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.

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014



Not few of us have felt frustrated at some point for the lack of daguerrotypes available about the Franklin expedition itself and about other expeditions of that time. It is true that photography was beginning to walk its first steps, but by the time of the Franklin expedition some photographers were quite active and thanks to them we have a handful of Dags where we can admire part of the participants of that expedition. Sometimes we only have had access to engravings published on the newspapers of the time which were in turn based on actual daguerrotypes. Likely, those original pictures are not longer available, and this is even more frustrating, because you can scratch the image with your fingers, get a general idea about how those men really were, but at the same time, you are also conscious that there will never be chances to contemplate the actual countenances of the men who made possible the discovery of the Northwest Passage. 

This is the case of Kalli or Caloosa or Qualasirssuaq or of the also called Erasmus York. He was one of the Inuit guides who accompanied the Horatio Austin expedition from 1850 to 1851. He was photographed at some point, surely the same day he reached British shores, by the famous photographer Richard Beard. His portrait appeared in the cover of the Ilustrated London News the 25th of october of 1851. Much have been written about him, specially here on its Memoirs. Through the reading of this document written by the Rev. T.B. Murray, you will get closer to this poor man. You will cry with him the death of his father, will breath the cold air of the arctic during his days in the Penny and Ommanney expedition, will live with him during his stay at Canterbury, will visit London and will learn other astounding things about his life, like for example that Kalli had a twin brother.

But his life, though interesting is not the subject of this post. Summarizing, Qualasirssuaq was picked up in Cape York  to guided the Captain Erasmus Ommanney on board the HMS Assistance. His main task was contrasting the information supplied by Adam Beck, an Inuit interpreter, which had asserted that the crews of the Franklin ships have been massacred while they still were on their ships. He could not be returned to his land during the return trip and ended studying in St Agustine´s College in Canterbury. There he helped to finish a dictionary Inuit - British and was baptized in St. Martin´s Church near Canterbury in 1853 in the presence of the John Franklin´s daughter, Eleanor, while the sermon was performed by her husband Joseph Phillip Gell.

NOTE: It deserves to make a short stop here, and extract from the book refered above an anecdote which happened during his time with Erasmus Ommaney during the 1850-51 expedition. It is about when his tribe was invited to see how the steam engines of the ships worked :

"As no steamer had ever before found its way to these seas, it was interesting to watch the impression upon the singular beings now visited, when they descended into the engine-room. The large furnaces and machinery astonished them. The latter, on being put in motion, made them take to their heels with fright, and they ran out of the engine-room on deck as fast as they could."

One can´t help thinking on if a visit could have been performed by the Inuit to the ships of the Franklin expedition when they met near King William Island.

It seems that during his stay there he made some sketches about Inuit life which are still preserved in the Canterbury Cathedral and it seems that he even made a chair which still exists in the St Martin´s church gardens.

The Esquimaux Erasmus York

The posture of Kalli in the picture is strikingly similar to the pose of the officers of the Franklin Expedition who were photographed by Richard Beard. Does that mean that Beard, after taking those pictures of Franklin and Co. was somehow captivated  about their fate? I would say, judging for this picture and others allegedly taken by him of McClinctock and others, that he closely followed the steps of all of the men who went to the arctic after Franklin till the point that I would swear that he could have been waiting for them in the docks.

Illustrated London News 25th October 1851

Qualasirssuaq was also portraited in several paintings. The first portrait (below), dated in 1851, surely was made while studying in Canterbury or perhaps after recently arrived (notice his smiling face): 

Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), circa 1832/5-1856


This second portrait dated in 1855 is quite different, surely done back in Labrador, his posture makes him resembling older and you can notice his sick-like countenance:


His end, unfortunately, was not very different to that of some of the men of the Franklin expedition, he acquired a mortal sickness during the winter 1855-56  which ended fatally after he had a bath in the cold waters of a lake close to the place were he was continuing his studies in Labrador. The surgeon report said: "Melanosis. The whole sustance of his lungs was black". This is in fact an early and sad end for a man who had been loved for all the people who had surrounded him all his time since he was picked up in the HMS Assistance and for a man who had been dramatically separated from his family.

Kalli´s Memorial in Newfoundland
The case of Kalli was nor the first nor the last of others on which Inuit people were brought to Europe. Thank Goodness, this time he was not exhibited as a part of a show like Francis Hall did time after with Tookolito and his family, but more the contrary, he was taken to London by Erasmus Ommanney to visit its most beautiful monuments, exhibitions and museums and taken to Canterbury to visit the Cathedral.

Legacy:  It seems that in the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum exists a copy of the book "Arctic Miscellanies" based on the articles writen by the men in a newspaper called: "Aurora Borealis" during the Ommanney´s expedition of 1850-1851. The book has been, or currently is, available here. In this book there are present some of the Kalli´s thoughts or quotes during his days on board. The one I have read in this link which I have consulted (posted by K. Martin) could perfectly have been used as his epitaph and sounds ironic considering his story and final fate:

"If England is so great, why did you leave?"

Note about the origin of the title of the post: From the memoirs of Erasmus York 

"Compliance with the precept in the Old Testament, "Love ye the stranger," becomes a delight as well as a duty in such an instance as that about to be recorded, especially when we consider the affecting injunction conveyed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

2 comentarios:

  1. Andrés, a great post, it's a poignant tale, and wellp-told! As to Beard, I don't think we need to read too much into this; Mr. Beard was not himself a photographer, but a former coal-merchant who owned a pioneering photographic firm. He would have sent staff members to take the Franklin Daguerreotypes, and probably did the same for Erasmus York. His studio at the Regent-Street Polytechnic was convenient to most locations in London, and many books and newspapers of the day were illustrated with woodcuts based on and credited to Beard's firm.

    1. Thank you very much Russell. I wasn´t aware of that information. I had the naive and romantic idea of a Richard Beard wandering in the mist of the docks of the Thames, scrutinizing the river. But, deepening now a little bit more on his biography after what you have told me, it is true that it has much more sense that it could have not Richard himself who carried about alone the job. I couldn´t have imagined that at those early stages he could have reached such level of business with that ´still in experimenting´ profesion.