Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Franklin discovery is not about what, but where


What’s most exciting about this discovery, however, is the where of it.
The ship has been found not in the primary search area, but off a small island to the southwest of King William Island. It appears to be Hat Island, one of the Royal Geographical Society Islands.
The discovery at this location vindicates Inuit testimony. Not only that: In conjunction with that testimony, it suggests an explanation for a major anomaly, one that has troubled historians for more than century, in the so-called “standard version” of what happened to the Franklin expedition.
That anomaly is the north-facing lifeboat, with two bodies in it, that Leopold McClintock discovered in 1859 on the west coast of King William Island. According to the one-page record he found farther north, near Victory Point, Franklin’s men had abandoned their ship to travel south seeking help. Why, then, was the lifeboat facing north?
The location of this latest discovery suggests a possibility that has merely been floated in the past. Franklin’s two ships may have gotten separated. And some men may have been aboard this newly discovered vessel as it travelled south, or reboarded after it had done so, carried probably by the ice. Further research should reveal whether the lifeboat comes from the ship discovered here.
In her 2008 book Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers, Dorothy Eber writes of interviewing contemporary Inuit who relayed traditional stories of a ship that sank off Hat Island. As a child, her book tells us, Mabel Angulalik “heard that her own relatives had come upon what they thought were pieces of a ship’s wreckage buried in sand … to the east of Hat Island.” She believes that Inuit shamans might have sunk the ship.
Whatever forces sank the ship, the discovery at this location, taken together with the north-facing lifeboat, suggests that some men from this ship set out to return to the other one – the ship at the so-called “point of abandonment” to the north. This would also explain why only several dozen men were seen trekking south by Inuit. At least some of the others would have been on this ship.
This finding also offers further irrefutable proof, if any were needed, that Franklin discovered a navigable Northwest Passage as far south as King William Island. Recently, several historians have argued that because a stretch of coastline remained unmapped into the 1850s, that section had yet to be discovered. Clearly, Franklin sailed right along that unmapped coast, and left evidence that he had done so. The argument is specious.
. . . As a symbol of Canada’s supremacy in the Northwest Passage, the finding is invaluable. It shows that we have have sufficient control over these waters that we can uncover the Arctic’s greatest secrets. Oh – and that we can revolutionize exploration history while we are at it. . . .

Still with me? Then you might be interested in checking out what I wrote for Canada's History magazine. Again, you can find the whole piece by clicking here. But first a snippet to whet your appetite . . .
The discovery prompted international headlines and has sent many experts reeling. There are three main reasons why the news has had such a big impact. First, this discovery vindicates Inuit oral history. Second, it advances Canada’s claim, challenged by many countries, including the United States, to control of the Northwest Passage. Third, and most surprisingly, it suggests an amendment to, if not a whole new interpretation of, the fate of the Franklin expedition. . . .

No comments: