Tuesday, 11 September 2018

In the footsteps of Franklin - Adventure Science video clips

Early in 2018, I was asked to do some on-screen interviews about the Franklin expedition to be used in the promotional material for Adventure Science's expedition to King William Island - In Franklin's Footsteps.

On a chilly day in March, I met up with enthusiastic young filmmaker, Georgia, at St Andrews Mission Church in Gravesend where all the spoken material was to be filmed. As I rubbed my hands together and shivered, I reflected that Franklin's men would probably have considered it pleasantly warm.

After Gravesend we moved on to the dock at Greenhithe, from where the Erebus and Terror had departed on that fateful day in May 1845. Sir John Franklin spent his last night on English soil at the White Hart Inn which stands behind the dock and which, appropriately, has been renamed in his honour.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable and interesting experience. I have great admiration for the onerous task of the editing process, in which most of  my mumbling and stumbling was excised and the few coherent sentences of mine which remained were sewn together with some beautifully scenic footage and shots of me looking wistful. Anyway, here are the three videos, I hope you like them.

Part 1: In Franklin's Footsteps

Saint Andrews Mission Church

Part 2: In Franklin's Footsteps

The dock at Greenhithe.

Part 3: In Franklin's Footsteps

Sir John Franklin pub.


Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Right Way and the Wrong Way

These three maps, by Markham 1880, Gould 1926, and Gibson 1937, show minor variations in the supposed line of retreat of Franklin's men along the Southern coast of King William Island then making a long crossing to the Adelaide Peninsula at the Todd Islands.

While none is impossible, the question should be asked is why didn't they cross near Tulloch Point, where Simpson Strait is at its narrowest, before heading East along the North coast of the peninsula?

In any event the maps showing the route touching the tip of Ogle Point are to be questioned as the only relics discovered there were "a small piece of cod-line, and a strip of striped cotton, about two inches long and an inch broad" which were found in an Inuit cache. There is no reason to suppose they were deposited anywhere in that vicinity by the retreating crews.

Twentieth century finds of relics and human remains on the Adelaide Peninsula, plus Inuit testimony may suggest an alternative route.

Learmonth (1948):
 "Mr. Learmonth and Mr. D. G. Sturrock discovered the remains of three men at Tikeraniyou (1) together with a George IV Half Crown and a large ivory sailor's button (Pootogo). The remains were taken to Goia Haven and the relics forwarded to Hudson's Bay House, Winnipeg. The place is a point of land shaped like a crooked finger, and is where the land bends round to the southwest, between 12 and 15 miles west of Starvation Cove."
Rasmussen (1933):
"Along the rest of the north coast of Adelaide Peninsula are the following named islands ... tikEranajuk (the little forefinger-like)..."

In 1926 Trader Peter Norburg reportedly found a skull with an oak sledge runner and fragments of Navy cloth and shoe leather at Thunder Cove. The skull was examined by archaeologist Henri-Marc Ami who wrote "I can come to no other conclusion but that is the skull of a man of modern European type, and presumably that of an Englishman."

Learmonth (1948):
Neniook, Eyaritituk's mother, about seventy years old, reported having come across the skeletons of seven white men still partly clothed in blue serge, and partly buried in the sand and seaweed on a small island in the vicinity of (2).


Based on these discoveries, David Woodman, in "Unravelling the Franklin Mystery, Inuit Testimony" has questioned what he refers to as the "standard reconstruction" of the retreat. Connecting these finds together produces a credible alternative route.

It seems reasonable that when Captain Crozier and the surviving officers of the Franklin expedition were planning their march to the mouth of Back's Fish River that they would have chosen the shortest route. The relics and remains suggest that at least some of the men, possibly the majority, took this path. That some of the party took a different track may be because they became lost in conditions of poor visibility or that they deliberately divided into groups to maximise the chance of finding sufficient game to sustain them by hunting. Using the 1839 cartography available to Franklin the best route to the Fish River seems obvious.

The viability of this route is underlined by its similarity to the track which Lt. Schwatka took on his return journey to Hudson's Bay in 1880.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Game of Thrones... On Ice

The choice of the ‘HOPE ON HOPE EVER’ sledge flag as the signature image for the exhibition 'Death In The Ice: The Shocking Story Of Franklin’s Final Expedition', currently on at the National Maritime Museum, is a masterstroke in my opinion.

This flag, sewn by Jane Lady Franklin in 1852 for the final goverment searching expedition, neatly summarises the last desperate hopes of the families and loved ones of the 129 men who by that date had been missing for nearly seven years.

The use of embroidered banners inspired by medieval heraldry had an interesting origin and would have a remarkable future.

Sir Walter Scott, whose novel Ivanhoe, set in 12th-century England and first published in 1820 has been credited as the influence which "first turned men's minds in the direction of the Middle Ages".

An earlier work by Scott, the narrative poem 'The Lady of the Lake' includes the character James Fitz-James who provided the name for the First Officer of HMS Erebus.

At length his rank the stranger names,
The Knight of Snowdoun, James Fitz-James;
Lord of a barren heritage,

The illegitimate son of Sir James Gambier, Commander FitzJames was known by some in that family as "Our Lord of Snoudoun". The late William Battersby suggested that this was also a clue to the name of Fitzjames' Mother.

The sphere of romantic medievalism was greatly boosted in 1839 by the Eglinton Tournament which involved forty knights in armour plus their entourages and drew a crowd of 100,000. The spectacle was unfortunately marred by torrential rain.

Five weeks later Erebus and Terror, commanded by of James Clark Ross and Francis Crozier, set sail for the Antarctic regions.

The sledges of the various Franklin search expeditions usually carried flags with an ecclectic collection of inspiring phrases or family mottoes. They also served a practical purpose in that they enabled individual sledges to be identified at telescope distance.

Clement Markham, who, as a Naval Midshipman, had participated in the search for Franklin in the 1850's, elevated the art of sledge flags to a new height for the 1870 Nares Arctic expedition. Markham's banners were closely modelled on medieval standards, each carrying the family crest and colours of the officer who carried them. Decades later, as the driving force behind Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expeditions, Markham would ensure that his medieval banners were carried to the South Pole.

It has been suggested that the nostalgic sentiments with which Markham imbued Scott's expeditions played a part in making that saga a tragedy rather than the intended triumph.

The spirit of Medievalism, a defining characteristic of the long Victorian age, remains strong to this day.

Further reading:
Barbara Tomlinson, 2001, Chivalry at the Poles: British Sledge Flags.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Oldest Can Opener in the World

Replica 1, 2, and 4 pound cans, plus "Lever knife"
A few years ago I visited the vaults of the National Maritime Museum to do some research for a mini-project of mine, to make some replica Goldner cans.

Later, after piecing together photographs of the fragmentary surviving labels, I was surprised to discover that the labels include a picture of a can-opener to the left of the text and on the right an illustration of how the opener was intended to be used.

That the cans and labels date to 1845 is not in doubt, thus an article in a well known on-line encyclopedia which states that "dedicated can openers appeared in the 1850s" clearly needs to be updated.

The can opener depicted (referred to as a lever knife in contemporary sources) has a short stabbing blade at one end for puncturing the can, and at the other end a claw comprising a blade to continue the incision and a projection for a fulcrum.

The text on the can says "To open, stab a hole with the but–end of the knife insert the knife and cut it round."

Fortnum and Mason's 1849 catalogue also includes very similar instructions for opening preserved provisions canisters.

In 1851, when Goldner was still the Navy's main supplier of preserved meats, the Admiralty declared: "The canister is to be opened with the lever knife furnished for the purpose, and is to be cut completely round the body near the top."

Preserved meat manufacturer John Gillon of Leith claimed, in 1840, to be the inventor of the lever knife although the device described is slightly simpler with no mention of the short stabbing blade.

Vintage can openers similar to that depicted can sometimes be found for sale. I prided myself that the one I bought was a genuine 1840s relic and probably the oldest can-opener in the world until I discovered that the company which made it, F G Pearson & Co. of Sheffield, was only established in 1854.

The true "oldest can opener in the world" therefore remains on the list of treasures which are waiting to be plucked from the icy depths of Erebus and Terror.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

My paper concerning the lead in the Franklin expedition remains.

I'm pleased to announce that my 'Franklin lead' paper has now gone live on the Hakluyt
Society website: http://www.hakluyt.com/journal_index.htm

It can be argued that last week's triumphant discovery of the wreck of HMS Terror can be linked to the lead in the bones recovered from King William Island in the 1980's. Had Owen Beattie not detected high levels of lead in those remains then the Beechey Island excavations wouldn't have happened and the worldwide publicity arising from the bestseller Frozen in Time would not have raised public and private support for the ultimately successful search for the ships.

The story of lead and the Franklin expedition has had so many twists and turns that it is reminiscient of the search for the lost expedition itself. I'm sure that the story still has some distance to run and hope that my paper is received as a useful contribution.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Roll Call of the Doomed

The sides of the pedestal of Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place, London, list the names of the full complement of the expedition's lost, cast in bronze. To produce what I hope is a definitive list, I have combined the names from the plaques with my own transcriptions of the muster books of Erebus and Terror in the National Archives.



Sir J. Franklin Kt. K.C.H.Captain11
James FitzjamesCommander12
Graham GoreLieutenant16
H.T.D. Le VesconteLieutenant13
J.W. FairholmeLieutenant17
Robert O. SergeantMate19
Charles F. Des VœuxMate14
Edward CouchMate110
James ReidMaster (Acting)18
Stephen S. StanleySurgeon22
Charles H. OsmerPaymaster & Purser21
Harry D.S. GoodsirSurgeon (Acting)23
Henry F. CollinsSecond Master15
Thomas TerryBoatswain, 3rd Class41
John WeekesCarpenter, 2nd Class43
John GregoryEngineer, 1st Class44


Samuel BrownBoatswain's mate27Hull, Yorks.54
Richard WallShip's Cook45Hull, Yorks.55
Robert SinclairCaptain of the Foretop25Kirkwall, Orkney56
Joseph AndrewsCaptain of the Hold35Edmonton, Middx.51
William FowlerPaymaster & Purser's Steward26Bristol, Somerset57
James W. BrownCaulker28Deptford, Kent59
John CowieStoker32Bermondsey, Surrey510
John SullivanCaptain of the Maintop24Gillingham, Kent515
Phillip ReddingtonCaptain of Forecastle28Brompton, Kent516
John MurraySailmaker43Glasgow, Lanarks.520
John BridgensSubordinate Officers' Steward26Woolwich, Kent521
Thomas WatsonCarpenter's Mate40Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk522
Thomas PlaterStokerWestminster, Middx.523
William SmithBlacksmith28Thibnam [Tibenham], Norfolk524
Francis DunnCaulker's Mate25Llanelly, S. Wales525
Edmund HoarCaptain's Steward23Portsea, Hants528
Daniel ArthurQuartermaster35Aberdeen532
William BellQuartermaster36Dundee, Forfar543
John Downing2nd Quartermaster34Plymouth, Devon552
James HartLeading Stoker33Hampstead, Middx554
Richard AylmoreGunroom Steward24Southampton, Hants555
James RigdenCaptain's Coxwain32Upper Deal, Kent518


George ThompsonAB27Staines, Berks58
John HartnellAB25Brompton, Kent511
John SticklandAB24Portsmouth, Hants.513
Thomas HartnellAB23Chatham, Kent512
William OrrenAB34Chatham, Kent517
William ClossanAB25Shetland519
Charles CoombsAB28Greenwich, Kent53
John MorfinAB25Gainsboro., Lincolns.529
Charles BestAB23Fareham, Hants.540
Thomas Mc. ConveyAB24Liverpool, Lancs.541
Henry LloydAB26Christiansen, Norway542
Thomas WorkAB41Kirkwall, Orkney544
Robert FerrierAB29Perth545
Josephus GeaterAB32London, Middx.546
George WilliamsAB35Holyhead, Angelsea547
Thomas TadmanAB28Brompton, Kent548
Abraham SeeleyAB34Gravesend, Kent549
Francis PocockAB24Upnor, Kent550
Robert JohnsAB24Penryn, Cornwall551
William MarkAB24Holyhead, Angelsea552


Daniel BryantSergeant31.5Shepton Montague, Somerset71
Alexander Paterson*Corporal30Inverness91
Robert HopcraftPrivate38.8Nottingham, Notts.81
William PilkingtonPrivate28.4Kilrush, Clare92
William BrainePrivate31.3Oakhill, Somerset93
Joseph HealeyPrivate29.10Manchester, Lancs.94
William ReedPrivate28.8Bristol, Somerset95


George ChambersBoy, 1st Class18Woolwich, Kent61
David YoungBoy, 1st Class18Sheerness, Kent62



F.R.M. CrozierCaptain11
Edward LittleLieutenant12
George H. HodgsonLieutenant13
John IrvingLieut15
Frederick HornbyMate13
Robert ThomasMate14
Thomas BlankyMaster (Acting)17
John S. PeddieSurgeon (Acting)21
Alexander Mc. DonaldAssistant Surgeon22
G.A. MacBeanSecond Master16
E. J. H. HelpmanClerk in Charge31
Thomas HoneyCarpenter, 3rd Class41
John LaneBoatswain, 3rd Class42
James ThompsonEngineer, 1st Class (Acting)43


John DiggleShip's Cook36Westminster, London52
Henry PeglarCaptain of the Foretop37London, Middx.53
William GibsonSubordinate Officers' Steward22London, Middx.512
Cornelius HickeyCaulker's Mate24Limerick513
William GoddardCaptain of the Hold29Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk515
Reuben MaleCaptain of the Forecastle27Woolwich, Kent517
Alexander WilsonCarpenter's Mate27Holy Island, N. Durham518
John WilsonCaptain's Coxwain33Portsea, Hants520
Thomas DarlingtonCaulker29Plymouth, Devon521
William JohnsonStoker45Kiston-Lindsey, Lincolns.522
Thomas R. FarrCaptain of the Maintop32Deptford, Kent523
Luke SmithStoker27London, Middx.537
David Mc. DonaldQuartermaster46Peterhead, Scotland540
John KenleyQuartermaster44St. Monance, Fifeshire553
William RhodesQuartermaster31Redingstreet, Kent556
Thomas JohnsonBoatswain's Mate28Wisbeach, Cambridge546
Thomas ArmitageGunroom Steward40Chatham, Kent549
Samuel HoneyBlacksmith22Plymouth, Devon550
Thomas JopsonCaptain's Steward27Marylebone, Middx.552
Edward GengePaymaster's Steward21Gosport, Hants.555
John TorringtonLeading Stoker19Manchester558


George J. CannAB23Battersea, Middx.51
William StrongAB22Portsmouth, Hants.54
David SimsAB24Gedney, Lincoln.55
John BaileyAB21Leyton, Essex56
William JerryAB29Pembroke, Wales58
Henry SaitAB23Bognor, Sussex514
Alexander BerryAB32S. Ferry, Fifeshire516
John HandfordAB28Sunderland524
John Bates*AB24London, Middx.525
Samuel CrispeAB24Lynn, Norfolk536
Charles JohnsonAB28Halifax, Nova Scotia538
William ShanksAB29Dundee, Scotland539
David LeysAB37Montrose, Scotland541
William SinclairAB30Sallaway [Galloway], Scotland542
George KinnairdAB23Hastings, Sussex543
Ed. LawrenceAB30London, Middx.547
Magnus MansonAB28Shetland, Scotland548
James WalkerAB29S. Shields554
William WentzallAB33London, Middx.557


Solomon TozerSergeant34Axbridge, Somerset71
William HedgesCorporal30Bradford, Wilts91
William HeatherPrivate35Battersea, Surrey81
Henry WilkesPrivate28Leicester92
John HammondPrivate32Bradford, Yorks.93
James DalyPrivate30Luberclue [Tubberclare], Westmeath94


Robert GoldingBoy19Deptford, Kent61
Thomas EvansBoy18Deptford, Kent63

The final two columns, "List" and "No.", refer to the individual lists within the muster books and the number of each man within them. The titles of the lists referred to above are shown in the following table.

1. Commissioned Officers - Military Branch
2. Commissioned Officers - Civil Branch
3. Subordinate Officers
4. Warrant Officers
5. Ship's Company
6. Boys, 1st Class
7. Marines, Not Classed
8. Marines, 1st Class
9. Marines, 3rd Class

Andrew Lambert notes that "In February 1914 the Board of Works corrected the spelling of des Voeux's name from des Vauex, and changed le Vesconte's middle initial from F to T in 1931, at £2 a time. Then the Board checked the Admiralty record to ensure there were no more errors."

I have to take issue with the Board of Works in two cases, Alexander Paterson of HMS Erebus, and Able Seaman John Bates of HMS Terror, who gain a "t" and lose an "s", respectively, on the plaques.

Even the legendary Richard Cyriax was not immune to error. His transcription of the muster lists spells the surname of William Clossan as "Closson" and renames Sergeant Daniel Bryant as David.

In the light of the above, I can make no claims for perfection, but hope that this is an improvement on previous compilations.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Arrowsmith's Extraordinary Maps

Arrowsmith's maps were regularly updated with the latest discoveries.

The above map from 1850 now has Boothia correctly attached to the mainland, thanks to John Rae's 1847 survey of the western shore of Boothia Gulf, and it includes Peel Sound, discovered by James Ross in the spring of 1849. Bellot Strait had not yet been found so North Somerset is shown contiguous with Boothia. The West coast of Boothia, denoted by a dotted line, is a guess which would later prove to be remarkably accurate.

Both the main map and the lower strip now uses Dease and Simpson's longitude values for the coastline South of King William Island.

In the lower strip, King William Island is still connected to Boothia by a spindly isthmus - a guess which would later prove to be remarkably inaccurate. The imaginary Poctes Bay has now morphed into Poets Bay, which John Ross had surely intended, to balance Artists bay opposite.

In the main map the geography to the West of KWI is somewhat ambiguous with the supposed isthmus lacking a southern coastline so that the blue wash representing the sea is divided only by a single dashed line. This could be considered the first depiction of the track which would be sailed by Roald Amundsen in his epic transit of the Passage more than fifty years later.

This 1855 edition incorporates all the whole Northern archipelago discovered during the Franklin search and McClure's precarious but ultimately successful over-ice transit from West to East.

Cornwallis and Bathurst Islands are shown joined, a detail which wouldn't be corrected until the Victory Point record revealed that Erebus and Terror had passed between them en-route to Beechey Island.

Rae's 1854 survey of the West coast of Boothia has proven that King William Island is just that and Bellot Strait also confers island status on North Somerset.

The colouring, Red for the Hudson's Bay Company's discoveries and Blue for the Royal Navy's, is slightly inaccurate as the coast South of Cape Colville (charted by Rae) is wrongly coloured blue and the unsurveyed West side of King William Island should not be coloured at all.
On this map we can indisputably draw the course of Amundsen's epic voyage: West through Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait; South through Peel Sound and the area labelled Victoria Strait (only the Southern portion of which currently bears that name); then East of King William Island through James Ross and Rae Straights, then all the way West along the coast of the North American continent to the Bering Strait.

Ironically if this had been the best map which Amundsen had had before he set off he may well have shared the fate of Franklin.

Arrowsmith's 1855 map gives no hint as to the existence of McClintock Channel. That strait between Prince of Wales Island and Victoria Island enables masses of heavy ice to drift South into Victoria Strait where it is trapped against the barrier formed by Royal Geographical Society Islands and the Crozier Peninsula on the West side of King William Island.

Without this information, and the knowledge, which McClintock learned from the inuit, that the was open water in Rae Strait during the short Arctic summer, Amundsen may reasonably have chosen the obvious path to the West of King William Island resulting in the Gjoa becoming beset in the same place Erebus and Terror.

In the footsteps of Franklin - Adventure Science video clips

Early in 2018, I was asked to do some on-screen interviews about the Franklin expedition to be used in the promotional material for Adv...