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.

miércoles, 16 de abril de 2014


"Willing to go" - These three words written the 11th july of 1845 show the spirit of a man, not a very well known man  indeed. These three words show actually the spirits of the whole companionship who went together with Sir John Franklin to the Arctic.

Time ago I published a short post here where I tried to draw him. On that time I couldn´t find any specific information about this man. I didn´t have even read the description of him made by james Fitzjames in one of his letters where he was described as a rough but affable man.

James Reid Ice Master of HMS Erebus - Franklin expedition of 1845
From: www.luminous-lint.com
It has been now that I have discovered this short article in The Register (or also called the South Australian Register)   where I have found much more valuable information on which this man is well described and what is even more curious, I have discovered on it that he had in his hands the opportunity to avoid the disaster.

James Reid was a man who kept an intense correpondence with his wife. On one of his letters written to her the spring of the fateful year of 1845 (22th of march 1845) he told his wife that he had been asked by a shipowner to go on board the ship Neptune to sail to Quebec in April. He told her spouse that he refused that offer because he was at this point committed with  Sir John to depart in the Franklin expedition to the North.

His fate was then sealed but his words show an involved man with high expectancies on this particular journey:

"It may be two years, it may be three or four, but I am quite willing to go"

This phrase not only is a demonstration of his mood but it is also the key which teach us that this man, at least on these previous stages of the preparation of the expedition, was more than concious that the expedition could last even four years. A point which has been sometimes questioned, however after, in a letter sent from Whalefish Islands, he mentions that they were carrying only provisions for three years. He continuous:

"Sir John told me that if I went the voyage with him  and landed safely in England again I would be looked after all my life"

In this case, another fact is revealed, the trust which the men of the Franklin expedition had laid on their Commander. A thing which one could easily believe if one analyses the treatment received after previous expeditions for other of his previous companions.

Reading forward he wrote this dark forecast:

"Mr Enderby has been a good friend to me. He will look after you if I should never return"

And follows:

"No doubt there will be a great talk about me going this voyage. . It will show that I am not frightened for my life like some men. It is for you and the family. Why should a man stop at home?"

Saying that "he wouldn´t show he wasn´t frightened" implies to me that he was scared to death about this adventure. Precisely because of his knowledge of the arctic regions and the dangers which the ice involves James Reid surely was one of the more aware about the hell through which they were going to sail .

Another curious thing mentioned in the article is that the officers "had to" buy their own silver spoons and forks. Reid complains about those expenses. Were they obliged to buy their own cutlery?, Was that a formal prescription for the officers?. 

I really don´t know, but if that thing is true, it could explain why so many of this items were found among the belongings of the bodies of the men scattered in King King William Island. If some officers incurred on heavy and disproportionate expenses to afford this purchase, perhaps some of them succumbed to the temptation of carrying those valuable spoons and forks till the end.

And now I have found an astonishing thing. James Reid says:

"Lady Franklin has ordered all the officers' likenesses to be taken, and mine among the rest, with my uniform on. She keeps them all by herself."

My knowledge of English is well known to be insufficient, but I believe this phrase means that it was Lady Franklin who ordered the famous pictures (daguerrotypes) of the officers to be taken by Richard Beard? I didn´t know that detail. I have always read and believed that the idea have come from John Franklin himself. Perhaps Reid was wrong, and was actually Sir John the promoter of such historical action.

The letter continues and then arises another remarkably assertion which hurts for the hidden true it contains and for the sincere love it shows to his beloved wife:

"Keep your heart up. We will both meet again. This voyage will be the last that I will never make."

The next letter was written 80 miles west from Stromness and it show us how this old lad was indeed loved by her employers:
"The first lieutenant calls me his Jolly Old Hero.' He is a good seaman, and so is Capt. Fitzjamcs. He is a fine man, and is next to Sir John Franklin."
Writing from Whalefish Islands in july 1845 he confirms the suggestions that Sir John was in a poor state of health when they departed from London, and that surely the fresh air of the sea had helped him to recover:
"I am glad to acquaint you that Sir John Frankin is quite well, and enjoying better health than when in London"
References to the unusual warmth of the present and the previous seasons are done a couple of times, one mentioning that the previous season the winter was defined by the locals of Greenland as "mild" and other is this:
"I have been a number of 'years in this country, but I never saw it so warm as it has been during the past three days."
I don´t know why but James Reid always had attracted my attention, there was something in his look and posture who inclined me to feel certain fondness to this man.
James Reid left a wife and three sons, who he demonstrated through his writting he loved more than anything else in the world. The apparently rough and veteran seaman had a story behind, a story which was shared by other members of the crews. He had a live, family and friends. He, and the other members of this expedition, abandoned them all forever in the pursuit of a dream.
Good journey "Jolly Old Hero" I sincerely hope we could meet each other someday.

9 comentarios:

  1. Andés, a great find! There are some typos in the original OCR text on the site; I've tried to correct the most egregious of them. Also, above "the last that I will never make" should be "the last that I will ever make.

    Lady Franklin didn't order the photographs, as far as I'm aware (though it's possible she was behind John Franklin's arrangement with Beard, which would be quite like her Ladyship) -- she may have been present and/or supervised their taking, and there's no doubt that she kept one set of all the Dags for herself. The others were, potentially, available to their subjects; Le Vescomte's second (or a copy) seems to have made its way into his family. If we could trace Reid's wife, perhaps she did eventually receive the "likeness" which Reid had apparently planned to send her!!

  2. Well done, Andrés! To add a bit more information, Reid married Ann Walker (a native of Dun, near Montrose), on Sept. 27, 1818. Their daughter, Ann Reid, was born in Aberdeen on Sept. 1, 1833, and emigrated around 1850 to Melbourne, Australia. In 1854, James Reid's widow was awarded a pension of 60 pounds a year, and she passed away on June 26, 1871. None of Reid's family ever claimed his Arctic Medal.

  3. Thank you Russell! Yes you are right, it looks as if there were several mistakes, however it seems that the original spelling and grammar of Reid were not perfect anyway.

    It would be interesting to have a look at those letters, one wonders if they would be still available to look for further details in some place, who knows, perhaps the National Museum of Adelaida have them.

    About who ordered the photographs, my thinking is, that this was in an occasional fact due to reasons which only affected that particular expedition. This same thing was not done in any other previous or subsequent expedition so this was not a common practice for the exploration expeditions of that time, or perhaps if this was the first time someone in the admiralty thought on taking these pictures (having in account that they were in the early days of the photography) , why was not this habit adopted in the procedures for the rest of the expeditions?.

    If that was the case, then only someone with a special interest in that expedition and with a strong will or authority could have intervened to warrant this unusual record.

    It is hard to imagine Lady Franklin given orders to the officers asking them to wear their uniforms and posing in front of the camera. I don´t believe neither that Franklin would have had any interest on this particular. If I have understood well this man through the things I have read about him, he was not the kind of man interested on appearing in public even through photographs and specially being ill.

    However, I agree with you that, perhaps Lady Jane was behind the scenes promoting it. She had demonstrated that she had a special interest on cleaning the past of his husband. Perhaps those daguerrotypes were even paid by her personal fortune. I suppose that taking pictures on that time wouldn´t be precisely cheap...so, and this is just an opinion, I can´t think in any other better person than in Lady Franklin as the best candidate for order them though she had used her husband as an intermediary. Besides, why if not Reid would have thought on her? Without the certainty that it was Lady Jane who ordered the pictures, he would have deduced that the orderer would have been his Commander. Wouldn´t him?

    This is a little mistery which surely will be forever unanswered as others still are...

  4. Thank you Glenn for adding those details.

    That is the explanation why those letters appeared so far away. It was providential that they appeared on time to offer some light about his live and it was also providential that some excerpts were published in "The Register".

    Were all the men of the Franklin expedition awarded with the arctic medal or only the officers?

  5. The National Museum in Adelaide is now the Museum of South Australia, I believe. No online searchable catalog, alas -- but thanks to Glenn's information, I'm going to write to them to see if perhaps they might have the letters; I wonder whether they might have the Daguerreotype too!!!

  6. That would be great Russell. I have always thought that if J.Fitzjames had two pics, why the rest don't? If with a Dag you only could obtain a copy, and the intention was giving a copy to Lady Jane and other of each for the officers...there should be two pics of each man.

  7. All of the Franklin expedition's officers and men who entered Arctic waters were posthumously entitled to the Arctic Medal 1818-1855. The issue of this medal didn't begin until 1857.

  8. Andres-a really lovely post! You have made James Reid come to life in my imagination.

  9. Thank you Vilstef. I hope I could dig a bit deeper one of these days into his life. I have develope some sort of fondness for this man.