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.