Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Matty Island wreck

The chart showing the track of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the excellent CBC Franklin search website brings to mind what David Woodman described as 'One of the most unlikely of the Inuit tales'. The story, collected by Major Lachlan Taylor Burwash during several visits to King William Island between 1925 and 1929, concerns the wreck of a ship and a cache ashore near to Blenky Island to the North East of Matty Island.

Burwash's analysis was that the wreck was of one of Franklin's ships remanned after the 1848 abandonment. To my mind, the problem of the Inuit testimony giving three different locations for where one of Franklin's two ships sank is no more of a problem than the white man's testimony stating that the two ship's engines came from three different railway companies. I wholeheartedly agree with Woodman's comment that the tale "However, it is so simply and straightforwardly told, and has such telling internal consistency, that it is hard to discount entirely."

In my opinion it warrants further investigation.


  1. It does make you wonder....The Inuit testimony is really more valuable than gold!

  2. Is It supposed that the ship sailed till this point? or was the drift which carry them?

    It is a strange place to sail if they were trying to scape, isn´t it?

    I don´t know nothing about the drift or the currents in that area or if the strait is clear of ice in summer, but I suppose that it would be a miracle that the ship could have passed through the strait without being stuck in any of the numerous inlets.

  3. A drifting ship might just go with the current and not bump into islands and shoals. It might just flow around them with the current. Only if the current changes direction very little or very abruptly is a ship not likely to go with the flow. This is the principle behind using fine fibres to filter particles out of a flow of air or water. It is not the size of the holes between fibres that matters, but the diameter of the fibres; the finer the better. It works with ships, as Jens Munk found out on the night of July 25th 1619, when a strong current took his two ships through some islands in Hudson Strait: "had there been ten helmsmen, who had sailed these waters year after year, they could then in no wise have piloted the ships among these islets better than they were now carried and driven unscathed by the ice and current." (from Thorkild Hansen's "The Way to Hudson Bay" 1970 p.235.) Thus an unmanned drift of Franklin's ships among a multitude of islands might have been possible.

  4. Burwash's map (above) shows that area of Matty Island very poorly. The entire north end of the eastern arm of the Omega shaped island is missing. What if the cache wasn't on Blenky Island at all, but on another large island, off that same missing coast, inside (west) of Blenky Island. This is too easily answered by looking at an up-to-date map and noting that there are no such large islands. At least, not anymore. The land is currently rising at a rate of about a metre per century. What was once an island off the north east coast of Matty Is. where a cache was found by some Inuit might now be part of the coast.

  5. If we could find the remains of the cache, maybe we could identify the ship it came from. The map in Burwash's report seems to show the cache near the south end of Blenky Island.


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