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.

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:


16 comentarios:

  1. Great story Andrés -- but I am sure this is a hoax. For one, as noted, the Franklin expedition was not supplied with balloons; for two they had 'no means of generating gas'; for three, the idea that the gas in the balloon smelled bad is a dead giveaway, as neither hydrogen nor helium has any smell, and household gas (which has one added) is not bouyant; lastly, the co-ordinates given appear to be on land and not in water, and far off Franklin's route, and to add to this the likelihood of any balloon drifting so far and so conveniently is virtually nil. A great story, all the same -- full og peculiar details!!

  2. I think it was a hoax too, since at the time, people still thought the members of the lost expedition were alive. Probably somebody contrived this idea of a balloon to try and lead searchers to 'where' they thought the expedition was to be found. >.> Still interesting though.

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  4. Thanks to both of you! Both have give me further ideas. I am always very reticent on believing this kind of stories, too much casuality!! Russell, I wasn´t aware about the fact of the bad smell of the gas inside the balloon, a good clue against the feasibility of the story, but, my points are: the arctic balloons usually behaves on strange ways in the arctic regions. We only have to remember the big ballon used by the engenieer Andree on his attempt to reach the North Pole or the Zeppelin used by Nobile, both felt to the ground because the extra weight of the ice accumulated over their surfaces, Could a ballon launched by the rescue expedition of H.Austin have felt to the Erebus ship in the middle of a gale because of a heavy sheet of ice accumulated over it? Then, that mistery man on board the ship could have taken it for a subsuquent re-use in better weather conditions. The other point which call my attention is that only one ship is mentioned. Why the authors of this bad-joke only mentioned one? There were then already news about that one of the ships have shipwrecked? I´ve also atributted the fact that the coordenates were wrong debt to a lack of enough knowledge about how determinate them or just debt to the work of an ill officer...

    In any case, I like that suggestion of Noelia that if it was an hoax the author could have been someone trying to lead the searches to that area, Could have been Richard King the promoter?

    I know that it exists an article in Polar Record which talks about the result of the investigation done by the Captain Beechey in Wotton, but I haven´t been able to find it in their data base.

    Other strong fact that could have encourage people to falsified this clues, the same fact that could have encouraged the men on board the ship Resolution of having seen the two mysterious ships over an iceberg, could have been the existence of that reward for those who gave additional information about the location of the ships, but I should to check the date when this reward had effect, Was it after or before that the balloon was found?.

  5. I have never heard of this before, Andres--great find! It is a very exciting enigma. It is more than likely a hoax, but, just for the sake of discussion, let's assume it's genuine. Perhaps this message was written by someone other than one of Franklin's men or the search parties. I have not yet checked out the coordinates on a map, but could it have been written by a whaler or hunter? They probably would have identified themselves in the message, though. Do you know if there is an actual image of the message anywhere online? Great sleuthing and even better analyses!

  6. Thanks Jaeschylus!. Nop, I didn´t find any picture or painting of the mysterious ballon or of the message itself. It is strange that anybody had kept it or that it wasn´t in some museum.

    I am a disbeliever for nature, so I agree with Russell, Noelia and you in general, my common sense says to me in loud voice "Hey boy, don´t continue, this is a farce!" But I like to act here as a devil´s advocate to consume all the possibilities before discarding this clue.

    Besides, I like to think, romantically, that this could be true...this fact undoubtely would increase the drama effect of the whole story, Wouldn´t it?.

    The appearance of this balloon had certain importance on that time on the news, they should have been "Breaking newa", in the article of the New York Times is mentioned that though the Admiralty believed that it wasn´t a goverment ballon the Captain Beechey thought it was. This doesn´t demonstrate anything but that someone could have use an authentic Goverment balloon to perpetrate this joke, but I wouldn´t mind to take a look to the article about the investigation of the Captain Beechey: "Report from Captain Beechey of enquiries made at Gloucester respecting the balloon" to read what was his idea about the subject.

    Anpother thing that called my attention is that some Royal Navy officers of that time didn´t discard entirely this clue and they even proposed to search over the area mentioned in the message...or perhaps they used the message as an excuse to support their own theories about the location of the ships, which would corroborate what was cleverly pointed out by Noelia.

    In a letter written by the Captain W.H. Hooper to the Admiralty in November 1851 he proposes to search on the area mentioned by the message (William Hulme Hooper participates in the searching expedtion of 1848 on board the HMS Plover through the Bering Strait), you can find it here:


    I copy here an excerpt of his proposal:

    "...Now that the Enterprise and Investigator have entered the ice from the westward, also to entirely set at rest any lingering uncertainty which may exist respecting the possibility of the balloon (found at Gloucester)* having come from the Erebus, it may be considered . . ... proceed to the eastward, through Dease's Strait to Victoria Land, and following the eastern shore of that land from Cape Colborne (the last known point), endeavour, striking north, to reach Lieut. Sherard Osborn's farthest in lat. 71 52' INT., long. 103 W. ; . . visit the position named by the balloon, and thence make for Banks' Land. . ."

  7. Imagine, a man, not a sailor, but a cook or a steward, one day at the end of the summer of 1851, while trying to look for help watching carefully with his spy-glass on the upper deck, watchs how a small balloon, completely covered by ice, falls from the sky to certain distance of the ship. He goes towards it and anxiously opens a message which it is attached to. On it it is mentioned that some ships are at a terrible distance, as far as if they were on Jupiter. He cleans the balloon of ice and it inmediately begins to pull his arm towards the sky. An idea rises on his brain and he takes it to the ship. The scene is highly bizarre, the steward walking over the white landscape pulling the balloon as if he were a child who has lost his way from his parents in the spring fair. He ties the balloon with a rope in the rigging of the ship and enters the Captain´s cabin to tell the news to the officer which is lying ill on a bunk. After a while and seeing that the ballon seems to float well after having cleaned it of ice, the steward takes measures of the latitude and the longitude assisted by the officer, but unfourtunately he commits an error measuring the longitude. He waits for the warmest day of september and then he releases the balloon. This one helped by the solar radiation, which warms up the gas inside the balloon, goes up quickly and it is quickly lost of sight in the sky while going eastwards...

  8. Yes, Victoria Land. The latitude and longitude given are in the NW corner of a lake in Victoria Land, totally inaccessible by sea, and therefore impossible (though Hooper couldn't have known this) as a location for HMS Erebus.

    The details as to the gas from from the New York Times, which reprinted the Times of London; the relevant bit reads as follows:

    "The balloon was full of gas, and was sufficiently bound, although the gas was very gradually escaping when brought into the house, to maintain its erect position for the rest of the evening, during which it remained in the dining-room. It was afterwards taken out on account of the offensive smell of the gas."

    This is peculiar. Balloon gas would have had to be hydrogen at this point (helium, much scarcer, wasn't found on earth until 1882. Hydrogen is odorless. So, for that matter, is natural gas for home heat or illumination; in the US at least, odorants such as mercaptan weren't added until 1937. So not only would neither gas have a smell, the very idea that gas would be smelly would not seem to have been current in 1851.

    Sir John Franklin was not, in any case, supplied with balloons, although Baden-Powell had suggested they be. They could conceivably have stitched one together, and made hydrogen on board ship using sulphuric acid and zinc powder, if they had any -- but the odds of it reaching an English garden are really nil.

    1. Might H2S (hydrogen sulphide), which smells bad, be a contaminant in the gas produced by reacting H2SO4 (sulphuric acid) with Zn?

    2. Other balloonists reacted iron filings with sulphuric acid, Wellman, for example, around 1909. By Airship to the North Pole, An Archaelogy of Human Exploration, by P.J. Capelotti

    3. Iron works better than zinc for making hydrogen. Wellman's gas was so pure and odourless that they had to odorize it so they would be able to detect any leaks. So the smell in the small balloon is unlikely to have come from the process used to produce it.

  9. Sorry for autocorrect error: "sufficiently bound" in my post just now should read "sufficiently buoyant!" --RP

  10. Thank you very much for this new information Russell.

    I´ve also corrected in my post the name of the island (I used my memory to name it and of course I made a mistake, it is the Victoria Island not Banks Island as I wrote). I´ve continued the discussion in your last post with my last thought is that perhaps that mysterious gas could have been acetylene, though this gas when it is pure is odorless, when it is obtained from calcium carbide it smells strongly, I know this well from my experience as speleologist when we used Carbid lamps.

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