Burial of John Franklin. Author: me


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.

jueves, 3 de noviembre de 2016


It usually takes me weeks if not months to read a book in English. It is still challenging even now that I have improved a good deal with the language (maybe you will end thinking otherwise after reading this post). But when I pick up a book written in Spanish, my eyes fly over its pages as a bird. That´s exactly what has happened to me while reading ´Finding Franklin´, it was written in English but I didn´t noticed it.

Finding Franklin and friends
I began with the book some days ago and everytime I arrived at home after work I couldn´t avoid grabbing it and read till I had to dine or to go to bed. 

Finding Franklin more than a book is surgery. If you are one of those who are well initiated in the "Franklin question" you  won´t like to lose a second  of your valuable time reading for the umpteenth time how John Ross missed the entrance of the Northwest Passage, how Parry got through it the year after, and bla, bla.bla. When you have a book like this in your hands what you want is to get to the point as soon as possible as if you had to be taken in a taxi to the center of an unknown city. Precedents of exploration in the Northwest Passage and subsequent  expeditions, are written in hundreds of books, more than I thought there could exist at first when I got lost in the Arctic labyrinth. Many of those books merely repeat exactly the same story only in different words.

I had foreseen that maybe Finding Franklin could be the sequel of the famous and, nowadays very difficult to find, Cyriax´s book titled "Sir John Franklin´s last expedition." but after reading it I would say much more about it. Unlike Cyriax, Russell Potter doesn´t lose time, if losing is the proper verb tp be used, in describing background stories. 

Russell´s purpose is a quite different one, and you soon realise after reading its Index, that you are in front of something different. You may have breathed in a similar atmosphere when you read, and you surely did if you have Finding Franklin in your hands, Unravelling the Franklin Mistery and Strangers among us

Then, like jumping over separated stones to cross a river, you begin to leap from one chapter to the following compelled for the inertia of your own reading in such a way that you can´t stop even if you want to. 

I have read many books about the Franklin expedition, maybe not as much as you, but from my amateur experience, it is only through the reading of Potter´s book, that I have now a complete view of the sequence of those, from very far in time to the more recent, events which took place in King William Island and surroundings.  Its content could lead you, book in hand, to retrace the steps of the poor men who were so unlucky to be forced to land there. You have the feeling that with such a good manual in your backpack, as if it was a Lonely Planet guide, you won´t miss any detail and you will have every important clue you could need to have at hand in just one single book. 

Jumping from skull to bone, from relic to searcher you could follow easily the path of annihilation. Such has been this feeling on me that when I reached the end of the book, I was expecting to find a CD attached to the backcover with an audioguide and a map containing the description of every single relic which was found in those barren island.

Even now that the Terror has been found, I don´t believe it should affect too much what has been told in Russell´s book. But what, however, I have missed in his book, and this is just to put a "but" in this reflection about a superb book, is that after reaching the climax which wrapped you in its last chapter, Russell  had risked to make a final exercise on which he had tried to reconstruct the story. Maybe, it is not fair calling it just an ´exercise´ but more an impossible task due to the infinite variants this reconstruction could offer. 

Unfortunately, unlike Nemo, Franklin didn´t arrive safely home. We know that for certain, but finding Franklin still resting quietly in his lost stony mausoleum in King William Island, could bring, at least to some of us, part of the peace which our hearts and brains so ravenously need. 

miércoles, 19 de octubre de 2016


Ayer me dieron la tristísima noticia de que un amigo William Battersby, escritor del fantástico libro “James Fitzjames, el hombre misterioso de laexpedición de Franklin, fallecía en un accidente de avioneta el pasado lunes.

Es una noticia trágica en varios sentidos, por un lado pierdo a una persona entrañable, amigable y divertida a quien consideraba un amigo, y por otra, el mundillo de los entusiastas de las expediciones polares pierde a uno de sus más valiosos efectivos.

Cuando comencé con mi blog en el año 2012 lo hice con la idea de disponer de un lugar donde apuntar todas las anécdotas que leía sobre expediciones polares para que no se me olvidaran y a la vez me permitiera compartirlas con otros entusiastas de la historia de la exploración polar. 

Prácticamente al mismo tiempo, tropezaba con varios blogs creados por ingleses, americanos y canadienses que versaban sobre la expedición de perdida de Franklin. Me aventuré a comentar en algunas de sus publicaciones y sorprendetemente, aquellos a los que yo veía como expertos inalcanzables, pronto me tendieron sus brazos y se empezó a forjar una relación que en algunos casos acabaría en amistad. Encontré a historiadores profesionales y amateurs como Peter Carney, Russell Potter, Glenn Stein y a entusiastas como yo como Jess Weatherbee, Bill Greenwell, Kassandra Noele, etc. 

Poco después me uní al grupo de Facebook “Remembering the Franklin expedition” en el que por cierto, estáis invitados a participar, y el número de amistades creció considerablemente. Estos autodenominados "Franklinitas" se reúnen anualmente en Londres para rememorar la expedición perdida pero sobre todo para tomarse unas pintas de cerveza y pasar un buen rato en agradable compañía. Allí fue donde conocí personalmente a William.

La primera vez que asistí a la reunión en Trafalgar tavern, en Greenwich entré por la puerta del pub y vi a un William sonriente sentado en una mesita cerca de una ventana pinta en mano. Conocía su cara por las fotos que había visto en internet, en su blog y en su libro, no obstante, no estaba cien por cien seguro de que fuera él. De pelo pelirrojo o quizás rubio y cara redonda y sonriente me recordaba a uno de esos niños de los libros de Guillermo el travieso. 

Un poco apurado pensando que quizás no fuese él, salimos del pub y esperamos un rato fuera. Al poco volvimos a entrar y esta vez me presenté, y sí, efectivamente era él. Con una gran sonrisa y visiblemente entusiasmado pronto empezamos a hablar. La conversación fluyó alegremente hasta que el resto de participantes empezaron a aparecer. Recuerdo que después de un incontable número de cervezas llegó el momento de pedirle que me dedicara el libro, que claro está, me había traído ex profeso desde España. Hubo un momento de confusión ya que Bill Greenwell y yo, le pedimos la dedicatoria al mismo tiempo. El resultado fue que yo acabé con la copia de Bill dedicada a mí y Bill con la mía dedicada a él. Decidimos intercambiar los libros para poder quedarnos con la dedicatoria correcta. Fue una tarde maravillosa.

El año siguiente se repitió el evento, y esta vez menos nervioso que en la primera ocasión, volvimos a vernos. 

El libro, en palabras de Russell Potter, una de las mayores eminencias relacionadas con la exploración polar, es descrito de la siguiente manera:

"Battersby's book is the first really full depiction that we have had, and it ably fills our previously incomplete portrait of Franklin and his senior officers. It's a book that no one with an interest in this expedition, or this period, will want to miss."

A esta crítica hubo algunos comentarios previos halagadores a los que William contestó:

"Careful folks, we'll sound like a mutual admiration society. But on the other hand... 

I did thank both Russell and Glenn for their tremendous help in this project in the Forward of the book and I really meant it. You have both been tremendouslu helpful. 

I think this subject: studying and understanding extra-ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things, does seem to bring the best out in people. In many ways it is similar to the subject of gallantry in war, but it is somehow more uplifting."

Os podéis hacer una idea de que clase de hombre era, recuerdo que cuando leí su comentario sonreí:

"Cuidado amigos o sonaremos como una sociedad de admiración mutua" 

Yo tampoco soy de la clase de los que les gusta recibir muchos halagos, si es que merezco alguno. 

"Estudiar y entender a gente extraordinaria que hizo cosas extraordinarias parece que saca lo mejor de las personas."

Creo que no podría estar más de acuerdo en eso.

Este año precisamente William andaba detrás de revisar su libro y aumentar contenidos. Me pidió que le echara una mano con determinados asuntos, era algo que tenía que ver con dos vapores ingleses que comandaban los mejores amigos de Fitzjames y que por avatares del destino acabaron en manos de la marina Española. Teníamos que traducir documentos, buscar imágenes y leer cartas de la época. Una pequeña aventura.

No os podéis imaginar lo halagado y orgulloso que me sentía de que alguien como William pidiera mi colaboración. Tampoco os podéis imaginar qué clase de investigador era, o lo podréis hacer si leéis su libro o alguno de los artículos que tiene publicados. En su blog hay una sección llamada "William Battersby ´s published research" donde los podéis leer.

La información que finalmente se fuera a publicar de aquello en lo que estábamos colaborando seguramente sería una parte muy pequeña del total de material que estábamos encontrando, pero aún así me lancé a buscar información con toda la ilusión del mundo. Si leyerais los e-mail que me mandaba os quedaríais fascinados ante la profundidad de sus análisis y de la cantidad de trabajo que él mismo desarrollaba al respecto, admirable. Incluso en la noticia que se ha publicado sobre el accidente el instructor jefe de vuelo y testigo del accidente dice sobre él :

"I saw the whole thing happen. It's a beautiful day for flying, and it was quite an experienced pilot, a very meticulous chap. The last thing on my mind was he would have any problem at all....A very nice chap, people got on with him very well"

Un "very meticulous chap and a very nice chap", así era él.

He pasado toda la noche despertándome cada dos por tres, y cada vez que me despertaba me venía a la cabeza su pérdida. Todas las veces, todavía medio dormido, he pensado que se trataba de una pesadilla pero en cuanto me despejaba un poco, la realidad de lo ocurrido volvía inmisericorde a recordarme que lo que ha pasado es muy real.

Lo voy a echar mucho de menos, todo el mundillo Franklinita y entusiasta de la exploración polar lo hará. A mi particularmente me va a quedar ahora un hueco en el corazón que va a ser muy difícil de rellenar. Guardaré la copia dedicada de mi libro (bueno, la de Bill más bien) como un gran tesoro que siempre ocupará un lugar destacado en mi librería polar al igual que William ocupará un lugar para siempre en mi memoria.

Creo que conocer a William Battersby, una persona extraordinaria que hizo cosas extraordinarias, me ha hecho ser un poco mejor persona.

Yesterday I received the very sad news that a friend William Battersby, writer of the awesome book “James Fitzjames, the mistery man of the Franklin expeditiondied in a light plane crash this past Monday.

It is tragic news in several senses, for one side I am losing a charming, friendly and funny people who I considered my friend and on the other hand the micro world of enthusiasts of polar exploration has lost one of its most value assets.

When I began with my blog in the year 2012 I did it with the idea of having a place where take notes of all the anecdotes I was reading about polar exploration in order not to forget them in the future, and at the same time, to share them with other enthusiasts.

Almost at the same time I stumbled upon several blogs made by British, American and Canadian people which versed about the lost Franklin expedition. I was brave enough to comment in some of those blogs and surprisingly to me, those who I considered as untouchable experts, soon embrace me and we began to forge a relationship which in some cases ended in friendship. I found there amateur and professional historians as Peter Carney, Russell Potter, Glenn Stein and other enthusiasts as me like Jess Weatherbee, Bill Greenwell, Kassandra Noele, etc. 

Soon after I joined the Facebook group called “Remembering the Franklin expedition”, to which, by the way, you are invited to participate and the number of friends soon rised considerably. These self-titled Franklinites get together in London once a year to remember the lost expedition but above all to have some beers and to have a good time. It was there where I met William.

The first time I attended the meeting in Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich I get into the pub and  I saw a smiling William sat besides a window pint in hand. I knew his face from pictures I had seen in the Internet and in his blog and book, however, I wasn´t one hundred sure it was him. Red head, or maybe blonde he remind me a bit those children from the Richmal Crompton´s books “William”.

A little bit embarrased, thinking maybe it wasn´t actually him, we get out of the pub and wait some minutes outside. Then I gathered enough strength and got in again. This time I introduced myself and my girlfriend and yes, it was actually him. With a broad smile and visibly enthusiastic, as he was, we soon began to talk. Conversation flew happily till the rest of attendants arrived. I remember that after an uncountable number of beers the time to dedicate books arrived. I had of course brought my copy from Spain for that occasion.

There were some confusion because Bill Greenwell and me asked him at the same time to sign our respective books. The result was I ended with Bill´s one and he with mine. We decided to change the books in order to keep the correct dedication. That was a wonderful evening.

The next year the get together happened again and this time I was less nervous than in the first one. We met again.

His book, in Russell´s words is:

"Battersby's book is the first really full depiction that we have had, and it ably fills our previously incomplete portrait of Franklin and his senior officers. It's a book that no one with an interest in this expedition, or this period, will want to miss."

To this review there were some flattering comments to which William answered:

"Careful folks, we'll sound like a mutual admiration society. But on the other hand... 

I did thank both Russell and Glenn for their tremendous help in this project in the Forward of the book and I really meant it. You have both been tremendouslu helpful. 

I think this subject: studying and understanding extra-ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things, does seem to bring the best out in people. In many ways it is similar to the subject of gallantry in war, but it is somehow more uplifting."

You can imagine what kind am I speaking about, I remember when I read his comment I smiled. I am not also of the kind who likes to be flattered if it happens I deserve any.

This precise year William was after reviewing his book and increase its content. He asked me to give him a hand with certain matters which involved two British steamers, commanded by two of the best friends of Fitzjames which ended in the hands of the Spanish Navy. We had to translate documents, looking for images and reading letters of that time.

You can´t imagine how flattered and proud I felt when someone like William asked me for collaboration. Maybe netither you could have an idea of what kind of researcher he was, or you can if you have read his book or any of the articles he published. In his blog there is a section called "William Battersby ´s published research" where you can find them.

The information would be finally  published would surely be a tiny part of what we were finding. You would be astonished if you could read the e-mails he sent me because of the depth of his analysis and because of the amount of work he was able to develop, really admirable. Even in the news of the tragic facts, the flying instructor says about him

"I saw the whole thing happen. It's a beautiful day for flying, and it was quite an experienced pilot, a very meticulous chap. The last thing on my mind was he would have any problem at all....A very nice chap, people got on with him very well"

A "very meticulous chap and a very nice chap", that was him.

I have spent the whole night waking up every now and then and every time I woke up his lost come to my head. Every time too, still half asleep I have thought I was having a nightmare but soon after awaking a bit more I immediately realized it what have happened has been very real.

I am going to miss him in a way nobody else knows, all the Franklinite world will do. In my case it is going to be a hole in my heart which is going to be very difficult to fill. I will keep the copy of my book (well, Bill´s one) as a big treasure which always will occupy an outstanding place in my polar bookselves, the same as William will occupy forever a place in my memories.

I think than knowin William Battersby, an extraordinary man who did extraordinary things, has made me become a better person.

domingo, 25 de septiembre de 2016


Se ha dicho en varias publicaciones, artículos y libros acerca de la expedición perdida de John Franklin de 1845 que murieron más hombres en las expediciones que trataron de localizarlo que en su propia expedición. Esta es una afirmación ante la cual uno tiene que preguntarse, ¿Será esto posible?

No se puede negar que el ártico ha sido el escenario de un buen número de tragedias desde que europeos y americanos decidieran adentrarse en sus aguas. El norte a veces puede comportarse como un asesino en serie que usa todas las herramientas al alcance de su mano para exterminar a todos los que se aventuran en el, y ya veremos mas adelante que dispone de una amplia variedad de ellas para hacerlo.

Veremos también mas abajo que hubo varias expediciones, algunas que transcurrieron tan pronto como durante el siglo XVI, que desaparecieron en el Ártico conmocionando al mundo a causa de la magnitud del desastre y del misterio que rodearon sus destinos inciertos. Pero ninguna de estas expediciones igualó las cifras de la carnicería sufrida por la expedición de Franklin, la cual, consiguió el dudoso honor de ser la expedición con el mayor número de víctimas de la historia de la exploración polar. Un record que no se ha batido hasta la fecha por ninguna otra expedición posterior.

El record hasta que la expedición de Franklin ocupara el trono, lo mantuvo Hugh Willoughby, quien murió junto con sus cerca de 70 hombres durante el invierno de 1553-54 mientras buscaba un pasaje hacia el este al norte del continente asiático. El llamado pasaje del Noreste. En este caso el misterio fue parcial y rápidamente resuelto cuando durante el siguiente verano fueron encontrados sus barcos con todos los hombres a bordo. Todos estaban muertos, incluyendo el líder de la expedición. De acuerdo con los documentos, parece que todavía estaban vivos y en buenas condiciones en enero de 1554. Los pescadores rusos que encontraron el macabro escenario describieron lo que vieron de la siguiente manera:

"Los hombres estaban congelados en diversas posturas, como estatuas, algunas mientras escribían, con la pluma todavía en la mano, abriendo el cajón, platos, cucharas en la boca, etc. con los perros de abordo en la misma situación."

Como resultado de esta siniestra descripción, la creencia general es que la tripulación podría haberse envenenado por monóxido de carbono, quizás resultado de una mala combustión en un ambiente cerrado poco ventilado. Había suficiente comida en los barcos por lo que la muerte por inanición fue descartada.

Los barcos, el cuerpo de Willoughby y los diarios fueron recuperados por Richard Chancellor, el otro capitán que acompañó a Hugh al principio del fatídico viaje y que se separó de Hugh en un determinado punto. Los barcos de Willoughby naufragaron en Noruega y con ellos se fue al fondo del mar junto con los diarios la posibilidad de solventar el misterio.

Death of Hugh Willoughby
La expedición Danesa de Jens Munk en 1619 tiene la segunda posición en este macabro podium con 61 muertes. Parece ser que gran parte de la tripulación podría haber muerto de Triquinosis en la vecinidad del Cabo Churchill en la bahía de Hudson. Aparentemente habían matado a un oso polar que podría haber tenido la enfermedad y al comer su carne, los hombres habrían caido enfermos uno por uno muriendo de forma irremediable. Algo similar le ocurrió a Salomon Andree en su expedición al Polo Norte de 1897 muchos años después. Munk, que por cierto sobrevivió a la odisea, dijo que sus hombres habían contraído una misteriosa enfermedad que no era escorbuto. Por desgracia, uno de los primeros en morir fue su cirujano, de manera que poco se pudo hacer por aplicar los adecuados cuidados a los enfermos.

Picture from the film "Jens Munk".
James Knight es el tercero en la lista. Con 50 muertes, el protagonizó uno de los mayores misterios de la historia sobre expediciones polares. En 1719 comandó una expedición para explorar la bahía de Hudson. Expediciones posteriores, incluyendo la del famoso Samuel Hearne, oyeron los testimonios de los Inuit que contaban la historia de que los barcos de Knight habían naufragado en la costa oeste de la bahía y que las tripulaciones habían tenido que invernar en Marble island. Algunos de los hombres, unos 20, sobrevivieron un primer invierno pero por alguna razón no pudieron escapar o navegar hacia el sur o el este en busca de ayuda en los puestos comerciales de la Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Los testimonios decían que solamente cinco hombres habrían sobrevivido un segundo invierno y que murieron a lo largo de la primavera y verano de 1721. Un capitán de la HBC contó sin embargo una historia ligeramente diferente. En su versión acusaba a los nativos de haber masacrado a los supervivientes del naufragio. John Geiger y Owen Beattie llevaron a cabo una expedición arqueológica en la zona, podéis leerla en su libro Dead Silence. Sin embargo, según creo, no hubo resultados concluyentes que explicasen lo ocurrido.

La cuarta posición en el ranking es para la tercera expedición de Frobisher de 1610, en la cual hubo cerca de 40 muertes. Frobisher había llevado a cabo dos viajes previos, uno en 1576 donde perdió cinco hombres que desertaron del barco y cuyo destino se desconoce (los nativos le dijeron mas tarde a Frobisher que estos hombres habían pasado un invierno con ellos en su poblado y que el verano siguiente partieron hacia Inglaterra en su bote). En la tercera expedición la flota de Frobisher compuesta por 15 barcos fue sacudida por una violenta tormenta que hundió varios barcos.
Martin Frobisher fleet departing from England in 1578
Henry Hudson, cuyo nombre fue dado a la inmensa bahía ubicada al este del continente norte americano, es tristemente conocido por haber sido abandonado en la bahía de James, ubicada a su vez en el interior de la bahía de Hudson, en 1611. Hudson, junto con su hijo y otros siete hombres aún leales fueron forzados a ocupar un pequeño bote. Intentaron perseguir su barco durante un tiempo pero al final se hizo evidente que no lo podrían alcanzar. Se enviaron expediciones de rescate el siguiente año para encontrarlo, pero aparte de algunas pistas no muy claras, no se encontró ni rastro de ellos. Los amotinados tuvieron un encuentro violento con los nativos en la costa mientras se dirigían hacia el estrecho de la bahía.

Henry Hudson abandonment
Entonces, lo que tenemos aquí es que, si dejamos a un lado la desaparición de James Knight, el resto de tragedias no están directamente relacionadas con las duras condiciones del Ártico, sino con otras circunstancias que nada tienen que ver con el frío, los icebergs, la falta de caza, etc. La siguiente gran tragedia fue la de John Franklin, cuya expedición perdió 129 hombres incluyendo al mismo Franklin.

Es un número enorme de víctimas, el mas grande. Las noticias de la tragedia sobrepasaron las fronteras del Imperio Británico y conmovió al resto del mundo. Por supuesto, hubo otras grandes tragedias y naufragios después del de Franklin pero ninguno relacionado con las expediciones de búsqueda, la de George DeLong, Adolphus Greely, etc.

Entonces, ¿Es cierto que murieron mas hombres en las expediciones de rescate por Franklin que durante su propia expedición? Alcanzar la cifra de 129 significaría un altísimo ratio de bajas para las aproximadamente treinta expediciones que se lanzaron en su búsqueda, teniendo en cuenta que ninguna de ellas llegó a naufragar. Es cierto que algunos  de los barcos de rescate fueron abandonados en el hielo (ya contaré algún día esa historia), pero las tripulaciones fueron rescatadas por otros barcos que se encontraban en la zona y que no estaban atrapados por el hielo.

Si repasamos esas expediciones contaremos alrededor de 37 muertes. No es un número exacto, todavía tengo que leer algunas de las narraciones originales de la época y chequear el dato adecuadamente, pero no creo que sea muy diferente.

El número mas alto de víctimas pertenece a la expedición de Belcher de 1850 en la cual participaron cuatro barcos. Hubo diez muertes. Algunos de estos pobres hombres yacen en el pequeño cementerio ubicado en Dealy island.

Durante la expedición de rescate de James Ross de 1848 murieron siete hombres, casi todos ellos enterrados en Port Leopold. James Saunders en el North Star perdió a otros cuatro hombres cuyos cuerpos descansan en North Star bay. McLure también estuvo cerca de interpretar un papel de protagonista en esta trágica opera, pero milagrosamente escapó solo con cinco víctimas, tres de ellos enterrados en la isla de Banks, donde se hizo algún trabajo arqueológico.

RIchard Collinson perdió otros cinco hombres durante su intento de rescate por el este, pasando por el estrecho de Bering hacia la isla del rey Guillermo, en el corazón del archipielago Ártico Canadiense. Leopold McCLintock perdió otros tres hombres durante su famoso viaje en el Fox, que llegó a encontrar el único documento escrito de la expedición de Franklin y numerosos restos y tumbas pertenecientes a ella. Y finalmente Thomas Moore y Horatio Austin perdieron a un hombre cada uno de ellos.

De todas estas muertes, un buen número de ellas, son debidas al escorbuto y a la tuberculosis, las menos, debidas a accidentes como caídas, ahogamientos o a causa del frio. Un día de estos, no sé cuando, publicaré el listado con los nombres de todos estos hombres con la fecha, lugar y causa de la muerte. Será un buen homenaje para todos ellos. También merecen ser recordados, tanto como los tres famosos marineros de la expedición de Franklin que fueron encontrados y desenterrados en Beechey island.

miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2016


It has been said in several occasions that there were more men lost in the course of the expeditions which went after Franklin than in the Franklin expedition itself. That is an affirmation to which one has to wonder, could this possibly be true?

It can´t be denied that the Arctic has been the stage of a good number of tragedies since Europeans and Americans decided to penetrate its waters. The North sometimes behaves as a serial killer which uses all the tools at its hand to exterminate all those who dare to get into its dark waters, and we will see it has a huge variety of means to do that.

We will see also below that there were several expeditions, some of them were conducted as early as in the sixteen century, which disappeared in the Arctic shocking the world because of the magnitude of the disaster and because of the mistery which surrounded their uncertain fate. But none of them matched the numbers of the carnage happened during the Franklin expedition which got the dubious prize of being the expedition with the highest number of casualties of the history of Polar exploration. A record not beaten for any other expedition afterwards. 

The record, till John Franklin occupied the throne, was held by Hugh Willoughby, who died together with his about of 70 men during the winter of 1553-54 while searching for a passage to the east north of the Asia continent. The Northeast passage. In this case the mistery was partially and quickly solved when his ships were found soon the following summer with all the men inside, including the chief of the expedition, Hugh, and his journal. According to the journals, it seems they were still alive and well in january of 1554. The fishermen who found the two ships apparently described what they saw this way:

"The men were frozen in various postures, like statues, some in the act of writing, pen still in hand, opening a locker, or platter in hand, spoon in mouth, etc., with the dogs on board displaying the same phenomena."

Because of this creepy description it is the general believeng that they could have been poisoned by carbon monoxide. There were plenty of food on the ships, so death for starvation was discarded. 

The ships, corpse of Willoughby and the journals were recovered by Richard Chancellor, the other captain who accompanied Hugh at the beginning of that fateful trip and who split ways at some point of the journey. Willoughby ships wrecked in Norway and with them, went to the bottom of the sea, the journals and the solution of part of the mistery.
Death of Hugh Willoughby
The Danish expedition in 1619 of Jens Munk has the second position in this macabre podium with 61 deaths. Jens Munk casualties may have died because of Trichinosis in the vecinity of Cape Churchill. Apparently they killed a Polar bear that caused the death of the most part of the men, similarly of what could have happened to Salomon Andree´s expedition many years after. Munk, who survived the odissey told that their men, and he included, had contracted a misterious disease which wasn´t scurvy. The premature death of his surgeon prevented him of taking the proper care that his men needed.

Picture from the film "Jens Munk".
James Knight is the third in the list. With 50 death, he starred one of the biggest misteries in Polar history. In 1719 he commanded an expedition to explore Hudson Bay. Subsequent expeditions, including the famous Samuel Hearne, heard testimonies which tell the story that the ships had wrecked and that they had to winter in Marble island, in the west coast of the bay. Some of the men, about 20, survived a first winter but for some reason they couldn´t escape in boats or sail south or east looking for the safety the Forts in the area could have given them. Inuit testimony says that only five men survived another winter and died in 1721. Testimony from a Captain from the Hudson Bay Company tells however a different story which accuses the natives og that region of having killed Kinght´s crew,

The fourth position in the ranking is for Frobisher´s third expedition of 1610, on which there were about 40 deaths. Frobisher had performed two previous voyages one in 1576 where he lost five men who deserted the ships and whose fate is unknown (Inuit locals told to Frobisher later that they had spent the winter with their people and then left to England in their boat the following summer). This time Frobisher´s fleet of fifteen vessels was stricken by a heavy storm which sunk several of his ships.

Martin Frobisher fleet departing from England in 1578
Henry Hudson, whose name was given to the huge bay at the east of the North American continent, is sadly known for being abandoned in James bay (also in Hudson Bay) in 1611. He was put by force in a small boat together with his son and other seven loyal men in 1610. They tried to chase their ship for a while but it soon become apparent that they wouldn´t reach it. Rescue expeditions were sent to find him the next year but apart of some unclear clues, nothing was never heard of him again. Four other men died after the mutineers had abandoned Hudson in a fight against the natives in the east coast of Hudson bay.

Henry Hudson abandonment
So what we see here is that apart of the disappearance of James Knight, the rest of tragedies are not directly due to the harsh Arctic conditions but to other circunstances. The next big tragedy was that of John Franklin whose expedition lost 129 men including Franklin himself. That´s a great number of people, the biggest. The news of the tragedy overcome British empire boundaries and moved the rest of the world.  Of course, there were other big tragedies and shipwrecks after, but not related with any searching expedition,  those of DeLong, Greely, etc. and never as dramatic as Franklin's one.

Then, is it true that there would have died as many people as died in the Franklin expedition during the subsequent searching expeditions? Matching that number would imply that, the about of these thirty expeditions, should have had very high rates of casualties, which they, in general  terms hadn´t.

Reviewing the expeditions which got into the Arctic to look for Franklin I have only counted 37 deaths. This is not a precise number, I still have to check properly some overland expeditions and the smaller ones but I don´t think the final number will be too different.

The highest number of deaths belongs to Belcher´s expedition of 1850 on which participated four ships. There were ten deaths, some of those unlucky men lie in a small cementery in Dealy island. During James Ross attempt to find Franklin in 1848 he lost seven men, almost all of them buried in Port Leopold. James Saunders in the North Star lost another four men whose bodies rest in North Star bay. McLure was also veey close to play a main role in this tragic opera but miraculously escaped with just five men death, Three of them were buried in Banks island where some archaeological work has been done. Richard Collinson lost another five men during his east approach passing by Bering strait to King William Island, I am not sure where the bodies of those men were buried, will work about it soon. Leopold McClintock lost another three men during the voyage of the Fox and finally Thomas Moore and Horatio Austin lost one man each.

Of all these deaths, a good number are due to scurvy and consumption, the less are due to accidents like falls or drowning or because of the cold. I will post one of these days a more thorough post with the list of the men who died during these expeditions with their names and data of the places where they were buried and with the causes of their deaths. It will be a good homage to all of them, they deserve too to be remembered with the same intensity that the men buried in Beechey island and the rest of the men lost during the last Franklin expedition.

martes, 13 de septiembre de 2016


Si, se ha hallado el HMS Terror. Aunque algunos de nosotros pensamos que los esfuerzos deberían de haberse centrado en destripar el contenido del Erebus, Parks Canada no ha parado de buscar a su consorte el Terror y, si, finalmente lo han localizado.

Ha sido un movimiento interesante teniendo en cuenta que los recursos dedicados son limitados y que han tenido que pasar 160 años para encontrarlo. ¿No habría sido mas natural terminar la tarea que tienes al alcance de la mano antes que ir a la deriva detrás de una quimera? ¿Tratar de localizar una aguja en un pajar? Gracias a Dios no pensaron así y no pararon la búsqueda, creo que yo habría hecho lo mismo de estar al mando.

Pero como Russell Potter, especialista en exploraciones Árticas en general y en la de Franklin en particular, ha dicho, el hallazgo genera más dudas que respuestas. Si volvemos al antiguo mapa de la isla del Rey Guillermo dibujada por Thomas Gould, podemos descartar las rutas que resulta mas improbable que siguieran los barcos. La que se dirige al oeste hacia el estrecho de Dease y la que da la vuelta a la isla cruzando el estrecho de Simpson y que sitúa el naufragio en la Isla de Matty

Y lo que es más, las evidencias por el momento parecen demostrar que el barco habría llegado a la Bahía del Terror no debido a la deriva del hielo sino navegando. Aunque este punto todavía se tiene que demostrar, estoy seguro de que és lo que realmente ocurrió. la bahía Terror junto con  la de Washington son desde mi punto de vista los dos mejores lugares para invernar que puedes encontrar en esa región, lejos de la presión de los hielos que derivan hacia el sur desde el estrecho Victoria. Recordemos que el estrecho de Simpson se encuentra libre de hielo en verano, cosa que no ocurre pocas millas más al norte.

Mi suposición al respecto, aunque obviamente no soy un experto en estos asuntos, es que tras abandonar los barcos en primera instancia al norte del Cabo Félix en 1848, todos los hombres regresaron a los barcos motivados por diversas potenciales circunstancias. Pudo ser demasiado pronto para comenzar el viaje, (abril de 1848) demasiado frio, demasiada nieve, etc. o puede ser que el hielo se derritiera alrededor de los barcos liberándolos circunstancialmente, o quizás el hielo que los mantenía atrapados los desplazó hacia el sur más rápido de lo que ellos pensaban que podía ser. ¿Y si lo que ocurrió fue una combinación de estas tres razones?

John Ross, durante su escape de su propio barco el Victory, lo abandonó en 1832 aproximadamente a la misma fecha, pero regresó a él un mes después debido a que el tiempo era horrible y a por más provisiones. A Ross le llevó todo el mes de abril avanzar 18 millas para las que tuvo que caminar más de 110. Podeis ver las condiciones que tuvieron que soportar durante aquellos días y haceros una idea de lo que les pudo ocurrir a los hombres de la expedición de Franklin bajo circunstancias similares en la narración del viaje de Ross aquí.

Los hombres de Ross dejaron los botes y provisiones en el punto más alejado que habían alcanzado y regresaron al barco. El uno de mayo partieron de nuevo, alcanzaron los botes donde los habían dejado y continuaron hacia el norte hacia la playa de Fury donde había un depósito de provisiones abandonado por una expedición previa. Los hombres tuvieron que arrastrar los botes individualmente en turnos, primero uno, luego otro y luego el otro. Al final las circunstancias no fueron tan dramáticas como parecía que iban a ser y cubrieron una distancia de 370 km en dos meses (mayo y junio). llegaron a Fury beach el primero de julio después de haber abandonado el barco por segunda vez el primero de mayo. Crozier, si es que aún estaba vivo, seguramente habría tenido que recurrir a un método similar para avanzar por la isla.

No sabemos que punto alcanzaron durante este primer intento, quizás llegaron en mayo a Little Point al norte de la península de Graham Gore haciendo un gran esfuerzo (unos 80 km desde Victory Point siguiendo la costa). Alli fue donde se encontraron los dos botes de forma separada, uno con dos esqueletos dentro de él. Quizás fue desde allí desde donde vieron a los barcos derivar por el hielo hacia el sur desde el lugar donde los habían abandonado y se dieron cuenta de que podían volver a ellos y llevarlos a lugar seguro en la bahía Erebus donde pasarían el invierno de 1848-49. Esto explicaría las tumbas y restos encontrados allí en los lugares llamados NgLj-2, 3,4 and 5:

También es muy probable, que al igual que Ross, volvieran a los barcos donde fueron abandonados la primera vez en mayo después de un mes de viaje e intentaran un segundo viaje en junio o julio hacia el sur. En agosto vieron lobarcos aproximarse, los retripularon y  los trajeron a la bahía. Esto situaría a la expedición en la bahía Erebus en septiembre. No tenemos razones para pensar que los barcos estuvieran separados en este punto. Podría ser que el estrecho corredor entre las islas de la Royal Geographical Society y la costa oeste de la isla de l Rey Guillermo los hubiese mantenido juntos.

En la primavera de 1849 la tripulación podría de alguna manera haber forzado el paso del Terror rodeando la península de Graham Gore. Quizás arrastrando el barco entre canales en el hielo o serrando el hielo y gastando las pocas fuerzas que les pudieran quedar. El Erebus, en ese punto estaba tan dañado por el hielo que tuvieron que abandonarlo mientras todavía estaba atrapado. De cualquie manera, necesitaban toda la mano de obra posible para arrastrar uno solo de los barcos. La circunnavegación de la península de Graham Gore podría explicar la ausencia de restos y tumbas en la península. El Erebus derivó hacia el sur en solitario hasta que alcanzó el lugar donde fue encontrado en 2014. El Terror por el contrario, en perfecto estado aterrizó en la bahía del Terror al final de septiembre de 1849, los hombres estaban exhaustos, la moral destruida y quizás unas 90 personas, tuvieron que preparar el barco para pasar otro invierno en la isla.

Se emplazó un campamento en la costa para cazar y para permanecer en contacto con las ocasionales visitas de los cazadores Inuit nativos. Aquel invierno de 1849-50 fue el último a bordo del barco. Aquel no fue un mal invierno para nada, mas al sur de donde habían estado hasta la fecha en los años precedentes, pudieron cazar caribues y pescar. Sólamente murieron dos hombres aquél invierno que  fueron enterrados cerca del campamento pero el hielo no se abrió en primavera. De cualquier manera, ¿cuales eran sus oportunidades de escapar navegando hacia el este rodeando la isla si era muy probable que no hubiese paso hacia el norte posteriormente? ¿Que pasaría si la bahía de Poctes realmente existía?

Decidieron abandonar el Terror de nuevo a pie y continuar con el plan original de viajar al este y al sur hacia la boca del rio Back, allí verían que hacer. No significaría esto que una segunda nota como aquella encontrada en VIctory Point podría encontrarse en la Bahía Terror contando la historia hasta la fecha? Si el barco invernó de forma voluntaria allí y fue posteriormente abandonado, debería de exisitir una nota en la bahía Terror.

El resto de la historia es la misma que hemos reconstruido todos un centenar de veces.  Quedaban todavía 80 hombres que se separaron en dos grupos para aumentar sus oportunidades de conseguir caza y ayuda por parte de los nativos. Uno estaría comandado por James Fitzjames, segundo de a bordo de Franklin y el otro por Crozier, comandante del Terror. Esto explicaría el avistamiento por parte de los Inuit de un grupo de unos 30 o 40 hombres en la bahía de Whasington. Los hombres fueron muriendo mientras durante el verano de 1850 alcanzaron la isla de Todd en la esquina sureste de la isla del Rey Guillermo. Allí al menos un grupo cruzó el estrecho de Simpson hacia la desembocadura del rio Back y acampó en Starvation Cove. El frio llegó y lo que quedaba de aquellos 30 o 40 hombres murió uno por uno durante el invierno de 1850-51

El segundo grupo se embarcó en los botes y trataron de ascender hacia el norte por el estrecho de Rae  para intentar escapar de aquel infierno via Fury beach y Port Leopold, la misma ruta de escape que siguió Ross en 1833.  Uno de los botes zozobró en la isla  Matty, el otro no pudo seguir hacia el norte de aquel punto debido a la acumualación de hielo al norte de la isla, de manera que los supervivientes cruzaron el istmo de Boothia situado al este y cruzaron el golfo para intentar alcanzar el estrecho de Fury y Hecla. Algunos de estos hombres fueron vistos por los Inuit que habitaban esa zona pero nunca se estableció contacto.

Y bueno, eso es todo, hacía tiempo que quería hacer este ejercicio de imaginación y el descubrimiento del Terror me ha ayudado a darle algo de forma. Tendría que analizar en detalle el número de tumbas, esqueletos y restos encontrados para intentar reconstruir con mayor exactitud que pasó planteando cuantas mas alternativas posibles mejor. Con esta descripción solo pretendo excitar la imaginación de aquellos que estáis siguiendo de cerca lo que le ocurrió a esta expedición y que saqueis vuestras propias conclusiones. Complementaré el post con el mapa de la ubicación de los restos encontrados y avistamientos relacionados con la expedición de Franklin que hice en Google Earth hace algún tiempo.

Todavía quedan incógnitas por resolver como las huellas de tres hombres y un perro encontradas en la península de Adelaida, al otro lado del estrecho de Simpson en el lado oeste, y que demonios eran aquellos mástiles que el guía de Anderson vio desde la desembocadura del rio Back. Visión que ocultó a su patrón hasta muchos años después.  


Yes, the ship HMS Terror has been found. Though some of us thought the efforts would be focus in disembowel what is inside Erebus, Parks Canada has not stopped its searching for the Terror and they finally have located it.

This is for me an interesting movement taking into account that their resources are limited and that it took more than 160 years to find it. Wouldn´t have been more natural to finish the task you have at the reach of your hand before drifting after what could be considered a chimera trying to locate a nail in haystack? Thank goodness they didn´t do that and kept on searching, actually, I think would have done the same thing.

But as Russell Potter has opportunely said, the finding arise more questions than answers. If we go back to Thomas Gould map of King William Island we can discard the more improbable routes which were asignated to the drift of the ships, the one which goes to the West towards Dease Strait and the one which took one of the ships to Matty Island surrounding King William Island (KWI) through Simpson strait.

What is more, evindences for the moment seems to demonstrate the ship had arrived to Terror bay not by the ice drift but sailing. Though this is still to be demonstrated I am confident that this is what actually happened. Terror Bay together with Washington bay are for me the better places to winter you can find in that region. Far from the pressure of the ice which comes south from Victoria Strait. Remember that Simpson strait is free of ice in summer, thing which doesn´t happen some miles north.

My guess, and obviously I am not an expert on this matters, is that after abandoning the ships north of Cape Felix in 1848, all the men returned to the ship motivated for several potential reasons. It was too soon (April of 1848) to begin to walk (too much cold, too much snow, etc), the ice melted around the ships or they saw how they drifted south quicker than they initially thought. Maybe what provoked their return was a combination of this three reasons.

John Ross during his escape from his ship Victory, abandoned her in 1832 at such early season, but  returned to the ships time after before the end of the month because weather was awful and for more provisions. It had taken them to walk 110 miles to advance 18 during the whole month. You can see what kind of conditions they endured during those days and make yourself an idea of what happened to the men of the Franklin expedition under similar circunstances in Ross´s account of his story here

They left the boats and provisions in the farthest point they reached and then departed again from the ship in may, reached the boats where they were left and continued north towards Fury beach and its huge depot of food. All the men had to drag the sledges individually in turns (with its boat on top of it) first one and then another and then another. At the end things weren´t that dramatic and they covered a distance of about 370 km in two months (may and june). They arrived Fury Beach the 1st of july after leaving the ship for second time the 1st of May. Crozier (if he was still alive) surely had to resort to that method either. 

We don´t know which point they reached during this first attempt. Maybe they arrived on May to Little Point north of Graham Gore peninsula making a big effort (80 km from Victory point following the shoreline). There were found two boats separatedly, one with two skeletons inside. Maybe it was there where they saw how the ships had drifted south from the point they had been abandoned and that they weren´t far from where they currently were and then remanned and took them to Erebus bay to spend the winter of 1848-49 . That would explain the graves and remains found in the sites NgLj-2, 3,4 and 5. 

It is also very probable, that like Ross, they returned to the ships where they originally were in 1848 on May, after a month of traveling,  and then tried a second time, in june or july to go south. Then, in August they saw the ships approaching Erebus Bay and  went aboard them to bring them to Erebus Bay. That would put them in Erebus bay in september. We don´t have reasons to think both ships were separated at this point, it looks like as if the narrow corridor between Royal Geographical islands and the west coast of KWI had forced them to stay together. 

In the spring of 1849 they could have forced their way with the Terror passing Graham Gore peninsula somehow to Terror bay, maybe dragging the ship through small leads in the ice close to the shore or maybe sawing the ice and wasting the remaining strength they had. The Erebus at this point was so damaged by the ice that they had to abandon it while she was still trapped in the ice. Anyway, they needed all the available strength to drag just one ship. That would explain the lack of graves and bones in Gore Peninsula. Erebus drifted south alone till the point she was found in 2014. The Terror on the contrary, in perfect shape arrived at Terror Bay at the end of september of 1849, men were exhausted, moral was destroyed and maybe about 90 people (I have calculated that about 19 had died at this point) had to prepare the ship for another winter in that island.

A camp was put ashore for hunting purposes and to stay in contact with the occasional visits from the Inuit hunters. That was the winter of 1849-50, their last aboard the ship. That wasn´t a bad winter at all, southern than they had ever been in previous seasons they could hunt caribous and do some fishing. Only two men died that winter and where buried near the camp but the ice didn´t open that spring. Anyway, what were the chances for them to sail surrounding KWI by its south end if there was a high chance that there wasn´t any pass east of the place where they were? What if Poctes Bay really existed? 

They decided to abandon the Terror again on foot  and continued with their original plan, to travel east and then south to the mouth of Back river, then they would have to see what to do. Wouldn´t that mean that a second note should be found in Terror bay telling the story till that moment?. If the ship voluntarily wintered there and was subsecquently abandoned, THERE MUST BE A NOTE SOMEWHERE IN TERROR BAY.

The rest of the story is the same that we had reconstruct one hundred times. There were 80 remaining men by then which splitted into two groups, one commanded by Crozier and the other by Fitzjames. That would explain the 30 or 40 men saw by the Inuit at Whasington bay. Men died while they struggled the summer of 1850 till they reached Todd island in the south east corner of KWI. There at least one group crossed to Back´s river mouth and camped in september in Starvation Cove. The winter fell and the remaining of those 30 or 40 men died there one by one during the winter of 1850-51. The second group took the boats and went north through Rae Strait trying to reach Boothia peninsula and get out of that Hell via Fury beach and Port Leopold, the same escape route followed by Ross in 1833. A boat capsized in Matty island and the other couldn´t go north of that point because the ice conditions. They crossed Boothia Istmus, crossed the gulf of Boothia and continued east to Fury and Hecla strait where some of the men were saw by the Inuit living there. Those men didn´t survive the winter of 1850-51 either, Rae arrived to late to that point in 1853 to rescue anybody.
And that´s all, I wanted to do this exercise of imagination. What do you think? May I be right? Surely not but I enjoyed reconstructing the story!

martes, 19 de julio de 2016


Those who are following regularly my posts will surely know my predilection about secondary actors, or the regular men if you prefer, who participated in the nineteenth century polar expeditions. I have been always interested on those who lived at the shadow of the success of their commanders and rest of officers. Every time I begin to dig in the life of any of these men I always find dozens of pieces dispersed with which I can assemble and solve the puzzle of their lives.There is not too much added value on doing what I am doing, but the effort of gathering small details which all together can  make a story. Many times, I find interesting parallel stories which can make you digress and drift to other courses which I must ignore not to lose forever the main track.

Now, the subject of my analisys is Thomas Abernethy, a scottish man who was born in 1802 in Peterhead, same birthplace than William Penny, the famous whaler Captain who in fact was born only seven years after Thomas. Peterhead was by then a prosperous town where the whaling industry was flourishing. It produced surely, together with Orkney and Shetland islands, a big part of the sailors who participated in the Arctic expeditions of the time.

The life of Thomas Abernethy has been a little mistery to me during some time. He appears here and there in several (six, to be precise) of the polar exploration accounts about which I have read. Sometimes his achievements appear in capital letters making him outstands over the grey mass of sailors who participated in those expeditions and others he is not mentioned at all.

There are only a couple of books where some paragraphs are dedicated specifically to the life of this man and that is more than we can say about other Arctic explorers. One of them is "The lands of silence" wrote by Clements Markham, who claimed to be an acquitance of Thomas, and the other is John Ross´s narrative of his second journey to the Northwest Passage in 1829-32. He is described in the appendix of Ross´s book with an unexpected kindness and detail. I would say, in a totally unusual way for these kinds of accounts.

It seems, according to Ross, that Thomas Abernethy was a tall man of about 1,80 m (6 feet), "well made and of florid complexion", of "Dark eyes and hair and an aquilinne nose", "decidedly the best looking man of the ship", " The most steady, active and more powerful man of the ship".

Such words, coming from a man like Ross, who was able to amputate with his own hands the arm of his engineer during one of his voyages of exploration and who was able to sail after John Franklin when he was in his seventies, makes you think that Thomas was a very uncommon man worthy of such praising. I don´t know you but, now, at this point, I would be even more intrigued about who and how was this phenomenon. It is clear, and we will see it after, that on performing his duties he earned the respect of his bosses and mates making of his, therefore, a prolific career. As we will learn, he was recommended several times for promotion by his commanders.

As it happened to John Ross, Thomas began his career at the early age of ten, (Ross did at nine), joining merchant ships and whalers from Peterhead. Ross says he got on board the ship "Friends" in 1811 on which he spent four years of apprenticeship. Apparently, Thomas went once to west indies and after, twice to Greenland. The only ship I have found with that name is a convict ship, a three masted ship of 331 tons, which in 1811 carried one hundred one convict women to New South Wales in Australia. The ship traveled first via Rio de Janeiro and then passed Cape Horn on its way to Sydney, where it arrived the 10th of october after a trip which lasted six months.  Maybe Ross wanted to omitt that his, I would say friend, was on board a convict ship. There are no mentions about those trips to Greenland.

Afterwards, he enroled in the whaler Hannibal on which he travelled to Davis strait three times. The whaler Hannibal, according with the "Peterhead Almanac and Directory", fished almost yearly seals (better not to check the growing number of seals they hunted within the years) and whales in Greenland and Davis Strait from 1819 to 1847.

Cew of the Peterhead whaler Hope 1880 (I don´t think crews of 1820´s looked too different from these men).

The whalers had to go further north to fish in Davis Strait because whales become more and more scarce in front of the shores of Greenland. That provoked those known disasters, as the one which happened in 1830, where from 91 ships which were fishing in Davis strait, 19 were lost, two of them whalers from Peterhead (The Resolution and Hope). Hannibal made it and could come back home having fished only two whales (on each of the two previous seasons they got eleven).

The Hannibal wrecked in Norway in 1848 on its way back from Davis strait. The captain by then, J. Lowrie, found rough weather. They were carrying the crew of another ship on board. Lowrie decided to try to reach Peterhead instead of looking for safety in Shetland islands. His ship was driven by a gale to the shores of Norway where it wrecked. All the hands were lost but one, a seaman called Watt, who was called after life "Piper George Watt". I can´t avoid being curious about what was of the life of this man. Sailors of the time were quite superstitious and particularly, whalers seem to be the more supertitious of all. I would bet that this poor man was either condemned to ostracism or considered as an amulet of good luck. I am prone to believe what happened was the former guess...

During its first years the ship was under the command of William Robertson. We don´t know exactly which years were those on which Thomas went to Davis Strait, maybe the seasons corresponding to the years 1819, 1820 and 1821, but what it is sure is that the experience he gained there prepared his way to form part of the coming Arctic expeditions and therefore opened the way to put his name discretely in the Hall of fame of Polar exploration.

Ross also mentions that after the time in the north he performed some coast guard services in Oporto but I haven´t be able to find any trace of his life during this time. There are some gaps in his naval career about which I couldn´t get any information. For example, what he did from 1815 to 1819 and what he did between 1822 and 1823 before going with Parry in 1824, on which was going to be his first Arctic expedition (the third expedition which Parry commanded).

In 1824, HMS Fury and HMS Hecla, commanded by Edward Parry, departed from England again with the intention of discovering the elusive Northwest Passage. Thomas was 22 when came on board HMS Fury. The ship would wreck the following summer in Somerset Island in the course of the expedition. That wasn´t a very succesful mission, Parry had an incomparable luck during his first attempt to cross the passage in 1819 but since then things had gone quite worst.

Fury was severly damaged by the ice in Prince Regent Inlet and had to be abandoned. It seems that Thomas´s work in Fury Beach, the name of the place where they had to abandon the ship, was of the utmost importance. At least that´s what Ross says about him though Parry doesn´t mention it any single time in his narrative. It took the expedition days to empty the holds, take Fury´s cargo to the beach and haul the ship to the shore. The crews of both ships worked together countless hours on doing that. There is no doubt that there were lots of opportunities to demonstrate courage during the whole process and Thomas exuded that characteristic.

The Fury grounded on Fury Beach, from William Edward Parry, Journal of a Third Voyage, 1825 

In 1827 Parry commanded another Polar expedition on board HMS Hecla, this time the journey consisted on an attempt to reach the North Pole. The previous try had been performed unsuccesfully by David Buchan and John Franklin in 1818. His predecesors basically had pushed untiringly  their ships, HMS Dorothea and HMS Trent, against the sea ice formed north of Spitzbergen with the result that Buchan´s ship, Dorothea, ended severily damaged. Buchan, defeated, ordered to withdraw against the will of a young and temerary John Franklin who wanted to go ahead alone with his ship.

HMS Hecla left London on March 1827. On their way north they crossed their way with two Peterhead whalers, Alpheus and Active, maybe Thomas could have find there some old friends from his whaler days. They arrived at Spitzbergen and begun the 23th of june to walk on the ice towards the North Pole .

This time, the strategy was a little bit different. Parry, following a Franklin´s original idea, had the intention of reaching the ice with his ship and then drag with Lapland reindeers two boats, of a specific design, on the ice till reaching the North Pole.

If you know something about Friedjof Nansen´s attempt, you will realize how difficult and dangerous Parry´s plan could result. Nansen chose a more sportive and modern way to do the things, he prefered to travel light and fast, just two men, two sledges and two kayaks. Parry´s strategy proved to be futile. Polar ice drift would make them to go forth and forward making them to walk dozens of miles not to advance a single second of latitude, besides the ice was all but smooth and plain. High ridges cut their way constantly making them make huge physical efforts.

Parry´s boats Endeavour and Enterprise

Parry, however, had read from Scoresby and Phipps that the Polar ice was smooth as a road, and that sometimes happen, but this time it wasn´t the case. The boats were about seven meters length and Parry had prepared two five feet wheels to carry the boats on that "road". Each boat had assigned a crew of fourteen, two officers, two marines and ten men. Eight rein deers were bought to drag the boats though they weren´t finally used by Parry because the actual ice conditions.

They dragged the boats from 10 to 12 hours a day sleeping during daylight and walking by night. Depending on the state of the ice, sometimes they only advanced a mile a day. They drag and crawled oftenly upon all fours on deep snow, under the rain and under snow drifts. It was a painful experience but the men usually laughed to this situation saying" We were a long time getting to this 83 º" latitude which, by the way, they never reached...they returned after having reached a latitude of 82 º 45´. The nothernmost point reached till that time and a mark which won´t be beated till 50 years after. After the massive effort done and 48 days of hard work, they were only at a distance of 172 miles from the ship for which they had to travel 580 or 600 miles.

In that same journey participated James C. Ross and Crozier, it was surely here where it was planted the seed which forged later Thomas´s pass to participate in their Antarctic expedition of 1839-42.

Thomas was promoted, because of Parry´s recommendation, as gunner of HMS Blossom, on which he served from 1827 to 1829. It was during this time that he married the daughter of George Fiddis, the carpenter of all the previous Parry´s expeditions. I don´t know if they had descendants or not, I couldn´t find any information about it.

Then it came the John Ross´s Victory expedition of 1829-33 (one of my favourites), where Thomas participated as second mate . He was now a 27 years old veteran which had seventeen years of experience, many of them in Polar seas.

In this expedition he is explicitly mentioned a good number of times by John Ross. He begins the narrative saying that Thomas and the carpenter Chimham were two of their best acquisitions for the journey.

Such was the confidence on him that he was one of the few, together with Thomas Blanky about whom I wrote some lines time ago, who accompanied James Ross in his sledge trip to locate the North Magnetic Pole. I would say that for the crew of Victory, this was a fact comparable to the decission taken by R.F. Scott when he decided who would accompany him in his final voyage to the South pole. 

When Ross had to explore separatedly from the main sledge party any possible way to go forward, it was Thomas who accompanied him as if he was his right hand. When the men were exhausted and had to rest during this long trip it was always Thomas who was besides Ross looking for the best route to follow. Same happened when the ship Victory had to be abandoned in Prince Regent Inlet. The ship´s boats had to be hauled all the way north to Port leopold where they hoped to find help coming from the whalers which were fishing in Lancaster sound. Thomas, was the man chosen by James Ross to find the best way to make the boats pass.

Somerset House in Fury Beach, 1833
John Ross expedition of 1829-33 could be considered as an equivalent of the Ernest Shackleton feat of 1914. He and almost all his crew survived four winters in the Arctic against all hope. They had to look for their safety when there was no chance for help, the same as Shackleton did. They finally were rescued by the whaler Isabella in Lancaster sound and brought back to England. When arriving, John Ross recommended Thomas promotion and he was appointed to HMS Seringapatam. 


Six years after John Ross´s expedition, Thomas Abernethy was chosen as ice master and gunner of Erebus for the Antarctic expedition of 1839. It was Thomas Abernethy and Oakley, according to James Ross with their accustomed boldness and humanity, who tried to rescue with a boat to James Angley, the quater-master who fell overboard from the mainyard during a gale in Antarctic waters. Angley had reached the life-buoy which was threw to help him. Due to the rough weather James Ross ordered Thomas not to go. Ross's intention was triying to reach the buoy manouvering the ship, but the poor man, who hadn´t tied himself to the buoy´s mast was swallowed by the angry sea before he could be rescued. There were another previous incident when a sailor called Roberts also fell from the rigging to the sea. This time Oakley lowered his boat to help him, unfortunately, weather was so bad that a wave threw the four men on board to the sea. It was then when Thomas lowered another boat and risking his life rescued the four men. The poor sailor who had fell formerly was lost. Maybe this experience was the one which made Ross to take the decission not to allow Thomas to use the boat to rescue Angley in the second incident.

In Robert McCormick alternative account of the Antarctic expedition, the adjectives which acompany the name of Thomas are "worthy, able, Captain´s Ross old follower, ever the foremost in all emergencies" and so on. Abernethy seems to have accompanied McCormick in a good number of his proceedings, of special help on hunting , catching and chasing penguins.

Erebus and Terror among icebergs

There is not an official account about James Clark Ross´s journey in HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator of 1848-49, so I can´t say nothing about the role of Thomas during this expedition apart of the fact that he was the Ice Master of HMS Enterprise. The only input I could get, and is not a very favourable one, is that Thomas was "A good seaman, an athletic, healthy person, but a heavy drinker who presented disciplinary problems, though James Ross seems to have no difficulty with him". It seems that Thomas had a dark side after all, but maybe not that bad as for not counting with him for a responsible vacancy such as Ice Master was.

Not too much time after returning to England with Ross, Thomas rejected a proposal to sail as Ice master with the Captain Horatio Austin in 1850 in his Franklin search expedition. Instead of, he wrote to Henry Pelly, governor of the Hudson Bay Company which was organising a private initiative to locate Franklin, to apply for the vacancy as Ice Master in the schooner Felix. The ship would be commanded by an aged John Ross. The letter was signed by Thomas but was clearly written by James Clark Ross. As we have seen earlier, it seems that by the time of the Felix expedition, Thomas 's  problems with alcohol had escalated. John Ross had to deal with that issue the best way possible.

North-West searching expedition for Sir John Fran Lin, Sir John Ross Yacht Felix at Anchor in Loch Ryan
It has been always said that J.C. Ross, besides having been the first on reaching the North Magnetic Pole, would have  held for a long time (50 years) the record of having reached both, the northernmost and southernmost latitudes during his voyage to the North Pole and South pole respectively. It is for me quite clear that Thomas Abernethy would have shared that privilege too, though of course his name is much less, if any at all, known than the name of James Clark Ross. 

There is a common point in almost all the expeditions on which Thomas Abernethy participated, and that is the presence of James Clark Ross. He was second lieutenant in the third Parry voyage of 1824-25, second in command in Hecla when they tried to reach the North Pole, second in command during the second voyage of John Ross in the Victory, he was the leader of the Antarctic expedition of 1839-42 and he commanded too the ships HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator which were sent to locate the missing Franklin expedition. The only expedition on which James C. Ross didn´t participate was the John Ross attempt to find Franklin in 1850. It seems as if their fates were strongly linked, maybe linked by a frank friendship. One has to wonder what would have happened if James Ross would have been commander, instead of Franklin, of the lost expedition of 1845. Thomas surely would have perished, as it happened to Thomas Blanky, together with the rest of the crews of Erebus and Terror.

Thomas died at Peterhead in 1860 only 58 years old. As I said before, I don´t know if Thomas left any children behind but at least we know there is a cape which bears his name in the proximity of Matty island, located between the east coast of King William Island and the mainland on the north side of Wolstenholme sound.

Thanks to Peter Carney for always supplying me with some valuable sources of information.