective attempts to reach the North Pole. But, as I said before, we are not speaking here about the possibility of crossing the whole Northwest Passage from east to west, thinking that favourable winds could carry a happy Franklin from London to Vancouver in a matter of some days. I was thinking more on why was not used such new, sophisticated  and helpful mean, like hot air balloons were, for short vertical flights of observation during the summer season which could have catapulted arctic expeditions to a third dimension, the height, from which it would have been possible understanding the ground and waters which surrounded them in a way never seen before in those remote places.