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, 24 de marzo de 2017


The time John Franklin spent in Van Diemen´s land won´t be the time for what he would be mostly remembered by the world, in spite of he and his wife Lady Jane, left there a deep print.

John Franklin arrived at this land by january of 1837 and was its governor till 1844, when he returned to England before leading his final expedition to the Arctic. Not much later after his arrival, Franklin and his wife were paying a visit to the defensive system which prevented convicts of Port Arthur to escape from the prison facility to the mainland: The terrible Dog-line placed in Eaglehawk neck. 

Sir John Franklin and Lady Jane visiting the Dog line in Eaglehawk neck.
You can see a more sketchy image of the same scene but at higher resolution here.
Eaglehawk neck is a narrow istmus of land, of an interesting geological origin by the way, which links the rest of Australia with the irregular peninsula where the prison of Port Arthur was once located. The Dog-line was exactly what its name indicates, a long line of around eighteen fierce dogs chained to improvised barrel-made houses. The line was also provided with a serie of lamps that would allow the dogs to see better the unwary prisoners who were trying to escape through that route.

Eaglehawk Neck nowadays from above.

That visit surely provoked on John´s peaceful and pious mind not few nausea and horror, at least that is what I have always thought every time I have taken a look at that picture. There is something in Franklin´s countenance, that tight smile, almost a grin, which invites you to think he was horrified at the sight of those savage and ravenous dogs. What could that ferocity could mean for the poor convicts which fell into their jaws?. Franklin stays rigid wearing proudly, as it happens in many of John Franklin portraits, the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order with which he was awarded in 1836, together with other decorations. What the scene transmit to me is countersigned for what I read in some notes written by Frank Debenham and which you can find in Polar Record. The papers, which describes the visit of Erebus and Terror to Van Diemen´s land, illustrate the scene as follows:

"The situation is admirably depicted in a sketch, which is published in the Life of Lady Jane Franklin by W. F. Rawnsley, illustrating a visit of the Vice-Regal party to the penal settlement of Port Arthur. The group is inspecting Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow isthmus which was the only possible route of escape to the mainland, and which was therefore guarded by savage dogs chained in a line across the low neck, just within reach of each other. The excessively dignified attitude of the Governor, the dainty appearance of his lady and the portentous mien of the officers are in so great a contrast to the line of raging beasts, the lamp posts and the sentries behind them that one would consider it grotesque were it not for the murky figures of some convicts themselves in the background, and the obviously truthful character of the picture."

I couldn´t find the sketch where in the notes it is said it should appear, that is, in "The Life of Lady Franklin by F.W. Rawnsey". Maybe the drawing was published in a different edition of the book which I consulted in Google books. If it is not there, I wonder from where this image actually comes. 

The title of the picture, whenever I found it in the Internet, reads "The visit of Sir John and Lady Franklin to the Dogline in 1837". But was it actually done by that year? It is the style of the sketch, which invited me to think the author of this drawing could be Owen Stanley, the navy officer which is famous among Franklin enthusiasts for his watercolours of the HMS Terror and other arctic related scenes. There is something familiar in the way this sketch was painted which reminds me strongly Owen´s style. Was Stanley present at the moment of that visit?. We will find out that soon.

Owen Stanley departed in april of 1836 on board HMS Terror sailing as second lieutenant under George Back orders while trying to find a passage to the west north of Hudson Bay. He didn´t come back to England till the 31st of august of 1837.  You can see part of his artistic work during that time in the National Maritime Museum collection here. It was then, the 21st of december of 1837, months after returning from the Arctic, when he was given command of HMS Britomart. His orders?, establishing a colony at Port Essington (north of Australia). You can see many of his excellent drawings of that trip in two volumes called "Voyage of HMS Britomart from 1837 to 1843".

Though in some places I have found that they departed from England in september of 1838, the fact that the colony was set up only a month after, in october of the same year, suggests that the ship could have sailed from England months before that date, surely stopping in their way in the British settlement of Van Diemen´s land. From this other link, I have learned HMS Britomart reached Hobart the 22nd of july of 1838 and that Owen Stanley met Franklin there. It is specifially said that: 

"The Governor of Tasmania, Capt Sir John Franklin, RN, met Capt Robert Fitzroy, RN, HMS Beagle, Capt Sir Gordon Bremer, RN, HMS Alligator, and Lt Owen Stanley, RN, HMS Britomart, at Hobart."  

That places Owen Stanley in Hobart and in company of Franklin much more close to the year on which the sketch was allegedly made. More than I have previously foreseen and making possible that the visit to the dog-line could have been actually done a year later that when it was supposed, that means in 1838 instead of in 1837. I haven´t been able to find details of that encounter, I would be glad if someone could put some light to this event.

I thought maybe Franklin would have liked to show and horrified Fitzroy, Stanley and the others, the facilities of Port Arthur including the Dog-line of Eaglehawk neck, maybe the sight of the dogs impressed Owen that much that he decided to put the scene into a paper, or maybe this sketch was just the work of any other artist. But there is another fact which relates place and artist though not the year. Eaglehawk neck was painted in this watercolour in january of 1841 by Owen Stanley when he landed there (well in 1838 or during his second visit of 1840 after frustrating the French attempt to stablish a colony in south New Zealand).

Many of us know very well, as I mentioned before, part of Owen Stanley´s work. Specially those paintings which show HMS Erebus and HMS Terror during the first stages of their voyage to the Canadian arctic archipielago. But few of us know how was him like and how huge was his artistic work. This portrait of him which I have found today in the Internet, and who knows if it was painted by Owen himself, is apparently available in Dunham Massey, Chesire England

Owen Stanley
From the collection of Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Owen´s drawings not only show landscapes and ships, he also usually shows very realistic scenes where people, like the crews of the ships, aborigins,etc. behaved in their daily lives. As if they were vignettes of an adventure comic book, you can see the life, as he saw it through his own eyes, almost in motion, as for example happens here and here. That´s precisely the style you can see in the picture which shows Franklin´s visit to the Dog-line.

The casual style you can see in his drawings, (like the drawing called "The unprotected female" also available in the NMM), the liveliness what you can deduce from the title of other of his drawings like "Man Overboard off the North Point of New Zealand" or in that other which apparently shows himself being attacked by an albatross, together with his visit in july of 1838, are my strongests points to sustain my theory that it was Owen Stanley the author of the Dog-line drawing which is consuming me.

There are other connections between Owen and Franklin which could help to understand why he could have drawn that sketch. Stanley sailed for some time on board HMS Rainbow in 1831 as Lieutenant under Franklin orders, surely that was the origin of a friendship which would last till the day Franklin vanished. Poor Stanley died at the early age of 39 without knowing yet the whereabouts of the Erebus and Terror expedition. Whatever happened in HMS Rainbow during its service in the Mediterranean, maybe it would be reflected in James Harrison journal. The Rainbow was Franklin first command after returning from his overland expeditions in North America.

Stanley´s premature death is involved in mistery. There are several versions about what could have killed him so soon. Illness, or another one much more morbid which says  he could have committed suicide after receiving the awful news that his father, uncle and brother had died while he was sailing through the southern seas.

As I said, part of Stanley´s work is available in the National Maritime Museum and other part should be available in the Royal Society of Tasmania. According to a piece of paper from april 1931 which I have found in the Evening post, his widow presented the Society the collection of sketches mentioned above from his years serving on board HMS Britomart (1837-1841). The article, interesting because it is one of the few sources of information which tells Owen story, is titled as follows:

Piece of news from Evening post, 1931

It has been my curiosity to guess who was the artist after that singular sketch which has led me to Owen Stanley and his fascinating history. He, from my point of view, was another of those outstanding characters related with the arctic exploration whose name should occupy a prominent place in the hall of fame together with some of the most famous ones. His story has been told in the book: Owen Stanley R.N. 1811-1850 Captain of the Rattlesnake by Adelaide Lubbock.

 His grave was for some time not properly marked in the cemetery of Cammeray, but at least, he had a plaque in his memory which still exist in St Thomas Church in Sydney which you can see here. Apparently, now there is a map of the church and graveyard which shows you where exactly lies his body.

Well, it seems that after all this digression, we still will continue without having the answers to the main question which led me to start this post:

Who was the artist after that powerful sketch which shows that terrified Franklin in the Dog-line?

Now, right before publishing this, I have thought that maybe, and logically, my desired answer could lie on Lubbock´s book which tells his life, what better place to look for it? It would be perfect if that book would be waiting for me in my bookselves, but unfortunately that´s not the case. My last resort is then to beg within the very scarce  fragments of it which are available in Google Books using keywords as "Eaglehawk neck". Doing it I have found a very promising sentence inside the "HMS Britomart 1837-43" chapter which reads the following:

"The Vice-Regal party was transported from Eaglehawk neck"

Which put together at Owen Stanley and John Franklin not only in the proper period but also in Eaglehawk neck.

3 comentarios:

  1. Good detective work on your part, Andres !

    If each dog had four feet of chain that could go either way, then each of the eighteen dogs could cover eight feet of ground. Then with eighteen dogs, the Dog-line would cover 144 feet of the Eaglehawk Neck. Would the whole Neck have been covered ?

    And it would have taken a brave man indeed, to clean up the dog poop from around those eighteen barrels. Maybe the stench is what caused Franklin to set his face the way he did.

  2. Haha!, Interesting thought Soloman, I haven´t thought about that. In the picture below you can see a better image which shows at least nine dogs which covered all the width of the neck. Maybe the extra dogs were employed in a second line or to cover certain particular difficult areas.

    I wish I could see the original of that picture in colour wherever it is.

  3. Fantastic - thank you so much for showing the only depiction of Sir John and Lady Franklin together that I have so far found and giving this great exploration of the identity of the artist. I first saw the drawing in Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore (paperb ed.), and there Lady Franklin had been cut off completely for the image to fit its allocated space...