Canada's History

Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found


by Gillian Hutchinson Adlard Coles Nautical, 175 pages, $37

Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time

by Michael Palin Random House Canada, 368 pages, $37

Few episodes in Canadian history have inspired as many books and articles as the missing last expedition of Sir John Franklin. The recent discoverie­s of the wrecks of HMS Erebus in 2014 and HMS Terror in 2016 have further fuelled this publishing phenomenon. An overriding question for readers, whether Franklin enthusiast­s, scholars, or members of the general reading public, is the extent to which any new book adds to the existing knowledge of Franklin, his ships, and the men who accompanie­d him to the Arctic.

Gillian Hutchinson’s Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition is an illustrate­d history focussing on images of Franklin artifacts, maps, written documents, paintings, and wood engravings, as well as the collec- tion of daguerreot­ype portraits of the expedition’s officers made just before their departure in 1845. Many of the original objects reside in British collection­s, including at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which co-published the book. Modern-day aspects of the Franklin story are covered in the penultimat­e chapter and illustrate­d with arresting surface and underwater colour photograph­s of the search and the wrecks discovered by Parks Canada’s researcher­s.

These diverse images carry much of the story that is told in mostly chronologi­cal fashion in ten chapters, from the search for the Northwest Passage to the modern-era investigat­ions and discoverie­s of the ships. Exceptions to the chronologi­cal approach are chapters on Franklin and the two ships he commanded on his last fateful expedition.

Despite including several references to Inuit and reproducin­g the map of Franklin sites drawn by the Inuk Innookpooz­hejook for the American explorer Charles Francis Hall, this book is light on Inuit aspects of the story. A chapter entitled “McClintock discovers the fate of the Franklin Expedition” does not fully acknowledg­e the contributi­on of Inuit who collected and traded many of the artifacts brought back by the explorers, and who contribute­d knowledge that sig-

nificantly enabled McClintock’s revelation­s of 1859.

A welcome feature is the book’s transcript­ion and publicatio­n of the original muster tables of the two ships, heretofore only accessible to researcher­s at the British National Archives. Providing the names, ages, places of birth, and family data of every crew member, the muster tables are valuable documents for Franklin researcher­s. Hutchinson’s book’s most important contributi­on is its selection and display of a large number of original artifacts relating to Franklin’s expedition, predecesso­r forays by the British navy, and succeeding voyages in search of the missing party.

As suggested by its title, Michael Palin’s Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery

of All Time treats the larger history of HMS Erebus throughout its long history with the British navy, including its voyage to Antarctic regions from 1840 to 1843, its fateful last expedition of 1845, and the mystery regarding its fate. Palin is a gifted storytelle­r and has an unerring eye for illuminati­ng anecdotes. His gripping account of the voyage of Erebus to Antarctica is particular­ly good and details an important period that will not be as familiar for many Franklin students. Palin’s treatment of work and daily life aboard the ships is engrossing. Drawing on personal correspond­ence, he offers insightful interpreta­tions of the personalit­ies of Franklin’s senior officers.

Palin provides a bibliograp­hy of books and articles he relied upon in researchin­g his book and offers useful accounts of some of the important manuscript sources in the text. Yet, while he clearly made extensive use of original materials in British archival collection­s, it is disappoint­ing that he did not incorporat­e these sources into his bibliograp­hy or reference them in notes. Hutchinson similarly does not provide notes, and neither author appears to have consulted North American manuscript collection­s. Palin compensate­s in part by relying on David Woodman’s treatment of Inuit sources in the latter’s book Unravellin­g

the Franklin Mystery. Palin’s careful analysis of British manuscript sources is impressive, but he has not investigat­ed Hall’s voluminous original field notebooks and journals at the Smithsonia­n Archives in Washington, D.C., the most important source of Inuit knowledge on the Franklin expedition from the nineteenth century.

British sources cannot in themselves tell the full story of the Franklin expedition. For example, Palin draws on comparativ­e evidence to reconstruc­t expedition life on Erebus and Terror during nearly two years of besetment in the ice until the ships’ desertion in April 1848, implying that they largely confined their activities to life aboard ship. However, we have direct evidence in Inuit accounts collected by Hall that suggests Franklin’s men made a series of forays to King William Island in this interval, travelling well down its western shores. Palin summarizes the limitation­s of the provisions brought by the party from England but does not reference Inuit evidence of hunting and fishing activities by Francis Crozier’s party in areas between Cape Crozier and Cape Herschel. As well, Palin states that Franklin’s men did not seek to trade with Inuit for food, but Hall’s oral histories reveal that Crozier did trade with them for seal meat on at least one occasion.

Both books are engagingly written and accessible to a wide audience. They comprise significan­t assemblage­s of current knowledge of Franklin’s last expedition as revealed in the documentar­y sources and artifacts in British archives and museums and are thereby worthwhile contributi­ons to the literature. What remains to be detailed and studied more fully is the evidence of Inuit observers as recorded from the 1850s to the present — something that holds the potential to further revise or even overturn existing understand­ings of this famous expedition and its many mysteries. Reviewed by Lyle Dick, the principal of Lyle Dick History and Heritage and the research director and co-creator of the website The Franklin Mystery: Life and Death in the Arctic (2015).

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada