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.

viernes, 30 de enero de 2015


The three men buried on Beechey Island are sadly and mainly known because they were virtually frozen in time, as wisely John Geiger and Owen Beattie titled them on their book, and also because they were part of the equally sadly known last Franklin expedition. Their macabre grin will smile to us forever in our dreams, at least till the moment we could smile grotesquely them back in return from our own graves. 

However, though it was their exceptional state of preservation and not their link with the Franklin expedition which have given them their fame, the fact is that there are other graves dispersed all over the arctic archipielago which could contain men as well preserved as the men buried in Beechey Island. Graves which belonged to other expeditions. For example, we have the case of the three men who were buried very close to the place where the HMS Investigator was found. No attempts to unbury them have been made yet and it seems they won´t be done in the short term.

Recently, I have found in the Manitoba museum web site the wooden leg which was worn by the Inuit Tulluahiu. This man, luckily for him, crossed his path with John Ross during his expedition in the ship Victory during the years 1829 to 1833. It has been his story which had led me to the sad story of Chimham Thomas, the carpenter of that expedition.The journalist Ken Harper told the story of this man and his leg in this article.

It is almost certain that Chimham saved the life of this man who was found being pulled in a sledge by his relatives and who ended walking and hunting as any other hunter of his tribe.

Tulluahiu and his wooden leg.

Chimham not only did a wonderful job making that wooden leg which would last hundreds of years, he also mended it several times, did improvements and even produced spare parts for being used for the man when the expedition would leave.

Wooden leg

Unfortunately, the poor carpenter died the spring before the men of the expedition were rescued in 1833. It has been his death, in his turn, which has led me to discover that two other men had previously died during that. James Dixon and James Marslin. It  is the description of their burials which has made me think that perhaps those two men could be beautifully preserved. In the case of Dixon, John Ross describes how digging his grave took the men approximately a week. In the case of Marslin, it is only said it took too much time .

One could imagine, that as these two graves were dug while the things were still not too bad in the expedition, perhaps they could be in the same perfect shape than those of Beechey Island, therefore, their bodies could be at least as well preserved as the bodies of John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell.  The position of the Dixon´s grave is indicated in this article published in Northern News in 1957. It should not be far from the place where the Victory cache was deployed. It seems that a Patrol from the R.C.M.P discovered in the 1970 a skull which could have belonged Dixon. I doubt it, I can´t believe that after a week digging someone or something could have had access to his coffin, opened it and had taken apart his skull. However, there is another likely possibility, and that is the fact that the permafrost is melting.

There are more and more cases in the news of  graves which had been dug in the permafrost  which are now appearing in surface. Like in an horror movie, coffins and bones are emerging from the ground to salute the people walking around.

Pipsuk grave?According to Russell Potter who make the suggestion, this grave could have belonged to Pipsuk.

Wolfgang Opel, the co-author of the book Eisbären, also called my attention about the case of the grave of the explorer Hermann WalterRussian Polar expedition of 1900-1902who, it seems, also decided to breath some fresh air.

This, in my opinion, could be the case of Dixon, whose grave would be located about four degrees south of the latitude where the graves of the men of the Franklin expedition are located in Beechey Island. In the article mentioned above is described and discussed the location of his grave and the location of the tunnel where John Ross put his cache of food and instrumental in Victoria Harbour before abandoning his ship. They built it during the first days of january of 1832 as if they were pirates hiding a treasure. To add more mistery and glamour to this scene, one day, as if it were a signal, an enormous meteor crossed the sky illuminating the whole valley (Chapter 48 of the narrative of the expedition). I haven´t found traces which could determine where James Marslin could have been buried, I only known that he died earlier and that he likely was buried during the winter of 1830-31.

Globalization,  if we want to call this way, with the pass of time is bringing us to our homes through internet more and more pictures of inaccessible places. There are some  photos of Fury Beach which could excite our imagination, These pictures show us places which we have seen countless times in paintings. They show us quiet beaches, narrow gorges, and steep cliffs. We could easily imagine that in one of those stony beaches could have been buried for example the good carpenter Chimham Thomas. 

To finish, I would like to make some reflection. I have read somewhere that more men died trying to find the Franklin expedition than in the Franklin expedition itself. I would bet that this assertion is false. If we don´t count those 129 men, I find dubious that such amount of men had died in all the expeditions which went towards the North west Passage before and after of the Franklin expedition of 1845. Here and there men died  in the arctic archipielago, some them are now only a handful of bones are scattered in the bottom of the sea as happened to René Bellot, others are well buried in unknow places, others were half buried and where disturbed by wild life and others simply dissappeared forever without leaving a trace. All of them are there, in some place. It would be interesting to make an inventary of the deceased men during all those years, if possible, marking the conditions of their burials and approximate location.

James Dixon and James Marslin were part of those who were well buried in Boothia peninsula. Presumably, they are with all their flesh on and opened eyes staring the back of the lid of his coffin patiently waiting for us to be rescued from the forgotten. 

3 comentarios:

  1. Deaths in the search for Franklin which are known to me so far are the following:
    HMS Investigator: 5 people died :
    John Boyle 6.4.1853, John Ames 11.4.1853, John Kerr 12.4.1853, (buried at Banks Island): H. H. Sainsbury 14.11.1853 (buried in Sea), Thomas Morgan 22.5.1854 (buried on Beechey Island)
    plus 5 more died from HMS Intrepid/HMS Resolute,
    plus 3 from HMS Assistance.
    All of them got memorial at the Cenotaph, Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada,
    - as well as Bellot. -
    The man shot and killed by CF Hall
    One of McClintock's men died onboard the Fox
    That would mean 15 then - far fewer than 129, certainly.

  2. Thank you very much Mechtild!

    And thanks too for rescuing all those names from the forgotten. It seems that is going to be the only thing which with luck will be brought from those lands for the moment. I think it is fair that their names sound at least as familiar to us as the names of the men of Beechey island.

  3. I have found this other death, of a seaman who died in august of 1825 during the third expedition of Parry. He was buried in Neill Harbur in the east coast of Prince Regent Inlet:

    "John Page, seaman of the Fury, departed this life; he had for several months been affected with a scrofulous disorder, and had been gradually sinking for some time.

    The funeral of the deceased took place after Divine service had been performed on the 28th; the body being followed to the grave by a procession of all the officers, seamen, and marines of both ships, and every solemnity observed which the occasion demanded. The grave is situated near the beach close to the anchorage, and a board was placed at the head as a substitute for a tombstone, having on it a copper-plate with the usual inscription."