The North-West Passage, and the Plans for the Search for Sir John Franklin. A Review.

A brief review of the McClintock findings on King William Island, further plans for the Search, and a spirited appeal to the genius of England to rise to the challenge of the Franklin Search.

p. 12, on Hobson’s early discovery of Franklin’s boat: … they came to a large boat discovered by Lieutenant Hobson a few days previously. This boat had been intended for the ascent of the Fish River, but was abandoned apparently upon a return journey to the ships, the sledge on which she was mounted pointed in that direction. A large quantity of clothing was found in her, also two human skeletons; one of these lay in the after part of the boat under a pile of clothing; the other, which was much more disturbed, probably by animals, was found in the bow; five watches, a quantity of silver spoons and forks, and a few religious books, were found, but no journals, pocket-books, or even names upon any articles of clothing.

p. 22, on the unrealistic search of Franklin and Richardson for the Northwest Passage from Hudson’s Bay: We shall now give the opinion of the much lamented Sir John Franklin, also addressed to the hydrographer. Commencing, he says, “the arguments in Dr. Richardson’s letter, . . the plans which he suggests . . are full of research and interest, and deserve all the consideration and encouragement which I truly rejoice to perceive they are likely to meet with from the Society. … The Doctor alludes in his letter, to some propositions which he knew I made in the year 1828, at the command of his present Majesty, then Lord High Admiral, on the same subject; and particularly to the suggestion as to proceeding from Repulse or Wager Bay. … A recent careful reading of all the narratives, connected with the surveys of the Wager and Repulse Bays, and of Sir Edward Parry’s voyage, together with the information obtained from the Esquimaux by Sir E. Parry, Sir Jas. Ross, and Capt. Back, confirm me in the opinion that a successful delineation of the coast east of Point Turnagain to the Strait of the ‘Fury and Hecla,’ would be best attained by an expedition proceeding from Wager Bay; the northern parts of which cannot, I think, be farther distant than forty miles from the sea. . . . The plan, therefore, that I recommend, is to send two vessels to Wager Bay. . .

p. 81: The Doctor [King] surely cannot have read the Instructions, or he would have found at Sections 5 and 6 not only directions where to go from Cape Walker to the south-west, but also cautions where not to go, so as to prevent “loss of time.” The quotation from Barrow’s “Arctic Voyages,” p. 11, is correct, but Dr. King’s reading of the passage is not so; by “as far as to the last land on its southern shore,” Sir John Barrow meant “Cape Walker, the last land on the south of Barrow’s Strait.” The arguments, therefore, on his reading of the passage fall to the ground. We cannot understand this eternal reference (not only of Dr. King’s, but others) to the west coast of North Somerset. In the then state of our knowledge it was not known how far west it extended (see the Admiralty Charts), it may have had Cape Walker for its western limit, or even Banks’ Land. To assume, then, that the boats of the expedition (prematurely pronounced wrecked), should endeavour to make for a land unknown, through a sea unknown, seems to us to border closely on the wild visions of unbridled thought, from which reasonable conjecture shrinks.

p. 223, again on improbable guesses: Lieut. V. H. Hooper, November l5th, 1851, sent to the Admiralty a plan of search, of which the following is the essence. Alluding to the traces at Beechey Island distinctly proving the wintering-place of the Erebus and Terror in 1845, he says:— “Beyond that period doubt and conjecture assume the place of certainty,” consequently opinions are divided into two parties, which may be designated “the despairing” and “the sanguine. . . Those who belong to the first. . . allege that Sir John Franklin must have been suddenly forced from his winter quarters (in the spring of 1846), on the breaking up of the ice, . . which poured down Wellington Channel; and carried down through Barrow’s and Davis’s Straits, when both ships must have been crushed, . . and all hands perished. . . He could not,” say they, “have gone through the channel to the south-west, since . . it was blocked up with old ice, nor . . up Wellington Channel, . . without leaving at his winter quarters a notification of his . . intended departure and proceedings. . . The sanguine party, those who consider, that while there is uncertainty there should be hope, advance views equally rational and supported by apparent probability. The absence of in formation respecting his intended future is as great a plea FOR as AGAINST his having proceeded northward, since, while on the one hand a sudden disruption of the ice may have carried him without warning from his position, the same occurrence may, on the other, have opened up a clear channel; to neglect which chance, all couversant with the sudden and inconstant motions of ice would, I believe, pronounce to be imprudent, since so fortunate a circumstance might not speedily recur. . . .

p. 321, responding to an attack on polar exploration: And all this nearly at the instigation of one silly dreamer like Sir John Barrow: It was now (December) asserted—and contradicted—but still believed, that the Admiralty intended, if intelligence was not received by the 31st of March, 1854, that Sir John Franklin and his officers and crews were alive, they would be considered as having died in Her Majesty’s service. At first we could not believe this report, but it was too true. Again the Press:—“The Polar Seas have been rantacked in every direction,” (?) says one newspaper. “The sum of money thus spent (in Polar discovery) in the last thirty-five years could not fall much short of ten millions sterling!” ( 1 ?) “And all this nearly at the instigation of one silly dreamer like Sir John Barrow,” (?) observes another. “No more expeditions in quest of these; let us give them up, and gloze of immortality in another world, for there is no hope for them in this.” Thus howled a portion of the Press: but it is free, and, to its honour, the majority indignantly spurned the inhuman thought that would leave the good and gallant Franklin and Crozier, with their devoted officers and crews, to protracted suffering, and perchance a terrible death, without some convincing proof that all are no more. Well was it asked by a correspondent, “Into what new depths of baseness is this growing spirit of selfish and cowardly despair about to hurry us ? . . There is still light enough to work by, and to hope—but the night cometh.” The sound-thinking Sir John Barrow a “silly dreamer”! One whose heart was wrapped in the advance of science for his country’s fame. But enough! he sleeps in peace—a peace which no slander of incoherent madman, or pnerile babblement of idiotcy, can disturb.

[Barrow died in 1848. [In sum. Brown exhibits all the arrogance of predictive dogmatism, and in most cases time proved him wrong. But it is nonetheless interesting to watch Brown speculate over 120 pages on what courses of action Franklin might have followed, many based on the reading or misreading of relevant texts.]

p. 405, in a diatribe against the natives seen as neglecting the dying Franklin men: As to their books and papers, are these poor fellows to be supposed to be so thoughtless as to leave their books and papers open and exposed to the rain and the blast? We think not; they were put en cache. …Reflecting on all the circumstances, we are led to the belief that these poor fellows [Franklin’s men] were surprised by treachery while as yet their work was unfinished—perhaps when separated, and were compelled to succumb. [The next paragraph is an encomium to John Rae who later would fall under the censure of the Admiralty, Lady Franklin, and Charles Dickens.]

p. 425: January 21st, 1856, Dr. Richard King again addressed the Admiralty, offering, for the fifth time, to lead a party down the Great Fish River, to examine the cache he constructed on Montreal Island, under the name of “King Cache,” when he was there with Sir George Back in 1834. Dr. King says the existence of his cache was known to Franklin, and it is his “firm belief that he, or the leading survivor of the Expedition, crossed over from Point Ogle for the purpose of searching this cache, and of depositing there a record of his visit. . . The fact that no papers were found in the hands of the Esquimaux is in itself strong presumption that the records of the Expedition had been deposited in a place of safety.” He adds, “In all human pro bability a history of the Franklin Expedition still lies buried in my cache beneath the rocky shores of Montreal Island, and that it is within the bounds of probability that this record may be recovered.” It seems scarcely probable that thirty-five or forty men should linger and die of starvation without placing their books and papers en cache, unless, taken by surprise and cut off, they had not time to do it, or having deposited them, it had been discovered and pillaged by the natives.