p. 11: McClintock found one of these [Franklin whale]boats abandoned on the western shore of the island; in it were two skeletons along with an astonishing array of materials—silver forms and spoons, tea, chocolate, lead sheeting, carpet slippers, dozens of books (including bibles, prayer books, and a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield), and much other such bric-a-brac, which McClintock regarded as “a mere accumulation of dead weight” that would have made hauling the oak-and-iron sledge even more exhausting.
p. 26-27—One of Franklin’s [Henry Thomas Dundas Le Vescomte] men was photographed (daguerreotype) before leaving in 1845, with “a copy of Frederick Marryat’s A Code of Signals, for Use of Vessels Employed in the Merchant Service in his hand.” In his coffin which was later discovered in England was a map of “Discoveries in the Arctic Seas.” The skeleton was “wrapped in a large Admiralty map of New Guinea….” It was later proved that it was not Le Vescomte.
p. 61-62: On long Arctic voyages, with their many months of “wintering-over” in ice-bound harbours, ennui and “cabin fever” could be as much hazards as scurvy or other illnesses. Ever since Parry’s wintering over in 1819-20 at Melville Island, materials had been brought for shipboard entertainments and distractions: scripts, costumes, and props for amateur theatricals, slates and chalk for shipboard schools, and books—by some accounts, well over a thousand of them. Of these last, we at least have some anecdotal evidence. Officers, of course, could bring their own volumes, and as a form of charity, each crew member was supplied with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer; the ships, too, quite likely each contained a complete “Seaman’s Library” of devotional and didactic booklets. How, after all, would one keep track of the days without Turnbull’s Arithmetic Made Easy, or expect civil discourse without Josiah Woodward’s A Kind Caution to Profane Swearers? And we know that, at least aboard the Erebus, this floating library was carefully enumerated; as James Fitzjames wrote in a letter dated 18 June 1845: “…to-day we set to work, and got a catalogue made of all our books, and find we have amongst us, a most splendid collection.”
What books, then, were these? Like the proverbial books-on-a- desert-island question, the choice of volumes for such a long and rigorous undertaking was not made lightly. Press accounts of the day indicated that the ships, as one might expect, had copies of all previously printed narratives of Arctic discovery, for reference more than for idle reading. Leisure, however, was not to be neglected; among the books we were brought were copies of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, and several early volumes of Punch (which had just been founded in 1841). Fairholme, an officer of religious disposition, brought Whewell’s Indications of the Creator, along with Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation; Gore had along a copy of Christian Melodies inscribed to him by a friend. Lady Franklin’s niece Sophia donated copies of Samuel Green’s Life of Mohammed and Bernardin Saint-Pierre’s Paul and Virginia. Along with these we know of several bibles, at least one in French, as well as scattered leaves of other volumes and even a tattered clipping from Lloyd’s Newspaper, which was found to contain the Weekly Summary of Maritime Casualties for 6 April 1845. On a more immediately practical level, each of the ;ships’ engineers was provided with a copy of Charles Hutton Gregory’s Practical Rules for the Management of a Locomotive Engine.
p. 63, after describing the impractical weight Franklin’s men dragged towards their deaths, Potter concludes: Of all these items, perhaps books were actually the most practical—religious books in particular seemed to be most precious, offering as they did some consolation in the worst of circumstances. Yet it’s worth noting that none of the admonitions, abjurations, and advice in these books helped stave off disaster, proving of no more value in this regard than the copy of Bickersteth’s Scripture Help that fell from Robert Hood’s hands when he was shot by Michel Terrehaute on Franklin’s second expedition twenty years previous. One of the most poignant of these printed materials was a single, stray page from a book known as the Student’s Manual; by fortunate or by fate it had been folded so as to highlight one passage:
My first convictions on the subject of religion were confirmed from observing that religious persons had some solid happiness among them, which I had felt that the vanities of the world could not give. I shall never forget standing by the bed of my sick mother:
“Are you not afraid to die?”
“No! Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern?”
“Because God has said to me—Fear not: when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
p. 64, Chapter 5, on Maps: Along with the best training and equipment available, the Franklin expedition took the latest maps, specially printed for the lords of the Admiralty by the firm of John Arrowsmith. “Arrowsmith’s Charts” were the maps of the British Empire upon which the sun never set (especially in summer and north of 60 degrees latitude). Unfortunately, the latest surveys of the area Franklin would be exploring contained a number of significant errors which would help seal his fate; although the surveyors and naval explorers who had contributed to them over the years were all capable with sextants and chronometers, these seemingly objective charts in fact contained a number of conjectures and suppositions that Franklin’s expedition was to prove—too late—to be wrong.
p. 89, on Franklin’s relation to Inuit, and their ability to deal with harsh conditions and Franklin’s inability to recognize their advantages: Then there was a second, closely related argument: because Franklin’s men made no attempt to communicate with the Inuit, or seek their help, their own pride and cultural myopia made a bad situation worse. It’s not entirely accurate—the expedition was in fact supplied with Inuit phrase books (albeit of a far more easterly dialect), and its sailing orders implored them to contact the “Esquimaux” whenever possible—but certainly the overall attitude toward the Inuit was not one of admiration but of condescension.