Monday, August 17, 2009

Lady Franklin's Lament

The Franklin expedition and tragedy inspired a great deal of artistic work. There were songs and poems and paintings and skuptural creations, mostly but not exclusively from English artists, that attempted to honour, understand, grieve, lament, mythologize or explain the great tragedy and the mystery that surrounds it.

One of the most enduring was the touching ballad "Lady Franklin's Lament" (which is also known as "Lord Franklin"). It is a traditional folk ballad that commemorates the expedition (allegedly) written by Jane, Lady Franklin herself in or around 1855, at a time when Lady Jane still (publicly) maintained that the expedition was still missing and not lost.

From the University of Glasgow Special Collections [Mu23-y.1 page 48]

I recently stumbled upon a recording of the song by Sinead O'Connor, one of the singers and singing voices that I adore the most. She delivers a soft and truly beautiful rendition this very touching ballad and, in this youtube video of the song, also explains the powerful emotions evoked by the song. O'Connor tells us how, to truly sing this song, "you have to become the song, and become the ghost, if you like" and that strong emotions of a song only come out when you "inhabit a song or let it inhabit you". In singing the last line for the first time, she apparently burst into tears as she connected with the feelings of Lady Franklin.

Which is one reason why the song reveals an important part of the Franklin expedition story. I do think that with all of the recognition and focus Lady Franklin's ambition, strong-will, independence, status-seeking, influence peddling and "petticoat" governing has received - the strong woman behind the weak man, writing or re-writing some of Sir John's letters and reports (especially when Lieutenant Governor of Van Dieman's Land), showing more ambition and drive for his career than he seems to have - very little attention has been paid to what I think was her very genuine love, affection and deep compassion for her husband. It is something I am personally exploring in her letters but I've only really just started in on this. However, it does seem to me that her real love for her husband drove her to push for positions, expeditions, searches and memorials for Sir John as much as, if not more than, raw ambition and status-seeking.

That comes out very distinctly in "Lady Franklin's Lament" and all the more powerfully with O'Connor's recording of it.

And that is the power of art. Especially looking back as historians, it is art and culture that captures the human experience far more powerfully than raw data points and lists of facts. Art does not merely "bring the story to life" like a re-enactment or dramatization, but it strikes a very real, human and emotional connection to the events, the time and the people caught up in those events. That connection can lead to understanding that simple study and knowledge of facts cannot accomplish.

This particular art, this song, like all good and great art also transcends the particular circumstances in which it was written. It speaks to timeless longing, searching, love and loss. It speaks to the searching for human connection. According to Wikipedia, the song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Pentangle, Pearlfishers, Connie Dover as well as the Duncan McFarlane Band, where the chorus of the Northwest Passage is added to the end. The version by Micheál Ó'Domhnaill and Kevin Burke is very well known in Ireland and appears on the album "Promenade." It can be heard on youtube. The melody was also used for Bob Dylan's song "Bob Dylan's Dream", as well as David Wilcox's "Jamie's Secret". The 1981 song, "Northwest Passage" by Stan Rogers (who also wrote "Barrett's Privateers" among many other great maritimer folk songs) also recalls Franklin's expedition. The first verse is also used in "I'm Already There" by Fairport Convention. O'Connor herself, in the youtube video above, notes that she had never heard of the song before it was introduced to her just before she sang it.

I recently came across another fairly recent recording of "Lady Franklin's Lament" by Sejd who uploaded his recording on youtube with a very engaging slide show of images of the Arctic, Franklin and his expedition. While the singing, in my humble view, is less emotionally evocative, the juxtaposition of the Arctic and Franklin images serves much of the same purpose: it forces you to pause for a moment, listen and watch and even think about what it must have been like.

Of course, as I noted above, there was much more written or sung or painted or skulpted than just this one song. And that artistic creation has itself spawned a growing library of commentary. Margaret Atwood wrote about the Franklin mythologizing in Canadian culture in "Concerning Franklin and his Gallant Crew", the first chapter of her book of lectures-cum-essays Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature. In 2006, Sarah Moss turned her Ph.D. dissertation into The Frozen Ship: The Histories and Tales of Polar Exploration in which, among other tales of the North and South Pole, she examines the mostly English uses and abuses and manufacturing of the Franklin story and why. In other areas as well, Professor Russell Potter has explored the visual representations of the north, including Franklin, in his 2007 Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1815-1885 (many of the images in the Sejd slide show appear in his book; on Potter's website Visions of the North, you can also read his insightful and informative analysis of the Landseer's "Man Proposes God Disposes" depiction of the fate of Franklin's expedition and what would have meant to Victorians at the time).

There is much more to do in this regard. It seems to me the field, particularly from a Canadian perspective and perspectives of Canada, is just opening up as our broader public attention turns to the poles and the environment.

So, while the search for the answer to the mysteries of the fate of the Franklin expedition continues with new search expeditions, forensic analysis, archival research, relic analysis, etc continues and expands, the search for the meaning of the Franklin expedition and its impact on history continues and expands as well. Understanding the art and culture of the time adds greatly to the richness of our understanding of the expedition and the human experience.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More media coverage of Rondeau's expedition

Rob Rondeau and the ProCom Diving Company's expedition this summer is suddenly getting a lot of attention. When expeditions like this get covered in Canada's so-called "national newspaper", the Globe and Mail, you know you are starting to hit the mainstream consciousness.

On the trail of the Arctic's most enduring mystery

An Alberta archeologist feels certain he can locate the lost ships of the Franklin expedition

Katherine O'Neill

EDMONTON — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2009 05:08AM EDT

A marine archeologist from landlocked Alberta has set his sights on finding two of the world's most coveted shipwrecks: the long-lost Royal Navy vessels from the doomed 19th-century Franklin expedition.

Rob Rondeau and his small team plan to travel to the central Arctic archipelago later this summer to launch a privately funded underwater search.

The race to find the fabled shipwrecks has been continuing for more than 160 years, but Mr. Rondeau is confident his group's research and use of state-of-the-art sonar will solve the vexing mystery.

Parks Canada was supposed to dispatch its own marine archeologists to the Arctic later this summer as part of a high-profile, three-year search for the ships that began last year. It scrubbed this year's effort because no government vessel was available.

While most modern-day Franklin hunters, including Parks Canada, have focused their attention on areas southwest of King William Island, Mr. Rondeau is confident the shipwrecks are in fact located north of the island, in the waters of Larsen Sound.

The missing ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, were part of an 1845 British expedition led by Sir John Franklin to map the Arctic and locate the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia.

The vessels and their crews never returned, and since the late 1840s, dozens of search efforts, both public and private, have been mounted to answer one of the Arctic's greatest riddles. Graves of some of the crew and wreckage from the expedition are all that have been recovered.

The search for the Franklin expedition over the decades has become a lifelong obsession for many people around the world, but Mr. Rondeau, who is head of Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, said he picked the project primarily to test newly developed sonar equipment in the Arctic.

A sidebar to the story highlighted some of the attempts to find Franklin or any relics. It notes that on Canada's Centenial in 1967, Canadian soldiers took part in "Project Franklin" to mark the occasion in which they conducted air, land and sea searches. I did not know about that historical Canadian government involvment in the search efforts. They seem to have gone a fair bit further then than the current government is prepared to do now, when searchers can't even get a ship.

The reference to the Canadian Centennial does serve as an occasion for me to raise a topic I expect to come back to many times as this website progresses. Franklin set sail in 1845. The bicentennial 170th anniversary of that date is coming up in a few years and some of the events that could be planned, like a new book or an expedition retracing his steps or a re-enactment of the departure, would take a lot of time and planning.

So not only is it my hope to collect here all information about any planned events, I hope to be involved and would like to know of any events or plans so that I may participate and help somehow. It is still a bit premature, here in 2009, but feel free to send me an email or a comment if you become aware of any Franklin Bicentennial 170th anniversary plans.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

ProCom Diving Company's "Finding Franklin: 2009 Expedition"

The Parks Canada expedition in search of Franklin's ships may be off, but privately-funded ProCom Diving Company's "Finding Franklin: 2009 Expedition" is still going ahead this summer.

The expedition will will depart from Resolute and travel south to around Larsen Sound - following the same route used by Franklin, and be led by Robert Rondeau, chief marine archeologist and President of ProCom. They will conduct a non-intrusive remote sensing survey underwater using side scan sonar aboard the Arctic research vessel, the Aurora Magnetica.

From the ProCom Diving website, their description of the Finding Franklin Expedition is set out below. There is even a Facebook Group set up for the expedition, so you can keep up-to-date on the status of the expedition and any discoveries.

The search for the Northwest Passage was one of the last frontiers of exploration in the Victorian Age. In 1845 the British Admiralty organized one more attempt to find it. Two ships, Erebus and Terror, under the command of Sir John Franklin would undertake an expedition. Their mission, to find a route through the Canadian Arctic linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Two months after leaving England both ships were seen entering Lancaster Sound at the northern end of Baffin Island. That was the last time any European ever saw them.

In 1859, the members of a search expedition, organized and paid for by Sir John’s widow, found what remains the best source of evidence as to the fate of the Franklin Expedition. On the northwest coast of King William Island they discovered a cairn made of stones. Inside was an empty food tin containing a note. It had been written by the captain of the Erebus, Capt. James Fitzjames, and his second-in-command, Lt. Graham Gore.

The note confirmed the physical evidence found by the search party: That in late April, 1848, the crew had abandoned their two ships and had headed south across King William Island on foot.

The “Victory Point Letter,” written on April 25th, 1848, by Captain Fitzjames accurately states the location of the cairn. It also lists the last known position of both ships - which had been abandoned three days before. Both the Erebus and Terror, the letter stated, were five leagues, approximately 28 kms, northwest of the cairn.

Finding what remains of the Erebus and Terror would be one of the greatest marine archaeological finds of all time - rivaling the discovery of Titanic or Bismark.

The 2009 Expedition

A team of archaeologists and documentary film makers will attempt to find evidence of both shipwrecks. They will conduct a non-intrusive remote sensing survey underwater using side scan sonar aboard the Arctic research vessel, the Aurora Magnetica. It is a prototype of a new generation of small research ship purpose-designed for the exploration of the Arctic’s remotest regions. At 61 feet long, it’s much smaller than conventional ice-strength vessels. And, with a draft of less than 5 feet, it has the ability to manoeuvre in shallow water - unlike bigger vessels.

The expedition will depart from Resolute and travel south - following the same route used by Franklin.

For more information about the expedition please contact the expedition’s leader, Rob Rondeau.
tel. (403) 575-5671 The Aurora Magnetica, a new generation of ice-strength research vessel.

UPDATE: Russell Potter in the comments provided this link to a map segment that he uploaded showing Larsen Sound, which I reproduce here:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Franklin Expedition search called off

This report is rather unfortunate: the Canadian government has called off a planned expedition to search for the two Franklin ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. It seems more bad luck in terms of coordination with Arctic plans for suitable ships from the Canadian Forces or the Coast Guard, rather than budgetary cut-backs.

I remember quite a bit of excitement last year when the Canadian government announced a $75,000 contribution to the Parks Canada expedition headed up by Robert Grenier, a senior underwater archeologist.

The expedition last summer resulted in some artifacts, most notably some sheets of iron that Mr. Grenier identified as coming from different Franklin expedition ships. You can see Peter Mansbridge interview Mr. Grenier here.

Franklin Expedition search called off

A government-sponsored search for Sir John Franklin's missing ships in the High Arctic has been scrubbed this summer, but private entrepreneurs hope to score an archeological coup by conducting their own search in late August.

Ottawa announced last August it was mounting an effort to find Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and Terror, which went missing more than 160 years ago.

Some graves of the crew members have been discovered over the years and relics have been uncovered.

But the search for the missing ships has become a potential prize — made even bigger when then Federal Environment Minister John Baird announced Ottawa was backing a search and that experts would be relying on Inuit knowledge to aid the search.

On Thursday, Parks Canada's senior marine archeologist, Ryan Harris, confirmed the official search for the Franklin ships has been called off for this summer.

Harris said Parks Canada had asked the navy for ship time but therewon't be a Canadian Forces ship in the vicinity and the search team was unable to get time aboard one of the Canadian Coast Guard's icebreakers.

"Unfortunately this particular season, Coast Guard had other scientific programs that they had to prioritize. But we intend to continue with the survey next year. The Coast Guard remains a very important partner for us in this three-year project."

Gjoa Haven historian Louis Kamookak, who is part of Parks Canada's Franklin team, says it was a three-year project and is disappointed that it is on hold this year.

"Briefly I talked with the guy from Parks [Canada] and what I'm hearing is that this summer the icebreaker has some other commitments."

Nine years ago, Kamookak approached the crew of the the RCMP ship St. Roch II. He invited the skipper, RCMP Sgt. Ken Burton, to see some remains from the Franklin Expedition on the shores of one of the Todd Islands.

Locating ships would be big news
Unlike other remains found over the years, the Todd Islands graves were located quite far south from where Franklin's two ships were believed to have been stuck in the ice.

Other sites showed signs of cannibalism, and that the 128 members of Franklin's crew died of disease and lead poisoning soon after they abandoned their ships.

The Inuit say they have known about this site since the 19th century, but Kamookak thinks others could well find Franklin's ships first.

For example, Rob Rondeau, a marine archeologist with Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, has teamed up with a British archeologist to conduct their own search for Erebus and Terror in late August.

"We're quite confident based on the research that we've done that we have a pretty good idea of where the remains of the two ships are," said Rondeau. "We'll actually be using some state-of-the-art sonar equipment."

Rondeau said Britain remains fascinated with the Franklin story and locating the ships would be big news in the United Kingdom and in Nunavut.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Muster

Fourteen of the officers of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, print from Richard Beard's famous daguerreotypes. A great discussion of the daguerreotypes can be read here and here.

HMS Erebus:


Sir John Franklin, Captain, Commanding the Expedition
James Fitzjames, Commander
Graham Gore, Lieutenant
H.T.D. Le Vesconte, Lieutenant
James Walter Fairholme, Lieutenant
Robert Orme Sergeant, Mate
Charles Frederick Des Voeux, Mate
Edward Couch, Mate
Henry Foster Collins, Second Master
James Reid, Ice Master
Stephen Samuel Stanley, Surgeon
Harry D.S. Goodsir, Assistant Surgeon
Charles Hamilton Osmer, Purser

Warrant Officers

John Gregory, Engineer
Thomas Terry, Boatswain
John Weekes, Carpenter

Petty Officers

John Murray, Sailmaker, age 43
William Smith, Blacksmith, age 28
Thomas Burt, Armorer, age 22
James W. Brown, Caulker, age 28
Francis Dunn, Caulker's Mate, age 25
Thomas Watson, Carpenter's Mate, age 40
Samuel Brown, Boatswain's Mate, age 27
Richard Wall, Ship's Cook, age 45
James Rigden, Captain's Coxwain, age 32
William Bell, Quartermaster, age 36
Daniel Arthur, Quartermaster, age 35
John Downing, Quartermaster
Robert Sinclair, Captain of the Foretop, age 25
John Sullivan, Captain of the Maintop, age 28
Phillip Reddington, Captain of the Forecastle, age 28
Joseph Andrews, Captain of the Hold, age 35
Edmund Hoar, Captain's Steward, age 23
John Bridgens, Subordinate Officers' Steward, age 26
Richard Aylmore, Gunroom Steward, age 24
William Fowler, Purser's Steward, age 26
John Cowie, Stoker
Thomas Plater, Stoker

Able Seamen

George Thompson, age 27
John Hartnell, age 25
John Stickland, age 24
Thomas Hartnell, age 23
William Orren, age 34
William Closson, age 25
Charles Coombs, age 28
John Morfin, age 25
Charles Best, age 23
Thomas McConvey, age 24
Henry Lloyd, age 26
Thomas Work, age 41
Robert Ferrier, age 29
Josephus Geater, age 32
Thomas Tadman, age 28
Abraham Seeley, age 34
Francis Pocock, age 24
Robert Johns, age 24
William Mark, age 24

Royal Marines

David Bryant, Sergeant, age 31
Alexander Pearson, Corporal, age 30
Robert Hopcraft, Private, age 38
William Pilkington, Private, age 28
William Braine, Private, age 31
Joseph Healey, Private, age 29
William Reed, Private, age 28


George Chambers, age 18
David Young, age 18

HMS Terror:


Francis Rawden Moira Crozier, Captain
Edward Little, Lieutenant
George Henry Hodgson, Lieutenant
John Irving, Lieutenant
Frederick John Hornby, Mate
Robert Thomas, Mate
Giles Alexander McBean, Second Master
Thomas Blanky, Ice Master
John Smart Peddie, Surgeon
Alexander McDonald, Assistant Surgeon
E.J. Helpman, Clerk in Charge

Warrant Officers

James Thompson, Engineer
John Lane, Boatswain
Thomas Honey, Carpenter

Petty Officers

Thomas Johnson, Boatswain's Mate, age 28
Alexander Wilson, Carpenter's Mate, age 27
Reuben Male, Captain of the Forecastle, age 27
David McDonald, Quartermaster, age 45
John Kenley, Quartermaster
William Rhodes, Quartermaster, age 31
Thomas Darlington, Caulker, age 29
Samuel Honey, Blacksmith, age 22
John Torrington, Leading Stoker, age 19
John Diggle, Cook, age 36
John Wilson, Captain's Coxwain, age 33
Thomas R. Farr, Captain of the Maintop, age 32
Harry Peglar, Captain of the Foretop, age 37
William Goddard, Captain of the Hold, age 39
Cornelius Hickey, Caulker's Mate, age 24
Thomas Jopson, Captain's Steward, age 27
Thomas Armitage , Gun-room Steward, age 40
William Gibson, Subordinate Officers' Steward, age 22
Edward Genge, Subordinate Officers' Steward, age 21
Luke Smith, Stoker, age 27
William Johnson, Stoker, age 45

Able Seamen

George J. Cann, age 23
William Strong, age 22
David Sims, age 24
John Bailey, age 21
William Jerry, age 29
Henry Sait, age 23
Alexander Berry, age 32
John Handford, age 28
John Bates, age 24
Samuel Crispe, age 24
Charles Johnson, age 28
William Shanks, age 29
David Leys, age 37
William Sinclair, age 30
Goerge Kinnaird, age 23
Edwin Lawrence, age 30
Magnus Manson, age 28
James Walker, age 29
William Wentzall, age 33

Royal Marines

Solomon Tozer, Sergeant, age 34
William Hedges, Corporal, age 30
William Heather, Private, age 37
Henry Wilkes, Private, age 28
John Hammond, Private, age 32
James Daly, Private, age 30


Robert Golding, age 19
Thomas Evans, age 18


Essential Franklin Reading

I will eventually post a comprehensive bibliography of Arctic and Franklin related readings, but for now, I set out below the books I've found so far that I consider essential Franklin texts. Consider it your basic first course in Franklin related literature.

  • Atwood, Margaret (1995) Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature -- A survey of the writing and literature about Franklin and how it has created a fundamental Canadian myth.

  • Battersby, William, "Identification of the Probable Source of the Lead Poisoning Observed in Members of the Franklin Expedition", Journal of the Hakluyt Society (September 2008) -- On the cutting edge of theorizing about what doomed the expedition from the outset and builds on the groundbreaking work by Beattie.

  • Beattie, Owen, and Geiger, John (first published: 1989, updated paper back edition: 2004) Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition -- Groundbreaking archeological work that re-opened research into the Franklin expedition. The 2004 paperback edition updates their research to subsequent theories.

  • Berton, Pierre (1988) The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 -- If you were to pick one book to start with, I strongly recommend The Arctic Grail, the classic book by the iconic Canadian writer historian Pierre Berton. It is an excellent survey of arctic exploration and the central role the Franklin Expedition and, more importantly, the search for Franklin had in mapping and exploring the Arctic.

  • Cookman, Scott (2000) Iceblink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition -- While there is much debate about what role tinned food and food poisoning played in dooming the expedition, the rich and descriptive detail of Cookman's writing and research almost puts you right into the hull of the Terror and Erebus.

  • Lambert, Andrew (2009) Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation -- The first comprehensive biography of Franklin really since Cyriax's Sir John Franklin's Last Expedition in 1939. I have yet to read this book, but based on Russell Potter's review, rest assured this one is on my list of must reads.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2002) Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot -- Rae uncovered the true story of Franklin and his career and reputation was doomed for being honest about it. McGoogan tries to re-place Rae into his rightful place in history.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2005) Lady Franklin's Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History -- The story about Sir John Franklin cannot be fully understood without knowing about his ambitious and opinionated wife, Lady Jane Franklin, and her efforts to mount and continue the search for her husband. More than that, McGoogan brings her and Sir John, and the events that led to his command of the fateful expedition, to life.

  • M'Clintock, Francis I. (1860) The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions -- This is the original story of the commander of the expedition that finally solved the mystery of what happened and where. And began the mystery of why and how.
  • Potter, Russel (2007) Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture -- Confession: I just got this book for Father's Day after quite some time of heavy hints and look forward to reading it. Potter illuminates the nineteenth-century fascination with visual representations of the Arctic and brings us closer to understanding why the Arctic has held such magnetic appeal through history.

  • Sandler, Martin (2006) Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship -- Another onfession: this one is on my to do list.

  • Smith, Michael (2006) Captain Francis Crozier - Last Man Standing? -- The first comprehensive biography of Captain Crozier, captain of the Terror and, after the death of Franklin, commanded of the expedition. I am excited about the upcoming book by William Battersby who, it seems, will do for Captain James Fitzjames what Smith does for Crozier.

  • Woodman, David C. (1992) Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony -- Woodman is one of the first to recognise the profound importance of the Inuit testimony and to analyse it in depth (John Rae or Charles Francis Hall should probably be recognized as the first, but Woodman is one of the first contemporary researchers). He concludes from his investigations, among other startling discoveries, that the Inuit probably did visit Franklin's ships while the crew was still on board and that there were some Inuit who actually saw the sinking of one of the ships. Consider also Woodman's Strangers Among Us (1995) in which Woodman re-examines the Inuit accounts taken by Charles Francis Hall in the light of modern scholarship and re-evaluates the importance of Inuit oral traditions in his search to reconstruct the events surrounding Franklin's expedition.

  • For anyone already emersed in Arctic and Franklin writing, this list is obviously hardly the start of it. I have not even made my way through all of these yet. But they are a good start. Feel free to let me know your favourite, or to provide your own review or suggestions for further reading, in the comments or by email. You may also want to browse this quite comprehensive list of Franklin links and this comprehensive regularly updated bibliography of Franklin fiction and poetry, thanks for both to Professor Potter.

    Scanning this list you might notice something quite remarkable: just how much of the literature covering this nearly 200 year old event is so very recent. With even more on the way.

    We are truly in the midst of a genuine renaissance of writing on the lost Franklin Expedition. I hope to help foster that interest with this website. And you have just become a part of it by visiting.