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.

sábado, 25 de junio de 2016


Days before today, but 175 years ago, the ships Erebus and Terror enjoyed definitely better times than those which they were condemned to endure few years after so their crews do. Officers of both ships danced till dawn with the people from Hobart enjoying of an event so great that it was even announced three days after in the local newspaper "Hobart Town Advertiser"

Now, sadly, Erebus is going to be reminded forever as that mastless sunken ship which lays in the bottom of the pristine shallow waters of the Arctic ocean. Now she is dead, but it still shows her proud shape and almost complete stout body in that Parks Canada greenish subacuatic pictures. But not always was like that, there was a time when people went back home walking in zigzag with very vivid memories dancing in their brains. The ships would be reminded for long time in the minds of those people for years, what would they think when news of the dissappearance of the ships arrived Hobart years after?.

The first of june of 1841, two months after arriving back to Hobart in Tasmania from their first expedition to the South, it was organized a ball which would be celebrated on board the two ships. That was the kind response James Clark Ross wanted to give in return to all the celebrations which subsequently followed their arrival from Antarctic waters.  After the success of James Clark Ross first exploration season nobody could even dream that the two ships will play that role in what could perfectly be a horror movie few years after. Those were times of merriness and pleasure. Party after party it was in everybody´s thoughts that Ross could reach, with those two reniforced ships, whatever target he addresed. Ross was invencible.

Ross´s narrative jumps from the 6th of april of 1841, when Erebus and Terror were moored in Government Gardens in Hobart after five months of absence, to the 7th of july of 1841, when they resume their  explorations beginning with a visit to Sydney, New Zealand and other places. He ommitted in his official account, therefore, the ball celebrated in honour of the hospitality of the people from Hobart which was celebrated  over the decks of his ships. 

From what I have read about the ball, this must have been an event to be remembered in the minds of all the inhabitants of the town but specially by the officers of the ships, whose hangover surely would have beaten all records.

There are not watercolours which depict the scene, but there are some descriptions which reflects the majesty of the event with some extension of detail. There is an alternative narrative to that of Ross which tells the story, Robert McCormick´s one. Robert McCormick, the surgeon of Erebus was elected secretary of the committe to organize the party. He dedicated four full pages of his narrative to describe that night through. His description is so vivid that you can smell the scent of the flowers, be blinded by the inmense brightness of the lights and even hear the music from the orchestra.

Robert McCormick 

Preparations began more than two weeks before. Invitations were sent the 13th of may, some of them signed by the officers which had the possibility to invite at least then people each. The ships were put alongside each other, moored head and stern, being Terror outside Erebus. They were off-shore connected to the land through a bridge made of boats wide enough to allow two persons walk side by side . Canvas formed an arcade covering the bridge giving it the appearance of a grotto and flags were placed together with branches with flowers of several colours.

The lights placed in the bridge drove the guests to Erebus's quarterdeck which was impressively  illuminated in his turn with lamps and chandeliers. Guests had to walk about 60 meters through the barely illuminated tunnel to end in the impressively bright dance floor on which erebus quarter deck had been transformed. Captains and officers were placed at the end of the tunnel to greet the guests.

Erebus would play the role of the ballroom. She would surely be the stage of  Crozier's laconic proposals towards Sophie Cracroft. The sad flirt, as Lady Franklin herself called her in a letter, rejected him one time after another.

Benches covered with red clothes were disposed all around the deck to allow those who weren´t dancing to rest and even the capstan was covered with hundreds of flowers.

The Hobart Town quadrille band and the 51st regiment band was in charge of the music. For the latter it was constructed a stage rising some feet over the deck Erebus. The Queen, surrounded by flowers would look over the band and will witness the whole event. The former local band would stay under the main mast.

Captain's cabin was not always full of water as it is currently, it was once the ladies dressing room, full of mirrors, perfurme and other necessary accesories, the same happened to the gun room.

It was a fine evening of tuesday. The ball began punctually at eight, soon after Sir John Franklin and company. made their appearance, at nine 300 people wandered, laugh and cheered everywhere. At eleven o'clock the agenda said the guests must go to Terror for dinner. McCormick says that the transit from one ship to the other through the gangway involved certain "pressure and squeezing", it is funny to imagine those smartly dressed people fighting not to fall and crash against the timbers of the deck or even to fall to the water. It is easy to picture the scene and see how the youngests officers would have gathered around the gangway to witness the scene, maybe not alughing but defenitely smiling.

Franklin and Co. sat at the bottom of the supper table. Then, each officer would be surrounded in the table by his own guests. The dinner was, "A blend of French style of variety, with English fashion of plenty". Poultry was served in various ways like pastries, pies, cakes, etc.  Champagne flew in abundance among the bright lights.. Bird was in charge of the decoration of Erebus and McMurdo of the decoration of Terror, both had done a fine job though it seems that Terror was prepared in a more fascinating way than Erebus. Something in the decoration of Terror must made more than one mouth open. One of the more impressive details was that numerous mirrors, which were brought on the ships as presents for eventual natives, were placed in a way that they reflected the light from the chandeliers. Those, at the same time, were made with bright steel bayonets, swords and cutlasses, giving the decorations a more terrifying look.

After dinner, there were "drunken", as McCormick points, toasts here and there and speeches which surely ended all with hearty hoorays and applauses.

Some guests abandoned the party before it endend but many came back to Erebus quarter-deck and dance over her timbers till daylight.

It is sad to think that that bright and beautifully decorated deck of Erebus which was once supporting six hundred dancing feet and so many happiness is the same broken deck we have seen countless times in Parks Canada´s underwater pictures and videos.

I would like to keep in mind the nicest of both pictures and to end this blog post with the McCormick´s reflection in his narrative about one of the best moments that our beloved ships enjoyed during their lives:

"The decks of the old old ice-weather-beaten ships never before responded to the elastic step of so much female loveliness and beauty"