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Here's why we're excited to visit the site of Franklin's found Erebus


Parks Canada divers will resume exploring Erebus a few days from now, around the time we reach the site with Adventure Canada. That's the word on the street. Thanks to Parks Canada, we will have a live feed that will enable us to witness discoveries as they happen. Why is this exciting? Well, I offer an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. . . .

The other ship (Erebus) was carried south by ice to Wilmot and Crampton Bay, an area known to the Inuit as Oot-joo-lik. [Researcher] David Woodman suggested that a large group of sailors abandoned that vessel in 1851, while it drifted south in the ice. Some Inuit hunters met this party of men, weak and starving, slogging south along the west coast of King William Island. These were the men In-nook-poo-zhe-jook described to John Rae. A few sailors—probably four, according to Puhtoorak—remained aboard the ice-locked ship, probably until early 1852.
This is not the place for a forty-page analysis of Inuit oral history. But the discoveries of the ships does suggest turning a spotlight on a few key passages that explain why most Franklin aficionados believe archaeologists will discover at least one body aboard the Erebus. Not far from where Canadian searchers found the ship, Charles Francis Hall and Tookoolito interviewed a local woman named Koo-nik. She was the one who spoke of finding “a very large white man” dead on the floor inside a ship.
In a letter to his sponsor, Henry Grinnell, Hall added details: “The party on getting aboard tried to find out if any one was there, and not seeing or hearing any one, began ransacking the ship. To get into the igloo (cabin), they knocked a hole through because it was locked. They found there a dead man, whose body was very large and heavy, his teeth very long. It took five men to lift this giant Kabloona [Qallunaat or white man]. He was left where they found him. One place in the ship, where a great many things were found, was very dark; they had to find things there by feeling around. Guns were there and a great many very good buckets and boxes. On my asking if they saw anything to eat on board, the reply was there was meat and tood-noo [caribou fat] in cans, the meat fat and like pemmican. The sails, rigging, and boats—everything about the ship—was in complete order.”
This same story turns up again in 1879, when with the help of Ebierbing, Frederick Schwatka interviewed Puhtoorak, one of the Inuit who had ventured aboard the Erebus. Puhtoorak said that he found a dead white man in a large ship eight miles (thirteen kilometres) off Grant Point (near where Erebus was found). He reported that the Inuit found a small boat on the mainland, and many empty casks on the ship. “He also saw books on board the ship but did not take them.”
Puhtoorak also said that before discovering the ship, while hunting along the shore with friends, he came across the tracks of four white men and “judged they were hunting for deer.” Later, he found the tracks of three men, and suggested “that the white men lived in this ship until the fall and then moved onto the mainland.” In so saying, he affirmed the earlier account by Koo-nik, who told Hall that Inuit had seen “the tracks of 3 men Kob-loo-nas & those of a dog with them.” Hall added that “there is no such thing as their being mistaken when they come across strange tracks & pronounce them not to be Innuits.”
These accounts and others, taken together, suggest that four men were living aboard the Erebus when the ice carried it—some suggest they guided it—into Wilmot and Crampton Bay. One of them¾a large man?¾probably died on board. The other three left the ship in a bid to survive, and were never seen again. Inuit hunters boarded the ship. They made off with a few “treasures” but left a great many more.

Over the next few years, Parks Canada archaeologists will almost certainly produce artifacts and possibly papers that will further clarify what happened to the Franklin expedition. Inuit testimony suggests that they will come across at least one body in Erebus. . . . If the past is any guide, these findings will generate conflicting interpretations. This much is certain: as experts thrash out an all-encompassing revision, they will draw heavily on Inuit testimony. 
Ken McGoogan
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Terry Hawkins said...

Great report. This story is an important part of Canada and Inuit history. It should be taught as part of history courses at all levels in our schools. -- Terry Hawkins

Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.

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