Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Characters

My introduction to the Franklin Mystery was through Dan Simmons' book: The Terror. Some scoff at the book's supernatural element, but I love it. It captures the whole feeling of the Franklin Expedition. Men- 129 of them- lost in the Arctic wastes never to be seen again, cryptic messages, eerie tableaus of bones and boats and relics, strewn across a barren landscape. The supernatural element is somehow fitting. The problem with having first read about the expedition in fiction, is that I tend to hold fast to the personalities, situations, and theories put forth in the novel. For me, Hickey will always be evil, Hodgson irresolute, Goodsir brave and resourceful, Crozier cranky but knowledgable, and Des Voeux a survivor to the end. While some of these descriptions have their root in character descriptions and recovered relics, none can be proven, and in the case of Des Voeux, in all likelyhood he was dead before the ships were abandoned.

Moving on to The Man Who Ate His Boots, by Anthony Brandt...
There is a native account in this book that I'd never seen before reading his book, but gives me a chill every time I think on it. A native woman at the mouth of the Great Fish River told a story of a large, seemingly fit man (supposedly from the Franklin Expedition) who stumbled out of the wilderness and into her camp, sat down and wept for his lost companions, then expired on the spot. Exaggerated or not, I'm in the camp that subscribes to the idea that there is some truth behind most native accounts...besides, I like the story. Who was the last survivor stumbling onwards, and who gave up the ghost while weeping in sorrow? He was a large man, and Fairholme is described as very large. However, so was the body found on the ship by Inuit after the abandonment. Fairholme is also thought to be one of the officers who died before the ship's abandonment. Was it an officer, or is it more likely that it was a tough, tested, resolute able seaman?

Who went back to the ships? Simmons subscribes to Cyriax's version of events and posits that none make it back (although you are left wondering about Sinclair and Male, who head off on their own). I personally believe that they were remanned, and I also believe that a small group of men did wander the Arctic for quite some time. I wish there was some way to find out the stories of each and every single man on the doomed expedition. However, even without the Inuit having unknowningly destroyed what records were left, we would probably have never had the absolutely complete picture of the unfolding disaster.

Read the Terror, it's worth it! Even though it's fanciful, so is everything else having to do with Franklin's Last Expedition.


  1. I am currently just past the middle of Simmons' book The Terror. I generally don't read fiction but this book is an exception. So far I am impressed with the number of facts he has included. He's managed to make a large number of the known data points part of his story. The Peglar Papers, Gore's 1847 sledging party, etc...

    The evidence and testimony available to us now constitute a horror story by themselves.

    My primary areas of interest are the post 1846 events. Specifically what happened to the last survivors. Where did they go, who were they and during what year did they finally perish? At this point I believe we can only piece together a speculative timeline. The events causing the large number of deaths prior to April 1848 are only theorized. Plus what we do know may be taken out of context.

    Based on Inuit testimony, it does appear that one ship was remanned and piloted South. Woodman seems to believe that it would be unlikely for the ship to reach its (presumed) resting spot without a crew to bring it there. More importantly, testimony about the ship was obtained from an Inuit who had actually been onboard and not, as is often the case, from a friend or relative. If the ship arrived off of Adelaide Peninsula the year after the Washington Bay encounter (as claimed) then some survivors were still alive at least in 1849.

    In case you didn't know, Woodman also wrote a second book called "Strangers Among Us." This is addresses his theories involving the very last survivors.

  2. Oh I absolutely read that one as well. I think I've exhausted all the Franklin reading material that is available to the general public here in America. If I could get over to England, I think I might live at the NMM!
    In another vein, my only problem with The Terror was that apparently Simmons doesn't subscribe to the theory of the re-manning of ships- which I think most Franklin followers have to admit, is more than probable

  3. Hi Laura Ann - I'll have to get that book after reading Chris's and your comments. Thought it was more fictional.

    Heads up btw - There is some interesting new stuff coming out right at this time on the supposed true identity of the skeleton and related artifacts brought back to England from KWI located now at the Franklin Memorial there; New forensic report indicating that it is Goodsir instead of Le Vesconte (bones discovered by Hall). See Russell Potter's site to get the link. I can email the entire report to you (bushpilotdhc@hotmail.com). It's very interesting.