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.

martes, 28 de diciembre de 2021


The private expedition led by William Kennedy and organized by Lady Franklin in 1851 to find his husband and the crews of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, was as unsuccessful as many others had been before, at least regarding what had to do with the accomplishment of their mission. However, this was one of the first which would include some new ingredients in the recipe of "How to perform polar expeditions" which would be adopted by future explorers, including McClintock´s famous journey in the Yacht Fox, and surely also opened the way to the new concept of modern exploration which would be used by eminent explorers like Nansen, Amundsen, Peary, etc.

Though Franklin wasn´t ultimately found, it can´t be denied that the significance of the geographical discoveries made by Kennedy, together with the fact that the expedition didn´t lose a single man during the whole journey (in spite of the many dangerous situations which had to be confronted), and that they had to spend a long winter at a very high latitude, should be considered as an outstanding triumph.

The ship, Prince Albert, was very different from almost all of their predecessors. It only weighted 90 tons, a third of the tonnage of for example the ships they were after, HMS Erebus and Terror. Only Sir John Ross before, had previously experimented this strategy during his expedition of 1829-33 in the Victory (85 tons which were extended to 150 after the modifications) and later with the Felix in 1850. Small ships were much more useful and manoeuverable in those treacherus waters allowing them to get closer to the shores to perform more appropiated reconnaissances of the ground

The vessel had been reinforced to make him able to endure her coming fight with the ice. This wasn´t her first mission, the previous season the Royal Navy Captain Charles Codrington Forsyth and the outlandish civilian William Park Snow, had spent the summer of 1850 looking for Franklin. The expedition had been a disaster from the beginning. The combination of a civil crew with a navy captain, seasoned with the presence of the peculiar Snow, who had convinced Lady Franklin to let him participate because of his spectral visions, led to continuous disagreements among the captain and the crew. The expedition returned prematurely for several reasons, but mainly because Snow foresaw an opportunity of gathering attention and fame if he could be the first on bringing the news of the recent discoveries which had been made in Beechey island about the Franklin expedition.

Prince Albert leaving Beechey island the day they returned after being there for some days. The ship at the background must be the North Star, the only ship which was still in the area.

Lady Franklin wanted to give it another try. This time, the crew was selected more carefully. It was also quite inferior in the number of men, though likely not in experience, compared with the regular amount employed by Navy expeditions. Its 18 members would be much easier to feed in the arctic enviroment than 60, a common figure for the crew of, for example, a bomber class ship. 

Also, Kennedy´s background made of him an appropiate candidate for the mission. He was born originally in Cumberland House, in the remote region of Saskatchewan and, though he was sent to Orkney island to the school where he would spend eight years, he had been living the rest of the time in the wildest regions of North America working first as a HBC employee, and later in his own fishery business in Lake Huron till he was contracted to lead this searching expedition to captain the Prince Albert. He knew well the rigours of that hostile land and how to deal with all of them.

Captain William Kennedy

The second in command was the French sub-officer Joseph René Bellot. From my point of view, there is no doubt this was more a formal appointment than a practical one. Bellot have asked to Kennedy and Lady Franklin to let him to participate in the expedition. He hadn´t any previous experience in arctic expeditions, but only an unstoppable will, shared by so many young officers of the time, to be part of the phenomenon which was currently happening and which was gathering the attention of the whole world. That, apparently convinced Lady Franklin who allowed him to join the expedition. In Kennedý´s narrative there are many mentions to him, in no few occasions the author mentions Bellot´s involvement in some incidents which could have perfectly well ended with his life. Maybe his lack of experience was the cause of all of them. He would eventually and sadly die during his second expedition with Edward Inglefield in 1853. My opinion about Bellot was high so far, but from the reading of Kennedy´s account of the voyage and from what I have read in some other places, like this website, for iinstance, it may have changed a bit. But elucidating this will be surely matter of another different post.

The small crew which accompanied Kennedy had among its ranks several arctic veterans. Among his members was John Hepburn, the old companion of John Franklin during his overland expedition of 1819-22 to the mouth of the Coppermine River, about who I have written earlier. Apart from the ice master, who was of course a veteran whaler captain, there were five men which had served in the same ship during the previous searching expedition, one who has accompanied John Rae and other who had traveled with John Richardson in their respective overland expeditions. The rest were Sheatland and Orkney weathered men.

Besides the usual stock of provisions and clothing, normal for this kind of expeditions, they carried or bought other interesting items not as common. Kennedy ordered the construction of kayak made of tin (which I wonder where it ended), kites and also bought in Upernavick six greenland dogs to drag sledges during the planned winter trips, not an habitual thing to find in the military expeditions. Some of the men knew well how to build igloos and snowshoes. These facts refute somehow the common say that the expeditions of that time ever learnt how to survive in the arctic regions. In Kennedy´s narrative is the first time, I think, I have read the term Innuit as well. But this doesn´t mean that Kennedy stuck only to traditional and aborigin methods, he also made widely use of explosives, Copelands blasting cylinders (which I assume was dinamite)  as he called them, which were used here and there as if in a war declared to the ice, and apparently resulted quite useful in some occasions to release his small ship.

Kennedy´s narrative of the journey "A short narrative of the second voyage of the Prince Albert in search of Sir John Franklin"is an easy and very enjoyable book. Surely he made the most of his years in Orkney. One can feel some sort of a modern, light and funny style of writing which combines very smartly the numerous entertaining anecdotes (which made me smile broadly) with the more boring descriptive parts. I have swalled the book in just two nights, breathing for that time very vividly the same atmosphere that surrounded those men.

The expedition sailed from Aberdeen the 22nd of may of 1851 to reach Stromness three days after. There, Kennedy got together with Lady Franklin and Sophie Cracroft, an encounter which Kennedy describes as follows:

"There, in our little cabin with her estimable neice, sat the truly feminine yet heroic spirit who presided over our gallant little enterprise, one whose name — if her husband's is already associated with the highest honours of geographical discovery — will not be the less so hereafter in the hearts of Englishmen, with honours of another kind — the most noble, devoted, and unwearied efforts to rescue or solve the fate of our missing countrymen."

This "Truly femenine" remark made me raised a brow. Was she supposed to be otherwise?. I wonder if the always witty Kennedy hides something behind those words. The scene continues:

"One by one each of our little party was introduced, and cheered by her words of wise and affectionate counsels. If ever three English cheers were given with the heart's best feelings of a British sailor, they were given, when stepping over the vessel's side, our noble patroness waved us her last adieu and God's blessing on our voyage."

From Orkney islands, the expedition sailed west following a parallel, as whalers and expeditions used to do, till they arrived to Farewell to sail then northward till they reached Whalefish island and Upernavik. Once in Baffin Bay, they sailed to the north end of those waters and then crossed the always naughty and dangerous central part of the bay to penetrate finally into Lancaster sound. Once there, Kennedy´s orders included the possibility to explore Prince Regent Inlet. It was thought that Franklin could have followed that route to try to find a channel in its west coast which could have lead him to the west side of Sommerset land (it would be Kennedy who would discover that this land was in fact an island and that there was in fact a strait which connects Prince Regent inlet with Peel sound) and that was what the captain precisely did.

There were also several cairns which they had necessarily to visit to ascertain if Franklin was or had been in the surroindings. Cairns built in prominent points, specially those who had been built where previous expeditions had wintered, were used as mailboxes. Expedition after expedition usually visited them to learn about the whereabouts or discoveries made by precedent expeditions and used to leave there their own proceedings. 

Port Leopold, where the first searching expedition led by James Clark Ross in 1848 had to winter, was one of these obligated stops. Prince Albert couldn´t approach it due to the amount of ice, so Kennedy and some men decided to try to land using a boat. They made it and searched for the cairns and rest of remains without finding any clue from Franklin. Unfortunately, when they tried to rejoin their comrades, the ship had been dragged south by drifting ice. The desperated captain had no other option than to prepare themselves for the winter. For that purpose, he used the abandoned steam launch left by James Ross some years before:

"The first object to be attended to, was the erecting of some sort of shelter against the daily increasing inclemency of the weather, and for this purpose the launch, left here by Sir James Ross, was selected. Her main- mast was laid on supports at the bow and stern, about nine feet in height, and by spreading two of her sails over this a very tolerable roof was obtained. A stove was set up in the body of the boat with the pipes running through the roof, and we were soon sitting by a comfortable fire, which after our long exposure to the wet and cold we stood very much in need of."

But luckily, after more than a month isolated in that place, Joseph René Bellot arrived providentially to rescue them. The ship had been freed from his icy jail and had found a suitable place to winter in Batty Bay, 80 km southward. This was the third attempt that Bellot had made to find his captain, in one of the previous he had fallen to the water through the ice spending one of his lifes.

During the return journey, a very interesting scene, worthy of being introduced in a humoristic sketch of a TV show, took place. The episode, told by the always entertaining Kennedy deserves to be presented here almost entirely:

"We pitched the tent, spread the oil-cloth, and with some coals, ..., boiled a good kettle of tea for all hands.

These preparations were, however, but introductory to another, which we found a most difficult problem indeed — namely, to contrive how we were all to pass the night in the single little tent we had brought with us. We all got in, certainly, and got the kettle in the middle ; but as for lying down to sleep, it was utterly out of the question. A London omnibus, on a racing day after live o´clock, was the only parallel I could think of to our attempt to stow thirteen men, including our colossal carpenter, into a tent intended for six. 

At last, after some deliberation, it was arranged that we should sit down six in a row, on each side, which would leave us about three feet clear to stretch our legs. Mr. Bellot, who formed the thirteenth, being the most compact and stowable of the party, agreed to squeeze in underneath them, stipulating only for a clear foot square for his head alongside the tea-kettle. Being unprovided with a candlestick, even if there had been room to place one anywhere, it was arranged that each of us should hold the candle in his hand for a quarter of an hour, and then pass it to his neighbour, and thus by the aid of our flickering taper, through the thick steam of the boiling kettle, we had just enough light to prevent us putting our tea into our neighbour's mouth, instead of our own.

" Well, boys," suggests our ever jovial first mate, Henry Anderson, 'now we are fairly seated, I´m thinking, as we can do nothing else, we had best make a night of it again. What say you to a song, Dick?'^ Whereupon, nothing loath, Mr. Richard Webb strikes up, in the first style of forecastle execu- tion, " Susannah, don't you cry for me,  which is of course received by the company with the utmost enthusiasm. Mr. Webb, your health and song," and general applause, and emptying of tea-cans, which Mr. John Smith, pleadiag inability to sing, undertakes to replenish for the night."

" Kenneth, you monster, take that clumsy foot of yours off my stomach, will you?" cries out poor Mr. Bellot, smothered beneath the weight of four-and- twenty legs, upon which the carpenter, in his eager- ness to comply, probably drives his foot into Mr. Bellot's eye.

And so, passing the song and the joke around — Mr. Bellot, occasionally making a sudden desperate effort to get up, and sitting down again in despair — with a long " blow " like a grampus — we make what Anderson calls " a night of it." No management, however, can make our solitary candle last out beyond twelve 'o'clock, or thereabout. Notwithstanding this extinguisher to the entertainments of the evening Mr. Anderson_, — while some are dozing and hob-a- nobbing in their dreams, — may still be heard keeping it up with unabated spirit in the dark, wakening every sleeper now and then with some tremendous chorus he has contrived to get up among his friends, for the '^'Bay of Biscay,^' or some favourite Greenland melody, with its inspiriting burthen of " Cheeri-lie, ah ! cheeri-lie."

Each of us got up, as may be supposed, pretty soon next morning, and certainly not much refreshed by our over-night's performances, and after a rough jour- ney over broken ice, arranged to camp early, in order to give us time before dark to erect a snow-house, and avoid the black hole of Calcutta style of encampment of the previous night."

Undoubtedly a night not to be easily forgotten, I myself have spent a nigh like that in the mountains of Sierra Nevada, Spain. It was a very cold december and we had camped at about 3.000 m of attitude or maybe more. During the night the wind broke the sticks of the tent, so after a whole restless night, we started to walk towards the nearest town. The weather was equally awful and the next night caught us. We saw an old hut and rushed into it trying to look for shelter, but the hut was crowded. There was no room to lay inside so we had to sit, the same way Kennedy and men had to, and spend a second tirelessly night seated pouring out the drippling water from the melted snow from the roof every fifteen minutes. Getting out to pee obliged to reformulate the whole puzzle every time. We called it "A Macarena night", I have somewhere the whole episode written down.

Coming back to our story and in spite of these incidents, the whole team reached the ship safe and sound time after. Kennedy had planned to start the searching with sledge parties very soon, in the middle of the winter, maybe shocking for a regular searching expedition but not for this one. In january of 1852, Kennedy, Bellot and another man travelled 50 km southward to reach the next mailbox, Fury Beach to look for clues, but the place hadn´t been visited since a previous sledge party had done so in the course of James Clark Ross expedition of 1848. 

Then, another sledge party was organized. This time they had the target of exploring the southwest region below cape Walker. The plan was to travel southwards to Fury Beach, follow the coast of Creswell bay and then, some miles south more turn to the west to reach Prince of Wales and the area where Franklin has orders to go. It was this sledge party which reached the east entrance of Bellot strait, a strait which John Ross had missed during his long expedition of 1829-33. The party travelled west and discovered doing so the strait which would be christened as Bellot strait. 

At arriving at the west end of it, Kennedy judged that there wasn´t any navigable strait to the north which could lead to Victoria strait, though there was actually one, Peel sound, which it is thought was used by Franklin to sail southwards till he got trapped north of King William island. The party crossed the sound and continued west, advancing still  many miles more westward till they decided to turn to the north. 

"Being now satisfied that Sir James Ross had in his land journey along the western shore of North Somerset in 1849, mistaken the very low and level land over which we had been travelling for a western sea, I felt no longer justified in continuing a westerly course. Whatever passage might exist to the S. W. of Cape Walker, I felt assured must now be on our north. I determined, therefore, from this time forward to direct our course north- ward, until we should fall upon some channel which we knew must exist not far from us, in this direction, by which Franklin might have passed to the S.W. "

For Kennedy it was clear that in a southwest direction from Cape Walker, there wasn´t any sea or channell but an inmense extension of land, Prince of Wales land, which in Kennedy´s opinion was linked to Somerset (now) island. They chose to travel in an opposite direction to where Franklin was, but still, Kennedy and his men were at 250 km north of Cape Felix, the north tip of King William island.

The trip, which lasted three whole months and went through 1.700 km brought no news about the Franklin expedition but was also a demonstration of how well adapted were the men to that harsh enviroment and how far a well prepared party of men, helped by sledge dog, could go. Igloos were built almos daily, and not a single casualty resulted from the adventure. The men were also expert hunters, as some anecdotes shows us:

"John Smith and I made an endeavour to approach some deer which were quietly feeding upon the stunted heather, which, as already stated, forms almost the only vegetation of this barren district, in the manner adopted by the Indians of Hudson´s Bay, by fixing our guns to the head, so as to give the appearance of horns, and crawling on all fours. We had succeeded in approaching within a fair distance for a shot, and were preparing to do execution upon them, when some movement of the sledges attracted their attention, and with a snuff of the air and a toss of their graceful antlers they bounded away, and were soon out of reach of our guns."

They found an awful weather during the whole journey. There were very long delays provoked by the pitiful conditions, some of them lasted even a whole week (in the metheorological annex is recorded a temperature of -42 ºC during the month of january). This surely shortened the distance they could have made in other circunstance. Kennedy fills his narrative with witty paragraphs which gives an idea of how bad things were and which makes the reading a real pleasure. One of my favourites is this:

"I have a strong opinion that old Eolus, with his den of ruffianly winds, that so shamefully belaboured the piousneas, must have emigrated to North Somerset since the days of Virgil. Such a high carnival of northerly gales as, during the winter months, swept round the poor little Albert, and nearly smothered us under an avalanche of snow, I believe never was heard of in any other known region of the globe. Where they all came from, and how they did not long before the winter was over blow themselves fairly out, was a wonder to us all the year round. " I have known but one gale since we entered Batty Bay,' once observed our veteran friend Hepburn, " and that was the gale that began when we came and ended when we went away."

In another occasion, Kennedy tells how he and some other mates got lost in very bad weather while they were trying to reach the ship. One of the men fell and hurt himself a leg. The man told the others he could not give a step forward. Then the captain, told him not to worry, they would leave him wrapped up in a muskox blanket and would bury him in the snow till they could come back after for him. The reaction was somehow easily foreseen:

"This Arctic prescription had a magical effect upon our patient — the back and the broken bones were speedily forgotten, and in a short time he was on his legs again, and we all trudging on once more in the old rough and tumble style of progression, till about midnight, we found ourselves standing under the lee of something which looked like a bank of snow, but which, to our great gratification, proved to be the powder-house we had erected on shore in the beginning of the winter."

The 6th of august of 1852 the ship sailed from Batty bay after having spent in that place for 330 days, almost an entire year. The crew was by then afflicted with scurvy, which had shown up affecting both, the sledge party and the remaining crew of the ship. However, they sailed to Beechey island in an attempt to offer their help to Horatio Austin´s squadron. Only the supply vessel North star was there, but a combination of the state of healthof his crew, the strict rules of the royal navy to which those who wanted to stay must be submittted and the lack of experience of many of the men belonging Austin´s  squadron dissuaded them to stay a further winter:

 "On being made acquainted with the nature of the Admiralty regulations, to which they would be subjected by their removal to the North Star, first Sutherland, and subsequently Smith, withdrew their offer, alleging, as a farther reason for their change of purpose, their fears, which I found were shared by the Prince Albert's crew in general, that the fresh men from England would not be able to bear the same fatigue as themselves, some of whom had been all their lives more or less at this hard exploring labour. Mr» Bellot and myself were thus most reluctantly compelled to abandon our enterprise, and the disap- pointment seemed to be scarcely less felt by that fine young officer, Mr. Alston, of H.M.S. North Star, who had so nobly desired to be the companion of our future adventures."

So, Prince Albert sailed east to Baffin Bay and arrived to Aberdeen the 7 th de october with all men safe and sound on board and having discovered what was going to be a pivotal piece of the puzzle to complete a sailing route through the northwest passage

William Kennedy, in his conclusions, elegantly eludes the question ahout if there was still any chance to find any survivor from the Franklin expedition, and points to the testimonies of maybe more prudent arctic prominent explorers of the moment like Kane and others who were sure that men from Franklin expedition could have survived in those arctic regions and be still alive, due to their use of igloos (which we don´t know if they were able to build) and the abundant game which they could hunt (which we know now there is so scarce in the region they were trapped than even Inuit people don´t visit it.

I would have liked to ask directly to Kennedy himself about his opinion, who he diverted to these others instead of answering himself the question. I would have liked to ask this to one who struggled for three months during his sledge trip and had to combat the scurvy which appeared the very first winter in spite of all the provisions, apart of their own, which they had at hand and used from Whaler point, Fury beach, etc.and his abilities for hunting. Surely Lady Franklin won´t have liked to know that answer. Some of the more astounding assertions which trusted on the British endurance and capabilities came from Edward Sabine:

"Colonel Sabine said, when asked, did he think our countrymen could exist in the rigour of those Polar regions ? ' The Esquimaux/ said he, ' live there ; and, where they live. English- men can live"

A thing, which we know now, that is not entirely true. 

miércoles, 22 de diciembre de 2021


Some time ago, I wrote about the forgotten heroes who died while trying to locate the Franklin lost expedition. The idea was to demonstrate that, the recurrent remark which says that there were more loses in the course of these searching expeditions than in the Franklin´s one itself, was unfounded. Some of those expeditions left mini graveyards, not too different to the one built by the Franklin expedition in Beechey island and which many readers surely know well. Those I have managed to locate so far are in Port LeopoldDealy islandNorth Star Bay and Griffith island

That was also the case of Leopold McClintock searching expedition, which left two graves with their correspondant tombstones at the entrance of Bellot strait, where he was forced to winter.

McClintock had already lost a member by then, Robert Scott, their lead stocker, who died because of a fall on the 4th of december of 1857. The Yacht Fox had been beset since the 20th of august at the north end of Baffin bay, not far from Melville Bay. His, hadn´t been the first one to be involved in that situation, Ross´s Enterprise, the North Star and the Isabel had been trapped in these same waters before. The crossing of Baffin bay isn´t an easy task, its center is commonly plagued with icebergs and it has prevented some expeditions from getting into Lancaster sound for many years. This forces them to winter in the ice, or more luckily, doing that in a sheltered bay at the west coast of Greenland. 

Wintering in the pack ice was a terrible and desperate thing to do. Other explorers had experienced before the horrors of having to deal with the extremely thick ice which continuosly threatens smashing the hull. Ships are in permanent movement and very often, are placed by the ice in impossible angles making the life on board miserable. The "Ice artillery", as the always well informed McClintock reminds us that Eliza Kent Kane had christened the idefatigable attack by the ice, made resting simply impossible.

It was during the darkest days of that winter that the engine driver, Robert Scott, had the misfortune of falling through the hatchway on the 2nd december of 1857. "The steady serious man", as McClintock descibed him, died two days after the fall of internal injuries. The cursed vacancy was inmediately covered by George Brands, the engineer, who would also abruptly and unexpectedly die almost a year later. As we will soon see, George, who inherited from Scott "the whole duty of working the engines" wasn´t aware about what this duty actually was going to mean:

"Poor Scott fell down a hatchway two days only before his death, which was occasioned by the internal injuries then received ; he was a steady serious man ; a widow and family will mourn his loss. He was our engine-driver; we cannot replace him, therefore the whole duty of working the engines will devolve upon the engineer, Mr. Brand."

The Church service was read almost entirely on board, and then, a party of men, led by McClintock, dragged the corpse (we must assume that no coffin was issued for the occassion) which had been put on a sledge, to the place where poor Scott was going to be buried at sea. There is no point in summarizing or trying to give an idea about what happened there. It is much more interesting and realistic to read from McClintock´s own words how the scene was and the magical and gloomy atmosphere which surrounded it:

 "I have just returned on board from the performance of the most solemn duty a commander can be called upon .to fulfil. A funeral at sea is always peculiarly impressive ; but this evening at seven o'clock, as we gathered around the sad remains of poor Scott, reposing under an Union Jack, and read the Burial Service by the light of lanterns, the effect could not fail to awaken very serious emotions.

The greater part of the Church Service was read on board, under shelter of the housing; the body was then placed upon a sledge, and drawn by the messmates of the deceased to a short distance from the ship, where a hole through the ice had been cut : it was then " committed to the deep," and the Service com pleted. 

What a scene it was ! I shall never forget it. 

The lonely 'Fox,' almost buried in snow, completely isolated from the habitable world, her colours half-mast high, and bell mournfully tolling ; our little procession slowly marching over the rough surface of the frozen sea, guided by lanterns and direction-posts, amid the dark and dreary depth of Arctic winter*; the death-like stillness, the intense cold, and threatening aspect of a murky, overcast sky ; and all this heightened by one of those strange lunar phenomena which are but seldom seen even here, a complete halo encircling the moon, through which passed a horizontal band of pale light that encompassed the heavens ; above the moon appeared the segments of two other halos, and there were also mock moons or paraselene to the number of six. The misty atmosphere lent a very ghastly hue to this singular display, which lasted for rather more than an hour."

A burial on the ice

The winter ended and the Fox was finally extricated from its ice jail by 26 th april 1858 after eight months of confinement and having drifted south by more than two thousand kilometers. The engines were used to sail among the dangerous icebergs and floes to put distance between the pack ice and the ship. McClintock made good use of  the steam, in spite of that he was well aware of the limitations of having just one man to drive them.  His enthusiasm surpassed the practical and human limits, which had much to do with what happened the following winter. McClintock expectations of Brand were high. On one occassion he said:

"Mr. Brand alone being capable of working the engines, so that ten or twelve hours daily is all the steaming that could have been expected."

At the time they were fighting to escape the ice pack during the spring of 1858, the commander wrote:

 "We went faster, received fewer though still more severe shocks, until at length we had room to steer clear of the heaviest pieces ; and at eight o'clock we emerged from the villanous " pack," and were running fast through straggling pieces into a clear sea.The engines were stopped, and Mr. Brand permitted to rest after eighteen hours' duty, for we now have no one else capable of driving the engines."

After the expedition was resupplied in the whaling posts located on the west coast of Greenland, they sailed northward to Cape York, where they met the Arctic Highlanders and then continued, following the Baffin´s steps, following the shores of the bay till they reached Lancaster sound. 

They had reached Bellot strait and were trying to get through but the ice blocked their way westward. They tried and tried and tried again to cross Bellot strait but the ice refuse to relinquish. In the course of these operations, engines were used constantly to make the most of the occassional leads which opened before them which was depriving them from reaching their goal. 

From time to time McClintock refers to the use of steam in ways like the one which follows:

"Today an unsparing use of steam and canvas forced the ship eight miles further west we were then about half-way 'through Bellot Strait ! "

We can only imagine what that meant to George Brand, working alone hour after hour in the overheated engine room. 

McClintock decided to winter again at the entrance to Port Kennedy, and from there he would try to find some trace of the Franklin expedition by sledging. McClintock tells the shocking events which took place quite unexpectedly on the 6th November 1858:

"Yesterday Mr. Brand was out shooting as usual, and in robust health ; in the evening Hobson sat with him for a little time. Mr. Brand turned the conversation upon our position and employments last year ; he called to remembrance poor Robert Scott, then in sound health, and the fact of his having carried our " Guy Fawkes round the ship on the preceding day twelvemonth, and added mournfully,

 " Poor fellow ! no one knows whose turn it may be to go next." 

He finished his evening pipe, and shut his cabin door shortly after nine o'clock. This morning, at seven o'clock, his servant found him lying upon the deck, a corpse, having been several hours dead. Apo- plexy appears to have been the cause. He was a steady, serious man, under forty years of age, and leaves a widow and three or four children ; what their circumstances are I am not aware."

Brand was buried four days after. We can imagine this delay was provoked by bad weather or maybe because of the autopsy made in an attempt to try to ascertain the actual cause of his death. After that, he was finally put to rest in the frozen ground of Port Kennedy:

"10th. — This morning the remains of Mr. Brand, inclosed in a neat coffin, were buried in a grave on shore. A suitable headboard and inscription will be placed over it. From all that I have gathered, it appears that his mind had been somewhat gloomy for the last few days, dwell ing much upon poor Scott's sudden death."

But Brand wouldn´t be alone for a long time, he would be followed six months after by Thomas Blackwell, the ship steward. From the moment they departed from Greenland towards Lancaster sound the crew was in good health. The death of Blackwell, happened on 14th june 1859, and was unexpected, and McClintock soon found a reasonable explanation for that unfortunate incident:

"The Doctor now acquainted me with the death of Thomas Blackwell, ship's steward, which occurred only five days previously, and was occasioned by scurvy. This man had scurvy when I left the ship in April, and no means were left untried by the Doctor to promote his recovery and rally his desponding energies ; but his mind, unsustained by hope, lost all energy, and at last he had to be forcibly taken upon deck for fresh air. For months past the ship's spirits had been of necessity removed from under his control.

When too late his shipmates made it known that he had a dislike to preserved meats, and had lived the whole winter upon salt pork ! He also disliked preserved potato, and would not eat it unless watched, nor would he put on clean clothes, which others in charity prepared for him. Yet his death was somewhat unexpected ; he went on deck as usual to walk in the middle of the day, and, when found there, was quite dead. His remains were buried beside those of our late shipmate Mr. Brand."

Blackwell was the only casualty of the expedition due to scurvy, one out of 26 men after two winters. The statistics seemed to improve if we compare this rate with other previous expeditions. This reinforces the idea that they apparently were frequently supplied with abundant fresh meat during the whole trip by hunting and fishing. The stop in Greenland surely had very much to do with this happy outcome. Also, the abundant references to previous expeditions with which McClintock decorates his journal, is a clear signal that the captain had done his homework and that he had put into practice whatever measures he considered could help to fight the scurvy.

Not much later, the 10th august 1859, the ice started to open and the Fox left their winter quarters. McClintock, always a resourceful and unstoppable man, declared his intention, which eventually he achieved, to take control of the engines despite the losts of his engine driver and engineer: 

"I have been giving some attention to the engines and boiler, and hope, with the help of the two stokers, to be able to make use of our steam power."

And later:

Today steam was got up, and with the help of our two stokers I worked the engines for a short time. It is very cheering to know that we still have steam power at^ our command, although, hy the deaths of poor Mr. Brand and Robert Scott, we were deprived of our engineer and engine-driver."

McClintock´s will power is obviously a magnitude hard to measure for many of us. I raised both eyebrows when I read what he did while trying to get out of Port Kennedy, a thing which he managed to do:

"Having managed the engines for twenty- four consecutive hours, I was not sorry to get into bed."

The ship sailed towards civilization. The farewell to his lost shipmates  is quite moving and also gives a hint to their location. This could be used maybe some day to try to locate them together with other relics in their abandoned winter quarters. A boat and a cairn with a note were also left behind to accompany the graves: 

"Of the traces which we have left behind us, the most considerable are the graves of our two shipmates within the western point of our little harbour ; they were tastefully sodded round, and planted over with the usual Arctic flowers."

The expedition was over, and it was a successful one which would clear up part of the Franklin expedition mistery, though, as is happening nowadays with the archaeological work on the shipwrecks of Erebus and Terror, it also rises further unknowns.

If the graves of George Brand and Thomas Blackwell are still visible in Port Kennedy which is a thing I am unaware of.  I really want to think they are still there undisturbed by both, humans or animals, waiting to be properly repaired and marked. On the other hand, the sad proceedings of the burial of Robert Scott, gives us a precise idea of how the burials of the Franklin expedition men while being beset in the northwest coast of King William island were. 

I have tentatively pinned them in my interactive arctic Graveyard map at the mouth of the river at the center of the water channel which forms Port Kennedy, but I may be perfectly wrong:

Leopold McClintock winter quarters in Port Kennedy at the east end of Bellot strait

There are many explorers from that time still buried in the arctic, it wouldn´t be a totally crazy idea to try to locate the graves of these forgotten heroes and to build memorials to recognize their labour. The men of the Franklin expedition are not the only ones who deserve our honor.

domingo, 29 de agosto de 2021


El ártico ha sido durante siglos escenario de numerosas muertes, algunas de ellas provocadas por inanición, exposición a los elementos y a las condiciones climáticas, ataques de osos polares, etc. pero algunas de estas muertes fueron también provocadas por las mismas personas que participaron en las expediciones que se adentraron en él. La frontera entre lo que en las transcripciones oficiales de los diarios de viaje a veces se llamó "ejecuciones" o lo que se podría haber llamado simplemente "Crímenes" es a veces una línea delgada y, según el punto de vista, la denominación de "Ejecución" podría ser discutible.

Este no es un listado exhaustivo, pero a mi mente vienen estos casos:

Robert Hood y Michel Terhoaute, Primera expedición de Franklin descendiendo por el río Coopermine en 1819-22.

Robert Hood fue presuntamente asesinado por el indio Michel Terohaute que les acompañaba mientras se dirigían de regreso a Fort Enterprise atravesando una de las zonas más inhóspitas del ártico Canadiense. Las cosas iban terriblemente mal, tras alcanzar las orillas de la costa norte del continente canadiense, el invierno ártico se les había echado encima y habían emprendido una desesperada huida hacia los cuarteles de invierno que tenían establecidos algo más al sur por detrás de la línea de árboles. 

El grupo se había separado, John Franklin, líder de la expedición, había seguido adelante con la intención de buscar ayuda dejando atrás a Robert Hood, que se encontraba enfermo e incapaz de seguir el paso de sus compañeros, junto con el Dr. Richardson, John Hepburn (un marinero) y Michel. 

Poco después de separarse del resto de expedicionarios, Michel Teroahute disparó a Hood en la nuca después de una amarga discusión mientras estaban acampados. En este caso la situación estaba clara, parece que en realidad fue un crimen (Fergus Fleming en "Barrow Boys" sugirió audazmente que Hood podría haber sido asesinado para ser comido por el resto de sus compañeros británicos).

Dr. John Richardson

Una vez muerto Robert Hood decidieron avanzar hacia Fort Enterprise Midhel, Terohaute comenzó a comportarse de manera extraña y violenta. El indio trataba de evitar continuamente que los ingleses hablaran entre ellos, en un momento determinado se quedó un poco atrás con la excusa de querer recoger algo de liquen para poder comer. John Richardson y Hepburn por fin pudieron hablar y llegaron a la conclusión de que Michel se había detenido para cargar el arma. Cuando se aproximó a ellos, John Richardson lo mató sin contemplaciones de un disparo en la cabeza. Esto se consideró oficialmente una ejecución, aunque Willard Wentzel, el representante de la Northwest Company que les asistía en el viaje, pidió hacer una investigación adecuada, pero nadie lo escuchó.

Patrick Coleman Segunda expedición de Charles Francis Hall en busca de la expedición de Franklin.

Charles Francis Hall

Charles Francis Hall, durante su segunda expedición fusiló el 31 de julio de 1868 a uno de los cinco marineros que había contratado previamente tras una amarga discusión con ellos. La discusión fue provocada por Hall que se dirigió a la tienda, donde esos hombres descansaban después de haber estado fuera todo el día. Les pidió una explicación sobre por qué habían pasado tanto tiempo fuera del campo para hacer un trabajo que, de acuerdo a su criterio, debió haber durado solo unas pocas horas.

Hall fue a su tienda, tomó un revólver, regresó a la tienda donde se encontraban los marineros y disparó a Patrick. La agonía del pobre hombre duró dos semanas antes de morir. Algunos de los testigos inuit dijeron que temían por la vida de Hall porque la discusión fue muy violenta. Sin embargo, uno de los marineros dijo tiempo después que la situación podría haberse controlado con la gestión adecuada, quizás con un hombre más templado que Hall.

De acuerdo con el testimonio Inuit, no parece estar claro si lo que Hall perpetró fue una ejecución o un asesinato. Aparentemente Hall actuó en defensa propia, pero el hecho de que Patrick estuviera desarmado y que Hall pudo haber ido a su tienda y regresar con su arma sin ser detenido, herido o asesinado sugiere  que quizás la situación no fuera tan extrema después de todo.

Thomas Simpson  Expedición de regreso de Thomas Simpson a Inglaterra 1840

Thomas Simpson


Esta es una de las historias más oscuras de crímenes del Ártico. El año anterior Thomas Simpson y Warren Dease, trabajadores de la Hudson Bay Company  habían realizado uno de los más fantásticos viajes de descubrimiento realizados hasta la fecha recorriendo miles de kilómetros por los estrechos y canales que se encuentran en la costa norte de Canadá. A su regreso, Thomas Simpson fue sorprendido con la negativa de la HBC para permitirle continuar con sus viajes de exploración y rematar el trabajo realizado, que de haberse producido, habría probablemente salvado la vida de Franklin y el resto de sus hombres.

Simpson decidió regresar a Inglaterra para exponer personalmente sus argumentos. Según contaron los supervivientes, durante el viaje de regreso Thomas se suicidó y algunos de sus compañeros indios murieron previamente en un tiroteo contra él. Parece ser que Simpson se había vuelto loco, violento y paranoico. Al parecer, pensó que algunos de los indios estaban tratando de acabar con él, los mató y el resto de los hombres huyó. Estos hombres lo encontraron muerto de un disparo y su arma estaba a su lado.

Soldado Charles Henry Expedición Adolphus Greely en 1884

Soldado Charles Henry

Sobre este asunto específico tengo pocas cosas que decir, Glenn Marty Stein hizo una descripción completa y detallada de los hechos en su maravilloso artículo: "Una ejecución ártica" que está disponible aquí:


Este es quizás el caso más claro de todos. Charles Henry había estado protagonizando sucesivos robos del almacén de comida en un momento en el que los expedicionarios se encontraban totalmente aislados y en una situación muy extrema. El comandante de la expedición ordenó su ejecución, dejando incluso la orden por escrito lo que parece dejar claro que se trató de una ejecución. Lo que quizás no quedó tan claro es si los hechos sucedieron tal y como se relató en el relato oficial de la expedición. Recomiendo, a quienes aún no lo han hecho, la lectura del artículo de Glenn.

Ross Gilmore Marvin (expedición de Peary 1908-09)

Otro caso interesante, nuevamente producto del comportamiento errático y agresivo de la víctima, es el de Ross Gilmore Marvin, miembro de la expedición Peary de 1908, quien fue el líder de uno de los grupos de apoyo.

Ross Gilmore Marvin

Marvin tenía 28 años cuando se unió a la expedición y había participado en el intento anterior de Peary. Se separó del grupo principal que iba a lanzar el ataque final al Polo Norte de regreso a la costa con dos primos inuit, Kudlookto e Inuksutoq. Estos dos hombres llegaron al campamento sin Marvin días después de haberse separado de Peary, contaron que Marvin había caído el 10 de abril de 1909 en un canal abierto en el hielo, quince días después de que partieran del grupo principal de Peary. Sin embargo, diecisiete años después, uno de los inuit confesó haber disparado contra Marvin debido a su comportamiento demente. Para hacer las cosas aún más confusas, en 1954, al parecer, Kudlookto le dijo a la hija de Peary que se había inclinado a hacer esa confesión influenciado por algún tipo de histeria religiosa al finalizar alguna ceremonia cristiana.

Marvin era un entusiasta de las tierras polares, estaba absolutamente motivado, tanto, que la historia contada por sus acompañantes puede sorprender. Marvin había tenido que dar la vuelta, ordenado por Peary, a una latitud de 86º38 ´´norte, a una distancia de unos 370 km de su meta. Quizás el hecho de estar tan "cerca" del Polo Norte y de tener que regresar podría haberlo afectado profundamente.

El extraño comportamiento detallado por los compañeros Inuit es aún más raro si se tiene en cuenta los la alta estima en la que era considerado. En palabras del propio Mathew Henson, el profesor Marvin era "una persona tranquila y seria, que tenia mucha experiencia además de una espléndida educación". La misa realizada en su honor, disponible aquí, está lleno de cumplidos hechos por Peary y otros.

Los planes de Peary sobre quién formaría parte del equipo final que participaría en el ataque hacia el objetivo final eran desconocidos por los hombres, ni siquiera Mathew Henson estaba al tanto de aquello:

"Mi corazón dejó de palpitar, respiré más tranquilo y mi mente se alivió. Aún no era mi turno, debía continuar y solo quedaba una persona entre el polo y yo: el capitán. Conocíamos el plan general del comandante Peary: que, al final de ciertas etapas, ciertos equipos volverían hacia el sur hacia la tierra y el barco "

Pero parece que los pies de Marvin estaban muy congelados cuando se produjo el momento de regresar.  Peary, en los días anteriores lo había enviado de regreso a tierra una vez antes para llegar a un depósito anterior y lejano para traer un más alcohol para el grupo principal, un esfuerzo extra que podría haber afectado gravemente a sus condiciones físicas y mentales.

Es evidente a partir de la narrativa de la expedición de Mathew Henson que éste había desarrollado un cariño especial hacia Marvin. Al final de su narración, cuando ya habían alcanzado supuestamente el polo y regresado a salvo al campamento, escribió:

"Pero el único pensamiento siempre presente en mi mente era en Marvin y en su muerte. Pensé en él y en su bondad hacia mí; y la imagen de su madre viuda, esperando pacientemente el regreso de su hijo, estaba ante mí todo el tiempo. Pensaba en mi propia madre, a quien apenas recordaba, y deseaba sinceramente que hubiera sido yo quien hubiera muerto".

Nadie que lea esto ahora estuvo allí como testigo y, por lo tanto, nadie puede decir lo que realmente sucedió, sin importar cuán fuertes sean las pistas o confiables las confesiones, por lo que no hay razones fácticas para creer una u otra teoría que hacen que esta muerte sea controvertida.

 Ahogarse en mares helados era muy común en las exploraciones polares y lamentablemente todavía ocurre durante estos días en las expediciones modernas, pero es dudoso que alguien pudiera haber fabricado una historia como la contada por los inuit que se podrían haber enfrentado un castigo muy severo. Soy, como muchos otros, mucho más propenso a pensar que a Marvin le dispararon y que no se ahogó, pero lo que realmente sucedió para provocar un acto tan extremo no está del todo claro. Se dijo que Marvin tenía la intención de abandonar Kudlookto y que no permitió que Inuksotoq entrara en su iglú, lo que hubiera significado la muerte segura de ambos hombres pero también existe otra posibilidad, que los dos primos pudieran haber matado o abandonado a Marvin con sus pies congelados para no retrasar su regreso a la seguridad. 

No debemos olvidar que los Inuit tienen miedo de avanzar hacia el hielo marino y sabemos por muchos relatos polares los terribles efectos de tener un miembro lesionado en el equipo que no puede seguir el ritmo desesperado que se necesita un equipo en una situación tan extrema. Lo más probable es que Marvin fuera presionado por los inuit para ir más rápido cuando éste evidentemente no podía, aquello pudo haber vuelto loco o desesperado a Marvin, quien podría haber amenazado a sus dos compañeros para que no lo dejaran solo, o tal vez ni siquiera lo hizo. Pudo no haber permitido que uno de ellos compartiera el iglú o haber pensado en separarse del otro simplemente porque no confiaba ya en ellos, lo que obviamente llevó a su acompañante a matarlo. No culpo a nadie, por supuesto, los exploradores árticos solían amenazar o presionar a los inuit para que siguieran sus locos planes, algunas veces obligándolos a realizar viajes que los nativos sabían que eran suicidas, por lo que aquí no se juzga en absoluto. solo se evalúan las opciones.

Pero fuera lo que fuera lo que ocurriera en la banquisa helado , el hecho es que como dijo Peary:

"Los huesos de Ross G. Marvin se encuentran más al norte que los de cualquier otro ser humano".

Hay un pequeño monumento en Elmira que puedes encontrar en mi mapa conmemorativo de exploraciones polares, también hay una tumba ficticia aquí. 


Bueno, estoy seguro de que hay un número mucho mayor de "crímenes-ejecuciones-asesinatos" árticos, pero a mi mente solo vienen estos en este momento. De todos modos, una cosa está clara, el Ártico, parece ejercer una gran y magnífica atracción hacia las personas sensibles y les hace surgir los mejores y más maravillosos sentimientos, pero parece que también tiene la capacidad de transformar a otro tipo de personas en asesinos y paranoicos. Los casos de paranoia parecen ser frecuentes en estas latitudes y, quizás justificado o no, esta paranoia solía terminar con un asesinato o con un muerto.

Para mí está claro que el poder de esas regiones está más allá de los límites de comprensión de aquellos, como yo, que no han estado allí y que una persona, no importa cuán fuerte este hombre o mujer pueda ser, física o mentalmente,  no és más que un títere en las garras de su naturaleza.

martes, 8 de junio de 2021


Maybe the less glamurous story related with the legend of the Open Polar Sea is that one which tells the story about how Joseph Moxon, the expert engraver of plates for terrestrial globes, who became later hydrogapher of the king Charles II, overheard in 1656 some dutch sailors talking in a tavern about how they had managed not only to reach the North Pole but to even surpassed it by 2 degrees of latitude.

Joseph Moxon From Wikipedia

Of course, as it uses to happen in these cases, when one starts digging and getting deeper into an anecdote like this, alternative stories show up. Some of these deviations from the original account transports you far from the appealing vision I had in mind of a heavily drunk Joseph Noxon being cheated by a bunch of no less drunk sailors sculpting a fascinating view of an open polar sea right on the top of the world  in the mind of the hidrographer while singing some Sea shanties.

The first version of the facts I have read said that a dutch whaler ship, which load wasn´t enough to return home, having noticed that the sea north of Spitzbergen was clear of ice, decided to take the risk and sail northwards (to search for more whales I guess) and "at the distance of two degrees went twice round it". Apparently the captain of the ship didn´t conceal this fact, more the opposite, and asked anyone suspicious to look for contrasting the information among his crew members. According to this account, Moxon had heard a "respectable ducht whaler" (no mention to any sort of party nor drunkenness), saying that he had sailed under the very pole (that means the ship didn´t reach the North Pole but apparently only 88 ºN) in a weather as warm as it could be found in Amsterdan in summer. Apparently, "athenticated" testimonies of that time revealed that some ships could have actually reached even 85 ºN. 

There were other dutch whalers who told similar stories, this time they assured to have reached 89 ºN.  This version of the facts, is presented in a more "sober" manner in The critical review, or annals of literature, Volumen 62, and differs slightly from those other I have found , like that presented in the fantastic article "Reconsidering the Theory of the Open Polar Sea" by the historian Michael F. Robinson author of an inmense list of awesome articles. In this article is said that Moxon was actually drinking beer with those Dutch sailors, what else could have he been doing in a tavern, for ... sake? Don´t blame him for that.

Merry Party In A Tavern by Dirck Hals

I can´t hardly doubt that the result of the digressions which surely followed the third round of ale (paid almost with totally certainty by Moxon himself) ended taking shape carved with a knive in the wood of the tavern table, painted with improvised ink in the rough tablecloth (if there was any) or, more likely, drawn with any sticky substance at hand, in a napkin (if such a thing existed by that time). I have witnessed, along my experience as an ingeneer, how many problems have been solved or great ideas have born during lunchtime while eating with some work mates, I have seen many paper napkins being folded with extreme care and put in the shirt pockets of many respectable technicians like a treasure, so I can easily imagine that this imaginary, but at the same time quite probable, Quixotic map could have existed and changed hands many times till it ended in John Barrow´s desktop. I know this it is mainly and only the product of my sick imagination but it is also a fascinating possibility. Let´s think for a moment this napkin actually existed and let´s come back quickly to our story.

    Map of the unknown areas around the north pole from:
             "A Brief Discourse of a Passage by the North-Pole to Japan, China, etc in 1674"

That encounter left in Moxon a deep footprint, he was so impressed that years after he dare to write a short essay about the matter "essay A Brief Discourse of a Passage by the North-Pole to Japan, China, etc in 1674."

With this paper at hand... what better manner to learn the truth than drinking from the original source? This is a fascinating panphlet where Moxon indulges himself in a description which looks more like a guilty declaration and confirms that he actually drank beer in that tavern, his casual mentions to his thirst and the use of the adjective 'sober' when referring to those  "ingenious man" who could have heard that story seems a clear case of "Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta". The whole text is not long and very interesting by itself, I have rescued here the more relevant passages describing the encounter in the third round: 

"I have credibly been informed by a Steer-man of a Dutch Greenland Ship, that there is a free and open Sea under the very Pole, and somewhat beyond it. And I for my own part give credit to his Relation, and do conceive that any sober ingenious Man would do the like,... Being about  22 years ago in Amsterdam, I went into a Drinking-house to drink a cup of Beer for my thirst, and sitting by the  publick Fire, among several People there happened a Seaman  to come in, who seeing a Friend of his there, who he knew went in the Greenland Voyage, wondered to see him, because it was not yet time for the Greenland Fleet to come home, and asked him what accident brought him home so soon: His Friend (who was the Steer-man aforesaid  in a Greenland Ship that Summer) told him that their Ship went not out to Fish that Summer, but only to take in  the Lading of the whole Fleet, to bring it to an early Market,  &c. But, said he, before the Fleet had caught Fish enough to lade us, we, by order of the Greenland Company, Sailed into the North-Pole, and came back again."

As if that was an easy thing to do. Moxon follows:

"I entered discourse  with him, and seemed to question the truth of what he said. But he did ensure me it was true, and that the Ship was then in Amsterdam, and many of the Seamen belonging to her  to justifie the truth of it: And told me moreover, that they sailed 2 degrees beyond the Pole. I askt him, if they found no Land or Islands about the Pole? He told me No, there was a free and open Sea; I askt him if they did not meet with a great deal of Ice? He told me No, they saw no Ice.

I askt him what Weather they had there? He told me fine warm Weather, such as was at Amsterdam in the Summer time, and as hot. I should have askt him more questions, but that he was ingaged in discourse with his Friend, and I could not in modesty interrupt them longer. But I be∣lieve the Steer-man spoke matter of fact and truth, for he seem'd a plain honest and unaffectatious Person, and one who could have no design upon me."

But however convincing the sailor was, or thick was the fog originated by the alcohol , both things couldn´t avoid arising certain questions in Moxon´s mind, at the end of the day he had his own red lines. Doubts about how could possibly be so warm up there in the North pole when at other lower latitudes was so cold or how could those sailors have managed to return home if the needle of their compass should have been unable to point north. He quickly found answers to those objections and found plausible explanations for them in the number of hours the sun stays above the horizon in summer at that latitude added to the fact that oceans were warmer than coasts and land, etc.

The truth is that this "Open polar sea theory", which we know had been originated much before by Nycholas of Lynn, lasted longer than what any reasonable mind could have imagined and was the cause of the constant delivery of so many audacious polar explorers to icy traps, which sometimes claimed an expensive price. Were all those "believers" as affected by their boundless imagination and optimism as Moxon was when he was drinking beer in Amsterdan?

If the open Polar sea ever existed  will be always unknown but these testimonies clearly matches Scoresby's ones produced much later. That was the match which ignitiated Barrow´s first expedition towards the North Pole in 1818 under the command of John Buchan and the sadly famous Sir John Franklin.  Do whalers of that time or those centuries before like Scoresby wanted the governments of the most powerful nations to send expeditions to open new whale fisheries for them?

Our imaginary napkin with an open polar sea drawn on it among stains of tomatoe and beer, kept changing hands from Barrow to Kane, from Kane to Isaac Hayes, Hall and others, who burnt some extra logs adding haunting testimonies wich talked about waters free of ice north of Smith sound. The very same Franklin could have formed part of an iceberg, as Richard King so accuratelly foretold, when he sailed north as high as 77 ºN east of Cornwallis island and then further north of its tip. Paradoxically, he then found his death a year after in the south. 

Nobody apparently paid attention to the frustrating attempt to reach the North pole by foot, walking on the surface of the capricious ice cap (the first of this class), performed by Parry in 1827 who dragged two inmensily heavy sledges loaded with boats on their top to sail in the warm open Polar sea. He was the first on experiencing that walking a mile north meant to go backwards two. 

The napkin, meanwhile, started to metamorphose into a  much more complex formula which included new ingredients like the gulf current, visits of whales from one part of the world to the other, etc. As Robinson clearly tells in his article, the subsequent and more modern expeditions  like USS Jeannette, Nares, Peary, Andree, and ultimately and definitely the bold Nansen attempt, whased with strong detergent pitilessly the misleading napkin leaving after a thorough and heavy centrifugation a completely white piece of cloth more similar to a continuous and unbroken frozen ice cap than to any warm and boreal ocean.

We may never know.

Further reading here: