Monday, December 5, 2016

Misleading CBC story on Franklin relics

In my news alerts this morning, I found that CBC reporter Dean Beeby has come out with what I feel is a misleading story about the status of the new Franklin relics brought up, or to be brought up, from HMS Erebus and Terror. Beeby, drawing from government documents obtained under the Access to Information act, shows that there was, indeed, some considerable back-and-forth over the status of these relics in the past -- but neglects to mention that the ongoing talks have, in fact, produced broad areas of consensus. And, even when he (accurately) notes that, although Parks Canada had received legal advice that the new relics were not covered by the Nunavut Act, they decided to invite Inuit groups to co-administer their conservation and display, he then repeats the assertion that the UK insists that they are their property, which they don't.  So let's go over the basic facts:

• As items from the navy of a nation, these newly-recovered Franklin relics would have been the unquestioned property of Her Majesty's Government -- but in the 1997 memorandum of understanding between the UK and Canada, the UK transfers all claims in the wrecks and their contents to Canada (an exception being made only for any gold found on the wrecks) as soon as they are positively identified.

• For similar reasons, because a naval vessel is considered the property of the nation under whose flag it sailed, the materials are not covered by the Nunavut Act. And yet, as I've often said here, it is entirely right and just that the GN and relevant Inuit groups take a very active role in determining the disposition of these materials, in which Inuit histories are very much bound up with those of the UK and Canadians generally. Parks Canada agrees, and has taken major steps to create this dialogue and cooperation, and a plan to co-administer them, and yet the impression Beeby gives is that none of this has yet happened.

• Although Beeby implies that it's some sort of injustice that the items will be displayed in the UK prior to being shown in Canada, that's not at all the case. The 2017 exhibition there will come to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau in 2018, and indeed the entire exhibit is being curated by the CMH. While, due to various individual issues, some items on display at one of these exhibits may not be present at the other, the whole thing is being undertaken in the spirit of cooperation, not contention, and fulfills the language of the 1997 memorandum that objects "of special significance to the history of the Royal Navy" be made available to the UK for display. They are, in essence, one exhibition, not two. And, although it will be in the UK during the sesquicentennial year of 2017, that's actually to Canada's benefit, as they will be the centerpiece of a series of events in London, co-ordinated by Canada House, marking this important anniversary there.

• It's important to note that, even with the new co-operation between Parks Canada and the GN and Inuit groups, these new objects require conservation and careful storage prior to, during, and after display. At present, Nunavut does not have any facility capable of these tasks; the official Nunavut Collection at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is full, and does not have an on-site administrator. The GN has a current agreement with the Canadian Museum of Nature to serve as its repository in the meantime, and it's to there that the Franklin relics would most likely go. Their potential display in Nunavut is certainly desirable, but will require building or leasing new facilities; it's to be hoped that the often-spoken-of heritage centre in Gjoa Haven, once constructed, will have that capacity, and will become a regular stop for Franklin-related tourism.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Guest post: Symbol of Empire

THE HEYDAY AND DECLINE OF ARCTIC EXPLORATION
Evidence from two Polar Bear Paintings

Michael Engelhard


Analyzing the heroic quest narrative, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out that it is crucial for the protagonist to face unknown dangers and to gain some spiritually or physically valuable thing. As a placeholder for Arctic adversity, the polar bear perfectly embodied such a thing. Captured alive, pictured, described for science, or slain for its meat or skin, it signified the hero’s trophy, his travails and rewards.

Two English nineteenth-century paintings that fall well within the Heroic Age epitomize the polar bear’s role in visual mythmaking: Richard Westall’s apotheosis "Nelson and the Bear" (1806) and Edwin Henry Landseer’s memento mori Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864).



Landseer’s monumental canvas alludes to the fate of Sir John Franklin (Nelson’s subaltern at the battle of Trafalgar), “the man who ate his boots,” who with his sailors disappeared sometime after 1845, while seeking to conquer that other chimera, the Northwest Passage. Using dark tones throughout this painting, Landseer, who’d studied live polar bears at the menagerie at the Exeter Exchange in London’s Strand, cast long shadows upon “an English optimism and triumphalism, which was particularly apparent at mid-century.”

Franklin’s had been the largest and best-equipped Arctic expedition to embark until then. His wife, Lady Jane Franklin, who never stopped hoping for his return, attended a soiree at the Royal Academy at which the “offensive” painting was shown. Her indignation was caused by the inclusion of two polar bears that, in Landseer’s imagining of the aftermath, gnawed on a human ribcage and shredded a red British ensign, symbol of national pride. Lady Franklin’s shock at the sight of the disgraced flag could have been exacerbated by the fact that she had sewn it (or one very much like it) for her knight-errant before he embarked on his last journey. Allegedly, at home, she had thrown that silken flag over Franklin, who was stretched out on a divan, and he had startled, reminding her that the Navy covered corpses with the Union Jack before burial at sea. Superstition also surrounds the painting itself. Man Proposes, God Disposes now hangs in the study hall of the Royal Holloway (a college of the University of London) where administrators long felt it necessary to cover the work with a large Union Jack during exams. Rumor had it that a student who had looked directly at it went mad and committed suicide and that those who sat next to it would fail their exams or die.

Every animal painting is also always a self-portrait, a story we tell about Nature and thereby reflective of our own nature. The red ensign in Man Proposes, which draws the viewer’s gaze, recalls Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”—but to pious Victorians, the horror of men having become bear prey was nothing compared to the evil whose name few dared to speak.
In 1854, word had reached London that Dr. John Rae of the Hudson’s Bay Company had met some Inuit who had learned from others that about forty white men had been seen in 1850, dragging a boat south, and that later, the bodies of those men had been found. They most likely had died from cold and starvation, but John Rae’s report included a disturbing detail mentioned by his informants. “From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles,” he wrote, “it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means for sustaining life.”

That the men who had been commanded by the man who once ate his boots had allegedly resorted to this outraged the civilized British. To be known as men who were savaged by polar bears was tragic, if rather interesting—“to be known as men who ate each other, unthinkable.” In light of Dr. Rae’s news, the ravenous bears in Landseer’s work became interchangeable with men, identical to them—too close for emotional comfort, which Darwin’s ideas had already disturbed.

Landseer’s monumentalized animal stands firmly in the tradition of seventeenth-century vanitas still-life paintings. In this art form, bodily remains and sundry objects symbolize vanity and the fleetingness of wealth, power, and fame—indeed, of all human endeavors—in the face of death. It is unlikely that Landseer suggested that bears had killed any of Franklin’s men; rather, he portrayed them in the scavenger mode that explorers often observed. To one reviewer, the painting’s characters looked like “monster ferrets,” which must have pained Landseer, who had gone so far as to borrow a polar bear skull from a Scottish museum in order to get the animal’s face and dimensions right.

Westall’s Nelson and the Bear reflects a younger, more confident empire. It poises the plucky, fifteen-year-old midshipman and future hero of Trafalgar at the edge of the pack ice, in a frockcoat, with buckled shoes and a bonnet resembling a chef’s hat—not really dressed for such an outing. Nelson wields his musket like a club against an opponent that has flattened its ears against its head and looks more like a scared sheepdog than a polar bear.

In 1773, young Horatio’s ship, HMS Carcass, like many before it on the search for the Northeast Passage, ground to a halt in the ice near Spitsbergen. Carcass and a second ship, Racehorse, were sailing under the command of Commodore Constantine Phipps, who on that same voyage named the polar bear Ursus maritimus.

Together with a shipmate, Nelson went after the bear, whose skin he wished to give to his father. That, at least, is the story the ship’s captain, Commander Skeffington Lutwidge, started telling decades later. He added the companion and the loyal filial element only in 1809, four years after Nelson had bled to death on the deck of HMS Victory. In Lutwidge’s story, Nelson’s rusty, borrowed musket misfired and he was saved only because a rift in the ice had appeared, separating him from the bear. Westall’s painting, however, shows only Nelson, a single, steadfast Briton facing the epitome of the hazardous North. Obviously, a companion on the ice would have diminished Nelson’s glory. Westall also included, in the background, Carcass helping to scare of the bear by firing a cannon. Besides adding to the hagiography of a national hero, the work celebrated Britannia and its mariners, tougher than walrus hide.

Westall had conceived the painting as one of a series of episodes illustrating Robert Southey’s Life of Nelson, begun in 1809 and published in 1813. Southey gave his hero a line ripe with braggadocio. “Do but let me get a blow at this devil with the butt-end of my musket, and we shall have him,” Nelson supposedly shouted to his comrade after his shot had missed the bear. It gets stranger yet: Westall’s painting was copied as an engraving for the Life of Nelson by John Landseer, the father of Edwin Henry Landseer.

"Nelson and the Bear" and to a degree even "Man Proposes" follow conventions of the exploration narrative, a genre seeking to terrify and to titillate. Such dramatizations of the quest—hand-to-paw combat, hull-crushing bergs, scurvy, and starvation—hallowed soldiers and explorers, especially in premature death. By the time Landseer finished "Man Proposes," more ships and men had been lost in search of Franklin. The futility of Arctic exploration was starting to register, but British hubris and vainglory persisted until 1912, when another hero—Robert Falcon Scott—perished at a pole, and an iceberg ruined both an “unsinkable” ship and the confidence of a nation.



Michael Engelhard is the author of the just-published book Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon and American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. Trained as an anthropologist, he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and now works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.




Thursday, November 17, 2016

Of Franklin and Fellowship

Having just experienced a fantastic series of Franklin-related events in Ireland and England, I was reminded anew of how, at a very fundamental level, the Franklin fascination is a collective undertaking. Each and every person who falls under the spell of this story finds his or her own path into it, and once there, discovers specific areas of interest. Once that's happened, the space opens into one of collaboration: some learn all they can about one figure, one aspect of the story, while others focus on transcribing manuscripts, studying ships' plans, re-interpreting Inuit stories, or poring over satellite photographs. With the aid of modern technology, the pace of what's possible increases, and at every turn, collaboration can solve some of the most difficult enigmas. Some of this happens in the congenial company of the Remembering the Franklin Expedition Facebook group, but it also happens via e-mail, notes and comments on online blogs and forums, and through visits to far-flung archives and museums. Over the past several years, many enigmas have been solved -- or at least, had their basic questions clarified and evidence re-examined -- through this large and growing online community.

All of which makes in-person gatherings all the more special. I was fortunate to be part of two of these while on my trip: first, the 16th annual Sir Ernest Shackleton Autumn School in Athy, County Kildare, Ireland, and second, the RTFE meetup at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich. The Shackleton School, which I was delighted to return to after my first lecture there in 2009, was organized around specific talks and events: Huw Lewis-Jones launched and lectured on his and Kari Herbert's new book Explorers' Sketchbooks, while I was fortunate to do the same for Finding Franklin. I'm particularly grateful to the folks at O'Brien's pub in Athy, who hosted my book launch, accompanied by a fantastic print representing John Torrington by local artist Vincent Sheridan, introduced by the incomparable Joe O'Farrell, followed by a lovely a capella rendition of "Lady Franklin's Lament" by Frank Nugent -- and concluding with the singular honor of being permitted to pull my own pint of Guinness at the sacred tap. 

Good fellowship and lectures on a variety of subjects from both poles followed, filling the weekend with new stories and new friends, and concluding with a fabulous literary reading at the Athy Arts Centre. There, Gina Koellner and I read from Gewndolyn MacEwen's "Terror and Erebus," while novelist Ed O'Loughlin treated the audience to readings from Wallace Stevens and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, followed by a section from his remarkable new novel, Minds of Winter. And yet, as delightful as my time in Athy was, the weekend finally came to a close, and I flew off to England for a new series of wonders, including a visit to Sir John Franklin's birthplace in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, research on the "Peglar" papers at the Caird Library, and a meeting with curators at the National Maritime Museum who are involved in plans for next year's large-scale exhibition of Franklin materials, scheduled for July of 2017.

And yet, despite the value of these more "official" doings, it was the unofficial "meetup" of the RTFE at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich which was, for me, the highlight of my time in the UK. For, despite our collaborative work and long history of shared interests, almost none of us in the group had ever met in person before. It's funny how well one can now know a person one has never so much as shaken hands with, and what odd details the online world leaves out. How tall is someone? What's their voice sound like? The gathering began early, at two in the afternoon on a rainy Friday, and continued late into the night, as, one by one, each of us had to leave to find our way to home and hearth. By the end, our bonds of fellowship had only grown greater, and now, when we see our profile pictures on Facebook, we'll know a bit more about one other.

There was but one sad note in the midst of our conviviality: the loss of our dear friend William Battersby. All of us had known him, quite a few had met him in person, and some had worked quite closely with him on research related to the Franklin expedition. His had been a jovial and thoughtful presence, and somehow it seemed as though his spirit remained with us, as his friend Peter Carney rose, as did we all, with a toast in his honor. The good work that he did, and the memory of his constant questioning of what we supposed we knew but hadn't checked on, will forever be remembered among us.

As the evening drew to a close, the talk was of the the large exhibit of materials related to the Franklin expedition, which will be opening in July of 2016 at the National Maritime Museum, before heading over to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa in January of 2017. For those of us who clinked our glasses at the Trafalgar, those dates can't come soon enough!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Terror, in all her glory ...

Side-scan image of HMS Terror by Parks Canada; used by permission
In the Franklin story there are just a few images that, without a single word to accompany them, tell volumes: the face of John Torrington seeming to stare forth from his coffin; the lone skull in a field of rocks at Erebus Bay; William May's still-life lithograph of the Franklin relics. Certainly the sonar image of HMS "Erebus" was another, and to that may be added the even more dramatic scan made by Parks Canada of HMS "Terror." In it one can see many structures missing from her sister ship Erebus: the long and lovely bowsprit, the davits from which the boats once swung still attached to the deck, and the shadows of the deckhouse, masts and other fixtures. Indeed, it's possible if one places a plan of the ship over the top of the image, to see the correspondence of the vessel that enabled Parks to make its identity positive -- not that there were any other missing vessels of that period know to be in the vicinity!

The ship appears a bit narrower than she actually is, and the bowsprit seems to be at an angle -- but these effects are due to the relatively steep angle of the sonar beam; like the beams of some artificial sun, the shadows it paints are an a steep angle, a golden sunset not solar, but painted by reflected sound.

But like those other images, it raises as many questions as it answers: where precisely does she lie (we're not meant to know just yet, for the understandable reason that the security of the site is paramount); near what portion of land (which instantly becomes the ideal place for archaeologists to do work on the ground); facing in what direction? Was she piloted here or did she drift (the former seems, for now, by far the most likely). The Inuit testimony tell of a sudden sinking, but so far as can be seen, she seems in "ship shape" from stem to stern. Nevertheless, she sits in deep silt, which may yet disclose the damage, severe or slight, which brought her to her resting place. Even that place is a question: according to some modern Inuit accounts, the ship may have shifted in position about seven years ago, such that a mast was present above the ice of the bay -- a mast which may since have been broken off or carried away. Low tides that year may have also had something to do with it, And, however she reached her present resting place, the all-important when is yet unknown -- upon which the chronology of the "Terror Camp" on land, and the subsequent departure of some number of survivors, depends. For that answer, we'll have to wait at least until next year's dive season.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Terror Bay "Tent Place"

One of the most horrific revelations among the Inuit testimony collected by Charles Francis Hall is that concerning the "tent place" at Terror Bay. Now that we know that HMS "Terror" herself had sunk in the vicinity, this place -- quite possibly the "Terror camp" of the Peglar Papers -- takes on enormous added significance. Many previous searches, reading the words "the bottom of Terror Bay," interpreted that as  the inmost part of that bay -- but it seems clear by Tee-ke-ta's and Ahlangyah's descriptions that "bottom" must have meant the outermost part, since they place it "a little way northerly of the point adjacent to Fitzjames Islet (some later texts mistakenly read this as "Fitzjames Inlet"). The location is also said to be "on top of some rising ground" -- doubtless one of the elevated beaches characteristic of King William Island -- and indicated by fields of brown dots on Canadian topographic maps of the region. Here is the original testimony as given to Hall -- every word of which now rings quite differently in our ears:
xi A. M. by guess time & this moment Tee-ke-ta has entered our Ig-loo & laid before me a fragment of a striped handkershief [sic] - as I suppose from its looks & a relic of Sir John Franklin's Expedition. I will now try & get the history of it. Tee-ke-ta, where did you get this?  
Ans. From Ki-ki-tung (KWI) from a tent found there.
Who got it there? Ans. “Mong-er”. That is he (and) Tee-ke-ta. 

Now I ask him to show me if he can by the chart (McClintock's) on what part of KWI this tent was. Having shown Dr. Rae's & McC's & Admiralty charts to this Innuit as well as others here yesterday & the preceding day, he quickly points out the place & the spot which is near the bottom of Terror Bay, a little way northerly of the point adjacent to Fitzjames Islet. The tent was on the top of some rising ground - or a very small hill - a sandy hill. The tent large & made with ridge pole resting on a perpendicular pole at either end - small ropes extended from top tent at each end to the ground where the rope ends were fast to sticks that had been driven into the ground ... the tent was partially down from the snow upon it & a fox had bitten in two one of the lines by which the tent was held upright ...  
Three men saw this tent first - he, Tee-ke-ta, one of them.
How long after you saw Ag-loo-ka was it before you and the two men found this tent?
 The next spring - that is, one year after. What did you see in this tent?
 Blankets, bedding & a great many skeleton bones, a great many skulls - the flesh all off, nothing except sinews attached to them - the appearance as though foxes & wolves had gnawed the flesh off the bones. Some bones had been severed with a saw. Some skulls with holes in them. On trying to get Tee-kee-ta to tell how many skulls there were in this tent, he says he cannot tell for there were so many - the tent floor seemed to be covered with bones & the tent much larger, longer, than this Ig-loo. (Our Ig-loo of oval form, the longer diameter being 25 feet.) Some of the skeletons had been completely cleaned of all flesh and sinews & [?] fastened to various portions of the dress that one might suppose to have clothed the living man.
What else in the tent?
 Ans. Tin cups, spoons, forks, knives, two double barrel guns, pistol, lead balls, a great many powder flasks. If I or anybody else will go there in the summer after the snow has melted off the land will find a great many balls and see all the skeletons. Ahlangyah remarked that the books were are given to the children “for playthings.” Teekeeta also remembered this.  
Did you see the paper with such kind of marks or writing as you see here?
 Saw a good deal, as you express it, what Tee-ke-ta says.
I now show Tee-kee-ta a book, Capt. Ross voyage of the Victory 8 vols. (French edition but in English) & showed him the difference between printed marks & writing marks & he says he and companions saw both kinds in tent.
What did you do with the books & papers?
 Ans. As they were good for nothing for Innuits, threw them away, except one book which had pictures in it he brought home.
Where is that book?
 Ans. All gone long ago. Gave it to the children & after a while all of it got torn to pieces. He says if any one goes there in summer he may find pieces of paper about there.
Any boxes in that tent?
 Only one small box & something all metal, brass, inside, a sextant as Joe thinks. Now I have my large sextant (u.s.c.s. sextant) brought into igloo & he looks at the sextant and says it was not like that, it was round as one could see on opening the box. I now show him Eggert pocket chronometer & he says it was like that only much larger & the inside of it like inside my chronometer but all much bigger. Therefore this was a box chronometer. A good many watches found in the tent, found there in some of the clothes that covered some of the skeletons. Some with chains knotted around the necks of the skeletons. 
You can see Hall's sketch of this very tent in his field notebook, shown above. So rather than at the inmost part of the bay, this location seems almost at its very edge -- and it's here that I believe we should look for traces of the Franklin expedition. Here is its location on a CanTopo map:


Sunday, October 2, 2016

The significance of Terror Bay

Like a fine-toothed comb passing through tangled hair, the knowledge of the definitive location of HMS "Terror" in Terror Bay is having the effect of reshaping and sorting out historic Inuit testimony in unexpected ways. Nowhere is this more evident than at Terror Bay itself, where we now have to recalibrate everything we know with the awareness that one of Franklin's ships lay under the water just a short distance away.

The Inuit testimony is consistent in locating a very large "tent place" with many bodies, as well as a series of shallow graves just outside it. This is almost surely the "tent place" described to Hall, filled with unburied bodies, along with clear evidence of cannibalism. With the Terror sunk nearby, the working assumption would be that this tent was the final home for many of her crew. Unfortunately, due to years of tidal action, as well as scouring by coastal ice, the surface remains of this site were already gone by the time Frederick Schwatka arrived to search for them in 1879, even though living Inuit elders verified that they had seen them at the spot: "The natives said nothing was to be seen where previously they saw many skeletons and other indications of the white man's camp, as it was so close to the water that all traces had disappeared."

We do, however, know of two items of special significance in the area, both of them associated with Pasty Klengenberg. Klengenberg, the son of Danish whaler/trapper Christian Klengenberg Jorgensen, lived near Terror Bay for some years, operating a small HBC outpost. During his time there, his wife Mary Yakalun came upon a large crumpled metal object. William Gibson believed it was "the remains of a water tank from one of the life boats," but that seems a bit off -- the ship's boats weren't intended as life boats, and I know of no water tanks being standard equipment. However, floatation tanks were a feature of at least some later whaleboat designs (as in the "Montague Whaler" -- thanks to Peter Carney for this suggestion), and earlier ones may well have had that same feature. In addition, it seems that Patsy Klengenberg came upon what Gibson describes as the "grave of a member of the Franklin expedition," which must have somehow been missed by Schwatka and earlier searches. Klengenberg rebuilt the grave marker into a substantial cairn, although no trace of it appears to be known today. It's tempting to connect this with the Peter Bayne story, said to be obtained from a "Boothian native," which also involved a large tent and a row of graves:
Many of the white men came ashore and camped there during the summer; that the camp had one big tent and several smaller ones; that Crozier (Aglooka) came there some times, and he had seen and talked with him; that seal were plentiful the first year, and sometimes the white men went with the natives and shot seal with their guns; that ducks and geese were also plentiful, and the white men shot many; that some of the white men were sick in the big tent; and died there, and were buried on the hill back of the camp; that one man died on the ships and was brought ashore and buried on the hill near where the others were buried; that this man was not buried in the ground like the others, but in an opening in the rock, and his body covered over with something that, “after a while was all same stone”; that he was out hunting seal when this man was buried, but other natives were there, and saw, and told him about it, and the other natives said that “many guns were fired.”
If we assume, just as a thought experiment, that this story took place in Terror Bay, then there's good reason to suppose that, for a time at least, both of Franklin's ships were present, and under Crozier's command. The death and funeral of the high-ranking officer could well have been Crozier's own, as would have been the tomb sealed with something that "after a while was all same stone." Both ships would have carried the makings of concrete, and finding just such a sealed vault has been sought by
Bayne Map
many searchers. If so then perhaps Bayne's map -- which was, in the past, erroneously thought to apply to Victory Point, could refer instead to any of the several northwest/southeast trending coasts in Terror bay. A quick glance at Google Earth reveals any number of candidates; if we knew more precisely where HMS Terror was found, my money would be on the ones closest to that point. If we could relocate that spot, perhaps Peter Bayne's long-discredited map would, after all, turn out to be a map of a known Franklin location, and the key to finding  a tomb which might -- even now -- contain not only human remains, but the kind of invaluable written records so many have sought for so long.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A long winter ...

The discovery of HMS "Terror" in Terror Bay continues to make headlines around the world, even as, for the most part, the news stories repeat the same basic information. Now that the Parks team is back in Ottawa, we're learning a good deal more; for the benefit of those who may not have had access to the press event yesterday with Ryan Harris and Marc-André Bernier, I thought it would be useful to share the highlights of their comments and responses to reporters' questions.

Most of the questions centered on the "Terror," though quite a few of the follow-up questions asked after "Erebus" as well. The Parks Canada team confirmed a number of things that had been reported earlier, but with notable new details. Although only able to manage three dives in the short time they had at the site, they also took new side-scan and multi-beam images of the wreck. Silt reduced the visibility, and Ryan Harris reported that the entire deck was covered with a layer of silt which -- though an excellent preservative -- made it difficult to see any smaller artifacts. Larger structures, though, were readily visible; Harris mentioned the flue pipe for the Sylvester Patent stove (this is closer to the forward part of the vessel, and distinct from the exhaust pipe from the engine which was seen in the previously-released video); both sets of davits were in place (in contrast to those of the "Erebus," which had been torn off, with part of one davit being the clue that helped pinpoint the ship). He noted the presence of an anchor cable (rope) coming out of one of the hawse pipes, trailing off a short distance, and what may be an anchor, very close to the hull. He noted the probability of intact ships' cabins, the partitions still in place, the hatches closed, suggesting a "largely sealed environment which would be ideal for the preservation of organic materials" including "otherwise delicate materials, written documents, charts, and material like that," calling the wreck "extremely promising."

Another aspect of the "Terror" is how it got there -- whether it was re-manned, and whether indeed the site where it is currently located is the site where it was last occupied by its crew. Asked about the state of the hull, Harris replied that "certainly from the side scan and multibeam it appears to be remarkably intact from stem to stern," and noted the stunning state of preservation of the bowsprit. There will be, both Ryan and Marc agreed, a "lot of work" to be done, and there's great anticipation of next year's dive season -- as Ryan put it, "it's going to be a long winter."

There were also some fascinating revelations about HMS "Erebus." According to Harris, Franklin's cabin is too damaged to reveal much, and is covered with collapsed beams that may have to be shifted or removed. However, they have had a peep into the senior officers' cabins on the port side -- these would have been those of the 1st and 2nd lieutenants (Gore and Fairholme). In these cabins, Harris described being able to see their bedplaces, including the ornate scrollwork on the sides of their beds or bunks, which according to the ship's plans have built-in drawers. These, along with the previously discovered seaman's chest, offer what Marc described as potentially "pristine pockets" of materials. Both Ryan and Marc also described their efforts to document evidence of Inuit presence aboard the ship, and their "harvesting" of useful materials, much of which ended up dispersed throughout the Arctic via trade.

There was, however, one great disappointment, as it was revealed that the crew of the Martin Bergmann, which is funded by the Arctic Research Foundation, delayed notification of the find of the "Terror" for a week, during which time they apparently were able to return to Cambridge Bay, acquire a ROV, make their video, and provide the information for Paul Watson's exclusive story in the Guardian -- all before they let Parks Canada know of their find. Those eight days, when -- apparently -- conditions were ideal, were lost to the Parks team, and what could be learned this season considerably reduced. The crew of the Bergmann's explanation, that there was not an "updated protocol" in place, seems flimsy indeed. While they certainly deserve credit for the discovery, this revelation begs the question: what more might we have learned, if not for their silence?

Monday, September 26, 2016

HMS "Terror" find confirmed!

Parks Canada photo
As most of us expected, Parks Canada today confirmed that the wreck first located on September 3rd by the research vessel Martin Bergmann is, in fact, HMS "Terror," the second ship of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition. The Parks team had to deal with rough weather, which churned up a fair amount of silt and made visibility poor, but despite this were able to examine enough of the ship to, having compared it with the detailed plans they have at hand, make the identification definite.

Much of the press release, though, was devoted to highlighting the new degree of co-operation between Parks and various Inuit groups -- Inuit Heritage Trust, the Kiktikmeot Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Government of Nunavut. This is a crucial aspect of the find, and --as I noted in my blog a couple of weeks ago -- is something that has been in the works for a long time. It was evident, in the time between the initial discovery and Parks's statement, that many Inuit still felt anxieties over how the site and the relics found there will be treated, but today's announcement should, I hope, be reassuring. As I've mentioned, my personal view is that the wrecks and their contents technically aren't covered in the Nunavut Land Claims agreement, but the willingness of the present Government to treat them exactly as though they were, and to commit to ongoing cooperation, is nevertheless the right thing to do.  There's property, and then there's cultural property, and it's clear that the "Terror" and "Erebus" are sites which enshrine, embody, and contain, the history of both Inuit and European-origin peoples. Like cords in a vast fish-net, they are too enmeshed in one another to be separated, and for the goal of the proper conservation of these vessels to be met, they must work together.

The fact that "Terror" owes its discovery not simply to the historical Inuit testimony collected by Rae, Hall, and Schwatka in the 1850's, '60's, and '70's -- but also to that of Sammy Kogvik, a present-day Inuk who lead searchers to the site -- underscores the rightness of this arrangement.

But there is work to be done. It's encouraging now to know that the Parks Canada team can spend the still-brief search window next summer actually working on both ships rather than searching for them. The apparently much better state of the decks and great cabin of the "Terror" suggests that this might be the place to start; what we need now is not only the everyday items that have already been spotted, such as a bottle of wine or a desk drawer -- but the written records that will certainly be found. Will they be as enigmatic as the infamous Peglar Papers? Or will be get an accurate ship's log or other official record, which would certainly change what we know about the final fatal months or years of the expedition. For those of us who have already spent a large chunk of our lives wondering, it will be a long year!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Inuit testimony about HMS "Terror"

As we await further word about the finding of HMS Terror, I thought it useful to collect together the principal Inuit witness as to its fate. Now that we know, at least, its general location, we can use that to help us separate out some stories from others, and eliminate from consideration accounts which place the ship elsewhere.

The first person to hear reports that now clearly correspond with the Terror was, ironically enough, Francis Leopold McClintock -- the man who discovered the last known written record, and the man who gave "Terror Bay" its name, apparently unaware that one of the ships he sought so dearly lay beneath the surface only a few miles from where he stood! I should caution that this testimony has an issue -- Petersen, McClintock's translator, was clearly not familiar with the local dialects, and so one has to build in the possibility of misunderstandings.

On King William island, about "halfway down the east coast," McClintock came upon a village of 30 or 40 natives, apparently well-supplied with wood as well as sundry artifacts from Franklin's men; McClintock saw there a sledge with large, curved wooden runners "which no mere boat could have furnished them with," a sure sign that they had come from the wreck of one of the ships.

After obtaining items in trade -- six silver forks and spoons, some buttons, and "bows and arrows of English wood," McClintock asked about the ships. They had seen two ships, yes, one of which sank quickly before they could get anything from it, and the other of which had been "forced up on shore" and much broken -- it was from this latter ship that the wood had come.

The other stories McClintock heard came from "old Oo-na-lee," who initially told of only one ship, but on a second occasion -- after a younger member of the band mentioned a second, admitted its existence:
"Oo-na-lee now answered our questions respecting the one forced on shore; not a syllable about her did he mention on the former occasion, although we asked whether they knew of only one ship ? I think he would willingly have kept us in ignorance of a wreck being upon their coasts, and that the young man unwittingly made it known to us."
The young man added further details:
"The latter also told us that the body of a man was found on board the ship ; that he must have been a very large man, and had long teeth: this is all he recollected having been told, for he was quite a child at the time. They both told us it was in the fall of the year — that is, August or September — when the ships were destroyed ; that all the white people went away to the " large river," taking a boat or boats with them, and that in the following winter their bones were found there."
It's easy to imagine why Oo-na-lee might have wished to conceal the second vessel, as that one had been a source of immeasurable wealth in wood, metal, and useful things. So here in this earliest account, we have two ships: one that sank quickly in deep waters with nothing recovered, and one that was, for a time, forced up on land and "much broken." It's clear that the one that sank rapidly must be the Terror, and the latter the Erebus -- a correspondence further confirmed by the mention of the dead body with the long teeth, which is nearly identical to the account of the one eyewitness we have who actually had visited this vessel: Puh-too-rak, who spoke with Schwatka some twenty years later. The quick sinking of the one vessel was also later corroborated by Kok-lee-arng-nun when interviewed by Charles Francis Hall:
"[Kok-lee-arng-nun] and his wife agreed in saying that the ship on board of which they had often seen Too-loo-ark was overwhelmed with heavy ice in the spring of the year. While the ice was slowly crushing it, the men all worked for their lives in getting out provisions; but, before they could save much, the ice turned the vessel down on its side, crushing the masts and breaking a hole in her bottom and so overwhelming her that she sank at once, and had never been seen again. Several men at work in her could not get out in time, and were carried down with her and drowned. On this account Ag-loo-ka's company had died of starvation, for they had not had time to get provisions out of her.
Again, this can only by the Terror, since the vessel which had been the source of wood was not seen to sink, but discovered after it had been abandoned. And yet, now she has been found, and apparently in good condition! But looks can be deceiving, as I mentioned in my previous post; a sudden breach in the hull would minimize the time that ice pressures would have to damage the deck and superstructure. What we really need to do next is to get a full survey of the Terror site, including a complete view of the hull; based on the extraordinary accuracy of the Inuit testimony so far, I'm willing to bet that it will show signs of sudden crushing, not unlike that which sank the Breadalbane.

Oh, and one other thing: there will be bodies. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

HMS Terror: What we know -- and what we don't

With the excitement around the discovery of HMS "Terror" -- a discovery yet to be fully confirmed by Parks Canada -- there's been all kinds of speculation in the press and online as to the meaning of this astonishing find. Scholars, such as myself, are as eager for new revelations as anyone else, but we've learned to practice caution, and to distinguish speculation from careful reasoning based on direct observation. Even then, what we see must be corroborated with what we know from other sources, be they ship's plans, historical documents, or (in this case) Inuit testimony. It's a process which doesn't happen overnight -- but of course the news must, and does.

None of this work has yet been done, but here we are, presented with dramatic images and video. Of course, the imagination is stirred by such sights: there is the deck upon which Crozier must have stood, the wheel where the helmsman would have executed his commands, and -- though we've no photo of it yet -- perhaps his desk, with something hidden in the recesses of a drawer. The remarkable state of the preservation of these things has led many to say the ship was found almost intact -- but that's not necessarily the case. The hull, particularly the keel, has yet to be properly examined by Parks Canada's marine archaeologists, and given the lateness of the season -- new ice is already forming in the shallow areas along the coast of King William Island -- that may have to wait until next year. In fact, it's not clear from the current reporting that Ryan Harris and his team have yet had access to the ship at all.

Some reports this morning speak of Parks Canada perhaps not having 'reached' the area, which is troubling. It appears that they were, at the time of the discovery, searching further north in the Victoria Strait; one would have expected that they would have been immediately alerted to the find, and could have arrived fairly quickly -- but the only video, the only descriptions we have so far are all from the crew of the Martin Bergmann. The video is narrated by almost every one of them -- including the ship's cook! -- but the context that a trained archaeologist could have provided is missing. The crew apparently deployed a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and poked about all over, but the narrative of what they saw, like the discovery itself, remains uncorroborated.

There's been a claim that the "Terror" was listing to starboard -- then a statement that it was actually upright -- then a claim that she must have "gently slipped to the sea-bed." There's even speculation that her presence in Terror Bay is evidence that she was abandoned in an orderly manner so that the men could be moved to the "Erebus," which as we know made it further south. But we have absolutely no evidence for this; the hull has not been examined. I might mention at this point, the Franklin search ship HMS "Breadalbane," which was nipped by the ice and sank in scarcely twenty minutes -- and yet, strangely, when found by Joe MacInnis in 1981, she was similarly found erect on the sea-bed, her masts intact -- one of them still with a sail or two -- and the ship's wheel intact. It may in fact be the rapidity of the sinking which had the effect of preserving certain features; being found intact on the sea-floor, it would seem, is not necessarily evidence of having arrived there gently.

And there is another vital piece of evidence as to how HMS "Terror" sank -- the Inuit testimony which, in nearly every other case, has proven reliable. And the Inuit tell of a far more chaotic and sudden event, one in which a number of the crew were trapped in the vessel and drowned. In my next post, I'll give their account.