Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/A phase of the Arctic mystery

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Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II (1859-1860)
A phase of the Arctic mystery


The details of the expedition sent out by Lady Franklin in the steam yacht Fox, shortly will be, if they are not already, before the public.

Sir John Franklin, as we learn, died as early as June 11th, 1847. His ships the Erebus and Terror were beset on September 12th, 1846, in lat. 70° 05′ N., and long. 88° 23′ W. On 22nd April, 1848, the ships were abandoned five leagues N.N.W. of Point Victory, King William’s Island, where 105 survivors under Captain Crozier landed, and on April 25th deposited in a cairn the records brought home by Captain McClintock.

That gallant officer, with Lieutenant Hobson, made a minute search of the whole coast of King William’s Island, and on its south shore found death-traces of members of the expedition, at a point exactly opposite that portion of the main land of North America, whence the relics sent home in 1854, and now in Greenwich Hospital, had been procured, viz., Point Ogle, a cape at the mouth of the Great Fish River, and Montreal Island in its estuary.

It is impossible to rise from the perusal of Captain McClintock’s journal, without the absolute conviction that the late Sir John Franklin’s companions died the victims, less of those perils of their profession which they were naturally prepared to encounter, than of official apathy, or at least of mistaken judgment.

The following facts, arranged in order of date, are relied on to prove that this representation is correct.

It is to be borne in mind, that King William’s Island lies off the west land of North Somerset, and that the silent but terribly convincing testimony of the bleached skeletons on the way, proves that from the moment of landing on Point Victory, the survivors were struggling in a death-flight for the Great Fish River.

12th Dec., 1844. “My Lords” Commissioners of the Admiralty resolve upon another expedition by sea in search of the North West Passage, and appoint Sir John Franklin to the command.

20th Feb., 1845. A distinguished Arctic traveller and eminent physician, Dr. King, of Savile Row, who, so far back as 1835, had acquired renown as medical officer and second in command of an overland journey in search of Sir John Ross,—hearing of the proposed expedition by sea, and regarding it, to use his own phrase, as a “forlorn hope,”—addresses to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Stanley, now the Earl of Derby, a proposal for a land journey by the Great Fish River, to aid the Franklin expedition in its geographical survey.

5th May, 1845. “My Lords” issue their instructions to Sir John Franklin, who sails with the Erebus and Terror.

26th July, 1845. The ships are seen in Baffin Bay, for the last time.

10th June, 1847. Dr. King writes to Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, “My Lord, one hundred and thirty-eight men are at this moment in imminent danger of perishing by famine;” he regrets that Lord Stanley does not entertain the proposition for a land journey by the Great Fish River, renews his proposal, shows how it can be carried out, assigns the western land of North Somerset as the position of the lost expedition, points out that if Sir John Franklin is to be relieved, it must be in the summer of 1848, and implores permission to render him “the only succour which has the probability of success.”

25th Nov., 1847. Dr. King again addresses Earl Grey, Lord Stanley’s successor in the administration of the Colonial Department: “The last ray of hope has passed that Sir John Franklin by his own exertions can save himself and his one hundred and thirty-seven followers from the death of starvation. I trust, therefore, your Lordship will excuse my calling your attention to my letter of 10th June last, which is acknowledged, but which remains unanswered.” Dr. King argues most ably the geographical question, and once more begs to be allowed a place in “the great effort which must be made for the rescue of the one hundred and thirty-eight men who compose the lost expedition.”

8th Dec., 1847. Dr. King, for the third time, addresses Earl Grey on the subject of a new expedition, proposed by the Admiralty, to search the coast of North America for Franklin, from the Mackenzie to the Coppermine rivers, with Wollaston land, opposite that coast, in 1848, and Victoria land in the summer of 1849. He also offers to go at once by the Great Fish River to Victoria land, as well as to the Western land of North Somerset.

16th Dec., 1847. Dr. King acknowledges the receipt of a reply from Lord Grey, desiring him to address any application he may desire to make, to “My Lords” of the Admiralty. Dr. King regrets that Earl Grey should have delayed his answer from June to December, because, if anything is to be done, it must be in progress by February. He explains that he is not “soliciting employment,” but “endeavouring to induce Earl Grey to take the necessary measures for saving the lives of one hundred and thirty-eight fellow-creatures;” adding that he does not ask Earl Grey to make good the loss he would sustain by giving up his private practice and five appointments of honour and emolument—a loss which cannot be measured by a money standard, but that he “comes forward again only for the sake of humanity.”

16th Feb., 1848. Dr. King writes to “My Lords” repeating fully his arguments as to the western land of North Somerset, and undertaking to do in one summer what has not before been done under two; he also explains how he can do it, and again volunteers to go by the Great Fish River.

3rd March, 1848. Dr. King complains to Mr. H. G. Ward, Secretary to “My Lords,” that he has received no reply to his letter of February 16th; states that March 15th is the latest period at which he should feel justified in starting on this expedition, and requests early information of their Lordships’ decision, as he will have to make arrangements to vacate his professional appointments.

3rd March, 1848. Mr. H. G. Ward is commanded by “My Lords” to acquaint Dr. King, that “they have no intention of altering their present arrangements, or of making any others that will require his assistance, or force him to make the sacrifices he appears to contemplate.”

18th Feb., 1850. Dr. King again urges on “My Lords” the overland expedition by the Great Fish River, and is strengthened in his convictions by the unsuccessful results of the various attempts to relieve Franklin by sea.

28th Feb., 1850. “My Lords” must decline the offer of Dr. King’s services.

19th July, 1854. Dr. Rae, a Chief Factor in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, engaged in completing a survey of the west coast of Boothia, writing from Repulse Bay, reports to “My Lords” that on the 17th April he has met with Esquimaux in Pelly Bay, from whom he gathered, “that in the spring, four winters past (spring, 1850), a party of forty white men were seen travelling southward over the ice. * * * At a later date in the same season, the bodies of thirty were discovered on the continent, and five on an island near it, about a long day’s journey N.W. of the Oot-ko-hi-ca-lik.” The land is, as Dr. Rae states, Point Ogle, and the island Montreal Island, in the Great Fish River.

20th June, 1855. Mr. James Anderson, a Chief Factor in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, started for the Great Fish River, and returned on 17th September. He found on Montreal Island absolute proofs of the truth of the Esquimaux story, as related to Dr. Rae.

So lately as 1850, some of Sir John Franklin’s party were absolutely alive upon the Great Fish River.

We cannot venture to do more than offer the above facts to our readers. We dare not trust ourselves to comment on them. Englishmen must decide between Dr. King and the successive Secretaries of State and Admiralty Boards, who disregarded a proposal, by which it is now clear that this remnant might have been saved.

“My Lords” were too official to entertain the right proposal; can they now be touched by the story of an Esquimaux woman who records the fate of the last Arctic victim to the “Foul Anchor”? Let them listen:

“One of the lost crew died upon Montreal Island.”

“The rest perished on the coast of the mainland.”

“The wolves were very thick.”

“Only one man was living when their tribe arrived.”

“Him it was too late to save.”

“He was large and strong, and sat on the sandy beach, his head resting on his hand; and thus he died.”