Seeking Lord Franklin-Part 3

For Part 1 of this series, click here. For Part 2, click here.

The Legacy

By 1854, nine years after having set out the Admiralty let it be known that unless any tangible proof of survival among any of Franklin’s men was found, they would be declared dead. Whaling ships were known to go on very long voyages in those years, but this was an officially sanctioned mission. There was not one, but two ships. To have no word and little to go off of in the way of evidence, one can scarcely blame them for making that call. One person who refused to accept that decision was Lady Jane Franklin. She refused to go into mourning and made continued efforts to find out what had happened as late as 30 years after the ships had left England.

But there were precious few clues to go off,  and those that were found pointed into an ominous direction.  How well she accepted these clues is another story.  In 1850 clothing and fragments of supplies were found. On Beechey Island a stone cairn was discovered as were three graves-two men from Erebus, one from Terror. All three had perished in 1846. Suggestions were that by 1846, a mere year after setting off both ships had become trapped completely in the ice and the ships were abandoned. With McClure and the Investigator trapped in the ice themselves on the Western side of the passage, little new information was discovered until 1854.

The story of what happened after this time could result in this being a 20 part series. The shorter version is that various people searching over the years eventually found evidence of parts of the story. John Rae, a truly intrepid explorer from the Orkney Islands who had learned hunting and Arctic survival from the Inuit covered vast overland routes found artifacts and evidence of cannibalism among Franklin’s men. This was met with denials back home and stern rebukes from the likes of Charles Dickens and Lady Franklin.

Frank McClintock, another key figure at the time made perhaps the most pivotal discovery of all in 1859. First he found three bodies and clear evidence that they came from Franklin’s men. More importantly he found a note inside a cairn. The original note was dated May 28, 1847 and described meeting trouble. Scrawled around the note was a second message which revealed that John Franklin had died on June 11, 1847. It went on to say that at the time of writing 24 men had perished.

Much has been speculated as to what ended the lives of the rest of the crews. The main theories are that many of the men died slow deaths as a result of lead poisoning either as a result of poor sealing on their tins of preserved food or via the lead pipes from the water tanks on board. Another strong plausibility is of the scourge of sailors at that time-scurvy. Though its cause was understood by that time and preventative measures well in place, it is possible it contributed to the poor health of the men. As Palin concludes though, perhaps it was a combination of many factors-lack of food, disease, poor planning, failure to learn tips from the Inuit. And it may have come down to poor leadership, starting with Franklin himself. Well noted for his fiery church services which he conducted on board ship, a major reason he took on the expedition was to salvage his wounded pride he had suffered as Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land some years before. That combined with being not exactly in shape for winters on the ice possibly led to some poor decisions.

But I think all of these theories contribute to the why. As in why we are still talking about Franklin all these years later. Why books are written. Why movies and documentaries are filmed. Why scientists have studied the preserved remains of corpses from the expedition all these years later. For me especially, it is also why songs such as Lord Franklin are still sung today, and why newer songs like The Erebus & The Terror, and Mercy Bay are still written. People like a mystery, they like the stories, the history and the drama. They imagine themselves on those ships, if even for a brief moment. Sailing the Arctic Sea along with Franklin and his ‘gallant crew’. After reading Palin’s book, Franklin’s story became even more poignant and personal for me. Not because of any sort of connection to the story, but because of a song that Palin mentions himself towards the end of the book-Northwest Passage, by the late and very great Stan Rogers.

In the song Stan Rogers tells a bit about the story of Franklin. He mentions the ‘long forgotten lonely cairn of stones’…a sight that must have been such a stark contrast to the untouched Arctic landscape in that time. He mentions the Beaufort Sea and Davis Strait. But when you contemplate the lyrics further, you realize that Rogers is talking about another journey. As the songwriter he was taking his own journey across Canada, through cites and the vast prairies. But in ‘finding the hand of Franklin’ he was going somewhere more personal. And that is when I realized that the song was telling me so much about not just the historical Franklin’s journey, but my own journey. It might sound trite to say this, but it is about finding your own elusive Northwest Passage. A journey unlike any taken before. A mystery. A struggle fraught with peril. Victory snatched before you as quickly as an Arctic ice flow closes a channel of water. It says so much while making you think and feel so much.

“How then am I so different from the first men through this way?

Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away

To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men

To find there but the road back home again”

Those of you who follow me on social media know that the past year has been a struggle. I have been going to see a therapist weekly for over a year now. Just over a month ago at a session I was recounting a memory from childhood. We have been gradually going backwards in time to some specific memories I have of my childhood, tracing the passage back from what I feel are inadequacies and failures of my past. Seeing connections to feelings and actions I still have today and how they relate to those memories. Though the memories are not traumatic or disturbing they still affect me. And so it was at this particular session at 9 AM on a Monday morning I had a particular jarring memory and connection made. It came out of nowhere. One moment I was reliving moments in my past and the next a connection was made to now and I became a weeping mess for several moments and unable to speak. I felt anger, hurt, rage, betrayal, guilt and sadness all at once. In the days and weeks after I have worked on these moments some more. It is still a work in progress, but it is a good thing to relive these thoughts.

It was in between then and as I began this series that I picked up Michael Palin’s Erebus. The boyhood fascination with the allure and admiration for the old sailing ships, for tales of adventure across the seas and being frozen in the Arctic with only the polar bears and the Inuit was still there. The love of history and science in discovering what happened to Franklin, of ship building and politics of the era was still there. But in reading the book I realized what was not there. As I raced through the book thoroughly enjoying myself I found myself thinking of my therapy appointments and the recent turn they had taken. What I realized was that the hurt I felt as a result came from a deeper pain inside me. That of failing to capitalize on my own value and worth. Weaving my own unique narrative.

All the things I ever dreamed about doing I have yet to do. The usual excuses come up-budget, time, fear of the unknown. The connections from therapy have proven to me that the desire and wanting has been there, but other reasons have caused me to put a hold on what I want or to give fuel to my system. But if that therapy session was a start in the right direction, then so too does this post. Because I see it guiding me towards the unknown. It might be only a personal unknown. A way of viewing my life differently, but it is a path I need to be on now.

My journey, perhaps all of our journeys are like Franklin. We go forward only to become trapped. We go in another direction only to have that close up as well. We search for those openings because we yearn to find the new. To live for the new. My life up to now has had all sorts of paths that have closed up. Yet the hope is that like Franklin and McClure and all the rest that those paths open up again. A crack in the ice that becomes wider and opens up to a new destination.

Writing this series became an obsession of sorts. It consumed me in a way I have not felt in quite a long time. It merged virtually all of my passions into one place. I came home from work at night and pored myself in as many stories and tales of the Arctic as I could find. I watched documentaries and searched for songs and all sorts of relevant data to the story to mention perhaps only in passing. But I needed to do this. To find the connections to my past in therapy. To find that passage through the  barrier of ice in my mind and live the words of the Stan Rogers song-

“Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage.

To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea. 

Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage

And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.”

Postscript 

Unlike most mysteries, 174 years after setting out, Franklin’s expedition is still revealing itself. In 2010 using sophisticated underwater equipment, the wreck of HMS Investigator was found near Mercy Bay. In 2014 a rusted metal U-shaped object was found. Using a bit of on the spot internet research it turned out to be part of a davit, the mechanism used to lower the smaller boats off the sides of ships such as Erebus. The very next day using the location of this artifact as a guide, the underwater equipment spotted the remains of another wreck. A few days later divers went down to the wreck. Among the wreckage found was the ships bell. Erebus had at long last been found,

Such has been my passion for writing this series, I could not quite let it end. For starters, I have created a YouTube playlist for not just the songs from this post, but any relevant interviews, documentaries and supplementary material about Franklin and his expedition. Additionally, I feel compelled to give my own bibliography of some of the key sources used for this series-

Erebus-By Michael Palin

Off The Map-By Fergus Fleming

Sea Of Glory-By Nathaniel Philbrick

Let The Sea Make A Noise-By Walter A. MacDougall

To Rule The Waves-By Arthur Herman

Discovery Of The North Pole-By Dr. Frederick A. Cook & Commander Robert E. Peary

British Polar Explorers-By Admiral Sir Edward Evans

A Sea Of Words-A Lexicon & Companion For Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales-By Dean King, With John Hattendorf and J. Worth Estes

Other sources were the Encyclopedia Of Native American Tribes By Carl Waldman, the World Almanac 2019 for facts and maps, and various other online sources.

I also highly recommend a documentary series streaming on Netflix now called Arctic Ghost Ship, focused on the discovery of the Erebus wreckage. It also contains lots of great information about Franklin’s voyage as well.

Northwest Passage-Written By Stan Rogers

Mercy Bay-Written By Chris Leslie

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Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Photo Shuffle-Barrett’s Privateers

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Barrett’s Privateers By Stan Rogers.

CSS Acadia, Halifax Nova Scotia
CSS Acadia, Halifax Nova Scotia

Those of you who have been reading my posts for awhile now must surely realize that recurring themes pop up in my posts from time to time. Chalk that up in part to the types of photographs I like to take.  When I travel to a new and different place I  anticipate the types of photo ops I might get, and I instinctively pull the camera out to be ready. Say for example in Halifax, Nova Scotia,  which I stopped in while on a cruise a few years ago. It was a place I hoped would be full of different types of ships, which is one of those recurring themes I mentioned. I do have a thing for all manners of transportation! Happily I was not disappointed, and just a few moments after disembarking while still getting our bearings, my wife and I walked along the fabulous waterfront in Halifax, which was filled with all manner of ships in a busy port.

I suppose the reason I don’t feel bad about recurring, or ‘repeating’ themes here is because  photos, like songs  have similarities, yet there is always something unique to them somehow. A busy port filled with commercial, military, and  cruise ships together with pleasure craft may seem the same as any other port anywhere in the world, yet there is always something different about them, be it due to the layout or the climate. Likewise though songs may have the same time signature, same instruments playing, and maybe even the same subject matter, no two songs are ever truly alike.  I think both of these elements are why I am so easily influenced and inspired by things like transportation as a photography subject. It is also why I am so particularly drawn to folk music because it keeps such a connection with history. Continue reading “Photo Shuffle-Barrett’s Privateers”

My Four Seasons-Autumn

 

ROMANCE

“I want to see your smiling face 45 years from now”

I read once that an informal survey revealed that most people’s favorite seasons were revealed to be spring and autumn, in almost a neck for neck tie. Not really surprising since both are associated with pleasing weather and different colors in the landscape. Whereas spring is about birth and renewal, autumn (and I still prefer to call it autumn rather than fall) is really about change. Those bright reds, oranges and fading yellows that speckle the terrain, before they begin to fall. The crisp smell in the air, the taste of fresh apples, the first signs of frost on the ground complete the picture. In our own lives, autumn is usually the time of transitions, and in the seasons of life is generally considered to be the longest period. As I discussed at the end of yesterday’s blog, towards the end of my “summer” I really needed a change. Happily, that is when she walked into my life.

“She” is of course the woman who became my wife. It started out innocently enough on a Sunday night in September of 2002. We had never met before, but a mutual friend was having a birthday gathering at a local pub. In an attempt to make up for the disaster of the previous summer’s trip to Ireland, I went back. Thankfully this time was infinitely better and there were no problems upon my return. I am not sure if it was because of that fact that our friend introduced us (meet my friend Rob, he just came back from Ireland type of thing) or for some other reason, but in no time we were having a great conversation. I showed her some photos of the trip, the rocky and rugged terrain of Donegal, with rugged cliffs and oceans, wildflowers and deep green grass everywhere. In the darkened light of the pub (and not due to consumption of a certain beverage, or so she says…), she also detected speckles of white scattered through the rocky terrain. “Oh, they still have snow there at this time of year” she asked? It being September at the time, and with no desire to come off as a jerk, I responded nicely, “oh no….those are sheep” while secretly I chuckled a little.

But my considerable charms (yes, I can’t even believe I just wrote that) must have worked because she was having such a fine conversation with me that she willingly decided to stay longer and miss her favorite show at the time, The Sopranos. High praise indeed. When she did leave I had realized that I had just conversed with someone for a few hours with such ease that it had seemed like mere minutes. Within a day or so I had obtained her number from my friend. When I worked up the courage to call her on said number a few days later we had another nice chat, despite her being unsure if my name was Richard, or Roger, or some other name starting with an R. In spite of that moment of forgetfulness on her part (which she covered up well…OHHHH….Robert, yes from the other night….of course I remember you!) we made arrangements to meet again.

Because of her job as a live in nanny at the time, and because of my job where I had to work on the weekends, our initial dates were always at night time, and usually took place at that same pub. It was a few months in before we ever had a daytime date in fact. But one night early on we shared our first kiss at the pub. For some reason I had to leave before her, so we said our goodbye’s outside, in full view of the pub’s window. Now why neither of us had the wherewithal to step 5 feet away to avoid this PDA I don’t know, but I went on my merry way, while Jennie had to go back inside. Where she was promptly met with loud applause from all who had witnessed it, led on by a scurrilous bartender. Gradually with each date and with each moment we spent together over meals and drinks, visits to various museums and walks through the park it became clear that there was something great happening. Though I was more than a little thick in taking things to the next level, in my heart I knew that Jennie was the one for me.

When I look back at that time, the words from a song by the late great Stan Rogers, one of Canada’s greatest artists comes to mind. In his song 45 years he talks about that sort of moment. Even though the circumstances he describes are different to our story, it is that idea of wanting to see her face 45 years from now that is so simple and beautiful.  I love that he chose such a random number of years to describe this feeling. To say that I want to see you today, and I want to see you 20 years from now, and 32 years from now, and 45 years from now. In any relationship there are disagreements and problems, unexpected curve balls that interrupt life. Working through those times together is worth it, believe me. One further thing I have to say about the song is to ask, where can I actually find a place that has a glass of beer for 45 cents!

 

Continue reading “My Four Seasons-Autumn”