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, 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).