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, 14 de octubre de 2015


Not all the officers which participated in the siege of the Northwest Passage earned a vacancy in its explorers hall of fame. Mostly, they had to open their own gates fighting for recognition and had to struggle to take a position in subsuquent expeditions.

Some of those officers, like George Back, succedded on doing that and their names will forever be known because they had the opportunity to command a ship in Arctic waters. Others were known only because they die under sad circunstances, but many others were condemned to stay in the shade of some corner of the history, waiting for some historian, waiting till they pointed them with his torch when they were attracted for the noise of some outstanding naval career or perhaps just by chance.

What is certain is that they, definitely, are not known for the general public as those who can be counted among the heavyweights of polar exploration. This, is the case of William Robertson, first lieutenant of the HMS Isabella under the command of John Ross during his first expedition of 1818 to Baffin bay. A misterious man in several aspects.

William joined the Navy the 9th of june of 1803 and his naval career since he enroled till he died was really impressive. I don´t have too many details about his personal life, not even ablout which was his birth place. The only personal fact I have been able to get is that he got married in 1838 with a woman called Elizabeth Pater in a small village called Bath not far from Bristol. However, from "A Naval Biographical Dictionary" I have obtained details of his achievements in the Navy.

His first appointment was as midshipmen in the 74 gun ship Defence. Almost two years after, HMS Defence was assigned to form part of the British force which would participate in the Battle of Trafalgar under the orders of Captain George Hope .  

Rear Admiral George Hope

HMS Defence was one the last ships in the Royal Sovereign´s column, the ninth ship behind the Bellephoron. However, in the heart of the battle, HMS Defence engaged the Spanish ship San Idelfonso not too far from where Bellephoron fighted against the ship San Juan Nepomuceno.

William´s appointment in HMS Defence not only would lead him to participate in the Battle of Trafalgar but somehow indirectly would lead him to participate in John Ross´s expedition, as we soon will see why. His role in the battle should have left some sort of impression in George Hope because he asked for him time after when George gained the command of the ship Theseus in 1807. This time he came on board as Master mate.

Not long time after, he participated in the battle for Cophenagen in 1807, where he was taken prisoner. He escaped in november of 1809 and was appointed to HMS Victory again under Hope´s orders during the Baltic campaign to defend British trade in the area.

At the end of his career he had served in approximately 18 ships and had participated in important events like the Battle of Trafalgar, the second Battle of Copenhagen, and the supply of troops to support the Portuguese constitutionalist in 1826. A whole life inside his own life.

But, how ended William Robertson being Lieutenant of HMS Isabella? Perhaps we could find the answer in the fact that George Hope had been rewarded with a position as Lord of the Admiralty in 1812 after the end of Napoleonic wars. He occupied that charge for six years and was the man  who sent the letter which arrived at Stranraer, Scotland, at the hands of a surprised John Ross.

The letter asked Ross to participate in the expedition which would condemn him to ostracism by the Almiranty for ever. Was Robertson chosen by Hope? Ross´s orders said that he was going to be accompanied by a man of science. Was William that man? If William was chosen by George Hope, surely in the mind of the later, were those years of faithful service during which they served together.

George Hope died the evening of 2 of may of 1818 fourteen days after HMS Isabella and HMS Alexander departed for the North. This makes me think that before Hope passes away, perhaps he wanted to give William a good opportunity to progress. Due to his position perhaps George Hope knew the race for the Northwest passage was about to begin and he wanted his friend  to take part of it.

We can´t obtain too much information about Robertson from the narrative of Ross´s voyage. He is only mentioned seven or eight times. Specially important is a note which appears in an appendix  of the book were it is described the geology of Four point island. The passage says  the following:

"Liutenant Robertson informs me that he here saw columns resembling those of Arthur´s seat in Edinburgh, resting on a thick bed of clay as bright as bright as vermilion."

From it, should we assume he likely was of Scottish procedence?

But the merit of William Robertson not only lies on being the second in command of HMS Isabella, he fulfilled the meteorological log which almost two hundred years later would be used by modern scientist to ascertain the future of the ice shelf of the Arctic. That´s  the reason why I think perhaps was him the misterious science man appointed by Hope to form part of the crew of HMS Isabell. In the list of crew members a strange "(b)" appears together his name, what could this mean?

HMS Isabella crew
From: A voyage of Discovery

To ratify my guessing, additional orders for the expedition were issued as follows:

"All objects of natural history, geology and mineralogy are (if possible) be brought on board and if any cannot be removed on account of their size, sketches and drawings are to be taken of them."

To perform this task again Lieutenant Rabertson was appointed together with a team of men which included the assistant surgeon and a young James Clark Ross. He was too in charge of taking observations of Aurora Borealis. If you asked me, in my opinion, William Robertson was Hope´s science man.

William Robertson and William Parry were those who were appointed by Barrow to watch from the top of the main mast when they sailed from Cape Clarence to Cape Saumarez in the northern end of Baffin bay. They failed to find any passage to the north on that part. That was another failure to add to the list of failures John Ross made in that expedition. Particularly to the more known one, when he understood that Lancaster sound was not a strait but a bay, and placed, confident, the nonexistent Croker mountains at its bottom.

Baffin bay according to John Ross´s voyage in 1818
William would never join again any Arctic expedition after returning from John Ross´s one, but however, he left some legacy in those regions. At least one geographical feature was named after him by John Ross during his first voyage to the Arctic regions, Its name is Cape Robertson and it is located in the northwest coast of Greenland. 

1 comentario:

  1. Digging further in his life I have learnt that William Robertson captured a Portugese brig with 485 slaves. See here:


    And that he observed a comet passing over Valparaiso while in the ship Conway in 1821: