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, 19 de octubre de 2017


I never thought I could find so many new pictures, not only pictures but Daguerrotypes!, in such short time. This time I am proud to announce I have found a beautifully coloured daguerrotype of Dr. John Rae dressed in his arctic outfit, apparently took in 1849, after returning from his overland voyage with Dr. Richardson. At least I had never seen this before now.

John Rae in arctic fur -
Silver Shadows - Fine Early photographs
There is a naughty smile in his face which suggest he was having fun or a good time while dressed like that in the photographic study. Interestengly one of the several streets, surely the locations of the different studies belonging "Beard´s photographic Institutions", is King William Street. It would be a curious and paradoxical coincidence that Rae had been pictured in that precise place. 

This picture had to be taken soon before Beard when bankrupt in 1850, a pity, because if he had overcome his finantial issues, maybe we could have now many more faces, in colour, of those heroic explorers who we could look at their eyes. 

EDIT: After the convincing comments of some heavyweights of the matter who projected founded doubts about the portrait belongs to John Rae, I have cooked a new theory. Maybe this man is James Clark Ross after all. I have made a quick "Photoshop" to compare the man in the daguerrotype with Ross´s face. Judge yourself:

For me the nose is very similar, if not in the James Clark ROss painting I used , it is in other paintings of him. Only his eyes look different, but as I said in the comments below, maybe J.C. Ross was somehow exhausted after the long winter of 1848-49 and that provoked that languish look. 

miércoles, 18 de octubre de 2017


This is going to be a short post, I can assure you that. As I asserted in my last blog publication, we never should stop searching for new pictures of our beloved and ancient explorers. I can guarantee you all, that I have performed multiple searches in the Internet trying to look for a more contemporary portrait of John Richardson, the Naval surgeon who accompanied John Franklin in his first  overland expedition, and whose role in it saved likely the life of John Hepburn, the faithful sailor, and maybe the life of Franklin as well. 

And what is what I have found?, a new and overexposed photograph of an aged John Richardson, likely shot at the last stages of his life. Richardson died at the age of 78 years old in 1865, so either the portrait was taken at about that age or was taken when he retired from active service at the age of 68. I would like to know who took this picture and why was it taken.

Dr John Richardson
Picture from Future museum
For those less familiar with his life, I will summarize here that John Richardson was an exceptional man, not only known for his arctic explorations, he participated in the Franklin´s first and second overland expeditions and in one of the first searching expeditions organized to find the lost Franklin in 1848, but also for his contributions to naval surgery and science.

His later work in the Harslan hospital, where he worked for some time together with William Edward Parry, consist on part, on training the surgeons who would join arctic expeditions. 

No matter how harsh his gesture could seem to you on this, or in other similar portraits of him, his achievements  speak of him in a very friendly way. You can read all the details in the brief biography of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. He stood out over the average men of his time in the three different disciplines mentioned above.  He engraved every stepp of his three different careers in the path of history. As an arctic explorer, he demonstrated outstanding phisical conditions, as a surgeon he achieved so many big things which would need a whole book to explain them all, and as a naturalist, his published work speaks for itself, he rubbed shoulders with the most prominent scientist related with that matter of his time. But on top of that, he demonstrated with his actions in moments of extreme danger at the very edge of complete disaster, that he was an extraordinary and well natured human being.

You can find other portraits of him here, our large and growing collection of portraits and pictures of Arctic and Antarctic explorers. This project consists on a pinterest board, a cooperative project where, mainly Stephen Nicholson and me, are contributing to put faces to all those heroic explorers. 

lunes, 14 de agosto de 2017


Encouraged by the finding, by a member of the Franklin expedition facebook group, of a portrait of William Mogg, a fairly unknown veteran of two arctic expeditions, I have recovered my interest in one of the main hobbies I practiced when I got hooked by the mistery of the Franklin expedition. This particular hobby was typing in "Google images" the names of the explorers which participated in the Franklin searching parties, and other related expeditions. Among those names, from time to time, I typed randomly the names of some of the participants of the Franklin expedition to see if any portrait of them shows up.

In order of not losing it forever again in the mists of the Internet, I began to compile those rare portraits of George Back, John Rae, John Ross, William Parker Snow, etc. in a Pinterest board, which allows you to pick up whatever image you want from the virtual world without the need of uploading it. Since a year or so, this is a cooperative project where some people are kindly adding new pictures:


My fishing in Google was focused mainly on the officers of the Franklin expedition, thinking that the chances they had of having been protrayed would be higher. Till now I have never been lucky. At the beginning, I wasn´t very confident that sailors could have any available portrait but it is my understanding that not ordinary men participated in those kind of coveted expeditions. I thought that some of those anonymous men could not only have been experienced sailors who had been already sailing with the officers of the expedition, but also recommendations (surely far relatives) of prominent people of the time. If you scratch a bit in the lifes of the more known seamen which participated in such expeditions, you will notice inmediately that there was always a healthy uncle or a rich family friend who surely granted a position for them in the exploration´s ships. That would increase the chances that some silhouette or small portrait of them could finally appear. Many of them, surely were ordered being made right before departing.

Maybe, now that the facebook Franklin group counts with more than one thousand and one hundred members, if some of its participants decided to join this weird hobbie of mine, new faces will give life to those names and surnames of those of our beloved 128 men who doesn´t have a face yet.

Some faces are coming from facial reconstructions made from the skulls (here too) found in King William island, but we will never now the accuracy, or even the actual identity, of those works if there aren´t pictures or portraits with which compare them. Shall this branch of the science should test its results making some facial reconstruction of people from which we already known know how their faces actually were?. I have the feeling that a reconstruction of John Irving´s skull will give us the face of Franklin...

Here there are another kind of facial reconstructions, this time made from the remains of John Hartnell. I tried this same thing long long time ago with Photoshop and the result was such a bizarre joke that I had to remove from my files not to dishonor him.

Till recent days, we though that only the famous daguerrotypes of Richard Beard were available, but the discovery of the picture of the Lieutenant John Irving, or the existence of that small portrait of John Hartnell´s brother, should encourage us to keep on looking in The Internet and asking the distant relatives of those men to see among the old photographs they could have in their attics. The number of pictures being scanned or photographied is increasing with time, it is a matter of time that new faces will show up.

The help of the relatives of those men here is a decissive factor to find that lost clues, if it finally happens that they actually exist.


A good starting point would be making a Excel file with all the names of the men and highlight those from who we already have a picture or painting. For now an easy task taking into account that there is only one portrait (Irving´s one) apart of the 14 Beard´s portraits.

In the following link is the Excel file, I took the list from Peter Carney´s blog post: "Roll call of the doomed".

Let´s do this, let´s find those lost faces and see right into their eyes.

martes, 13 de junio de 2017


More than a year ago, I was complaining in this post called "The Elusive Lady", about the lack of portraits of Lady Jane which were available in the Internet. Only a couple of portraits of her are widely known. Apart of those two, in the book "Lady Franklin´s Ambition" I could recently see a tiny Jane together with her other three sibblings when they were mere children. And there is also, of course, the only known photograph of her discovered by Russell Potter and that drawing which I showed in the formerly mentioned blog post. 

Now, recently, after one of my Internet raids in search of Franklin related pictures and portraits, I am delighted to announce that I have found this rare and fascinating marble relief, which is attributed to Thomas Bock, the same artist who painted the Lady Jane´s portrait of 1838, during her stay in Van Diemen´s land.

Lady Jane Franklin

Apparently made by Thomas Bock

If you compare both, Thomas´s portrait and the bust, will agree with me that there is no doubt the woman represented is the same. Same hairstyle, nose, gesture of the mouth and slightly bulky eyes. She looks, however, thinner in the plaque and with a less prominent forehead:

Thomas Bock portrait of Lady Jane 1838

Thomas Bock was an English artist a year older than Jane Franklin. Bock was a promising engraver and miniature painter who was deported in 1823 to Autralia for administering drugs to a young woman. He was sentenced to stay fourteen years in Van Diemen´s Land, though after eight years of good behaviour, he became a free citizen. Among other things, his work includes Lady Jane´s commision of painting some aboriginals living in their natural state. Those pieces are of reknown value because are one of the few which show how those people actually were by that time without the influence of the european culture. Another well known painting is that which shows Martinha, the little aborigin girl adopted and subsequently abandoned by the Franklins during their stay. Hers, is a sad story which deserves a completely dedicated blog post.

Thomas Bock
That Lady Jane asked Thomas for being painted is an interesting event which forms part of the list of misteries which surround the elusive lady. Specially, if you take into account that she used to despise the company of convicts and exconvicts. Surely, it was the lack of skilled artist in the region and maybe also, Thomas´s impecable background in England before his crime, what called her attention and earned him her pardon.

But whatever were the actual reasons which ended in these two beatiful masterpieces, we should be thankful is thanks to this man that we, not only have a lively second portrait of a more mature Jane Franklin, which allow us to have an accurate idea of her determination by that time, but also a 3D bust which makes Jane Franklin a more real person, someone who looks about to move her head to look at you at your eyes to say some of her famous witty remarks with which she uses to end awkwardly bitter discussions.      

Post post: After sharing this un the facebook group "Remembering the Franklin expedition", I have learned there is another bust of Lady Franklin un the Royal Geographical society of London. This other was inspired in an earlier portrait. Unfortunately there are no pictures of It in  the Internet but I had the opportunity of seeing a picture and I have to say It was beautifully done.

martes, 23 de mayo de 2017


Vivimos en un mundo extraño aunque no menos extraño que el mundo que nos ha precedido.

Hay en marcha una nueva investigación que intenta identificar a través del análisis del ADN obtenido en los huesos de las tripulaciones pertenecientes a la expedición de Franklin encontrados en la isla del rey Guillermo, quienes fueron realmente aquellos hombres. Quieren tratar de identificarlos con nombres y apellidos. Hay un buen número de descendientes de aquellos hombres con los cuales correlacionar los resultados.

De este análisis, han surgido ciertos resultados chocantes que están impactado de forma sensacionalista los titulares de algunas noticias. Aparentemente, existe la posibilidad de que participaran mujeres en aquella expedición cuando legalmente no deberían de haberlo hecho. Se ha descartado la posibilidad de que algunos de los huesos encontrados pudieran pertenecer a ninguna mujer Inuit que hubiera podido morir eventualmente en la zona, de manera que, de acuerdo a la edad de los huesos encontrados y a sus origines europeos, parece que éstos solo podrían haber pertenecido a algún participante de la expedición de Franklin.

Por lo que he leído, el análisis de estas pruebas no debe ser nunca considerado concluyente al cien por cien porque no es fácil averiguar la edad, o incluso el género, de ciertas muestras de ADN si éstas han sido expuestas a los elementos como ha sido el caso. Así que, a falta de una mejor aproximación, es aconsejable ser prudentes ante estas noticias.

Y ahora viene la parte que me gusta más. Hace tres años, en octubre de 2014, jugué precisamente con esta idea, de que podría ser que hubieran participado mujeres en la expedición de Franklin. En aquel entonces me pregunté a mi mismo: - ¿Porqué no?-  Ya habían estado penetrando en las filas de la Marina Real de forma inadvertida mucho tiempo antes de 1845 cuando la expedición partió. En aquella entrada de blog de hace dos años, y que podéis consultar más abajo, escribí exactamente lo siguiente:

"¿Cuantas veces no habremos oído o leído esta frase, u otras parecidas como esta?:

- En 1845 los ciento veintinueve hombres de la expedición de Franklin desaparecieron en el ártico y jamás fueron vueltos a ver.-

¿Podemos asegurar este hecho? ¿Podemos estar cien por cien seguros de que estamos en lo cierto? ¿O quizás deberíamos considerar la posibilidad de que la composición real de la expedición fuera de hecho de ciento veintiocho hombres y una mujer? ¿Podemos afirmar que todos y cada uno de los componentes de la expedición de Franklin eran hombres?"

Podéis leer aquel premonitorio post aquí, (aunque en su momento lo escribí en Inglés y todavía tengo que traducirlo), donde recorría los casos mas conocidos de mujeres que se habían enrolado en las tripulaciones de los barcos de la Marina Británica.

"Chicas grumete" - Cabin girl post
Ahora, aunque me gustaría gritarle al mundo aquella frase de "¡Te lo dije!", en realidad estoy bastante seguro de que este no es mas que uno de esos juegos que la ciencia juega de vez en cuando con nosotros y que pronto se probará que ninguna mujer, o muchacha participó, nunca realmente en la expedición.

Estoy orgulloso de pensar que al fin y al cabo, yo mismo podría haber sido un "descubridor" de algo que estuviera relacionado con la expedición de Franklin. No es que hubiera sido en ese momento poseído por algún maligno espíritu que me mostrara la luz, o sido visitado por algún fantasma bien informado, como aquella experiencia vivida por la hermana de la difunta Weasy Coppin. Se trata más bien de que me gusta explorar cualquier posibilidad antes de descartar cualquier idea, no importa lo improbable que pueda parecer (reductio ad absurdum). Me siento a veces un poco como Henry Fonda en "Doce hombres justos, tratando de convencer a todos sus compañeros de jurado acerca de la inocencia del acusado. Si no puedes probar que es culpable, entonces éste debe ser considerado inocente (en realidad estaríamos hablando de presunción de inocencia, más que reducción al absurdo, pero vosotros me entendéis).  Si no podemos probar que todos los hombres de la expedición de Franklin eran hombres, entonces existe la posibilidad de que uno, o quizás más, pudieran ser mujeres.

En fin, que si finalmente se demuestra que una mujer participó en la expedición, continuaré soñando que alguien me premiará por esta deducción a la que llegué tres años atrás, espero que con algunas medallas, árticas si es posible, y que desde los salones del Almirantazgo Británico recibiré las correspondientes felicitaciones y hurras por mis servicios prestados en favor de la causa.

Kristina Gehrman, una fervorosa Franklinita, autora del único cómic publicado acerca de la fatídica expedición, sugirió que las posibilidades de que esto pudiese suceder eran exiguas. -¿Porque? - en su opinión, los exámenes físicos se suponía que tenían que ser concienzudos a la hora de seleccionar a las tripulaciones de aquellas expediciones Árticas, donde los participantes se suponía iban a estar aislados del mundo exterior durante años sin oportunidad de enviar a casa a los enfermos. Habría sido extraño que alguna mujer o muchacha hubiese escapado a ese examen. Es un planteamiento muy razonable a tener en cuenta. 

Yo por mi parte, no obstante, no estoy tan seguro, y aún albergo mis dudas al respecto. Muchos hombres fueron reclutados por recomendación de oficiales con los cuales habían navegado previamente. Quizás bajo la influencia de estos, aquellos hombres y quizás otros candidatos se saltaran los exámenes médicos. Por otro lado, no era infrecuente que los hombres se enrolasen padeciendo ya tuberculosis u otras enfermedades, que solían tratar de esconder para evitar ser rechazados. Si ellos eran capaces de eso, quizás, los eventuales aspirantes a tripulante del sexo femenino podrían haber ocultado también su género. Por cierto, y aunque no viene al caso, aquellos hombres que ocultaban sus enfermedades al embarcar, normalmente eran los primeros en morir en el transcurso de la primera invernada.

Continuemos entonces pensando que había mujeres entre las tripulaciones de los barcos Erebus y Terror y pongamos así algo de color y variedad a una historia que nunca cesa de sorprendernos con cada nuevo y sorprendente descubrimiento. Hace pocos días que se han reanudado las inmersiones en el naufragio del HMS Terror ¿Que será lo siguiente en dejarnos boquiabiertos? Me pregunto.

miércoles, 26 de abril de 2017


We live in a strange world, but not less strange than the world which preceded us.

There is in course a new investigation which tries to identify, through the analisys of the DNA samples obtained from the bones of the men of the Franklin expedition found in King William island, who actually were those men. There is not a short number of descendants of those men whose DNA would serve to correlate the results.

From this analisys have arisen certain shocking results which are hitting with some spectacularity the headlines of some pieces of news. Apparently there is a chance that there were women in that expedition. It has been discarded the possibility that those bones could belong any Inuit woman who could have eventually deceased in the area, so, according to the age of the bones found and their european origins, they only could have belonged to a participant of the Franklin expedition. 

From what I have read, the analysis of these evidences can´t be conclusive one hundred percent because it is not easy to ascertain the age or even the gender of certain DNA samples, specially if they have been exposed to the elements as it has been the case. So, in default of a better approach, is  advisable to be prudent in front of these news.

And now it comes the part I like more. Three years ago, in october of 2014, I played with the idea of women participating in the Franklin expedition. I wonder to myself, Why not? They had been penetrating in the ranks of the Royal Navy inadvertedly year after year.  My exact words were:

"How many times have we heard or read this sentence or similar others like this?: 

"In 1845 the one hundred and twenty nine men of the Franklin expedition dissapeared in the Arctic and were never seen again".

Could we assert this fact and be one hundred percent sure we are right? or perhaps should we consider the possibility that the composition of the expedition was in fact one hundred and twenty eight men and a woman? Could we say that each one of the  components of the Franklin expedition was a man?"

You can read the whole post here, where I run through the most known cases of women enroling into the crews of Royal Navy ships.

Cabin girl post
Now, though I would like to say to the world that universal phrase: "I TOLD YOU", I am quite sure this is only one of this games science plays with us, and that it will be soon proved that any women or girl had participated ever in the expedition, I am proud of thinking that I was a "discoverer" (or diviner) of something related with the Franklin expedition. It is not exactly that I was possesed by any evil spirit which showed me the light or that I was visited by any well informed ghost, like that experience endured by Weasy Coppin´s sister. It is more that I like to explore any possibilities before discarding any idea no matter how improbable could it seems (reductio ad absurdum), a little bit like Henry Fonda did in "12 Angry men" trying to convince all his jury mates about the inocence of the accused, if you can´t prove he is guilty, then he is innocent, if we can´t prove all of the men of the Franklin expedition were men, then there is a chance one or maybe more could be a woman. 

I will keep on dreaming someone is going to award me for this deduction I came across three years ago, hopefully with some medals (arctic medals preferibly) and that I would be given a warm and hearty farewell while walking out of the Arctic-Council hall-room of a virtual Admiralty, among applauses, cheers and hoorays for my services in favour of the cause. 

Kristina Gehrman, a fervent Franklinite author of a comic about the ill-fated expedition, suggested that the chances of that happening should  be shallow, because in her opinion, physical examination was expected to be conducted thoroughly and in detail for those Arctic expeditions which were supposed to be isolated for years far from any chance to send home sick men. So it would have been strange any women or girl could have escaped that checking. That is a very good and reasonable point.

I am not so sure, though. And here glides the shadow of the doubt.  Many men were recruited under the influence of officers with who they had formerly sailed, and maybe those skipped the medical examination. Besides, it wasn´t uncommon that men were enroled already suffering of consumption, illness which they use to conceal to the board in order to prevent them to be rejected. If they were able of doing that, women could have concealed, maybe, their gender. Those men usually formed part of the first on suffering a premature death, normally during the first winter.

Let´s then continue thinking there were women among the crews of the Erebus and Terror and put some colour and variety to a story which never ceases of surprising us with new and astonishing facts. What is next? I have to wonder.


viernes, 21 de abril de 2017


Hoy en día vivimos en un mundo de records y superación personal. La edad es una artificial frontera para algunos pero también un atractivo reto para otros. No pocas veces vemos en las noticias que  alguien es el primero en hacer determinada hazaña con la edad más avanzada, subir al Everest, correr una Marathon, etc, etc.

El primer ejemplo que se me viene a la menta, a pesar de no tratarse de un explorador polar, es el de Carlos Soria, nuestro querido Himalayista que con 78 años continua enseñándonos, ochomil detrás de ochomil, que una de nuestras principales barreras para cumplir nuestros sueños está en nuestra mente y no en nuestro cuerpo. 

Hablaré por encima de aquellos exploradores polares que conozco en mayor profundidad, y que son aquellos que probaron suerte en el pasaje del Noroeste y Noreste durante el siglo XIX y anteriores.

Por lo que he podido comprobar en un primer escrutinio, principalmente las edades de estos hombres estaban comprendidas entre los 40 y 50 años, aunque pronto veremos como otros no encontraron barreras físicas o mentales que les retuvieran en casa y superaron ampliamente esa edad.

Al inglés John Cabot, o Juan Caboto, uno de los pioneros en la exploración de los mares del norte, se le atribuye a sus 47 años el descubrimiento en 1497 de Newfounland, en la costa este de Canadá , no mucho después de que Cristobal Colón "descubriera" América.

John Cabot
Henry Hudon tenía 42 años cuando partió en su primera expedición polar hacia el archipiélago de Svalbard en 1607 y solo 45 años cuando le abandonaron a su suerte sus amotinados compañeros en la bahía de Hudson a pesar de que se le represente en uno de sus cuadros  mas famosos como a un anciano.

Henry Hudson, abandonado por sus camaradas
William Barentzs con 44 años partió hacia el pasaje del Noroeste en 1594 y Jens Munk tenía 40 cuando tuvo que pasar forzosamente un invierno en la costa oeste de la Bahía de Hudson en 1619, aventura de la que solo él y otros dos compañeros milagrosamente sobrevivieron, el resto de sus 62 hombres no tuvieron tanta suerte.  Vitus Bering, elevó un poco la media de edad de aquellos pioneros. Murió durante su segunda expedición a Kamchatcka en 1741 con 60 años de edad de escorbuto en la isla de Bering frente a la costa de la península.

Pero uno de los casos que mas sorprende es el de James Knight que, nacido en 1640, murió  junto con sus 49 tripulantes en 1721 con 80 años de edad en Marble island, una desolada roca situada también en la costa oeste de la bahía de Hudson. Un record a priori difícil de creer. 

Entrando ya en mi querido siglo XIX, tenemos el ejemplo del doctor John Richardson, un hombre excepcional. Naturalista y cirujano, tampoco era un niño cuando con 61 años, participó en 1848 en una de las primeras expediciones de rescate en pos del desaparecido John Franklin. Esta vez se trataría de una expedición por tierra, que cruzaría todo el continente Americano desde Nueva York hasta la desembocadura del río McKenzie en la costa norte de Canadá. Un impresionante viaje de miles de kilómetros que debían realizar en parte a pie y en parte en canoa. Allí pasó el invierno de 1848 a 1849 para regresar la primavera siguiente a Inglaterra.

Me extenderé un poco más y terminaré con John Ross, uno de mis exploradores favoritos. Tan duro de constitución como de cabeza (quizás por eso me cae tan bien). Tenía 40 años cuando partió en 1818 en una de las primeras expediciones que se hicieron durante ese siglo en busca del pasaje del Noroeste. John Ross se dio la vuelta durante aquel viaje y volvió a casa después de asomarse a las puertas del pasaje, el estrecho de Lancaster, porque creyó ver que unas montañas cerraban el paso. 

El joven oficial William Edward Parry, con 28 años, estaba al mando del barco consorte de Ross. No podía creer que Ross no quisiera explorar el final de lo que a su patrón le había  parecido una bahía. Aquel prematuro regreso daría alas a Parry que posteriormente dirigiría cuatro expediciones, tres al pasaje del Noroeste y una al polo Norte. La primera expedición la dirigiría con 29 años en 1819, sería responsable de 94 hombres con los que pasaría un invierno en la remota isla Melville, ubicada prácticamente a la salida del pasaje en su extremo oeste. Con Parry se inició una nueva generación de exploradores que destacaban sobre todo por su edad, eran del orden de 20 años mas jóvenes que su predecesores.

John Ross
Pero lo que hace merecedor a John Ross de aparecer en este ranking no es su primera expedición ártica, sino la última.

John Franklin partió en los barcos Erebus y Terror en su fatídico intento de atravesar el paso del Noroeste en 1845, donde perdería la vida él y sus 128 acompañantes. Cuando el almirantazgo Británico decidió que fuera John Franklin quien comandara la expedición, las mayores dudas que se albergaron acerca de su idoneidad para el cargo tenían que ver sobre todo con su edad, que por aquel entonces era de 59 años. John Ross prometió a Franklin dos días antes de que partieran salir en su búsqueda si pasados dos años no daban señales de vida. Sus palabras textuales fueron:

"Me ofreceré voluntario para ir en tu busca si no tenemos noticias tuyas para febrero de 1847, pero por favor, deja alguna nota en el mojón de señalización donde invernes diciendo que ruta vas a seguir." 

John Franklin no dejó tal nota, o si lo hizo ésta nunca fue encontrada. Cuando el tiempo pasó, John Ross puso la maquinaria en marcha para organizar la expedición de rescate. Primero se dirigió al Almirantazgo y luego a Lady Jane la esposa de Franklin, ambos le denegaron su apoyo. Tuvieron que pasar tres años hasta que finalmente, la Hudson Bay Company, financió la expedición y en 1850 con 73 años de edad partió hacia el norte en pos de Franklin. Y no solo eso, John Ross pasó un invierno en Beechey Island en el archipiélago Canadiense , a 74º de latitud, junto con el resto de expediciones que andaban por la zona buscando al explorador perdido. Ross es descrito durante aquella expedición por uno de los otros capitanes que invernaban en la zona como: 

"Un hombre de constitución cuadrada, aparentemente poco maltratado por los años y bien capaz de  soportar los avatares y peligros de la vida. Le han herido en varias batallas, dos veces gravemente, y tiene cicatrices desde la cabeza hasta los pies. Ha dirigido ya dos expediciones polares, y en una de ellas realizó la inigualable hazaña de invernar hasta cuatro veces en las nieves del ártico. Y aquí está ahora, de nuevo en su cascaron de nuez, embarcado en la cruzada de buscar a un camarada perdido." 

viernes, 24 de marzo de 2017


The time John Franklin spent in Van Diemen´s land won´t be the time for what he would be mostly remembered by the world, in spite of he and his wife Lady Jane, left there a deep print.

John Franklin arrived at this land by january of 1837 and was its governor till 1844, when he returned to England before leading his final expedition to the Arctic. Not much later after his arrival, Franklin and his wife were paying a visit to the defensive system which prevented convicts of Port Arthur to escape from the prison facility to the mainland: The terrible Dog-line placed in Eaglehawk neck. 

Sir John Franklin and Lady Jane visiting the Dog line in Eaglehawk neck.
You can see a more sketchy image of the same scene but at higher resolution here.
Eaglehawk neck is a narrow istmus of land, of an interesting geological origin by the way, which links the rest of Australia with the irregular peninsula where the prison of Port Arthur was once located. The Dog-line was exactly what its name indicates, a long line of around eighteen fierce dogs chained to improvised barrel-made houses. The line was also provided with a serie of lamps that would allow the dogs to see better the unwary prisoners who were trying to escape through that route.

Eaglehawk Neck nowadays from above.

That visit surely provoked on John´s peaceful and pious mind not few nausea and horror, at least that is what I have always thought every time I have taken a look at that picture. There is something in Franklin´s countenance, that tight smile, almost a grin, which invites you to think he was horrified at the sight of those savage and ravenous dogs. What could that ferocity could mean for the poor convicts which fell into their jaws?. Franklin stays rigid wearing proudly, as it happens in many of John Franklin portraits, the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order with which he was awarded in 1836, together with other decorations. What the scene transmit to me is countersigned for what I read in some notes written by Frank Debenham and which you can find in Polar Record. The papers, which describes the visit of Erebus and Terror to Van Diemen´s land, illustrate the scene as follows:

"The situation is admirably depicted in a sketch, which is published in the Life of Lady Jane Franklin by W. F. Rawnsley, illustrating a visit of the Vice-Regal party to the penal settlement of Port Arthur. The group is inspecting Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow isthmus which was the only possible route of escape to the mainland, and which was therefore guarded by savage dogs chained in a line across the low neck, just within reach of each other. The excessively dignified attitude of the Governor, the dainty appearance of his lady and the portentous mien of the officers are in so great a contrast to the line of raging beasts, the lamp posts and the sentries behind them that one would consider it grotesque were it not for the murky figures of some convicts themselves in the background, and the obviously truthful character of the picture."

I couldn´t find the sketch where in the notes it is said it should appear, that is, in "The Life of Lady Franklin by F.W. Rawnsey". Maybe the drawing was published in a different edition of the book which I consulted in Google books. If it is not there, I wonder from where this image actually comes. 

The title of the picture, whenever I found it in the Internet, reads "The visit of Sir John and Lady Franklin to the Dogline in 1837". But was it actually done by that year? It is the style of the sketch, which invited me to think the author of this drawing could be Owen Stanley, the navy officer which is famous among Franklin enthusiasts for his watercolours of the HMS Terror and other arctic related scenes. There is something familiar in the way this sketch was painted which reminds me strongly Owen´s style. Was Stanley present at the moment of that visit?. We will find out that soon.

Owen Stanley departed in april of 1836 on board HMS Terror sailing as second lieutenant under George Back orders while trying to find a passage to the west north of Hudson Bay. He didn´t come back to England till the 31st of august of 1837.  You can see part of his artistic work during that time in the National Maritime Museum collection here. It was then, the 21st of december of 1837, months after returning from the Arctic, when he was given command of HMS Britomart. His orders?, establishing a colony at Port Essington (north of Australia). You can see many of his excellent drawings of that trip in two volumes called "Voyage of HMS Britomart from 1837 to 1843".

Though in some places I have found that they departed from England in september of 1838, the fact that the colony was set up only a month after, in october of the same year, suggests that the ship could have sailed from England months before that date, surely stopping in their way in the British settlement of Van Diemen´s land. From this other link, I have learned HMS Britomart reached Hobart the 22nd of july of 1838 and that Owen Stanley met Franklin there. It is specifially said that: 

"The Governor of Tasmania, Capt Sir John Franklin, RN, met Capt Robert Fitzroy, RN, HMS Beagle, Capt Sir Gordon Bremer, RN, HMS Alligator, and Lt Owen Stanley, RN, HMS Britomart, at Hobart."  

That places Owen Stanley in Hobart and in company of Franklin much more close to the year on which the sketch was allegedly made. More than I have previously foreseen and making possible that the visit to the dog-line could have been actually done a year later that when it was supposed, that means in 1838 instead of in 1837. I haven´t been able to find details of that encounter, I would be glad if someone could put some light to this event.

I thought maybe Franklin would have liked to show and horrified Fitzroy, Stanley and the others, the facilities of Port Arthur including the Dog-line of Eaglehawk neck, maybe the sight of the dogs impressed Owen that much that he decided to put the scene into a paper, or maybe this sketch was just the work of any other artist. But there is another fact which relates place and artist though not the year. Eaglehawk neck was painted in this watercolour in january of 1841 by Owen Stanley when he landed there (well in 1838 or during his second visit of 1840 after frustrating the French attempt to stablish a colony in south New Zealand).

Many of us know very well, as I mentioned before, part of Owen Stanley´s work. Specially those paintings which show HMS Erebus and HMS Terror during the first stages of their voyage to the Canadian arctic archipielago. But few of us know how was him like and how huge was his artistic work. This portrait of him which I have found today in the Internet, and who knows if it was painted by Owen himself, is apparently available in Dunham Massey, Chesire England

Owen Stanley
From the collection of Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Owen´s drawings not only show landscapes and ships, he also usually shows very realistic scenes where people, like the crews of the ships, aborigins,etc. behaved in their daily lives. As if they were vignettes of an adventure comic book, you can see the life, as he saw it through his own eyes, almost in motion, as for example happens here and here. That´s precisely the style you can see in the picture which shows Franklin´s visit to the Dog-line.

The casual style you can see in his drawings, (like the drawing called "The unprotected female" also available in the NMM), the liveliness what you can deduce from the title of other of his drawings like "Man Overboard off the North Point of New Zealand" or in that other which apparently shows himself being attacked by an albatross, together with his visit in july of 1838, are my strongests points to sustain my theory that it was Owen Stanley the author of the Dog-line drawing which is consuming me.

There are other connections between Owen and Franklin which could help to understand why he could have drawn that sketch. Stanley sailed for some time on board HMS Rainbow in 1831 as Lieutenant under Franklin orders, surely that was the origin of a friendship which would last till the day Franklin vanished. Poor Stanley died at the early age of 39 without knowing yet the whereabouts of the Erebus and Terror expedition. Whatever happened in HMS Rainbow during its service in the Mediterranean, maybe it would be reflected in James Harrison journal. The Rainbow was Franklin first command after returning from his overland expeditions in North America.

Stanley´s premature death is involved in mistery. There are several versions about what could have killed him so soon. Illness, or another one much more morbid which says  he could have committed suicide after receiving the awful news that his father, uncle and brother had died while he was sailing through the southern seas.

As I said, part of Stanley´s work is available in the National Maritime Museum and other part should be available in the Royal Society of Tasmania. According to a piece of paper from april 1931 which I have found in the Evening post, his widow presented the Society the collection of sketches mentioned above from his years serving on board HMS Britomart (1837-1841). The article, interesting because it is one of the few sources of information which tells Owen story, is titled as follows:

Piece of news from Evening post, 1931

It has been my curiosity to guess who was the artist after that singular sketch which has led me to Owen Stanley and his fascinating history. He, from my point of view, was another of those outstanding characters related with the arctic exploration whose name should occupy a prominent place in the hall of fame together with some of the most famous ones. His story has been told in the book: Owen Stanley R.N. 1811-1850 Captain of the Rattlesnake by Adelaide Lubbock.

 His grave was for some time not properly marked in the cemetery of Cammeray, but at least, he had a plaque in his memory which still exist in St Thomas Church in Sydney which you can see here. Apparently, now there is a map of the church and graveyard which shows you where exactly lies his body.

Well, it seems that after all this digression, we still will continue without having the answers to the main question which led me to start this post:

Who was the artist after that powerful sketch which shows that terrified Franklin in the Dog-line?

Now, right before publishing this, I have thought that maybe, and logically, my desired answer could lie on Lubbock´s book which tells his life, what better place to look for it? It would be perfect if that book would be waiting for me in my bookselves, but unfortunately that´s not the case. My last resort is then to beg within the very scarce  fragments of it which are available in Google Books using keywords as "Eaglehawk neck". Doing it I have found a very promising sentence inside the "HMS Britomart 1837-43" chapter which reads the following:

"The Vice-Regal party was transported from Eaglehawk neck"

Which put together at Owen Stanley and John Franklin not only in the proper period but also in Eaglehawk neck.

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 .