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.

lunes, 23 de diciembre de 2013


Today I have been doing some tests with my new "close up" camera lenses. As I am obsessed with the Franklin expedition, one of my first ideas has been to take pictures of the book "Sir John Franklin´s Last Arctic Expedition" by Richard Cyriax, surely one of the bests and more complete books which treats about this subject and which could be considered its encyclopedia.

Here we have the review about the book by William Battersby, done time ago, in Goodreads, here we have the review done in the Cambridge Journals and here an abstract of the book. Unfortunately, the book is not longer printed but you can still find the original, or more likely, its facsimile version of 1997 with prices which can vary between 20 to several thousand pounds.

The book itself had a turbulent life. It was published for first time in 1939 and most of their copies were destroyed while they were stored during a German bombing in the second World War. Long time after, in 1997, it was re-published again. However, even after this re-edition, the book is hard to find at a reasonable price. Perhaps, after this new and unexpected revival  of the interest about this matter provoked in my opinion mainly by the succes of the Dan Simmons´s novel "The Terror" and the project of making a film about it,  we could soon see a new edition of this magnific book which almost surely won´t be an accurate copy of the original as the edition of 1997 actually is.

Little is known about Richard Julius Cyriax, the author wasn´t an historian as many can think, he was a physician who was in his time, as many others still are , captivated by the fate of the last Franklin Expedition. I have not been able to find any picture of him, the man who wrote one of the books which perhaps could be a best-seller in the years to come is a mistery by himself or at least he is for me and for the general public.

While I was taking these photographs I would have liked to find through them some hidden secrets, perhaps something hidden among the paper fibers which at a short distance resembles me like ice crests. I would have liked to find some new clues in its pages and maps that could have given me some answers to the neverending questions, but the result has been the same as always: no answers.

Cover of  "Sir John Franklin Last Expedition" by Richard J. Cyriax.
My beloved copy find in England by my friend William Greenwell

The Arctic Press Logo.
To them we owe the privilege of having this copy in our hands.

The "King William Land" after known as "Island".
That tiny piece of Earth still hide secrets and generates long  and neverending discussions and it will keep doing it for many years or even forever.

Through the pages of  "Sir John Franklin Last Expedition" you will find the entrance to the mistery which wrap the fate of the last Franklin´s expedition but, like in an impossible labyrinth, you couldn´t find the exit.

Not only more than a hundred of men were lost in those remote lands but two big and well built ships. Perhaps they will be the only witnesses that we can aspire to find which, with some luck, could add some new information which could help to solve the mistery or which could only aid to generate new questions to the list.

viernes, 29 de noviembre de 2013


The arctic has been, for centuries, the stage of  numerous deaths, some of them were provoked by starvation, exposure, Polar bear attacks, etc. but some of these deaths were provoked for the same people who participated on these expeditions. The frontier between what was called  "executions"in the official transcriptions of the journals  or what could had been called  "Crimes" is sometimes a thin line and, depending on the point of view, the "Execution" denomination could be considered even arguable.

This is not an exhaustive list, but to my mind come these cases:

Robert Hood and Michel Terhoaute, First Franklin expedition descending the Coopermine river in 1819.

Robert Hood was allegedly, and almost certainly, killed by the indian Michel Terohaute while they were on their way back towards Fort Enterprise. The things were terrible wrong, John Franklin had gone ahead with the rest of the party leaving at Hood, Dr Richardson, John Hepburn and Michel behind. Michel Teroahute shot Hood in the back of his head after a bitter discussion while they were camped. In this case the situation was clear, it seems that it was actually a crime (Fergus Fleming in "Barrow Boys" suggested boldly that Hood could have been killed to be eaten for the rest of his British mates).

Dr. John Richardson
When Dr. Richardson and the sailor John Hepburn decided to move forward  towards Fort Enterprise Midhel Terohaute began to behave strangely and violently. John Richardson then killed him shooting him in the head. This was officially considered an execution, though Willard Wentzel, the Northwest Company representative asked for doing a proper investigation, but nobody listened to him.

Patrick Coleman  Second Hall expedition to locate the alleged survivors of the Franklin last expedition. 1868.

Charles Francis Hall
Charles Francis Hall, during his second expedition shot on the 31 of July of 1868 one of the five sailors he had previously hired  after a bitter discussion with them. The discussion was provoked by Hall who went to the tent, where those men were resting after having been out the whole day. He asked them for an explanation about why had they spent so many time out the camp to do a job which must have lasted only a few hours.
Hall asked for the rifle which one of the sailors had, went to his tent, took a revolver, came back to the tent and shot Pat. The poor man agony lasted two weeks before dying. Some of the Inuit witnesses said that they were afraid of the life of Hall because the discussion was very violent. However, one of the sailors said time after that the situation could have been controlled with the proper management, perhaps for a more tempered man than Hall.

This is not clear if it was an execution or a crime or none of both, it seems that Hall acted in self defence, but the fact that Patrick was unarmed and that Hall could have gone to his tent and return with his gun without being stopped by the sailors suggest that the things weren´t so extreme.

Thomas Simpson Return expedition to England 1840

Thomas Simpson

This is one of the darkest stories of crime of the Arctic. Thomas Simpson was on his return trip towards England after the authorities had not answered his proposals to complete the location of the Northwest Passage. On his way back, the description of his death says that on June 14 he and some of his Indian mates died in a shoot-out. it seems that Simpson had become crazy, violent and paranoid. Thomas even thought that some of the Indian were trying to kill him. He killed them, and the rest of the men fled. These men found him dead of a shot and his gun was besides him.

Private Charles Henry  Greely expedition in 1884

Private Charles Henry

About this specific matter I have few things to say, a complete and thorough description of the facts was done by Glenn Marty Stein on his wonderful article: "An arctic execution" which is available here:


This is perhaps the clearest case. The commander of the expedition ordered his execution, and the order was even written down. Therefore, this was clearly an execution. What perhaps it wasn´t so clear is that the facts had  happened as it was told in the oficial account of the expedition and that is the reason why I reccomend, to those who haven´t do yet, the reading of the Glenn´s article.

Ross Gilmore Marvin (Peary expedition 1908-09)

Another interesting case, again apparently product of the erratic and agressive behaviour of the victim, is that of Ross Gilmore Marvin, a member of the Peary expedition of 1908 who was the leader of one of the supporting parties. 

Ross Gilmore Marvin

Marvin was 28 years old by the moment he joined the expedition and had participated in the previous Peary´s attempt. He departed with two Inuit cousins, Kudlookto and Inuksutoq. these two men arrived without Marvin days after having left Peary, they told that Marvin had fallen the 10th of april of 1909 into a lead opened in the ice, fifteen days after they departed from Peary´s main party.  Seventeen years after, one of the Inuit confessed having shot Marvin because of his crazy behaviour. To make the things even more confusing, in 1954, apparently, Kudlookto told Peary´s daughter that he had been inclined to make that confession influenced by some sort of religious histeria.

Marvin was an enthusiast, absolutely motivated, the story told by the Inuk may surprise. He turned back, ordered by Peary, at a latitude of 86 º38 ´´north, at a distance around 370 km from their goal. Maybe being that "close" from the North Pole and having to return could have deeply affected him. 

The strange behaviour detailed by the Inuit companions is even rarer if you take into account the high regards on which he was considered. In Mathew Henson own words Professor Marvin was  "a quiet, earnest person, and has had plenty of practical experience besides his splendid education.". The church service performed in his honor, available here, isfull of compliments made by Peary and others.

Peary´s plans about who would form part of the final team which would press to the final target were unknown by the men, not even Mathew henson was aware of that who said:

"My heart stopped palpitating, I breathed easier, and my mind was relieved. It was not my turn yet, I was to continue onward and there only remained one person between me and the Pole — the Captain. We knew Commander Peary's general plan: that, at the end of cer-tain periods, certain parties would turn south to the land and the ship "

But it looks that Marvin feet were badly frozen by the time he had to come back to the mainland or the ship, Peary had sent him back once before to reach a previous and far depot to bring a surplus of alcohol for the main party, that extra effort could have affected very badly his phisical and mental conditions.

It is evident from Mathew Henson narrative of the expedition that he had developed a special fondness towards Marvin, at the end of it surprisingly writes this:

"but the one ever-present thought in my mind was of Marvin, and of his death. I thought of him, and of his kindness to me ; and the picture of his widowed mother, patiently waiting the return of her son, was before me all of the time. I thought of my own mother, whom I scarcely remembered, and I sincerely wished that it had been me who had been taken."

Nobody reading this was there to witness and therefore nobody can tell what actually happened no matter how strong could be the clues or trustworthy the confessions, so there are no factual reasons to believe one or other theory wich make this death controversial. Drowning in icy seas was very common in polar explorations and it is sadly still happening during these days in modern expedirions, but it is doubtful that anyone could have fabricated such a tale like that told by the Inuit who could have confronted a very severe punishment. I am, like many others, much more prone to think that Marvin was actually shot and that he didn´t drown, but what actually happened to provoke such an extreme act is not completely clear. It was said that Marvin had the intention of abandoning Kudlookto and that he didn´t allow Inuksotoq to get into his igloo, which would have meant the certain death of both men but there is also another possibility, that the two cousins could have killed or abandoned Marvin in order not to delay their return to safety. We shouldn´t forget that Inuit were absolutely scared of advancing into sea ice and we know from many polar accounts the terrible effects of having an injured member in the team who can´t follow the desperated pace needed in such extreme straits. More likely, playing the king Salomon Role, Marvin was pressed by the Inuit to go faster when he couldn´t and that could have driven Marvin crazy or desperate who could have threaten his two companions not to leave him alone, maybe he even didn´t allow one of them to share the igloo because he didn´t trust on him which obviously led to his killing. I am not blaming anyone, of course, it is my believe that arctic explorers used to threat Inuit people to follow their crazy plans, some times frocing them to perform travels which the natives knew were suicidal, so there is not judging here at all, just an evaluation of options.

The fact, is that as Peary said:

"The bones of Ross G. Marvin lie farther north than those of any other human being.”

There is a small memorial in Elmira which you cand find in my Polar explorations memorial map, there is also a dummy grave here. More information can be found here, here 


Well, I am sure that there are a much higher number of "crimes-executions-self defending killings", but to my mind only comes these ones right now. Anyway, one thing is clear, the Arctic, a place on which I have never been, seems to exert a great and magnificient attraction towards the sensitive people and it makes arise on them the best and most wonderful feelings, but it seems that it has also the capability to transform other kind of people on murderers and paranoids. Cases of paranoid seems to be frequent on these latitudes and, perhaps justified or not, this paranoia usually ended with a murder or with a dead.

To me it is clear that the power of those regions are beyond the limits of understanding of those, like me, who have not been there and that a person, no matter how strong this man or woman could be, phisically or mentally, it is no more than a puppet on the claws of its nature.

lunes, 16 de septiembre de 2013


Reading, as I am doing now, "Weird and Tragic SHores", I am now aware that the first transatlantic cable was laid on the ocean between the British islands and America during the years 1854 and 1858. I´ve always supposed that it was laid soon before the first world war, but it was not. It was much sooner.

Charles Francis Hall was fascinated by this demonstration of science, (almost science fiction) and of modernity, a demonstration which could be compared perhaps on that time to what the human kind would think about the Moon landings years after. I am also fascinated now by this achievement, and oneself cannot, but being amazed about how a steamer and a barge crossed the Atlantic, more than one hundred and sixty years ago, laying the longest cable of the world to be able to communicate with people at thousand of miles of distance. And one also can´t avoid being less than fascinated if thinks that, while this operation was happening, the Henry Grinnell expedition together with the biggest amount of ships had ever been in the Arctic were trying to find Sir John Franklin and his lost expedition.
When Franklin was lost in the Arctic the comunications in the world were based on letters which crossed the earth from one side to the other. The Postal service in Britain in  the nineteenth century was surely the most effective, sure and quick one. Remember that following a postal service line, George Back crossed England from the south to the north during the beginning of the first Franklin Expedition when he lost the ship in the southeast shores of England to end reaching them in the Orkney islands soon after.
 It is true that the Telegraph had been already discovered, but it was still on its beginnings and, of course,  there weren´t telegraph lines in the Arctic and there weren´t neither post offices in the Arctic Archipiélago nor horses to carry rapidly to the civilization their messages with news about their discoveries, with their letters addressed to their families containing their dreams, fears and anxieties and with their SOS messages.
Franklin couldn´t use all those wonders, Franklin couldn´t use the telegraph though it already was a reality on that time. Balloons, bottles, pigeons, cairns and medals tied to arctic foxes were the only means available on that time for the expeditions which were in desolated regions to communicate  with the rest of the world.
In a crazy world which was witnessing an eruption of  discoveries and amazing scientific achievements  which increased and improved the communications in a way never seen before, paradoxically, the last and lost Franklin expedition was without any question alone.

jueves, 12 de septiembre de 2013


Recently William Battersby called strongly my attention  with fascinating news in his blog. Someone is preparing accurate plans to do a perfect replica of the HMS Terror. A replica of the ship made exactly as it was refitted to its last mission of 1845 to cross the Northwest Passage in the arctic, including the reinforcement of the hull, the inclusion of the screw propeller, etc.  It is wonderful to see how the work done by William and Peter Carney in their article is going to  be materialized in a real wooden ship: 

"Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845. International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology 81(2):192-211."
This mysterious "Someone" is John Smith, a model ship builder, and John Smith is kindly sharing his progress in his wonderful blog. There is no need to say that we will follow closely his steps and that we will wait anxiously to see the results of this scientific and artistic reconstruction project.
Through his blog you can see how he is adapting and remakimg the old plans of the ship and you can check the already available different models of the hull of the ships which nowadays exist in the online pictures which the National Maritime Museum , as for example this one.
I´ve always thought that this world needs a beautiful diorama which was based on this expedition, but as many other lacks (lack of films, more documentaries, etc),  this will be still one of the voids that someday will be filled.
There have been several previous projects of making models and dioramas about the last Franklin expedition. Some of them, designed with scientific purposes, were able even to sail.
This one, in particular, can be seen in the fabulous John Murray´s documentary “Finding Franklin”.. A beautiful model of one of the ships can be seen sailing in a pool into a simulated pack of ice where it is tested its behavior against a frozen sea:
"Finding Franklin" Documentary.
There are other model, to me one of the most impressive at the moment, on which we can see the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror beset into the ice with the upper part of their mast removed and some men in the ice which seem to be preparing themselves for the winter, they are downloading packages, putting the deck cover and doing some other things on the ice.
This is the only picture I´ve been able to find about it. The procedence is the web site belonging to the Rhode Island College on which Russell Potter added the "Report of Field Survey Results" of the Irish-Canadian Franklin Search Expedition in 2004. The model, as the legends says, was exposed at the Princeof Wales Heritage Centre till 2004.
URL of the picture obtained from: http://www.ric.edu/faculty/rpotter/woodman/2004_Field_Report_short.htm
Diorama of HMS Erebus beset, displayed until 2004 at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre, Yellowknife (Photo: D. Holland, P5090020).
Through the original link of the PWHC we could see in a mínimum size the whole disposition of the diorama with the two ships here: 
Another astonishing model of the Erebus, which some time ago I posted here in my own blog, is a fascinating  icy and tiny model of the Erebus done by Rober A. Wilson.

This model, because its minimum size and its haunting appearance has always captivated me.

Author: Robert A.Wilson

And to finish, one of the most intriguing ones is this other model which appears in the Wikipedia in this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Model_of_HMS_Erebus.JPG I have no idea where this model is displayed.
Wikipedia: HMS Erebus. Off the north coast of King William Island, Sept 1846. Sir John Franklin captaining
To finish with this issue, as a fanatic of models as I am, I´ve tried, dreamt and fighted against the elements and fought against my own lazyness, to reproduce one of the boats which Aglooka and his men dragged over the ice of Washington bay someday during the spring of 1848.

It is not necessary to mention that the project is still unfinished. I´ve subcontracted the task of painting and mounting the men who should to drag the boat to one of my brothers (which walks the dark path of the modelism as you can see here), and I have still to do the canvas which will cover the boat, the sailing, rigging and  to practice the art of simulating the snow.
Perhaps I will finish it someday, someday...
Boat seen by the Inuit in Washington Bay in 1848. Author: me.

viernes, 9 de agosto de 2013


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. 

jueves, 27 de junio de 2013


The last and lost Franklin expedition has inspired hundreds of books, some of them historical books, others fiction ones, other times it has insired poems even and songs.. but what it is perhaps less known is that this ill-fated expedition has also inspired the construction of some toys and even recently  has also inspired new and fascinating board games.
The first and oldest toy which I know is this item done likely by Roullet & Decamps. This kind of figures are called Automaton. This particular one could have been done in the late 19th. On this Automaton one of the sailors is persecuted by a Polar Bear while he climbs a ladder. The other sailor tries to defend himself from the bear waving an ice axe.
Source: http://www.liveauctioneers.com

Much more recently, in 2009, Russell Potter found this original replica of one of the famous Goldner red tins:
In 2012, three Spanish guys had the happy idea of making a board game based on the idea of the location of the Northwest Passage in the nineteenth century. The Board game is called "Northwest Passage adventure", apparently it has been done with the utmost careful and it has been based on accurate historical characters, ships and facts.
It seems that it is a funny game, besides the appearance, (box, the cards, etc.), is more than attractive for those who are captivated for the history of the discovery of the Northwest Passage. In the game you can play the role of characters as famous as John Richardson, Thomas Simpson, Robert McLure, John Franklin, William E. Parry, etc. You can find a more detailed description and pictures of the game here:
But this year, or better said, this month, a French man Yves Tourigny  has developed a new board game which is called "Expedition: Northwest Passage", a new board game on which, the objective is basically going to the Canadian arctic archipiélago to locate the lost Franklin expedition, you have to deal with blocked ice passages, obtain information from the inuits, find lost cairns, etc. this game seems to be, as its predecesor, a funny and fascinating board game:
What is going to come now? A videogame? A rol game?, 
What is clear is that the fascination that the Northwest Passage, the Franklin expedition and other related facts exerts over the public is deriving towards new horizons, which in this modern world on which we live of unlimited computerized possibilites, is sure that is going to amaze us soon.

jueves, 23 de mayo de 2013


Recently I´ve found a reference about what could have been the last message sent by one of the last survivors of the Franklin expedition.  A message which crossed the North Atlantic ocean in a month. The message only said the following:

"Erebus, 112 W, Long, 71 deg. N. Lat. September, 3, 1851. Blocked in"

Apparently these are exciting news, though the lenght of the message might been considered absurdily short. But, take it easy, before celebrating it, we should check some points:

- Could  anyone actually still be alive on board of the HMS Erebus ship in the year 1851?

The expedition would have lasted six years, John Ross wasn´t in the Arctic so many time on his expedition of 1829 so there wasn´t any previous similar experience of this kind. The ships were abandoned in the spring of 1848 and the note found together with the balloon is from september of 1851, more than three years after the abandoning. Too much time!.

But...it could be, they had enough food for three years (or four or five depending some sources) and some Inuit testimonies and other evidences like the boat found with two skeletons pointing to the northwest are telling us that perhaps some men remanned the ships.

- Was the Franklin expedition armed with these kind of balloons?

It seems that they weren´t equipped with them, but at that time, in 1850, the rescue expedition commanded by Horatio Austin was in the area releasing ballons like this, so some of the last survivors could have taken one of this balloons and having put his own message in a desperate attempt to be rescued.

- Could have been correct the position of the ship?

This is in my opinión the most strange thing. By that time the position of the ships hadn´t been deduced. McClinctock get the Victory point note in the year 1859. Eight years after of the appearance of the note of the balloon. Some time before, in 1854 John Rae had been exploring the area of the Boothia Penninsula where he heared stories about the Franklin men walking and dying in KWI. Three years after the finding of the balloon note.
The Horatio Austin expedition had orders of searching Franklin through the Wellington Channel and the región near Cape Walker, that means, in an área completely wrong. Then, the note of the balloon was giving the most accurate position of the ships till the moment, and that signal was arriving within a period where it would be still likely to find at least some of those poor men alive.
It is true that the exact position given by the note place us over a point on the Victoria Island but, again a mistery, the note seems to be written by a non seaman, as it is well explained here in the book "Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers: And other odd events on the way to scientific discovery ", the author could have perfectly been wrong on the determination of the longitude, which, as far as I know , it is pretty hard to determine.

It was  "The Times" which was the first on giving this news, likely in the date 11th of october of 1851, followed by the New York Times a week after, you can see the description of the moment when the note was found and the subsequent investigation driven by the Admiralty here.

The Captains Beechey and Penny were the men in charge of determining the autenthicity of the balloon. The result of their interviews was that in fact that ballon belonged to the Admiralty and that it likely was sent by some man of the Franklin expedition.

Then, as a sort of conclusión:
Could Mrs Russell, the woman who said that 5th of october of 1851 -"Run out" - "There is a balloon in the garden!" and the same  who was quietly preparing a meeting for her friend that morning in Wotton, Gloucester, be the receptor of the last desperate message of SOS sent by one of the last men standing of the Franklin expedition? Or was all this facts a mere farce constructed by some unescrupulous man or woman. And if it was the case... with what objective?

To make the things even more difficult to understand, the Museum of Kensington count on its exposition with a balloon which was allegedly designed for rescuing the lost explorers. In my opinion, because the apparent size of this object and because the description done in the article of the New York TImes of the balloon, I think that perhaps this could be a section of the original communication ballon found that quiet evening of october in Wotton, Gloucester:


domingo, 14 de abril de 2013


It was after reading some comments written by some friends about if the main objective of the last Franklin expedition was discovering and crossing the Northwest Passage (which of course it was) or, doing magnetic observations than again a doubt in my head has sprung.
No matter if it really was  one of the main objectives or not, it is hard to believe that, having being trapped the Erebus and Terror ships so close to the Magnetic North Pole and for so many time (see the below reference), no attempt were done in order to reach that coveted point.

 Source Wikipedia: Magnetic north pole positions of the Earth. Poles shown are dip poles, defined as positions where the direction of the magnetic field is vertical. Red circles mark magnetic north pole positions as determined by direct observation, blue circles mark positions modelled using the GUFM model (1590–1980) and the IGRF model (1980–2010) in 2 year increments.

As it is posible to see in the above picture,  the Magnetic North Pole drifted from the North to the South since the year 1600 and after1810 or so  (where, precisely and by pure coincidence, it found its  inflexión point  in the King William Island) it began to go northwards till it was reached in 1831 by James Clark Ross in the course of the John Ross expedition in the HMS Victory ship. From 1831 to 1904 it doesn´t seem that the North Pole had drifted so much, then it is plausible to imagine that its position could have been near in 1847. The Franklin expedition was even nearest from it than the Ross´es were in 1831 when they were in Felix harbor.
Then, on 25 of May of 1847 the ships were on a privileged position to reach the North Magnetic Pole, "28 of May 1847 H.M.S.hips Erebus and Terror Wintered in the Ice in Lat. 70°5'N Long. 98°.23'W". Excerpt from the Victory Point Record.
They were only 16 miles northwest of Cape Felix, from Cape Felix to the Clarence Islands there is only 14 miles and from there to the position of the North Magnetic Pole there is another 30 miles or so. We have to have into account that a White man´s cairn is described by David Woodman in the book "Unravelling the Franklin Mistery" pg. 75. This Carn can demonstrate that an attempt to reach the North Magnetic Pole was done by a sledge party from Cape Felix going eastwards. In the Wikipedia´s description of the expedition  we can find a reference about the searching of this misterious cairn, which it seems to be that it was never found:
"In 1995, an expedition was jointly organised by Woodman, George Hobson, and American adventurer Steven Trafton – with each party planning a separate search. Trafton's group travelled to the Clarence Island to investigate Inuit stories of a "white man's cairn" there but found nothing. Dr. Hobson's party, accompanied by archaeologist Margaret Bertulli, investigated the "summer camp" found a few miles to the south of Cape Felix, where some minor Franklin relics were found. Woodman, with two companions, travelled south from Wall Bay to Victory Point and investigated all likely campsites along this coast, finding only some rusted cans at a previously unknown campsite near Cape Maria Louisa. "
Aproximated position of the ships, north magnetic pole cairns and so on by Andrés Paredes in Google Earth.
If the Lieutenant Graham Gore together with Charles DesVoeux and six men reached point Victory from the ships in only three days, (16 miles to Cape Felix plus 24 from Cape Felix to Victory Point, measured in Google earth always as the crow flies),  it is fair to asume that the Franklin expedition had established a base camp in Cape Felix to launch from there several sledges parties towards different points, for example toward the west coast of KWI (Victory point), towards the east coast of KWI (as other relics found there seems to demonstrate), and of course towards the North Magnetic Pole which should be then some miles north of the point reached by J.C.Ross in 1831.

Position of the ships, North magnetic pole in 1831 and the Victory Point by Andrés Paredes in Google Earth.
Then, and here comes my conclusión, I think that, the men of the last Franklin expedition could well and easily having reached the North Magnetic Pole in the summer of 1847 when the things on board still were "All Well", and that if someone, someday is able to establish the exact position of the North Magnetic Pole the year of 1847, they will find there (hopefully and for my understanding, LIKELY) the rests of a sledge party camp and perhaps the rests of another observation Cairn and they could then add to the rest of the achievements asigned to their expedition, the fact of having reached, again, this Grial of the magnetic observations and science.

viernes, 5 de abril de 2013


Among the long list of "first discoverers" or "the first on crossing" the Northwest Passage (NWP), the name of Bedford Clapperton Trevelyan Pim, perhaps could be one of the less named by the historians and for those who had been always arguing about "who  was really the first" on discovering or crossing the path across the frozen labirynth. But he really was one of them, one of those who could be named "one of the first".

Leaving apart the discussion about if it was S.J. Franklin or the Dr. Rae the first on discovering the South NWP (I prefer not to mention here Francisco Ferrer Maldonado in order to avoid blushing myself), it is undoubtely McLure, who must wear the laurels of having been the first on joining all, till the date, lost points of that singular, dangerous and frozen puzzle which conforms the North NWP.
He reached the farthest point gained by Parry in 1819 in Winter Harbour in the Melville Island and he leaves proofs there under a Cairn to demonstrate his succes on having linked the both ends of that broken rope. This same message was later the key for his rescue. 
But, McLure, also wears the laurels of having been the first on doing the first crossing of the passage from its east side to the west, part on his own ship (HMS Investigator till it was abandoned in Mercy Bay), part on foot over the ice, and part on the ships of the Edward Belcher rescue expedition. And it is here where it grows my doubt.

It was Bedford Pim who found the desperate McClure, just on time before he will send the weakest men of his crew towards a certain dead, (this assertion could be discussed on later posts, because as always, there are some extenuating circunstances which could justify such apparent cruel decission).

Bedford Pim appeared in the scene of the McLure Drama in such way:

"While walking near the ship, in conversation with the first Lieutenant upon the subject of digging a grave for the man who died yesterday, and discussing how we could cut a grave in the ground whilst it was so hardly froze- a subject we perceived a figure walking rapidly towards us from the rough ice at the entrance of the bay. From his pace and gestures we both naturally supposed at first that he was some one of ourparty pursued by a bear, but as we approached him doubts arose as to who it could be"

Of course it was Bedford Pim who, with 27 years old, had reached the HMS Investigator in april of 1853. He had walked from Dealy Island (in front of Melville Island) where the HMS Resolute had wintered (more tan 200 miles as the crow flies). The rest of the description of that encounter is impressive, and I reccomend its Reading (pg. 289 Discovery of the Northwest Passage by McLure).

Then, here it is where has raised the seed of a doubt into my brain. Of course it was Robert McLure who joined the lost points and those laurels must be attached fixedly to his head, but before he crossed the passage towards the east, Bedford Clapperton Trevelyan Pim had previously walked all that way towards the west. Yes, I know, it is true, he returns from this point to his ships in Dealy Island, so he couldn´t wear by himself the honour of being the first on crossing the NWP, ...then?.

Then, my doubt is:

Is it fair assigning the title of being the first on crossing the NWP only to Mc Lure?

Or perhaps it would it be more fair consider that it was a dual accomplishment?.

At the end Pim had traveled aproximately 850 miles  from the east end of Lancaster sound (which could be considered the east end of the NWP) versus the 350 miles sailed by McLure from what we could consider the entrance of the east side of the NWP, the Baillie Islands to Mercy Bay.

In my opinión, the first crossing of the NWP corresponds two thirds to Bedford Pim and one third to Robert McLure.

Besides these considerations, it is interesting to mention here that Bedford Pim, before being involved in the Edward Belcher expedition did an extraordinary effort trying to organize a searching expedition to locate the Erebus and Terror ships in the north Russian shores. The reason? because he thought that Franklin could have gone through the Wellington chanel towards the North Pole, and on havong encountered there a free ice sea, he could have reached those distant shores. There is an interesting article about the posible location of the Erebus and Terror ships in hte Russian waters here: http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic45-1-36.pdf. There is also a later manifest on which Bedford Pim tries to expose more reasons to clarify the fate of the men of the Franklin expedition, the doccument is called: "An earnest appeal to the British public on behalf of the missing Arctic expedition"

But all this thing is, as it is said in the "Neverending story", another tale.

martes, 12 de febrero de 2013


Everybody likely knows this painting. It is in the cover of the book "Buried in Ice":

"Perilous position of H M S Terror Captain Back in the Arctic Regions in the summer of 1837"
Author William Smyth

But perhaps not everybody knows that its author was a veteran explorer and mariner. He is, at least he is for me, a kind of secondary character of a masterpiece film.

William Smyth was born in the year 1800 and passed away in the year 1877.  He entered in the Royal Navy only thirteen years old. In 1825 he was under the command of the Captain Frederick Beechey  in the HMS Blossom towards the Bering strait. Their mission, among other things was finding the MacKenzie expedition of John Franklin.

After, under the command of the Captain Charles Henry Paget, he accompanied at William Bunbury McClintock (cousin of the later famous Leopold McClinctock) in the ship HMS Samarang towards the waters of South America with the "hide" objective of chasing and destroying slave ships. Leopold was also on board with only 11 years old, it seems that later he would define himself as having then a weight no more than the "1st Lieutenant Newfoundland dog". They were traveling since july 1831 to january of 1835. During this journey it seems that their ship cross its way several times with the "Beagle", and it seems likely that W.Smyth could be on board of it.

In june 1834 he made a boat and land trip while staying at Perú from Lima to Belem. The journey (it has to be a hard one which lasted eight months) is narrated in this book writen by him: Narrative of a Journey from Lima to Para, across the Andes and down the Amazon: undertaken with a view of ascertaining the practicability of a navigable communication with the Atlantic, by the rivers Pachitea,Ucayali, and Amazon, published in London by John Murray, in 1836.

In may of 1836 under the command of George Back he went on board of the HMS Terror on his journey towards the Hudson Bay in order to try to cross the Melville peninsula. It was here, while the HMS Terror was besset on ice, where W.Smyth was inspired to paint after the expedition, the magnificient and well known painting above showed "Perilous position of H M S Terror Captain Back in the Arctic Regions in the summer of 1837"

William Smyth painted several South American ports during his years in the Paget´s mission, and he also painted in 1836 more paintings of the ice-captured Terror, not so well known but equally interesting.

Part of his other works are here: http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/artist54018/Lieutenant-Smyth/page-1

and here: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Lieutenant-Smyth/Lieutenant-Smyth-oil-paintings.html

On this second link there is acurious painting of the Navy men playing football over the ice close to the Terror.

Another interesting link is this other with some sketches of the F. Beechey expedition towards the Bering Strait. Among others, there is a curious engraving of the crew of the Blossom erecting a pole with the intention of being sighted by the Franklin expedition. The rest of the engravings made are here.

He commanded several ships after this expedition in missions in South America and near the Good Hope cape. At the end of his career he was promoted to the rank of Admiral.

The main reference I´ve used to draft his biography has been obtained from here, I reccomend its reading because there are more descriptions about others important character of the time:


sábado, 26 de enero de 2013


Strange title? It is, in fact. But ...Why?

Well, is for all of us known that Robert Falcon Scott used the RSS Discovery ship on his expedition to the South Pole in 1901 in the course of the British National Antarctic Expedition. The flaming ship is still living, not all the exploration ships that beared this name have had the same luck, unfourtunately. She has his home nowadays in Dundee, England and she  is happily working as a museum there. If the wikipedia doesn´t lie, this good boy was one of the last traditional ship, (if not the last), built in England, the last of a saga, the last of the old explorers, a survivor.
RSS Discovery. From: Wikipedia

 But, Did you know that there were other ships named "Discovery"? others that sailed in icy waters more than three hundred years before?

The RSS Discovery used the name of her predecessor, even she worn some of its main features. Her mother, the HMS Discovery was a refurbished whaler. Her original name was Bloodhound and she was built on 1873. Soon she was kept away of the blood of her poor victims and was destinated to  cleaner and gallant purposes. Under the command of George Nares, the recently bought ship put her bow towards the North Pole with the intention of reaching it through the Smith Sound in 1875.
HMS Discovery 1873. From: Wikipedia

The Discovery decided to winter at the sadly known Lady Franklin Bay (stage of the disastrous play performanced by the Adolphus Greely expedition) and finding impossible to go further the ship returned home with her collegue the HMS Alert in 1876. After this expedition the ship served as a storeship till she was finally sold to D. Murray in 1901. Wikipedia finish here, the end of the poor HMS Discovery used by Nares is unknown, at least for me and for the moment, but we will see.

But, yes, there were more Discoveries which did actually more discoveries. If you think on it for a moment, It is not a strange thing using this name to christen a ship, it is almost natural, but they had different lives.  It is Glyn Williams, through his superb book, "Arctic Labyrinth",  which shows me the way.

It was in 1791 when another Discovery took on board at the explorer George Vancouver and carried him towards the west shores of the north coast of America in an expedition that last four years. This time the ship was a Sloop converted again in an explorer ship:

HMS Discovery 1789. From: Wikipedia
But after this long and restless work the duty of this ancient ship didn´t finished, she was converted in a bomb vessel to fight in the battle of Copenaghen in 1798. After, as a kind of retirement, she worked as an Hospital ship, and after as a prison ship. A long life for an indefatigable ship. Again, her name honour her antecesor, the Discovery ship that was commanded by no other than James Cook in his third voyage.

So, then, we have another Discovery, the fourth, sailed by James Cook from 1776 to 1780. This ship was originally a brig named Diligence. She participated on the other two expeditions of Cook. After  the dead of Cook the ship was took under the command of John Gore, the grandfather of the poor Graham Gore, lost with the rest of the crew of the Erebus and Terror ships during the last Franklin expedition.

HMS Discovery 1776. From: Wikipedia
She spent her last days near the docks of Woolwich serving as a transport, and finished her days being broken in 1797. Is sad that these historical ships ended their final days in such a dramatic way, likely, nowadays we would have  preserved them till the end of this days, till their  fatigated wooden frames had been able to resist.

But the saga doesn´t end here, till now the history is more or less known, but there were others, others which names perhaps could have passed unadvertingly for us.

It was in 1741 when another Discovery ship together with the HMS Furnace sailed till Churchill in the Hudson Bay. I haven´t been able to find any representation of the ship, at this point is not easy to find them, but I found a graffitti made by their commanders in the shores of Churchill which is located in the west coast of the Hudson Bay (the picture found, by the way, is in a very interesting blog "Ancientshore" which I recommend to take a look). This Discovery was a 150 ton collier and it was commanded by William Moor cousin of Christopher Middleton the actual commander of the expedition and chief of the Furnace, her mate ship. Both sailed into the Hudson Bay to explore the western coast. It was on this voyage when Middleton discover the later famous piece of shore called Repulse Bay. Both ships returned to England in 1742.

Procedency: http://ancientshore.com/2012/06/24/18th-century-graffiti-at-churchill/
Graffiti found in Churchill in the Hudson Bay.

 Before this ship, there was another one, one Discovery which would be sadly known, a forty ton sloop, used by the expedition of James Knight which disapeared in the west coast of Hudson Bay in 1719 together with the Albany ship. THis expedition finished its days on a similar way as happened to the Franklin expedition 126 years after. All the men died, likely in the Marble Island as it seems to demonstrate the remains  of a shipwreck discovered there and some other remains.

But, have we finished yet? No, there are more Discovery ships, now we have to travel in the time one hundred years before to the year 1615 and accompany to William Baffin and Rober Bylot to the doors of the Lancaster sound which was actually discovered by him, and if we travel few years before to the year 1610 we learn that Henry Hudson also sailed on another Discovery ship of 70 tons. He traveled westward unaware that his career was going to end abruptly. Hudson, his son and other men were forced to abandon the vessel.

HMS Discovery Replica 1610. From: Wikipedia

This last ship, the Hudson one, was used previously in 1600 by George Waymouth. They had the intention of crossing the Northwest passage to reach China. They didn´t pass further than the mouth of the Hudson strait before returning home.

HMS Discovery 1602. From: Wikipedia
And this all for the moment. Well, as I said before I´ve learnt from "Arctic Labyrinth" that there were so many ships called Discovery which had been main actors of the history of the "discoveries" which besides were responsible of the first steps towards the solution of the Northwest passage enigma. But I never have found a whole account of all of them together in the same web site, perhaps I am the first on doing it, and perhaps (I hope so) this humbly post could serve of inspiration for others more detailed posts done by more prepared authors.