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, 21 de septiembre de 2016


It has been said in several occasions that there were more men lost in the course of the expeditions which went after Franklin than in the Franklin expedition itself. That is an affirmation to which one has to wonder, could this possibly be true?

It can´t be denied that the Arctic has been the stage of a good number of tragedies since Europeans and Americans decided to penetrate its waters. The North sometimes behaves as a serial killer which uses all the tools at its hand to exterminate all those who dare to get into its dark waters, and we will see it has a huge variety of means to do that.

We will see also below that there were several expeditions, some of them were conducted as early as in the sixteen century, which disappeared in the Arctic shocking the world because of the magnitude of the disaster and because of the mistery which surrounded their uncertain fate. But none of them matched the numbers of the carnage happened during the Franklin expedition which got the dubious prize of being the expedition with the highest number of casualties of the history of Polar exploration. A record not beaten for any other expedition afterwards. 

The record, till John Franklin occupied the throne, was held by Hugh Willoughby, who died together with his about of 70 men during the winter of 1553-54 while searching for a passage to the east north of the Asia continent. The Northeast passage. In this case the mistery was partially and quickly solved when his ships were found soon the following summer with all the men inside, including the chief of the expedition, Hugh, and his journal. According to the journals, it seems they were still alive and well in january of 1554. The fishermen who found the two ships apparently described what they saw this way:

"The men were frozen in various postures, like statues, some in the act of writing, pen still in hand, opening a locker, or platter in hand, spoon in mouth, etc., with the dogs on board displaying the same phenomena."

Because of this creepy description it is the general believeng that they could have been poisoned by carbon monoxide. There were plenty of food on the ships, so death for starvation was discarded. 

The ships, corpse of Willoughby and the journals were recovered by Richard Chancellor, the other captain who accompanied Hugh at the beginning of that fateful trip and who split ways at some point of the journey. Willoughby ships wrecked in Norway and with them, went to the bottom of the sea, the journals and the solution of part of the mistery.
Death of Hugh Willoughby
The Danish expedition in 1619 of Jens Munk has the second position in this macabre podium with 61 deaths. Jens Munk casualties may have died because of Trichinosis in the vecinity of Cape Churchill. Apparently they killed a Polar bear that caused the death of the most part of the men, similarly of what could have happened to Salomon Andree´s expedition many years after. Munk, who survived the odissey told that their men, and he included, had contracted a misterious disease which wasn´t scurvy. The premature death of his surgeon prevented him of taking the proper care that his men needed.

Picture from the film "Jens Munk".
James Knight is the third in the list. With 50 death, he starred one of the biggest misteries in Polar history. In 1719 he commanded an expedition to explore Hudson Bay. Subsequent expeditions, including the famous Samuel Hearne, heard testimonies which tell the story that the ships had wrecked and that they had to winter in Marble island, in the west coast of the bay. Some of the men, about 20, survived a first winter but for some reason they couldn´t escape in boats or sail south or east looking for the safety the Forts in the area could have given them. Inuit testimony says that only five men survived another winter and died in 1721. Testimony from a Captain from the Hudson Bay Company tells however a different story which accuses the natives og that region of having killed Kinght´s crew,

The fourth position in the ranking is for Frobisher´s third expedition of 1610, on which there were about 40 deaths. Frobisher had performed two previous voyages one in 1576 where he lost five men who deserted the ships and whose fate is unknown (Inuit locals told to Frobisher later that they had spent the winter with their people and then left to England in their boat the following summer). This time Frobisher´s fleet of fifteen vessels was stricken by a heavy storm which sunk several of his ships.

Martin Frobisher fleet departing from England in 1578
Henry Hudson, whose name was given to the huge bay at the east of the North American continent, is sadly known for being abandoned in James bay (also in Hudson Bay) in 1611. He was put by force in a small boat together with his son and other seven loyal men in 1610. They tried to chase their ship for a while but it soon become apparent that they wouldn´t reach it. Rescue expeditions were sent to find him the next year but apart of some unclear clues, nothing was never heard of him again. Four other men died after the mutineers had abandoned Hudson in a fight against the natives in the east coast of Hudson bay.

Henry Hudson abandonment
So what we see here is that apart of the disappearance of James Knight, the rest of tragedies are not directly due to the harsh Arctic conditions but to other circunstances. The next big tragedy was that of John Franklin whose expedition lost 129 men including Franklin himself. That´s a great number of people, the biggest. The news of the tragedy overcome British empire boundaries and moved the rest of the world.  Of course, there were other big tragedies and shipwrecks after, but not related with any searching expedition,  those of DeLong, Greely, etc. and never as dramatic as Franklin's one.

Then, is it true that there would have died as many people as died in the Franklin expedition during the subsequent searching expeditions? Matching that number would imply that, the about of these thirty expeditions, should have had very high rates of casualties, which they, in general  terms hadn´t.

Reviewing the expeditions which got into the Arctic to look for Franklin I have only counted 37 deaths. This is not a precise number, I still have to check properly some overland expeditions and the smaller ones but I don´t think the final number will be too different.

The highest number of deaths belongs to Belcher´s expedition of 1850 on which participated four ships. There were ten deaths, some of those unlucky men lie in a small cementery in Dealy island. During James Ross attempt to find Franklin in 1848 he lost seven men, almost all of them buried in Port Leopold. James Saunders in the North Star lost another four men whose bodies rest in North Star bay. McLure was also veey close to play a main role in this tragic opera but miraculously escaped with just five men death, Three of them were buried in Banks island where some archaeological work has been done. Richard Collinson lost another five men during his east approach passing by Bering strait to King William Island, I am not sure where the bodies of those men were buried, will work about it soon. Leopold McClintock lost another three men during the voyage of the Fox and finally Thomas Moore and Horatio Austin lost one man each.

Of all these deaths, a good number are due to scurvy and consumption, the less are due to accidents like falls or drowning or because of the cold. I will post one of these days a more thorough post with the list of the men who died during these expeditions with their names and data of the places where they were buried and with the causes of their deaths. It will be a good homage to all of them, they deserve too to be remembered with the same intensity that the men buried in Beechey island and the rest of the men lost during the last Franklin expedition.

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