KABLOONAS

KABLOONAS
Burial of John Franklin. Author: me

KABLOONAS

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, 11 de mayo de 2022

UNDER THE POLAR STAR, A ROMANTIC MELODRAMA

Polar exploration has always inspired novels, movies, poems, sculptures, comics, songs but also occasionally theather plays. That´s the case of "Under the Polar Star, a romantic melodrama", a play I stumbled upon by chance while fishing polar related pictures in Google. It was a couple of posters showing scenes from the play which called powerfully my attention and which drove me directly to the search:


In this one above, what looks like a group of survivors is perched in a small ice floe looking alarmed, while they are calling one of his mates which lies on a smaller one further away.

A second poster shows the moment when the cabin boy is found to be actually a girl: 




The story is told in five acts by its author Clay Meredith Greene, a prolific writer, actor and director author of a good number of works, and was directed by William A Brady. Cinematography hasn´t been invented by the time the theater play was on the stages in 1896, a pity, because both men, writer and director, walked between these two different ages and directed also  movies in the subsequent years, "Under the polar star" could have been the first polar movie of all times.

The origin of the idea from which comes this play is unclear to me but, from what I have read, I have deduced, it could have been inspired by the recent expedition led by Fridtjof Nansen to the North Pole (1893-96), but also by Peary´s expeditions in the north of Greenland and maybe by some other earlier american expeditions like DeLong´s and Greely´s ones. Clay M. Green was born in 1850, so he could have followed during his adolescence the proceedings of these expeditions and have been impressed by the tragic outcome of some of them. But what is certain is that those were convulsive times, the activity in the arctic was frenetic. The North Pole was at siege and it would be a matter of time it would be eventually conquered, or at least that was what was said so. There is a particular episode in which the leader of the expedition is murdered and there are suspicions which lead to the expedition surgeon as the perpetrator, for me, a clear hint to Charles Francis Hall alleged poisoning by the surgeon of his expedition to the North Pole, Emil Bessels.

Undoubtedly, the marketing for the play was intense as the abundant collection of posters showing several of the more poignant scenes demonstrates:






Maybe the last one posted above, which shows the American flag upside down, is one of the bizarrests and which makes one wonder what was actually happening there. From others, and from the comments form the bottom of the pictures, it looks that maybe the story wasn´t a complete drama, but more likely a script written in a certain comical tone


The play was released in New York in the Academy of music the 20th of august of 1896, two days after Fridtjof Nansen and Johansen had arrived to Hammerfest, after his heroic attempt to reach the North Pole, where both explorers were enthusiastically received, and the same day that it was known that the Fram had also arrived safely to  Skjervøy.

Academy of Music, New York.

The theater, located in Manhattan, which counted with 4.000 seats (maybe too much for the available room, according to some critics),  was built in 1854 and demolished in 1926, thirty years after the play was represented.

I haven´t been able to find the whole script of the play but from the review written by Arthur Hoeber, an renowned painter who maybe is better know as art critic, in the Illustrated American of which he was assistant editor, we can get an idea about how the performance was:

"It may at once be conceded that this new play "Under the Polar Star"...has caught the popular fancy. Despite its absuddities and incongruity, it does not lack plentiful action and numerous climaxes, while there are go, snap and interest besides the pleasure affored the eye."

"Absuridities and incongruity" ...this makes one eager to have been present that day...

The plot appears to be simple and involves a murderer supervillian, a love story performed by a cabin boy who happens to be a girl, a fact which surprisingly and wonderfully gives life to a blog post I wrote years ago where I played with the idea that some polar expeditions could have counted with girls "CABIN GIRLS UN ARCTIC EXPEDITIONS".

The reviewer follows making our mouths watering even more:

"The party are brought to the vicinity of the North Pole, and this is the excuse for a fine ensemble of ice and sea, of floes and bergs, and the brilliancy of limelights of many colors. The ingenious tricks of propierty man and scenic artist, of mechanical devices, steam and electricity, have rarely been surpassed in New York. .... All the scenes of ice and water are very vivid illusions while a pack of yelping, fighting Esquimau dogs, harnessed to a sled, add a touch of local color most effectively."

These last addition to the FX were provided by Peary who surely was still keeping the sledge dogs from his last expedition to Greenland of 1892.

Grace Henderson played the role of the cabin girl, acting under the name of Helen Blaine, a cabin girl of thirty six year old by that time. In her biography in Wikipedia, though short, her appearance in the play is described as follows:

"In 1896, she starred in Under the Polar Star, an elaborate play complete with a facsimile of a large sailing ship and real on-stage sled dogs."



Hoeber´s article includes some pictures made by the photographer Jimmy Hare, who a year before had become photographer for Illustrated American magazine, and to who we should thank the fact that we currently have the only known pictures taken from this play.




The number 10th of the Gallery of Plays and Players from Illustrated American gives some extra information and an extra picture taken of the play. There were seventeen actors in total, one of Spanish surname and what lookslike a french first name called Bijou Fernandez:


Many of these actors continued their careers as silent film actors. The case of Cuyler Hastings, who apparently performed brilliantly the the evil character of William Brandon, is a little bit dramatic. He was surely chosen by his intense look apart from his skills. He would play after the role of Sherlock Holmes for Conan Doyle´s "Sherlock Holmes" theater play written in 1897 but will end  dramatically and abruptly his career after shooting himself in 1914 because some sort of paralysis had driven him away from the scenes:

Cuyler Hastings

In this second article is mentioned that the first performance was indeed a coincidence with the appearance of the lost Nansen and his ship. The path followed by Greene´s script was as ardous as the conquest of the North Pole itself, it took several tries before William Brady decided to take the risks. The previous article posted above seems like an excerpt from this other and longer one, and there is no doubt it was  written by Hoeber as well.

Extra details about the plot are given in this article and can be read here:


The result was a success, the actors performed well but above all, the special effects did their job and not only captivated the public attention but even amazed the critic who reluctanly agreed to say:

"Despite the fact that the situations are a triffle forced there is much in the play of general interest, many thrilling situations and a great deal of humanity at its est and worst. The exceeding measure of success that the piece has obtained is due no less to the spectacular effects than to its dramatic reconstruction"

We know that the play was in the theaters, in the Boston theater specifically, at least till the 14th of february of the following year and for a last week the 7th of march, as these pieces of news advertises:




During my research, I have found other books under the title "Under the polar star", which nothing (apparently) has to do with our story but just the name. Google books includes, however, a reference to a publication of 12 pages by Boston Theatre but its content is not available. 

I wish I could have acces to the script of this mysterioys play and be able to imagine the rest what haven´t been told in my head. From my opinion, and having not explored much further and thoroughly the matter, this work, could perfectly be the first polar play performed on stage in a theater.





miércoles, 5 de enero de 2022

VICTORY POINT CAIRN: THE SILENT WITNESS

In the northwest coast of the now mythical King William island, not far from the northernmost corner of the triangle shape  wich it forms, a two meters high cairn was built the 29th may 1830 by James Clark Ross. That was the first time this island was visited by explorers. The next visitors would be Thomas Simpson and Warren Dease who, in 1839, would build another cairn in the south coast.

Ross, accompanied by some men and eight dogs, left on may 1830 their ship Victory in Felix Harbour to lead a sledge party which intention was to ascertain if there was any passage connecting Prince Regent Inlet with Point Turnagain. That was the furthest point reached by John Franklin in the north coast of the American continent during his expedition of 1819-21. 

The party crossed Boothia peninsula and the channel which separates it from King William Island, James Ross strait, to end landing in its northeast shore. They hadn´t found the navigable connection they were looking for, but had discovered a new piece of land in the very heart of the arctic archipielago.

Ross´s reflections, right after landing on the island which was destined to be remembered forever as the scenary of the biggest polar tragedy of all times, look to me somehow premonitory:

"No one will be surprised to hear how often during all these years we have formed the idle wish that men could live without food; a wish, idle and nonsensical as we felt it, that has ever intruding, since the necessity of eating was the ever-recurring obstacle to all our endeavours"

If these "idle and nonsensical" wishes had become true, Franklin´s expedition´s fate would have been a very different one. 

Once in these new land, they walked northwestward and reached Cape Felix, the northern tip of King William Island. From there, they carried out to the southwest following its shores. Ross was happy to see how now the coastline was leading him towards his target, Point Turnagain but Ross´s provisions were scarce. They were meant to last just twenty one days, a great contrast with the provisions carried by fututre parties which could travel for as long as three months, so the expedition had came to its end.

Thomas Abernethy and James Ross separated from the party and continued southward  some miles more till they decided to stop north of Back´s bay. This was the place where they decided to turn around and where they built the cairn which would become years after the recipient of the only (*) written message coming from the Franklin expedition. Ross describes the moment this way:

"We now therefore unfurled our flag for the usual ceremony, and took possession of what we saw as far as the distant point, while that on which we stood was named Victory point; being the " ne plus ultra " of our labour, as it afterwards proved, while it will remain a standing record of the exertions of that ship's crew. The point to the south-west was also named Cape Franklin: and if that be a name which has now been conferred on more places than one, these honours, not in fact very solid when so widely shared, are beyond all thought less than the merits of that oflicer deserve.

On Victory point we erected a cairn of stones six feet high, and we enclosed in it a canister containing a brief account of the proceedings of the expedition since its departure from England. Such has been the custom, and to that it was our business to conform ; though I must say, that we did not entertain the most remote hope that our little history would ever meet an European's eye, even had it escaped the accident of falling into the hands of the Esquimaux.

Yet we should have gone about our work with something like hope, if not confidence, had we then known that we were reputed as lost men, if even still alive, and that our ancient and tried friend Back was about to seek for us, and to restore us once more to society and home. And if it is not impossible that the course of his present investigations from Cape Turnagain east-ward may lead him to this very spot, that he may find the record and proof of our own "turnagain," we have known what it is for the wanderer in these solitudes to alight upon such traces of friends and of home, and can almost envy him the imagined happiness; while we shall rejoice to hear that he has done that in which we failed, and perhaps not less than if we had ourselves succeeded in completing this long pursued and perilous work."

The Victory point cairn was born. It was elegantly crowned with the Union Jack and stood proud looking defiantly to the icy waters which laid to its west. "More explorers will come to put an end to this war", it looked to be saying..., and they actually did, but to fight a hopeless battle instead.

As we have read above, Ross seemed to have some sort of prophetic powers. Apart from the aforementioned appropiated reflection about the ´so human´ necessity of food (specially in this barren lands), he named the farthest piece of land at sight as Cape Franklin. Apparently, after being christened, the cape started to intone an inaudible syren´s chant which attracted the Franklin expedition to its perdition. The crews from Erebus and Terror landed close to this point in april of 1848. Their target now wasn´t to continue the exploration, but to run towards safety in a desperate race to survive.

It would had been a coincidence that Franklin, who died in june of 1847, had been buried in the cape which bears his name. A coincidence similar to that of the watery grave, Terror bay, in which was found HMS Terror shipwreck not long time ago. But however prophetical Ross could be, he was wrong this time about the fate of the record he left in the cairn. He failed to foreseen that the paper he had left would be indeed taken by european hands seventeen years later in 1847, or at least that is what I think it should have happened.

It was by chance, while consulting the detailed map of John Ross narrative of his voyage of 1829-33, that I found this interesting drawing of  the landscape as it was seen from Victory point placed in the down left corner upside down.


 

I am not completely sure if I had seen this before. The drawing sounds very familiar to me, but I can´t remember where or when I have seen this. The sight of the Union Jack waving happily at Victory point years before it would become the monument of a tragedy looks very dramatic to me. It was built to take possesion of a land and also to indicate from where future expeditions should resume the exploration of the Northwest passage but now it is only reminded as the bearer of bad news.

The next visitors to this region, Simpson and Dease, mentioned above, drew in the maps part of the south coast of the island and discovered the strait which separates the mainland from King William island.


They had linked the discoveries made by Franklin with the same land discovered by Ross, though they didn´t visit Ross furthest point. There were, therefore, blank spaces in the map still to explore. It was necessary to look for a passage which could link Barrow strait with this new waters discovered by Ross and Simpson. It would be the Franklin expedition which would fill those gaps during all the years they were locked in that region.

The Franklin expedition would be the first on arriving to Victory point after its discovery. They should have taken Ross´s note and interchanged it for their own one as it was the custom. That was the way those cairn were used for in the arctic regions by the explorers, as some sort of mailboxes, places to leave news and also to receive them. But that maybe didn´t happen that way.

The so called "Victory point record", contents an erratic description of the manipulation of the paper which is said to have been allegedly deposited for first time in Ross´s cairn. After being recovered by another sledge party, it was fulfilled with a much more pesimistic message and left in another cairn four miles southward from its original position. What the note says is the following:

"This paper was found by Lt. Irving under the cairn supposed to have been built by Sir James Ross in 1831—4 miles to the Northward—where it had been deposited by the late Commander Gore in May 1847. Sir James Ross' pillar has not however been found and the paper has been transferred to this position which is that in which Sir J. Ross' pillar was erected"

The last assertion makes ones hesitates if Graham Gore, the first on depositing the message, had actually found Ross´s cairn in Victory point or if he had put it under a different one northwards. Maybe, the men who James Ross have left behind when he decided to push a little bit forward, had built another cairn while they waited for his commander. This place was called Point Culgruff. 

The paper was left for second time in a different place, which was suppossed to be the actual location of Ross´s cairn, but from the note I have deduced that this latter no longer existed and had to be rebuilt. That could mean that the Franklin expedition didn´t get Ross´s note after all and it may be still there.

There, the informative paper, one of the only two, left by the expedition in the island, had to wait more than ten years before being discovered by McClintock´s expedition in 1859.


The northwest coast of the island was barely visited by the natives by that time. That Franklin´s note was untouched during that long period is a proof of that. However, Inuit presence wasn´t too far. Ross describes in his narrative that there were Inuit stone huts in the northeast coast and that there were also many remains of fishing camps and boats at the other side of the channel, in the west coast of Boothia peninsula.

Lieutenant Hobson, who accompanied McClintock in his searching expedition found the cairn and the note left by the Franklin expedition inside it. McClintock reached the cairn days after and demolished it in an unsuccesful attempt of finding any further clue, just to build it again to continue its life as a post office.

"Besides placing a copy of the record taken away by Hobson from the cairn, we both put records of our own in it ; and I also buried one under a large stone ten feet true north from it, stating the explorations and discoveries we had made."

It would take another long period before the cairn was visited again. Twenty years later, Frederick Schwatcka and William Gilder´s expedition, found it the 11th july 1879 and retrieved McClintock´s note. The cairn had again carried out its mission succesfuly. In Gilder´s words:

"It, however, proved to be a copy of the Crozier record found by Lieutenant Hobson, of McClintock's expedition, and was in the handwriting of Sir Leopold McClintock. The document was written with a lead pencil on note-paper, and was partially illegible from exposure. It was literally as follows :"




Gilder and Schwatcka tried to find the other record mentioned by McClintock following his instructions, but they never found it. In the narrative of their voyage, it is not mentioned if following the tradition, Schwatka had left any note under the cairn, so we may assume they didn´t.

There were others who visited the place many years after, like Burwash (1930), who in his report said that "No rock in place was found in the area", or Henry Larsen (1949), but, as far as I know the cairn at Victory point had by then disappeared. None of the cairns photographed by Burwash seems to be our Victory point cairn but others build towards Cape Jane Franklin:



So, it is likely that the Victory point cairn was destroyed years after Schwacka´s visit between 1879 and 1930, not reaching the age of one hundred years. However, it is strange that other cairns, like those found by Burwash, survived along all these years, and the more prominent Victory´s cairn didn´t.  

As far as I know, the cairn at Victory point no longer exists, I don´t think it has ever been rebuilt since then, though I may be wrong. On the other hand, it is interesting to remark that paradoxically, whereas the Victory point record is now perfectly safe and well preserved in England (as the fabulous blog by Logan Zachary showed us), Ross´s note has apparently dissappeared forever. I cannot but conjecture that the Franklin expedition actually could have taken it and that maybe now, the canister with Ross´s note, lays in a shelg inside the Erebus or the Terror waiting to be recovered.

This wasn´t intended to be the story of the Victory point record, that, was beautifully told by Russell Potter in this blog post. This was meant to be the history of a cairn, a story of hope in many senses. It was built with the intention of being a starting point, but it became instead the bottle which desperately pretended to convey the message about the whereabouts of the Franklin expedition castaways. It would have been surely confused, if he could have had thoughts at all, when it welcomed a promising Franklin expedition in 1847 only to observe powerless how a year after its one hundred remainder men landed in the nearby shores to start a desperate race towards tragedy, privations and death.

I really wish, nonsensically like Ross, that this silent witness could actually be able to talk to tell us what happened there. Maybe we should rebuild it again, sit in front, and then ask.

(*) There were in fact other written records, but the one found in Victory point was the one which gave more information.