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.

martes, 23 de diciembre de 2014


Time ago a follower of my blog, personal friend and archenemy of mine irrupted in one of my posts saying that he was dissappointed because he was expecting to read something about Doctor Who and there was nothing about him on it. Now, I can say that I consider I could have fulfilled his expectancies because finally, I have found the "lost link" between the Franklin expedition and Doctor Who.

Followers of both topics will be delighted of knowing that there is a fictional story available in the form of podcasts in internet. It is composed of eight episodes through which you can spend several days with the men of the Franklin expedition, listening their voices, while they were trapped in the ice.

I have begun to listen them and I have to say that I am enjoying it. The writer was well informed, there are certain small details, like for example the fact that the surgeon John Smart Peddie was recently married, which makes the atmosphere more credible. There is a review about the story here.

The story has been written by Richard A. Franklin. I wonder if there is any family connection between him and Sir John Franklin, that would undoubtedly close the circle. But, not only that, could exist also a relation of descendancy between William Hartnell, the english actor who incarnated Doctor Who from 1963 to 1966, and the Hartnell brothers which were on board the Franklin´s ships?. 

It could happen that after all it might be more than one simple connection between the Franklin expedition and Doctor Who...

William Hartnell - English Actor

Time will say, but for the moment I have been able only to climb his family tree to his grand parents (mother side) who were Elizabeth Hartnell (b. 1851) and William Hartnell (b. 1848) both from Devon. I have no idea about who could have been his father. The Hartnell brothers comes from Gillingham, Kent which is right on the opposite side of the island.

 The three remaining siblings of John and Thomas were born in the eighteen twenties: Mary Ann (born 1826), Charles (born 1828), and Betsey (born 1832). So, I would only need to climb a branch more of the William´s family tree to find if there really is any connection between William Hartnell of Doctor Who and the Hartnell family of the Franklin expedition. However, as it used to happen with Franklin expedition issues, that link is impossible to find. 

You can find and download the podcasts in this link:


lunes, 22 de diciembre de 2014


After the recent discovery of a portrait of Lt. John Irving by a fellow Franklinite in an on-line picture library from Edinburgh called Capital Collections, I thought, why could not I find another portrait of a member of the Franklin expedition in that same place? 

I, obviously, took the muster roll of the HMS Terror, and began to check the origins of her officers. Then, I found that John Smart Peddie, the surgeon of the Terror was from Edinburgh too, like Irving. Well, I have to say that I found nothing in Capital Collections but while I was digging in his life to ascertain where did he came from, I learnt some details about his life which I didn´t know. 

First, I was surprised when I learnt that he joined the Franklin Expedition with 29 years old. He had been recently promoted from assistant surgeon to surgeon few months before departing in 1845. Wouldn´t have been more appropiate for an expedition like that a more experienced surgeon? The age of Stephen Stanley, the surgeon of the Terror is not known, so, I have nothing to compare with ...unless I began another study about average ages of surgeons in Polar expeditions, which, thinking on it well, I could do too....why not?.

I read the article named "The men who sailed with Franklin"  where is mentioned that previously to get on board the Terror, Peddie, came from the ship "William and Mary", however, it is not mentioned which may have been likely his first appointment. A ship with the evoking name of HMS Sparrow, where he, allegedly, entered the 20th of december of 1836 not long after  having obtained the licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh as assistant surgeon. Interestingly, the HMS Sparrow was built in Pembroke docks, the same shipyard where it was built the Erebus. 

HMS Sparrow??
View of the Harbour of Port Louis - Berkley Sound, East Falkland

The HMS Sparrow was, during the years 1837-39, part of the British Naval Expedition to the Falkland Islands commanded by Lt. Robert Lawcay. We have no reasons to think that Peddie did not form part of that expedition, so, if this fact is true, then we would have added a significant piece at his biography.

As I said before, I could not find any portrait of him, not even searching with the key words of "Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh". I thought that all those men might have been portrayed to be shown in a gallery of the college...but they are not. I found, though, which could be the portrait of his father, James Peddie, an architect of Edimburgh, who was born in 1776 and who died in 1837, a year after John Smart Peddie had joined the Royal Navy. Dates and name are coincident, which is not much but for now, and for me,  enough  to consider it as "likely":

James Peddie, Likely the father of John Smart Peddie
EDITED 1/8/2016
New information provided by Samuel Hare, whose Great-great-great-great grandfather was John Greig Stewart, quartermaster on the Erebus during the Antarctic expedition of 1839-42, confirms my theory. Samuel photographied brother and father´s grave of John Smart Peddie in Inverkeithing, Scotland, a small town located in the Firth of Forth, not far from Edimburgh. He kindly have passed me the pictures of James and Robert´s grave which I have, at the same time, added to the collection of pictures of Arctic explorers on which Stephen, Nicholson and Russell Potter are working for now.

James and Robert´s Peddie grave in Inverkeithing, Scotland
Pictures taken by Samuel Hare.

The plaque on the grave clearly states that James Peddie was an architect, so it seems the little mistery has been solved. The plaque also contains the name of John Smart Peddie, indicating that he sailed with the 1845 expedition in HMS Terror.

Having said that, I would like to add here, that if someone had any information about John Greig Stewart to share with us, it would be very welcome.

What remains of John Smart Peddie is a spoon which must be in some drawer at the Royal Maritime Museum of Greenwich. It seems that it was found in Starvation Cove to be given afterwards by some Inuit to John Rae. 

A fiddle-pattern silver dessert spoon owned by John Smart Peddie 

If Peddie was the one who was still using this spoon till the moment it was dropped in the muddy ground of the Starvation Cove beach, then, it was Peddie one of the ones who reached the farthest point of the route. It is a moving thinking consider that Peddie could have been driven by the powerful desire to see his daughter again, a daughter who was born in july of 1844 and baptised in january of 1845.

He could have been one of the few who found strength beyond the human limits to try to save his life pushing his will against the boundaries of his physical and psychical resistance. Unfortunately, he did not succeeded nor his daugther succeeded on surviving too. By the time Peddie was struggling  in 1849 against all hope to reach his family, his little daughter was dying in Woolwich, Kent.

As it happened with the vast majority of the 129 men who were on board the Erebus and Terror, Peddie doesn´t have any grave which you could visit to pay respects. From 125 of the men, you can  only find pieces of bones and skulls scattered all along King William Island or memorials distributed among Britain and other far places like Hobart in Tasmania. 

In the case of John Smart Peddie, he and his daughter were lucky enough to count with a small plaque as an individual memorial It is in the pathway of a church in Charlton, in the south east of London. This small stone, with some moving words carved on it, still provokes sad feelings on those who read them and it brings you to the reality that each of the men of the Franklin expedition left a life behind.

Those words are slowly dissapearing but they are still visible. Surely, this plaque was ordered by his wife, Eliza Matilda Harcorn, who lived till the year 1906. She surely would have prefered to avoid being witness of how subsequent  searching expeditions, year after year, brought news from the arctic with no essential new information. Nothing of which was brought from the arctic told her where his husband had breathed for last time or where his bones were resting.

"In memory of Annie Eliza PEDDIE, daughter of John Peddie, Esq., Surgeon, R.N. and Eliza Matilda, his wife, died 12 February 1849, aged 4½ years. 

"Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for us such is the Kingdom of God". 

Also in memory of John Stuart Peddie, Esq., father of the above, Surgeon H.M.S. Terror, who perished in the Polar Regions in the Expedition under Capt. John FRANKLIN."

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014



Not few of us have felt frustrated at some point for the lack of daguerrotypes available about the Franklin expedition itself and about other expeditions of that time. It is true that photography was beginning to walk its first steps, but by the time of the Franklin expedition some photographers were quite active and thanks to them we have a handful of Dags where we can admire part of the participants of that expedition. Sometimes we only have had access to engravings published on the newspapers of the time which were in turn based on actual daguerrotypes. Likely, those original pictures are not longer available, and this is even more frustrating, because you can scratch the image with your fingers, get a general idea about how those men really were, but at the same time, you are also conscious that there will never be chances to contemplate the actual countenances of the men who made possible the discovery of the Northwest Passage. 

This is the case of Kalli or Caloosa or Qualasirssuaq or of the also called Erasmus York. He was one of the Inuit guides who accompanied the Horatio Austin expedition from 1850 to 1851. He was photographed at some point, surely the same day he reached British shores, by the famous photographer Richard Beard. His portrait appeared in the cover of the Ilustrated London News the 25th of october of 1851. Much have been written about him, specially here on its Memoirs. Through the reading of this document written by the Rev. T.B. Murray, you will get closer to this poor man. You will cry with him the death of his father, will breath the cold air of the arctic during his days in the Penny and Ommanney expedition, will live with him during his stay at Canterbury, will visit London and will learn other astounding things about his life, like for example that Kalli had a twin brother.

But his life, though interesting is not the subject of this post. Summarizing, Qualasirssuaq was picked up in Cape York  to guided the Captain Erasmus Ommanney on board the HMS Assistance. His main task was contrasting the information supplied by Adam Beck, an Inuit interpreter, which had asserted that the crews of the Franklin ships have been massacred while they still were on their ships. He could not be returned to his land during the return trip and ended studying in St Agustine´s College in Canterbury. There he helped to finish a dictionary Inuit - British and was baptized in St. Martin´s Church near Canterbury in 1853 in the presence of the John Franklin´s daughter, Eleanor, while the sermon was performed by her husband Joseph Phillip Gell.

NOTE: It deserves to make a short stop here, and extract from the book refered above an anecdote which happened during his time with Erasmus Ommaney during the 1850-51 expedition. It is about when his tribe was invited to see how the steam engines of the ships worked :

"As no steamer had ever before found its way to these seas, it was interesting to watch the impression upon the singular beings now visited, when they descended into the engine-room. The large furnaces and machinery astonished them. The latter, on being put in motion, made them take to their heels with fright, and they ran out of the engine-room on deck as fast as they could."

One can´t help thinking on if a visit could have been performed by the Inuit to the ships of the Franklin expedition when they met near King William Island.

It seems that during his stay there he made some sketches about Inuit life which are still preserved in the Canterbury Cathedral and it seems that he even made a chair which still exists in the St Martin´s church gardens.

The Esquimaux Erasmus York

The posture of Kalli in the picture is strikingly similar to the pose of the officers of the Franklin Expedition who were photographed by Richard Beard. Does that mean that Beard, after taking those pictures of Franklin and Co. was somehow captivated  about their fate? I would say, judging for this picture and others allegedly taken by him of McClinctock and others, that he closely followed the steps of all of the men who went to the arctic after Franklin till the point that I would swear that he could have been waiting for them in the docks.

Illustrated London News 25th October 1851

Qualasirssuaq was also portraited in several paintings. The first portrait (below), dated in 1851, surely was made while studying in Canterbury or perhaps after recently arrived (notice his smiling face): 

Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), circa 1832/5-1856


This second portrait dated in 1855 is quite different, surely done back in Labrador, his posture makes him resembling older and you can notice his sick-like countenance:


His end, unfortunately, was not very different to that of some of the men of the Franklin expedition, he acquired a mortal sickness during the winter 1855-56  which ended fatally after he had a bath in the cold waters of a lake close to the place were he was continuing his studies in Labrador. The surgeon report said: "Melanosis. The whole sustance of his lungs was black". This is in fact an early and sad end for a man who had been loved for all the people who had surrounded him all his time since he was picked up in the HMS Assistance and for a man who had been dramatically separated from his family.

Kalli´s Memorial in Newfoundland
The case of Kalli was nor the first nor the last of others on which Inuit people were brought to Europe. Thank Goodness, this time he was not exhibited as a part of a show like Francis Hall did time after with Tookolito and his family, but more the contrary, he was taken to London by Erasmus Ommanney to visit its most beautiful monuments, exhibitions and museums and taken to Canterbury to visit the Cathedral.

Legacy:  It seems that in the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum exists a copy of the book "Arctic Miscellanies" based on the articles writen by the men in a newspaper called: "Aurora Borealis" during the Ommanney´s expedition of 1850-1851. The book has been, or currently is, available here. In this book there are present some of the Kalli´s thoughts or quotes during his days on board. The one I have read in this link which I have consulted (posted by K. Martin) could perfectly have been used as his epitaph and sounds ironic considering his story and final fate:

"If England is so great, why did you leave?"

Note about the origin of the title of the post: From the memoirs of Erasmus York 

"Compliance with the precept in the Old Testament, "Love ye the stranger," becomes a delight as well as a duty in such an instance as that about to be recorded, especially when we consider the affecting injunction conveyed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

domingo, 19 de octubre de 2014


How many times have we heard or read this sentence or similar others like this?: 

"In 1845 the one hundred and twenty nine men of the Franklin expedition dissapeared in the Arctic and were never seen again".

Could we assert this fact and be one hundred percent sure we are right? or perhaps should we consider the possibility that the composition of the expedition was in fact one hundred and twenty eight men and a woman? Could we say that each one of the  components of the Franklin expedition was a man?

Why should I suggest that there could be women or girls on board one of the ships, Erebus or Terror, or perhaps in both of them?. Unfortunately, I haven´t any clue which could suggest such thing, any at all, but agree with me that this is a tempting thought and besides, they wouldn´t be the first ships on doing it. There were precedents.

The Royal Navy didn´t accept women on board their ships in the nineteenth century and before, they were considered a bad omen but, however, it happened, and it happened with some frequency. Who could distinguish a girl from a boy of around ten years old dressed with the clothes of a cabin boy.

There are a few number of documented cases of women who went on board ships. Sometimes they boarded voluntarily looking for earning more money, looking for freedom or only to accompany their lovers. In other cases, the less glamurous ones, they were forced by their partners to go on board. In both cases they had to conceal their gender having to dress up like men. 

Cabin Boy (*)
(*) If I had to bet, I would bet that this particular Cabin boy appearing in Wikipedia was in fact a girl. Were all the cabin boys of that time disguised women?

If we study the particular case of the nineteenth century polar expeditions..., What could be more tempting for a sailor in love than bringing her beloved girlfriend on board his ship when this was destined to stay at least three years far from her? What could be more tempting for a girl or woman than participating in the longest and more isolated expeditions of that time?. In case of being discovered they couldn´t be dismissed in the middle of the arctic archipielago, and the layers and layers of thick clothing will help them to protect their hidden secret. What better chances could have a woman than in an enviroment of a relaxed discipline and of not much corporal higiene where flogging was scarce and bathing was even more scarce?.

There are a number of known cases. At least three happened as early as the eighteen century: Hannah Snell, Mary Anne Talbot  and Anna Maria Real others  were reported in the mid nineteenth century like the one of Anne Jane Thornton who travelled from England to America after her love.

Mary Ann Talbot

The stories of some of the women mentioned above are described with some detail in the blog "Sailors in disguise" and also here in the section "Crossdressing sailors" of this blog. Of special interest is the case of Mary Anne. The story of a young girl of about ten years old which enroled the Royal Navy as a consecuence of a dramatic family situation. The story is told here by one of the officers who discovered the issue and who, through his words, reveals the crew´s fondness toward this girl:

Though perhaps it could be considered strange, women caught while acting as men were simply dismissed from the Navy without retaliation, however, those caught practicing sodomy, were not so lucky. There is a particular case where in the same ship were caught a girl who pretended being a boy and also a Lieutenant who was reported for abusing of a boy. The Lieutenant was condemned to gallows and a testimony of the girl against the lieutenant was taken into consideration during the trial even after having revealed her identity,

The astonishing case of William Cavendish (Mary Lacy) who was carpenter of a war ship during the seven years war, reveals that, at least for my understanding, somehow, the Admiralty was aware of these kinds of practices. She was not only not punished  but she even received her deserved pension  when she retired after revealing the authorities she was actually a woman. Her case was famous later after she published her own experiences in the book: "The History of the Female Shipwright".

Other tales are more tragic, sometimes sailors were found out to be women when their bodies were recovered from the sea. I wonder if we still could be surprised if the forensic analisys of some of the skulls found in King William Island reveals some day that one of the men of the Franklin expedition was in fact a woman.
Hanna Snell

There are several subjects related with the Royal Navy about which is hard to find enough literature, I talked about one of them when I dug about sexuals aspects of  polar expeditions. The other subject is this one, the presence of women at sea in the Royal Navy during the age of sailing. The National Maritime Museum has made a guide which compiles several sources of information which address directly this issue:

In the National Maritime Museum link you can find interesting titles which one can´t avoid feeling tempted to read:

Iron Men and Wooden Women: Gender and seafaring in the Atlantic World 1700–1920

Women Under Sail: Letters and Journals concerning eight women travelling or working in sailing Vessels between 1829 & 1949
Sailors in Skirts : a Serendipity of Sea-faring Incidents

One thing is certain, it was a common fact that those women who enroled in Navy ships outstanded by their bravery and sense of duty. Some of them even climbed ranks to the point of becoming captains of the foretop and they  always were very well considered by their mates.

However, I believe we have little chances this fact could have happened in, for example, the Franklin expedition. The boys on board Erebus and Terror were not so young to allow a girl could be confused for a boy. Robert Golding, Thomas Evans, George Chambers and David Young were all of around eighteen years old.

martes, 30 de septiembre de 2014


Today, it has been unveiled a plaque honouring Dr John Rae, the explorer, "The greatest Arctic explorer of them all", said some people, the "Peerless Rae" said others, "The forgotten", "The vilifed" think others.

Dr. John Rae
By Beatriz Garrido Ponce
And yes, it is true, he was forgotten, he was criticized and he was never forgiven by some people, and the things remained in that way for ages. But, like the history of the discovering of the Northwest Passage continues demonstrating us, recent chains of unexpected events will shift the course of the waters and this "status quo" could be changed after all. 

The waters would be again in movement after the melting of the ice of the frozen waters of the merits and credits deserved for this great man. It wasn´t till "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan was published that a truly movement to recover the image of Rae began to fill the minds of those who have been always interested in some way or other in the fate of the Franklin expedition. A movement which even has been given form of a Society, The John Rae Society.  

John Rae is being now, surely while I am writing, forgiven for something that he did not do. Rae, had the dubious pleasure of being the first on discovering the fate of the Franklin expedition during his expedition of 1854. His sin was discovering something that anybody in Britain actually wanted to know and he bore news the world was not prepared to understand. He was criticized for telling the world that the men of the Franklin expedition had resorted to Canibalism to prolong their existence, he was blamed for believing the Inuit, who told him all those incredible and awful stories, and he was pursued for not having gone to King William Island when he had the chance to corroborate all that madness.


He was blamed in the same way that Apsley Cherry-Garrard would be attacked after the last Scott´s expedition. Thousands of voices cried and never forgave Cherry-Garrard for not pressing harder, for not reaching the place where Scott was staying inside his tent, thousands of voices cried and  never forgave Rae for not reaching King William Island and not verifying the stories which were told him by the Inuit in 1854. 

The sad truth and real pity, though he was never criticised for it, was that he was really close to find some decisive clues during his expedition of 1851, if not eventually a member of the Franklin expedition still alive,  when he repeatedly tried to cross Victoria Strait towards King William Island, thing that unfortunately never happened. 

King William Island and Surroundings

Now that one of the ships of the Franklin expedition has been found, exactly where the Inuit said it would be found, it is clearer than anytime, that the Rae´s sources were highly reliable, that it wasn´t necessary to travel to King William Island to check all those testimonies, that he took the good decisions and did the correct thing. 

It is almost ironic than within the same month these two events have taken place. Three if we consider that Scotland had a Referendum and voted No to the independece. The world should recognise this, the Inuit, were right, the ship was where it was supposed to be, and that Rae, was right too, the Franklin expedition ended as the Inuit told him, as forensic analisys of the bones found, revealed time after. And one have to wonder (thinking bad) if this homage would have been canceled if Scotland would have said yes.

But, the truth, is that Rae is going to be forgiven for something he  didn´t actually do. He discovered the sad end of Franklin and his men but he never pretended to unveil the darkest details of what was told him. His news traveled fastest than him and reached the newspapers in Britain before he could do anything against it. Even Dickens conceded him that it was the Admiralty´s fault.

Charles Dickens circa 1860
It is tempting to think that Rae could have intentionally delivered  this information to spread the image of how futile were the old fashioned ways of the Royal Navy of performing Arctic expeditions, though this I find this very unlikely, and the history says that it was the Admiralty which finally delivered those news to the general public. Who knows, perhaps there was a mole in that hole...

The mortal duel performed by  Rae and his archenemy Dickens, the armed wing of Lady Franklin, lasted years and there were no winners, but there was a loser. Rae´s image received damaged to the core and he spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions. Interestingly, Rae, applied a similar treatment to Charles Francis Hall, this is a fact not very well known which I have learnt reading "Strangers Among us" by Woodman. Rae tried to discredit all the Inuit´s stories told to Hall.

But that duel was condemned to last from his death to these days. The credit for the discovery of the last link for the Northwest Passage has been discussed, is being discussed now and will be discussed perhaps forever. Rae discovered one of the last pieces of the puzzle, Rae´s strait, a detour which Amundsen took during the first sailed crossing of the passage, a key piece.

Rae not only played the role of Cherry-Garrard in the sense of being the target of the wrath of the media but also acted as a sort of Amundsen. To me, Rae was one of the first man on practicing a modern way to explore, a sportive way of exploration. He performed astonishing trecks alone in the coldest months of the winter in a way that now only the best prepared sportsman can do. He learned the way to live off the land frome the Inuit and knew well how to travel fast on the snow as Amundsen knew too.

Roald Amundsen
By Beatriz Garrido Ponce
John Rae´s revenge is not that he could be proclaimed as the first on discovering the last link of the Northwest Passage, to me his revenge is that he can be proclaimed an authentic and modern explorer, revolutionary for his time, a resortful man who really had chances to survive in that enviroment. The comparison betwen Amundsen and Scott at this point is inevitably. That is to me his real revenge that he should be considered as a real explorer even compared with the current standards.

Acnowledgements: Special thanks to my friend Beatriz Garrido Ponce for giving me this wonderful portraits of John Rae and Roald Amundsen which were painted by her. My interest about the Franklin Expedition has present me with a lot of friends all over the world, some of who I have the inmense pleasure to meet in person. She is one of them, Thanks Bea!.

Thanks also to Ken McGoogan for serving me as inspiration as the title of this post.

sábado, 27 de septiembre de 2014


That would be a dream, wouldn´t it? or perhaps a nightmare,  depends on the point of view.

Many of us would consider it a miracle, and we would have, for sure, thousands of questions to ask him, but, no, I am not a post modern version of Charles Francis Hall. Too much time has passed and no matter how naive we could be, there are no chances to find any of the members of the Franklin expedition wandering in the cold air of that flat piece of ground called Hat Island.

No, we are never going to find them alive, but we have been pretty close to do it. The three men buried in Beechey Island, who will be forever sadly remembered for having those sinister grins, were so wonderfully preserved, that some people have dared to say that one even could expect them to speak. Not so well preserved, though, as Walt Disney, of course, who is waiting in his frozen throne and will wait forever to be woken up in the future, but quite well, indeed. 

The rest of the men of the Franklin expedition, found in King William Island, Todd Island, Starvation Cove and Montreal Island, were far to be considered alive. Skulls and bones spread all over the ground. The identification of almost all of them has been impossible. Most of them have been gathered, buried and put under cairns or into boxes. 

Skulls and bones of the men of the Franklin expedition
Two lucky men were buried back in Britain, one in Edinburgh (allegedly identified as Irving) and other under the Franklin Memorial in Greenwich, (Identificated at first as Le Vesconte and more recently as Harry Goodsir).

Grave of Lieut. John Irving, RN, who died on Franklin's expedition

But, don´t desperate, there are still chances to find well preserved bodies of the Franklin expedition, though this time I hope they won´t be shown  naked and emaciated so publicly, as if they were the poor and old Ötzi the iceman. 

Some of us are still dreaming with finding a well constructed grave with an undisturbed Franklin buried inside. A Franklin with a calmed countenance, as if he were sleeping. But now a new field of hope has appeared in our frustrated horizons, now we have the chance of finding bodies or parts of them under the sea. The recent discovery of one of the ships, (The Erebus or the Terror) in the vecinity of O´Reilly Island, and above all, its wonderful state of preservation, make us to think that some human remains could be found on board.

As far as I know, it is extremely rare to find human remains in such old shipwrecks, but it is not  completely impossible. In fact there are more cases than I thought at first, and some of them have revealed  astonishing findings to the world.

I am going to review, cursorily, some of the most impressive cases which I have found:

1.- Royal ship Kronan sank in 1676 during the battle on Öland in front of the shores of Sweden with 800 people on board .

Photo by Lars Einarsson/Kalmar Läns Museum

The bad news are that of the total of losses, only the rests of two men were found. The good news are that these remains were found after 340 years lying under the sea. They were so well preserved that even one of the skulls had traces of brain tissues. This happened because the men remained enclosed in an air bubble in one of the decks. That fact, which was a blessing for the archaeologist and scientists, surely meant a nightmare for the poor two men who were carried to the bottom of the sea while they were still able  to breath, condemned to a slow and tragic death. 

2.- HMS Victory, not the one which is still floating in Portsmouth, but one of its predecessors which sank in 1744 in the English channel.

Canon of the HMS VIctory
NOTE: That rounded thing under thoses fishes is not the skull though it looks like one.
The human remains, a skull and few bones were found under one of the cannons. There is an article about them, a very interesting one, where you can see the skull and bones. The bones under the cannon shows still a pale yellow colour, while the skull and others, exposed directly to the water were black as coal.

3.- La Belle sank in Matagorda in the Texas´s coast in 1686 after a dramatic struggle of the crew to  stay alive. 

The French sailor of La Belle had a wallet with him with two combs. The amazing fact, is that this skeleton was still articulated, it had tendons and soft tissues which  kept joined the bones. The skull still had part of the brain intact inside.  It is encouraging the thinking of that if any body is found in the Franklin ship, it could still have some documents with him or some belonging which could help to identify him.

These three cases are the most significant which I have found but there were other cases: The Vassa, HMS Pandora, Orient, Fitzgerald, etc..


As the article mentioned above reads, the searching of human bones in shipwrecks is an undeveloped area, which is a pity. This, must be a frustrating discipline. Each one of those old shipwrecks was usually accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of deaths, so, why is commonly so little found bones?. 

With some luck, divers have been able to find only two or three skulls and a small number of bones in a shipwreck on which hundreds of people have drowned. The chances of finding human remains in shallow waters increases. A human body decompose in water much more quickly than when it is buried in the ground, In less than three weeks only the bones remain. The probabilities increases when the bodies have been caught under the decks or when they have been caught under some sort of load. The main enemy of the recovery of human remains are the exposure to underwater currents. Lying under some sort of cover or buried in sand can prevent the corpses of being exposed to aerobic enviroments. When this happen, then, there are even hopes of obtaining DNA from those bones. 

Nothing is mentioned in the article or in the news which I have read about the effect of cold waters on these stages of preservation, but it would be interesting to know what effect could have this parameter in the formula.

You can find the examples exposed here and others in this interesting article:

martes, 9 de septiembre de 2014


Yes, the Franklinite world is in the middle of a conmotion, a revolution, it is in the middle of a complete shock!!

One of the ships have been found, its name it is still unknown but they have found one of them and it is in excellent conditions. I don´t like to bet but I will do this time. In the end, I have 50 % of chances to hit the target...so...I bet this is the Terror. That it is not exactly an idea of my own, it has been inspired from the Thomas Gould´s map . 

If this ship is in fact the HMS Terror, then this would be the ship which drifted westward in front of the shores of Adelaide Peninsula, and then the other ship, the HMS Erebus, would be sunken in the surroundings of O´Reilly island. The time will tell us.

Well, friends, the news are fresh, you can find now lots of details about it in Internet but still, and quoting X-files, "The truth is-still- out there!!" 

I hope that soon, perhaps even today, we will have more fresh news, and perhaps in some days, we could see the first items rescued from this ship at the bottom of the sea near Hat Island. Who knows, they could recover even the camera which the Franklin Expedition carried with them....

Congratulations to all those who have been waiting dozens of years for this very moment. I have to say that this day is being very special and that me, a recently arrived to this world, am really touched. 

I was hooked years ago by the mystery of the disappearance of George Mallory during his ascension in the north ridge of the Everest when suddenly his body was found. Now, for second time in my life I am glad to say that the history has invited me to attend another fascinating event. When you are following closely these kind of stories and something like this happens, one, can´t avoid feeling as a part of it, as if it was you who had phisically find it. It is like finishing an excellent novel.

I sincerely hope that this is going to be only the beginning of a much more astonishing chains of facts and stories to be told and I hope too that these few things that Parks Canada have found in the ground in Hat Island will be only the top of an iceberg of lots of things still to be discovered.

I wish the best luck to the searching team and I reiterate my congratulations to those historians, archaeologists, journalists, descendants, writers, painters, cartoonist, enthusiasts and freakies like me which have suffered and enjoyed being hooked for the fascinating mistery of the Franklin expedition (and who will forever be).

domingo, 24 de agosto de 2014


The combination of my recent reading of "Captain Francis Crozier, last man standing" by Michael Smith and my brand new fourties, have made me reflect about what was the limit age to participate or even to command an arctic expedition.

It is well known that the Royal Navy recruited men since the early age of eleven or twelve. but, what was the maximum age to participate in an arduous and hazardous arctic expedition?

It has been widely discussed the suitability of the Franklin´s age of 59  to command the expedition which carried him to his death, but it has not been so widely discussed how ideal or not was the age of other explorers which formed part of other expeditions of the kind. I am speaking about people like Dr Richardson., John Ross, John Hepburn, and surely about others.

Doctor Richardson, with 61 years old, accompanied John Rae in the overland rescue expedition of 1848-49. He turned back in the spring of 1849 and arrived at Liverpool a day after his 62 birthday, the 6th november of 1849 while Rae, twenty six years younger than Richardson pressed further north. As Michael Smith describe it, this was one of those mamooth expeditions towards the north shores of Canada which tipically involved walking thousands of miles across the wilderness and descending wild rivers.

Dr. Richardson.
John Hepburn, the hero of the Coppermine expedition of 1819 signed, with 57 years old, in the rescue mission commanded by Kennedy in 1851 . The hardships which he endured cost him, with almost all certainty, a slow death during the subsequent years. 

National Portrait Gallery

As in the case of Richardson, what drove Hepburn to go on board an expedition ,which aim was finding Franklin, was love and the friendship he devoted to him. 

But, by far, the most outstanding and astonishing case is that of John Ross. It was the most extreme. The man, a revolutionary and clever mind for his time, broke all the non written rules and, at the age of 73, organised his own expedition and, faithfull to a promise he did to Franklin before departing, sailed to the arctic in 1850 to rescue him.

Tips images
John Ross from tipsimages

Ross senior, not only set a record marching towards the arctic as such age, but he also surely beat other record at joining the navy at the early age of nine years old.

To me, after reading a relative amount of books about the discovery of the Northwest passage, John Ross and his stubborn mind occupies in my opinion a privileged place in the podium of the best arctic explorers. Apart of the incident of the Croker mountains, which I believe was a hidden plan to book tickets for a future opening of the Northwest Passage for himself, Ross Sr. was correct when using a small ship and a tiny crew for the exploration of such shallow straits and he was also a pioneer and a visionary in using a steam boat to attempt to cross it. His fight against cold and scurvy during the expedition of 1829 to 1833 could be compared in merits with the worldwide known Shackleton's feat of survival in the antarctic. 

The strong will of Ross drove him to the arctic even at a age when most of his contemporary mates have already dead, that is what I call a true polar explorer.

lunes, 4 de agosto de 2014


With the change of the decade, the mine, some reflections have arisen about how the elders are treated in the modern society. Speaking about this I have remembered something I read, not long time ago, about that incident of which Charles Francis Hall was witness during his years in the arctic while searching for the Franklin expedition.  
From: http://www.athropolis.com/arctic-facts/fact-hall.htm
This incident was no other than a case of senilicide. Particularly, an old woman was locked into an igloo in order to be left there to die from cold and starvation. Hall was so shocked and touched about this action that he re-opened the igloo and tried during long hours, if not days, to save the life of that poor old woman. It seems however that this concrete measure was a very rare practice, being prefered by the people quicker methods which were usually applied with great regret and pain and almost always under request of the elder. 

All the things I have learnt about this practice are in this paper written in 1941. It is an interesting analysis about the most shocking habits and costumes of the Inuit people:

Regents Professor Emeritus of anthropology at the University of Minnesota

E. Adamson Hoebel, Law-Ways of the Primitive Eskimos, 31 Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 663 (1940-1941)

This subject will surely resurrect among the readers the issue of the consideration as barbarism or not of some of the Inuit costumes followed by the time of the Franklin expedition, and from the reading of the lines which follow, it will resurrect the famous debate and discussions between the recently post humously awarded John Rae and the big Charles Dickens. Both, spokesmen of two antagonistict worlds. 

If you want to know my opinion, which you surely won´t, I think that those unfairly called barbarian costumes are not more than the result of long ages of evolution and survival practicing in extreme environments. We are speaking here about infanticide, senicilide, cannibalism, and others alleged monstruosities. Not the most pleasent things to speak about  during the tea time, but the things which can make the difference between living or dying during the long arctic winters at 50 or less degrees Celsius below zero and after a week or more without eating NOTHING. The same C.F.Hall was trapped in an igloo for several days with a couple of Inuit through of which they were unable to hunt or fish anything. He suffered and shared then on his own skin and bones the risks these people were assuming in their daily life. One should not judge if have not lived in that conditions and time ever.

But, it is not the senicilide which has brought me here to write this post, but the always polemic and morbid cannibalism. In the pg. 11 of this article is discussed how was legally treated this particular issue by the Inuit people. It is surely a coincidence that part of the information we can read in the article about this comes from a man from King William Island. Please, read his whole assessment in the article to understand his point of view, but his conclusion matches, I believe, the same conclusion that the great part of the people could adopt  under the necessary circunstances simply applying their common sense:

 "How can one who is in good health and well fed expect to understand the madness of starvation? We only know that every one of us has the same desire to live"

Interestingly, cannibalism, is considered, and according with the article, by the Inuit law as:

"an emergency measure, socially recognized, acceptable and regrettable"

It is socially recognized till the point you could legally kill and eat members of your own family, and that apparent horrid fact, wouldn´t be considered an homicide and it would be accepted by their law. It was, however, considered an homicide the killing of people which didn´t belong your own family.

Returning to our beloved Franklin expedition, I would like to highlight another point mentioned in the article and which is related to cannibalism. It is mentioned a case of:

" A voracious Baffin Islander who killed and ate twelve persons in time of famine, without indicating any legal consequences".

This is astonishing. I have no idea about the year on which this happened and I am pretty sure that these cases of multi-homicide were extremely rare even under the worst environmental circunstances, but, our Hollywood-affected and distorted mind could get relaxed for a while and easily imagine, as Dickens did more than a hundred of years ago, that "voracious islander" getting into the camp in Erebus bay in 1848 and killing all the men lying there. It is tempting to fall again in the mistake of accepting that theory which pointed the Inuit tribes as the perpetrators of the disappearance of the men the Franklin´s expedition

Surely the end of the men camped in King William Island was a very different one. According with the Inuit hearsay, those men in Erebus Bay were found frozen and intact inside their tents. But, with the ammount of information available by the time of Dickens, and far from having the current valuable statistics and contrasted technical and anthropological information about the costumes and habits of the Inuit societies we have now, one cannot blame Charles Dickens of reaching certain conclusions.

viernes, 25 de julio de 2014


Inspired by a recent discussion about if a picture which has appeared in an article the Daily Mirror, on which it appears a sledge with a skeleton inside, is actually related or not with the Franklin expedition or not, I decided to offer to the public a compilation of those illustrations and paintings which I currently know which show the boat found by Lieutenant Hobson, from the McClinctock expedition  during his sledge trip to King William Island in 1859


The place has become one of the most characteristics ones in King William Island together with Victory point, Terror bay, Cape Felix and others. The location is now worldwide known as the "Boat place", and it has haunted the imagination of both, the witnesses of the finding and of the people who read in newspapers and narratives what was found there.  The place has been revisited several times after by other searching expeditions but it never showed any substantial information which could help to solve the mystery about the fate of the Franklin expedition. The arrangement of the boat, the bizarreness and uselessness of its content and the position and state of its dead occupants is a mystery itself.  

Nowadays this is thought to be the same archaeological site called NjLG3 which you can locate at the bottom of  Erebus Bay. The location of the place and rest of Franklin relics are available in an interactive map here.   

A detailed description of the boat and its content discovered by Hobson is described thoroughly in the narrative of the expedition "The Voyage of the Fox" or in Russell Potter´s blog here.  But I summarize in few lines how McClintock described the sinister site:

in the morning of the 30th May we encamped alongside a large boat .../...This boat measured 28 feet long, and 7 feet 3 inches wide .../...The weight of the boat alone was about 700 or 800 lbs. only, but she was mounted upon a sledge of unusual weight and strength. there was in the boat that which transfixed us with awe, viz., portions of two human skeletons ! One was that of a slight young person ; the other of a large, strongly-made, middle-aged man. The former was found in the bow of the boat, but in too much disturbed a state .../...The other skeleton was in a somewhat more perfect state ; it lay across the boat, under the after-thwart, and was enveloped with cloths and furs. This would seem tohave been the survivor of the two men whose remains were lying in the boat. .../.. and there were two double-barrelled guns — one barrel in each loaded and cocked — standing muzzle upwards against the boat's side. 

That was a creepy scene, no doubt. There was never elaborated an explainable and satisfying theory which could reasonably explain what happened, there. Why those two men were apparently abandoned, why all the useless things were present all around and why the boat was pointing north when the crews were suppossed to be retreating to the south?.

Contemporary pictures of the place where the boat was found are available in Robert Carlson´s blog here. Robert,  during some time, performed several flights over the island in his brave and personal attempt to locate the lost ships, but of course, nothing remained after about 150 years of what disturbed so much McClintock and Hobson.

If you stop on the following pictures for a while and then you analyse all of them closely, you definitely will start to amaze yourself finding slight differences and details among  the different drawings which at first sight may look pretty similar. Almost in all of them you can invariably find, the boat of course, but also the skeletons, the guns, and some other details like icy walls, which bring you vividly, almost like a photograph could do, the spookyn atmosphere of the scene.

There are however some artistic licences which may find an easy explanation. Though McClintock nor Hobson could find any of the skulls belonging to the two skeletons, these are realisticaly drawn in all the sketches. Surely, the message wouldn´t have been properly conveyed to the avid public with the intensity needed through a headless skeleton crew.

Let´s analyse together all of those sketches and also some of the paintings.

1.- Harper's Weekly, depicts Lt. Hobson as he discovers a boat used by members of the missing Franklin Expedition
This is supposed to be the scene as depicted in the newspaper Harper´s Weekly. It is not clear when  this picture was published.

This illustration, from Harper's Weekly, depicts Lt. Hobson as he discovers a boat used by members of the missing Franklin Expedition. 
From the Russell Potter scan of the original: www.ric.edu/faculty/rpotter/deathfull_sm.jpg
 I have read in an article that this particular sketch was published in "Harper Weekly" in the 20th of october of 1850. That, of course can´t possibly be true for two main reasons, the McClintock expedition discovered the boat in his expedition of 1857 and on the other hand the newspaper "Harper´s Weekly" began its activity with that name precisely that same year, in 1857. So surely, the illustration belongs to some edition of 1859, year on which the Fox came back home.

2.- Discovery of the Franklin expedition boat.” 

This second illustration shows the same event depicted almost identically, and surely by the same author, who by the way is unknown to me. It looks as if it were another frame of the same sequence:

“Discovery of the Franklin expedition boat.” New yorkFrom "Frozen Ocean"


In both of them you can see the same number of people, six explorers, six dogs, two sledges, two skeletons, a boat and two barrelled guns. But besides the fact that one is couloured and the other isn´t, you can notice that the postures of the men and the dogs are slightly different. I have no idea about which other newspaper was this second sketch published.

3.- Discovery of the bodies

Likely, this next one was made based on the previous drawings. I don´t have a clear idea from where this comes, surely from one of those numerous books which were published after McClintock´s findings and talked about the Franklin expedition. 

This time, again, six men are shown removing what could be pieces of  canvas, a coat or some clothing, to show a skeleton inside the boat. On the floor, close to the clothes are what seems to be a pair of boots. A shinny Aurora Borealis in the backgrounf gives the whole scene a certain unrealistic air. 

I haven´t been able to guess who was the author of this drawing, however the drawing has a name written at the bottom which seems to read "Bemable" or something like that. I leave this open to your own investigations.

4.- The discovery of Franklin's party. Source: Morris, Charles

Here, we have another case, this one appears in the book "Finding the North Pole" published in 1909 inside the chapter"The fate of the Sir John Franklin Expedition" in the page number 310. The creepy illustration appears over the name: "McClinctock finding skeletons of Sir John Franklin´s men": 

The discovery of Franklin's party. Source: Morris, Charles: Finding the North Pole by Cook and Peary, W. E. Scull, 1909, 288.http://www.whoi.edu/beaufortgyre/history/franklin_en.html

5.- They forged the last links with their lives'

About the next one, few things I could say which wasn´t already known for those who are fond of these issues. This, is the famous painting by Thomas Smith, painted in 1895 which bears the presumptuous name: 

 "They forged the last links with their lives" 

and which is shown to the general public in the National Maritime Museum together with the disappointing scarce amount of Franklin expedition relics. 

This time, the scene doesn´t represent actual facts but fictional ones. The grey-blue faces of the men lying on the snow still tied to their ropes it is supposed to be an accurate representation of that story told by the Inuit which were witnesses of the final stages of the tragedy. That story which said that the men fell while walking. There is another detail which show us that the author was well informed, the fact that the boat is fitted with a sail which was also part of the Inuit story. 

Though I am far from being sure I have to wonder if the last man standing in this picture is carrying a Halkett boat across his shoulders. One has the temptation of thinking that he effectivley could be Crozier. If that was the intention of the painter, then this could be another wink to the Inuit accounts. 

An interesting and much richer description about this painting and about its author is available in the web page of the National Maritime Museum here".

They forged the last links with their lives': Sir John Franklin's Men Dying by Their Boat During the North-West Passage Expedition by W. Thomas Smith

6.- Starvation Cove" by Julius Von Payer 

Another heavyweight of the collection, and also well known painting related with the discovery of the boats of the Franklin expedition, is that made by Julius Von Payer painted in 1897 which was named "Starvation Cove".

"Starvation Cove" by Julius Von Payer 1897

Again we are before a fictional scene which show some survivors of the Franklin expedition not only fighting against the cold, scurvy, starvation and poisoned tins but also against a hungry polar bear. May this have been the inspiration of the Simmons novel?

7.- Découverte des restes de l'expédition Franklin.

From Voyages et decouvertes outre - mer au XIX siecle we got, perhaps one of the more accurate representation of the finding, at least regarding the actual size of the boat:

Arthur Mangin, Voyages et Découvertes outre-mer au XIXe siècle, illustrations par Durand-Brager, 1863 ː Découverte des restes de l'expédition Franklin.

A variation of this last one has been represented sometimes  alone together with a window on its bottom which shows several of the Franklin expedition relics found, I guess that with the purpose of publishing it in some newspaper of the time. This sequel of the above sketch is signed with the initials: C.W. 

If someone have any clue about its origin, please feel free to enlight me!.

And almost finally, following the advice of Russell Potter who kindly called my attention about this, I have included this picture, which is not a drawing nor a painting, but it could be considered the modern equivalent of them. The photo belongs the David Egan´s play "Tom´s a cold". These characters will be the ones who will be found later skelotonized in the boat. To know more about this play, please visit the Russell´s blog following the link under the picture.

This was all I could gather till the moment, maybe I could find further more images while reading one of those many books about the Franklin expedition which have been written during so many years. For now, this is all I could find to show you all. If for any chance, you some day stumble upon a new sketch about it, please don´t be shy and tell me!