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.

viernes, 3 de marzo de 2017


When John Ross talked about the second ship he used during his expedition in search of the Northwest Passage in 1829, he refers to it as follows:

"It being also thought expedient to have a secondary vessel of as large a tonnage as our own could conveniently manage, we obtained, by the kindness of the Admiralty, the decked vessel of sixteen tons burden which had accompanied a former expedition intended to the Pole; giving him the name of Krusenstern and we were provided with two boats which had been used by Captain Franklin."

I can´t avoid undestanding, throught the reading of these previous lines, that John Ross was very dissapointed not to have managed to get from the hands of the Admiralty a bigger ship  to accompany the "Victory", his side-wheel steamer. 

Ross had chosen the Victory because he had virtually fell in love with it when he saw how it, with its 30 horse power engine, towed a much bigger ship of 600 tons against the wind and tide time before. His enthusiasm drove him to improve the powerful engine which had impressed him so much for a supposedly much better  model. The change was made by the inventor John Ericsson, not related with the father of the multinational company, with the result that Ericsson was condemned to be blamed untiringly for his sins by Ross, because the poor performance of the machinery, for the rest of his life. 

The new fabulous brand new engine was the source of such infinite problems during the whole journey that it ended abandoned in the shores of Sommerset Island to serve as a curiosity which tourists visit from time to time. That was the fate of the boiler of the Victory but what about the Krusenstern? That name has always sound very peculiarly in my ears. Not the typical name the ROyal Navy used for their ships.

The Krusenstern was a small ship of 16 tons which bore the name of a not very well known (at least for me) explorer. Not a polar explorer though, not almost British either. Adam Johann Von Krusenstern was not British but for a time was a member of the Royal Navy. He was born in 1770 in Estonia and died in august of 1846 while John Franklin was travelling south from Beechey island towards his ice prison in the shores of King William Island.

Adam Johann Von Krusenstern
Krusenstern had formed part of the Royal Navy from 1793 to 1799. That john Ross had christened his small ship with the name of Krusenstern is not a coincidence. John Ross and Krusenstern were about the same age, being Ross seven years younger than Krusenstern. They didn´t sailed together but as Maurice James Ross mentions in "Polar Pioneers" both men met after 1814 while Ross was in command of a small sloop of 16 tons called Acteon. 

Krusenstern was by then a reknown explorer who had circunavigated the world during the years 1803 and 1806, the same expedition on which one of the discoverers of the Antarctic continent had also participated, Fabian Gottlieb Bellingshausen. Maybe John Ross, Fifteen years later remembered that encounter when he was given the command of his small secondary ship and inspired by some sacarstic sense of humour decided to give the name of such big explorer to such small boat. The name of Krusenstern was also given to a very different kind of ship which honoured him in a much proper way, a four masted training ship which was built in 1926 in Germany. The ship was given to the Russian army by the germans in 1946 (one hundred years after the death of the explorer) and was baptized with the name of Krusenstern.

But this is not the only connection between both men. M.J. Ross tells in his book that Ross was occupied during his last year of life in the edition of the English translation of the  Memoirs of Admiral Krusenstern which had been translated by Krusenstern daughter Charlotte Bernhardi. Ross proposed the book to be dedicated to the Royal Geographical society and his wishes were accomplished.  John Ross´s name appears in big letters in the front page of the book:

Whatever happened during that encounter in 1814 (actually it was in 1815 as we soon will see) it left a deep print in the heart of the stubborn John Ross. The two facts of naming a ship after Krusenstern and  editing his memoirs, speak by themselves. Krusenstern memoirs is a short book of hardly eighty pages. 

What did I do next? Of course I had to check what was inside this memoirs, ROss and Krustenstern had some kind of strong link, what better place to find it than in Krustenstern biography?

I found the answer easily. A quick search on it led me to find the name of Ross several times mentioned on the book. It could look as a long text but I thing it is worth to transcribe it completely here:

In the year 1815, Admiral Krusenstern being employed by the Russian Government to purchase    two English frigates, proceeded for that purpose to Plymouth, and was met by the Editor of this Memoir, then captain of His Majesty's ship Actaeon (JOHN ROSS), at the hospitable table of the late Sir Byam Martin, G.C.B., at that time junior Port Admiral at Devonport. The conversation happening to turn on the navigation of the White Sea, which had been recently surveyed by the Actaeon, the Editor mentioned that he had determined the latitude of Archangel by observation, and also the longitude by the occultations of the satellites of Jupiter, simultaneous observations having been made at Greenwich. The Russian Admiral said " I have determined the longitude of Archangel by the same method," and it also appeared that both had observed in the dockyard. Sir Byam Martin immediately said " I should like to know how you two astronomers agree. I have two sons (who are now both Admirals) : one shall go home with Admiral Krusenstern, and the other with Captain Ross, and you shall send me in writing the latitude and longitude of Archangel." This was accomplished, and it turned out that the latitudes agreed within a few seconds, and the longitude to the nearest minute.
It need scarcely be added, that the above satisfactory result tended more closely to cement the friendship that had previously existed between them, but which was more fully exemplified by the hospitality and kindness subsequently shown to a cousin of the Editor, Mr. E. Cuninghame, who is now no more, to whom he gave a letter of introduction to the worthy Admiral, on a visit that gentleman made to St. Petersburgh, where he remained in the society of his amiable family for many months, and not very long before the noble Admiral and sincere Christian was removed from this to a better world.

The letters addressed to John Ross, published together with Krusenstern memoirs, shown that the Admiral always demonstrated great interest by the feats achieved by the Royal Navy in the Arctic in search the Northwest passage, as well as a strong and a lasting friendship towards John Ross. The feeling was reciprocal. Ross not only named his small ship after the Admiral but also some geographical features as at least one lake during the journey.

Well, we have solved part of the mistery which for me surrounded this small auxiliary ship. We know what happened to Krusenstern the Admiral, but we don´t know yet what happened to Krusenstern the ship.

Victory in Felix Harbour

In the drawing above we can see the Victory gently sleeping in her winter quarters in Felix harbour and another red boat in front of it with a small mast. Could this small ship be the Krustenstern? Both, the Victory and the Krustenstern were painted in red with the intention they could be easily distinguished in the snow from distance. The boats, formerly belonging to Franklin (I wonder to which expedition), were also painted the same colour. 

The Krusternstern had an hazardous life during the Ross expedition, it was almost all the time towed by the Victory and for some time, buried so deeply under the ice that the crew thought it would be impossible to recover ever. It was finally freed, but in spite of the efforts, her destiny was intimately joined to that of the Victory and was brought on shore, fill with sails and other equipment to be subsequently abandoned in the Arctic. Nothing remained of it, maybe the tides swallowed it or maybe Inuit people made the most of its timbers.

But... which was that former expedition where the Krustenstern had participated which Ross mentions in his narrative?, we still have a small mistery to solve here. Could the Krustenstern be the boat with which the Admiralty pretended to survey the northern and eastern coast of Spitzbergen ,under the orders of Lieutenant Foster, while Parry and J.C. Ross were performing their attempt to reach the North Pole? I don´t know of any other previous attempts to reach the North Pole than those of Franklin in 1818 together with Buchan, where as far as I know, any 16 ton ship was mentioned, and that other attempt of Captain Phipps made much earlier.

As it happened with that training ship mentioned before, the name of the russian Admiral was given to a ship not when it was launched for first time but in a second round. I couldn´t find any further clue about the origins of our little friend of 16 tons. As it uses to happen when one plays at the game of being a researcher, there are always loose ends difficult to tie. Let´s see if any reader could put some light to the beginnings of this small and secondary but at the same time great and gallant ship.

lunes, 6 de febrero de 2017


There is not too much information about the pets which accompanied the Franklin expedition when they departed towards the north in 1845, we do not know much more than they took a dog called Neptune, a cat of unknown name and a monkey called Jacko. Nobody asked them if they wanted to participate, if someone had asked maybe they would have refused and saved their lives, in case they had actually died in the Arctic. It has never been found bones of a cat, of a dog or of a monkey in King William Island and surroundings, and till now, they have not been found in the Erebus or the Terror neither.
Was any of those animal companions part of the previous expedition of Erebus and Terror comanded by James Ross to the Antarctic in 1839-42? There is no trace of a Monkey in the official account of this voyage though there was indeed a cat. The 21th of february of 1842, the cat of the ship (whose name is unknown) devoured a small fish, which has been accidentaly brought aboard, while it was being sketched by Mr Robertson, the Terror´s surgeon and Naturalist. An awckward and curious scene which surely was the cause of loud laughs .

According with Wikipedia, I could consult better sources I know that..., Monkeys began to take part of the crews of the nineteenth century ships when British ships started to land in Africa´s shores. We are not, of course, speaking of the so called "Powder Monkeys", those poor young boys in charge of supplying of gunpowder the gun crews but of actual monkeys instead.

Senegal Monkey´s were adopted by ship´s cooks. Apparently, monkeys which are nowadays kept in captivity in United Kingdom are descendants from those monkey sailors.

My suggestion is not that poor Jacko could become crazy at some point during the trip and had killed all the Franklin´s men while sleeping, as a sort of a Victorian version of Horror Express or the not very well known story of the British Barque Margaret which was the scenario of a bizarre outbreak of animal fury, but that he could be the host of a mortal disease which in the isolation of the arctic had produced the mithyc and rare high rate of casualties.

But why should a ship, employed in discovering a passage at such high latitudes, carry a monkey which wouldn´t have been likely ever before at temperatures below zero? 

Was Jacko a Senegal Monkey, also called Green Monkeys? I am not sure, but what we know is that Jacko was actually "she" and that she was a gift from Lady Franklin. This is a tantalizing thought, could have been Lady Jane who, for presenting the Monkey could have caused the death of so many on board the ship?

It could sound as an odd thought but the truth is that Green Monkeys are famous for carrying and transmitting a disease which is called "The Green Monkey disease" also called "Mar´burg disease" a fatal illness which can be easily transmitted to humans and which provokes you: fever, rash, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Maybe you would recognise it better if I call it Ebola.

Surely we will never know if poor Jacko had something to do with the tragedy, or if on the contrary he cheered up the survivors in their camps in the island during the long and boing nights of winter, or ,if he ended in the bellies of the hungry men as the main course of a special dinner for Christmas when the things became desperate.

Interestingly there is another Jacko, whose name has absolutely nothing to do with our little pet, but who has called strongly my attention while trying to find some clues about the monkey. This other Jacko, called Jacko Jararuse, is an Inuit  artist author of magnificent craft masterpieces, as it is the carved Whalebone that you can see in this link and other amazing creations like hunters or drumdancers made of jade-like serpentine.

Jacko W.K. Jararuse.
When I stumbled upon this I jumped in my seat. Would this have any connection with our Jacko? Definitely Jacko doesn´t sound as an Inuit name at all, and this man keeps so deeply his traditions that it is strange he hasn´t a name which matchs better his roots. Inuit people, as europeans used to do time ago, give the name of their deceased to the new born to keep their souls somehow alive. The myth behind this is much more complex but that would be the essence. This would mean that Jacko´s name could have been used by his grandfather or even by his great great grandfather, uncles or any other relative. However, there is not apparent and evident connection, what could be? First of all Jacko the artist comes from a little town in the east coast of Labrador called Nain which is very very far from the route followed by Franklin and secondly and more importlay, if for some strange coincidence, Jacko´s ancestors origins were based in the northwest, from the region of King WIlliam Island, why should an Inuit from there bear the name of that pet? There is no doubt that the inuit people would have been very surprised, not to say scare to death when they met Jacko the pet for first time, and we should agree that if those men climbed to the decks of Erebus and Terror they met Jacko for certain. Could have it left such deep print into their minds as to use the Monkey´s name as a name or nickname for one of their children?

My investigation is very limited, but I could at least found that another "Jako Jararuse" was living in Saglek bay, Nain area, in 1945 with an age of 22. Jacko the artist was born in 1963, if they are relatives or not it is a matter on conjecture.

There is another Jacko Jararuse (maybe the same who I mentioned before), the main character of a story of an Inuit (Jacko) who met once a dwarf in a kayak. The story is very short and you can read it here. As this story is part of some other Inuit stories of Labrador which have been found recently and which comes from the first half of the twentieth century, my researching, which tries to attach the two loose ends, could end happily if I investigate a little bit more....but I am afraid that there won´t be any connection after all, or if that exists would be another of those thousands of little misteries which surrounds the Franklin expedition and which never would be solved.

Most likely, and I am sorry if I distracted you in excess with my digressions, is that the name of "Jacko", when used as an Inuit name, is not more than a different spelling of the name "Jacob" which Moravians missionaries surely spreaded profusely in Labrador peninsula . 

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2017


It was in Lady Franklin´s Revenge by Ken McGoogan where I learnt more about Sir John Franklin´s offspring. A recent conversation in the facebook group "Remembering the Franklin Expedition" about that topic has led me to search for some new faces in the Internet. 

My first steps have driven me to John Phillip Gell, Franklin´s son in law. If I remember well John together with Eleanor Isabella Franklin, Franklin´s daughter, complained continuously with the permanent leak of money Lady Franklin was starring. 

The reverend John Phillip Gell met the Franklin family while living and working in Tasmania in 1840. He married Eleanor in 1849, surely this was the result of a long courtship which could have started years before when they met in Van Diemen´s land.

John Phillip Gell

This marriage produced seven children. Yes, seven. The eldest son, John Franklin Gell was the grandson of our beloved explorer, named John surely after his granfather more than after his father. Poor John Franklin Gell died soon at the age of 33. I haven´t been able to find a portrait of him, nor of any of his other children but of two of them.

It is of Eleanor Elizabeth Franklin Wiseman of whom I have found the second of those two portraits which exists of Franklin´s grandchildren. She was, apparently, the eldest of the seven. Eleanor was born in 1850 and died in 1909, same year Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole,  

Eleanor Elizabeth Franklin Wiseman

Her portrait reminds me a bit that of her Gandmother Eleanor Anne Porden, the poet. Same rounded cheeks same mouth and I would dare to say that same eyes too.  Don´t you agree? Maybe Franklin grandaughter was some sort of reincarnation of his first wife. I don´t know nothing about her life, maybe he enjoyed writting poetry as her grandmother used to do.
Eleanor Anne Porden

Eleanor Jr had five children, the second of whom, born in Bristol in 1883, was also named John Franklin (Wiseman). John Franklin´s name survived at least till to witness the twentieth century and to witness another great war. The great grandson of Sir John Franklin was living for some reason in Canada when he joined in 1916 the Canadian army  at the age of 32 as a Captain to fight in the first world war for Britain. Captain John Franklin Wiseman wasn´t killed in action, I don´t even know if he took actively part of the war itself. We know that because, though  I couldn´t get a picture of him, it exists a picture of his grave. Captain John Franklin died quite young at the age of 44 in New Zealand where he was buried. You can see his tombstone and details of his burial place here. It seems he didn´t leave any descendency.

Another portrait I have found is the one who belongs to Philip Lyttelton Gell. Philip, died in 1928 without leaving any child neither.

Philip Lyttelton Lyttelton Gell


In coming posts I will descend through the branches of the genealogical tree to see if I can get more portraits of his legacy.

miércoles, 28 de diciembre de 2016


(In English below)
Os dejo aquí el link a un libro "The great Frozen land" (accesible pero en inglés) que cuenta la historia de un paseíto de 3.000 millas por la tundra siberiana que el señor Frederick George Jackson realizó montado en un trineo en 1893. Yo todavía no me lo he leído pero está en la lista de "siguientes".
Su objetivo era probar la vestimenta, el material y la comida bajo condiciones árticas invernales antes de emprender la expedición de 1894-97 para explorar el norte de la Tierra de Francisco José (80ºN), la expedición que se conocería como Jackson-Harmsworth.
Frederick  George Jackson
Eligieron la Tundra siberiana porque como él mismo dice en el prefacio del libro:

"Como mucha gente sabe, las tundras bajas del ártico ruso y Siberia, aunque son fácilmente accesibles por el este, oeste y sur de los confines de la civilización, poseen un clima invernal de una severidad tan grande que no solo supera el rigor de muchas regiones que se encuentran mucho mas al norte, sino que realmente presentan menores temperaturas que las registradas en la cuenca ártica. Por lo que es en las heladas Tundras de Siberia donde encontraremos lo que ha sido denominado EL POLO DEL FRÍO EXTREMO".

Para mi personalmente, Jackson es un personaje un tanto desconocido y puede que lo sea para muchos de vosotros también. Casi todos los forofos de lo polar nos hemos siempre centrado en los grandes exploradores que o bien llegaron o bien intentaron realizar grandes hazañas como llegar andando, en barco, en globo o en avión al Polo Norte, Polo Sur, cruzar el paso del Noroeste, etc. Pero dejamos a un lado muchas veces a aquellos que realizaron expediciones de exploración que podríamos considerar "de detalle" por llamarlo de alguna forma. Aquellas expediciones se centraban solo en una pequeña parte de la geografía ártica, que normalmente había sido descubierta por otros y la cartografiaban con esmero, midiendo y registrando todo tipo de datos científicos y meteorológicos.

En mi caso, conozco a Jackson sobre todo porque fue él durante esa segunda expedición a la Tierra de Francisco José quien se tropezó por pura casualidad con Nansen que volvía de su expedición al Polo Norte. La historia de Nansen pudo haber sido muy distinta si este encuentro no se hubiese producido, esta afirmación es objeto de conjetura todavía hoy en día. Es posible que Jackson salvase la vida de Nansen, y es posible también que si no hubiese sido por este encuentro, Jackson sería uno de esos exploradores de "segunda" de los que apenas habríamos oído hablar.

Jackson - Nansen encounter Junio 1896
Con o sin encuentro, Jackson demostró ser merecedor de la fama que ahora parcialmente tiene. Completó el reconocimiento del archipiélago descubierto (al menos fueron los primeros que se lo adjudicaron) por los austriacos Karl Weyprecht y Julius Von Payer en 1873. Engañado por los exploraciones superficiales de la expedición precedente, Jackson demostró que la Tierra de Francisco José no era una extensión de tierra que llegaba hasta el polo, como se creía, sino un archipiélago que no superaba en su punto más septentrional los 81 ºN. Algo parecido a lo que le ocurrió a la expedición Danesa de Jorgen Bronlund, que por fiarse de los mapas dibujados por Peary acabaría pereciendo en el norte de Groenlandia en 1908 junto con dos de sus colegas.

Ahora que estoy leyendo sobre Cook me doy cuenta de lo potencialmente peligroso que era dar crédito a ningún mapa, por fiable que la fuente pudiera parecer. Los mapas posteriores al tratado de Tordesillas movían tierras e islas a placer para situarlas en ubicaciones donde fueran más conveniente para según que potencia. Ficticias bahías como la de Poctes Bay en King William Island podría haber conducido a la expedición de Franklin a una muerte lenta por inanición y escorbuto en 1846, pero lo más sorprendente es que aún en épocas relativamente recientes en el siglo XX, un mapa equivocado podía todavía matar exploradores bien preparados y entrenados como ocurrió en el caso de la expedición danesa. Yo, gracias a Dios, no me separo nunca de mi GPS, y espero que nunca me deje colgado cuando realmente lo necesite.

Here I add the link to a book called "The great Frozen land" which tells the story of a short walk of 3.000 miles by the siberian Tundra which Mr Frederick George Jackson did riding a sledge in 1893. I haven´t read it yet but it is in my list of "Nexts".

His target was to test the clothing, equipment and food under arctic winter conditions before beginning his expedition of 1894-97 to explore the north of Franz Joseph Land (80ºN), the expedition which would be called Jackson-Harmsworth arctic expedition.

Frederick  George Jackson
The choose the Siberian Tundra because, as he himself says in the preface of the book:
"As most people are aware, the low Tundras of Arctic Russia and Siberia, although readily accessible and stretching on the east, west, and south to the confines of civilisation, possess a winter climate of a severity so great that it does not merely exceed the ri-gour of many regions lying farther north, and in the strict embrace of Oceanic ice, but actually reveals the lowest temperature yet recorded in the whole of the Arctic basin. 
For it is on the frozen Tundras of Siberia that we find what has been called " THE POLE OF EXTREME COLD." 
To me, personally speaking, Jackson is a character slightly unknown and it may be for many of you too. Almost all polar fans have always focused in those great explorers who, walking, sailing, by balloon or plane, either reached, or well just tried, theNorth Pole, the South Pole, the Northwest passage, etc. But we usually put aside those who made "detailed" explorations, to say something. Those expeditions focused only in a small part of the arctic geography, which had been previously discovered by others, and they carefully mapped them, measuring and recording all kind of scientific and meteorological data.

In my case, I know Jackson above all becasue it was him who during that second expedition to Franz Joseph Land, stumbled by chance upon Nansen who was returning from his expedition towards the North Pole. Nansen story could have been different if that encounte hadn´t happened, that assertion still is matter of conjecture. It is possible that Jackson had saved Nansen´s life and it is also possible that if it weren´t for that encounter, Jackson would be one of those "secondary"explorers about who one hardly have heard a word.

Jackson - Nansen encounter Junio 1896
With or without encounter, Jackson demonstrated to deserve the fame which now he partially has. He finished the survey of the archipielago discovered (at least first on claiming that) by the austrians  Karl Weyprecht y Julius Von Payer en 1873. Cheated by the cursory precedent explorations, Jackson demonstrated that Franz Josef Land wasn´t a huge land extension which touched the North Pole, as it was the general believing, but an archipielago which its northern point was located not beyond 81ºN of latitude. Something similar happened to the danish expedition of Jorgen Bronlund, who, believing in the accuracy of Peary´s maps will end his days in the north of Greenland in 1908 together with other two colleagues.

Now than I am reading about Cook´s voyages, I realise how potentially hazardous was giving any credit to any existing map those days of exploration. No matter how reliable it could seem. Maps made after Tordesillas treaty move unscrupulously lands and islands to locate them in more convenient places, according to the need of every power. Fictional bays like that of Poctes (or Poetess) bay, in King WIlliam Land could have driven the Franklin expedition to a certain and slow death by starvation and scurvy in 1846, but the most astounding of all is that in relatively recent days in the twenty century, a wrong map could still kill well trained and equiped explorers as it happened in the case of the danish expedition. Me, thank goodness, never forget my GPS, and I wish it never abandoned me the day I really need it.

jueves, 22 de diciembre de 2016


(In English below)

El sol era recibido por los exploradores polares después de un largo invierno como si hubieran encontrado un oasis en el desierto después de haber pasado toda una semana sin beber agua. Dependiendo de la latitud en la que se encontraran, el sol podía permanecer escondido de su vista desde solo unos días hasta varios meses.

Hay quien dice que puedes experimentar incluso reacciones físicas cuando ves el sol ponerse por última vez justo antes de que comience la larga noche ártica. El sol significa disponer de luz, calor y tener el ánimo alto, un claro contraste con la larga noche ártica que implica siempre oscuridad, frío y normalmente, actitudes depresivas.

La aparición del sol sobre el horizonte suponía un punto de inflexión para todas aquellas expediciones que pasaban al menos un invierno en altas latitudes. No para todas, solo para aquellas que habían cruzado el circulo polar ártico. Por eso no he buscado referencias sobre este hecho en los relatos de expediciones como la de Sir John Franklin en el río Coppermine, una de mis favoritas, y otras por el estilo que nunca cruzaron el círculo polar.

El sol era siempre bienvenido con alegría por las tripulaciones de los barcos que habían permanecido atrapados por el hielo durante los largos meses que duraban los inviernos en las regiones polares. Algunas veces, su esperada salida se plasmaba en hermosas acuarelas que los propios oficiales del barco pintaban a bordo. Hace poco me he comprado una copia de una esas ilustraciones por Internet.
Fue el brillo de sus colores y la actitud de los hombres que aparecen en la escena lo que inmediatamente captó mi atención sobre ella y la que al mismo tiempo ha inspirado esta publicación. 
La imagen real que tengo en mi poder tiene en realidad colores bastante mas apagados que los que veis en la foto siguiente.

Returning sun in the Arctic regions
Likely from one of Elisa Kent Kane Expeditions published in "Sunday at home" february 1870
La ilustración proviene de una publicación de carácter religioso llamada "Sunday at home" february of 1870 (página 468). De acuerdo con la descripción, este  dibujo en particular procede de una de las expediciones de Eliza Kent Kane, el afamado explorador americano.

Pero repasemos como era el sol recibido por aquellos intrépidos y valientes exploradores del siglo XIX.

En la narración de su primer viaje como comandante a bordo de los barcos HMS Hecla y HMS Griper (1819-20), William Edward Parry describe como días antes de que el sol apareciese ordena realizar guardias para hacer observaciones científicas. Sus cuarteles de invierno estaban ubicados en Winter Harbour (74º N) en Melville island.

"Puesto que el momento en el que sol debía de reaparecer sobre el horizonte estaba cerca, comenzamos a otear desde lo alto del mástil para hacer observaciones, tales como la cantidad de refracción atmosférica, que podía ser visible antes que en circunstancias normales"

Los hombres de Parry escalaron y permanecieron de guardia en lo alto del mástil, durante cortos periodos de tiempo para evitar congelaciones, con objeto de realizar las observaciones necesarias en el momento en el que el sol apareciese, cosa que ocurrió  el 3 de febrero de 1820. La temperatura era de - 38 ºF, casi la misma que en grados Celsius en este caso.

"A 20 minutos del aparente amanecer, el sol fue visto desde lo alto del mástil del Hecla a una altura de cincuenta y un pies sobre el mar, siendo esta la primera vez que veíamos esta luminaria desde el 11 de noviembre, un periodo de ochenta y cuatro días."

Se hicieron observaciones sobre la luz, la refracción y otros eventos, pero aparentemente no se celebraron fiestas ni nada por el estilo. Lo que Parry hizo cuando hubo suficiente luz, fue comenzar los preparativos para zarpar de nuevo. Aquella fue realmente una larga noche, quizás una de las mas largas experimentadas por ningún otro explorador anterior.

Durante la segunda expedición de Parry (1821-22), pasaron un par de inviernos cerca de Igloolik. Igloolik está ubicado a solo unos pocos grados por encima del círculo polar, de manera que la noche perpetua no lo es en realidad tanto. Durante su segundo invierno, el sol fue recibido como sigue:

"El 19 de enero de 1823, el cielo se despejó, fuimos entonces gratificados con la visión del sol, y  se vieron numerosas partidas de paseantes  en diferentes partes de la bahía disfrutando de la novedad y el esplendor de esta gratificante y gloriosa visión...Los esquimales que estaban en los barcos hoy antes de que el sol saliera dijeron que lo veríamos hoy, y  con gran confianza, aparentemente. Es cierto, no obstante que en esta ocasión no tuvo lugar ninguna danza del sol ni ninguna otra festividad...su única de expresión de satisfacción ante este evento fue parecida a la nuestra."

De nuevo, no hubo celebraciones ni fiestas, Parry no estaba impresionado por el regreso del sol, quizás estaba mas preocupado acerca de como alcanzar sus objetivos. Él, después de todo, tenía una reputación que mantener y a un imperio entero expectante vigilando sus espaldas.

Por supuesto que hubo mas ejemplos como estos que he contado aquí. Ya iré indagando un poco mas en la próximas semanas. Una de mis historias favoritas relacionadas con la vuelta del sol está relacionada con el invierno de 1848-49 que James Ross´s pasó en Port Leopold (también a 74 ºN).

Para celebrar la vuelta del sol, se organizó una carrera que consistía en escalar la colina que dominaba la bahía donde su barco se encontraba todavía atrapado por el hielo. En aquella carrera participó Henry Mathias, el ayudante de cirujano del HMS Enterprise. Hace un tiempo escribí en el post que he vinculado unas líneas mas arriba acerca de aquel momento:

"La carrera la ganó Mr Court que llevaba una pequeña paleta en cada mano, así que imaginad como era de inclinada la pendiente, la temperatura era de - 49 ºF, (-45ºC). ..., fue un evento feliz que pronto se nubló cuando Mathias comenzó a escupir sangre y a perder fuerzas rápidamente desde ese momento"

Lamentablemente, Henry Mathias murió en Junio de ese mismo año. Aparentemente ya estaba enfermo de tuberculosis cuando partió de Inglaterra, su estancia en el ártico no debió hacer sino empeorar su estado de salud. Su cadáver yace aún en Port Leopold junto con el de otros tres compañeros de expedición.

Como os he dicho seguiré estudiando otras expediciones de la época, he leído en varias ocasiones sobre este tema, solo tengo que recopilar la información y escribirla. Trataré de seguir un orden cronológico y mostrar como se vivieron aquellos momentos por los diferentes capitanes y tripulaciones. Ya iremos viendo.

The sun was received by polar explorers after a long winter, as if they had found an oasis in the middle of the desert  after being deprived of drinking water for as long as a week. Depending on the latitude they were, the sun could stay hidden from their view for a period of time which could vary from several days to months. 

There are people who say you may even experience physical reactions when the sun sets for last time before the beginning of the long Arctic winter nights. Sun means light, heat and high spirits in clear contrast with the long polar night which means darkness, cold and usually, depressive attitudes.

The returning of the sun was an inflection point to all those expeditions which spent at least a winter at high latitudes. Not for all though, only for those which had crossed the Arctic circle. I haven´t looked for that reason on the narratives of expeditions like my dear Coppermine expedition by Sir John Franklin and in others of that kind which never crossed the Arctic circle, but only on those who did it.

The Sun was always welcomed cheerfully and happily by the crews of the ships which had stayed beseted by the ice for the long freezing months of the Arctic winters. Sometimes, its expected rising was even depicted in watercolours or engravings of some sort by the officers on board. I recently bought one of those drawings which inmediately caught my attention when I saw it in the Internet. It was the brightness of its colours and the attitude of the men who appear in the scene which inmediately captivated my eyes.

Returning sun in the Arctic regions
Likely from one of Elisa Kent Kane Expeditions published in "Sunday at home" february 1870
As it happens with digital photography, colours seem to have been enhanced somehow by the development process of the picture and it happens that actual colours are much more faded. 

The coloured illustration comes from the religious journal called "Sunday at home" february of 1870 (page 468). According to what I have read in the publication this particular drawing comes from one of Eliza Kent Kane´s expeditions.

But let´s review how was the sun received by those intrepid and gallant explorers. 

In Parry´s account of his first journey of 1819-20 on board the ships HMS Hecla and HMS Griper as a leader, it is pages and days before the sun actually rose that Parry began to speak about it demonstrating how strongly they missed being warmed by its rays. They had their winter quarters located in Winter Harbour (74 ºN) in Melville Island.

"As the time was now near at hand when the sun was to re-appear above our horizon, we began this day to look out for it from the mast-head, in order that some observations might be made, as to the amount of the atmospherical refraction, which might render it visible to us sooner than under ordinary circunstances"

Parry´s men climbed to the top of the mast in a succession of short shifts to avoid frostbites. He wanted them to observe its first appearance which happened about the third of february of 1820. The temperature was of - 38 ºF, same than in celsius in this case.

"At twenty minutes before apparent noon, the sun was seen from the Hecla´s main-top, at the height of fifty one feet above the sea. being the first time that this luminary had been visible to us since the 11 th of november, a period of eighty-four days."

The light, refraction and other events were observed but apparently there were no parties nor any other special celebration. What Parry did when he had enough light was beginning preparations to set sail again. That one was a long night, maybe one of the longest endured by any previous explorer of those regions. 

During his second expedition he spent a couple of winters near Igloolik. Igloolik is only a few degrees over the Arctic circle so the perpetual night wasn´t that perpetual after all. During the second winter the sun was welcomed as follows:

"On the 19th (january 1823), the weather, having at least cleared up, we were once more gratified with a sight of the sun, and numerous parties of walkers were seen in various parts of the bay, enjoying the novelty and splendour of this cheering and glorious sight....The esquimaux who were at the ships today before the sun rose particularly said that we should see it, and appaarently with great confidence. It is certain however that on this coccasion no sun-dance took place nor an other festivity... their only expression of satisfaction at this event being of the same geneal nature as our own."

Again no celebrations nor parties, Parry was not impressed by the returning sun, he maybe was more concerned about the accomplishment of their objectives. He, after all had a reputation to keep high and an entire empire watching his back.

Of course there were more examples like those I have explained here, I will dig in some of them in the coming weeks. One of my favourite stories related with the returning of the sun is the race which was organized during the winter James Ross´s spent in Port Leopold (74ºN) in 1848-49. Henry Mathias, the assistant surgeon of HMS Enterprise. The race consisted on climbing the hill which dominates the bay and it happened the 27th of february of 1849. Quoting myself from a previous post about the small graveyard which was once built there by James Ross:

"The race was won by Mr. Court who carried a scraper in each hand, so imagine how steep was the slope, the temperature was -49 F (-45ºC). According with the reference, that was a cheering event which was soon shadowed by the fact that Mathias began to split blood and to lose strength."

Henry Mathias died in june of that same year, apparently he was already sick when he departed from England. His body still lies in Port Leopold together with other three shipmates.

I will study other expeditions trying to follow chronological order and see how all those events were experienced by the different captains and crews.

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.