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Good Words 1860
The Fate of Franklin
"A Narrative of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and his Companions." By Capt. M'Clintock, R.N., LL.D.
Edited by Norman Macleod. D.D.



We are able to present this illustration (which forms the frontispiece to Captain M'Cltntock's "Narrative") to our readers by the kind permission of the publisher, Mr John Murray, who has also allowed us to transfer to our pages another interesting facsimile, which will appear in the following Number.—Ed.G.W.

They err, and err grievously, who allege that in the past field of Arctic research, all is but unprofitable scattering of precious seed, or who measure only by the value to the merchant of the at last discovered passage, or to the man of science of the magnetic or isothermal observations recorded by the successive voyagers, the gain which has accrued, whether to the nation who organised them, or to humanity itself, from a series of expeditions unparalleled in the annals of maritime discovery. Is it nothing to have lighted amid those dreary wastes a beacon-fire for all ages to come, around which are echoed from a hundred voices, tales of heroism and adventure as stirring as those of Greece or Rome? Is it nothing to have shewn how courage may go hand in hand with Christian faith and trust in God, and win from these its strength and power?—how the bravest of our heroes have also been the best— the simplest-minded, the most reliant on His hand, whose wonders in the mighty deep they, most of all men, had learnt to know and understand? If the time shall ever come, as who can tell how soon it may, when perils from foes more deadly still than the iceberg or the snow-drift, shall menace our own shores, the lessons learnt by them in their hard-fought fields, and taught through their example to thousands of kindred hearts at home, shall not be found to have been barren and unfruitful; the flag under which they earned their hard-won laurels shall not wave less triumphant, because in times of peace, it was not furled in an inglorious rest, but floated over those who sought in a voluntary conflict with powers such as, to the heated imaginings of the Portuguese explorers, took visible form as they rounded the Cape of Storms, that physical and moral training supplied in former times by a warfare against men of like fashion with themselves. For this, were it for nothing else, these annals should have a precious value in our eyes, while to the believer in the faith which upheld them in their severest trials, they have bequeathed associations not soon forgotten; as with full heart he turns over the record of their wanderings: musing, it may be, on the "Scripture Help" of Hood, preserved through all his weary journey to drop from his hand in death, as the Indian's bullet struck him down within a few hours of deliverance;["Franklin's First Voyage to the Polar Sea." P. 455.] the Bible, marked and underlined in almost every page, in that lonely boat with its ghastly occupants, on the shores of Victoria Strait; ["M'Clintock's Narrative." Page 295.] the murmured prayer of Kane as the band he had perilled his life to save stood round the snow hut that had all but been their tomb; ["Kane's Arctic Regions. 2d Voyage." Vol. i. p. 193.] the daily worship in the little brig, when the cry of "Lord, prosper our undertaking," was changed to, "Lord, restore us to our homes." ["Kane's Arctic Regions. 2d Voyage." Vol. ii. p. 93.]

Even, however, were the charge to which we have referred, held true of Arctic discovery in itself, there is, at least, one series of the voyages in question to which it can in no case be applied; we mean that long succession of attempts to reach and rescue Sir John Franklin and his associates, which the voyage of Captain M'Clintock has closed within the last few mouths. Whether or not it were right for Government to despatch the expedition of 1845, it was undoubtedly right, when that expedition was felt to be in peril of destruction, that every effort should be made to rescue the brave men of whom it was composed. And nobly was the duty fulfilled. From 1848, when fears first began to be entertained for the safety of Franklin's crews, seventeen different attempts have, up to the present time, been made to save them, and when rescue seemed all but hopeless, to ascertain at least their fate. The melancholy knowledge has at last been gained, and the volume before us records the voyage in which it was acquired. We propose briefly to repeat the story, than which we know none more touching in the history of modern adventure.

On the 26th of May 1845, Sir John Franklin sailed from England in command of her Majesty's ships, the Erebus and Terror, already well tried in the expedition to the Atlantic Ocean, under Sir James Ross. He was accompanied by Captain Crozier, whose experience in the Arctic Seas had been gained under Parry and Ross, and by a picked body of officers and men numbering in all one hundred and thirty-four persons. His orders were to endeavour to force his way through Lancaster Sound and Barrow's Strait to the longitude of Cape Walker, and thence to seek a passage to Behring Strait in a southerly direction: or, in the event of the ice not permitting him to adopt this route, to explore the great opening to the north, called Wellington Channel, and endeavour to pierce westward in a higher latitude. The naval service had none better fitted for so responsible and arduous a post. The courage and the nerve of Franklin had been tried in the actions of Copenhagen and Trafalgar; his integrity and fitness for command, in his administration under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty of the governorship of Tasmania, where he had displayed besides that power of gaining the affections of all with whom he came in contact, which had earned for his vessel in former days from the sailors the title of Franklin's Paradise, and which bore good fruit years afterwards, in the liberal contribution of the colonists to the expenses of the search; while already he had, on three different occasions, conducted—once as second in command, once in conjunction with Sir John Richardson, and once as leader—expeditions to the Arctic Sea, and to the northern shores of America, and acquired a reputation for daring and endurance, tempered with a sagacity and consideration for the lives of those under his charge, which, added to his other qualifications, made his name even then, a household word in the service. No one who has read the thrilling history of his retreat on the second of these expeditions, ["Franklin's First Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea." Murray, 1823.] across the wastes which extend to the east of the Coppermine River, can doubt that, in this new field, every effort of which humanity is capable, would be made to win the goal; and when that was no longer possible, to save the remnants of his crew. And above all, he was a sincere and earnest Christian. "He had a cheerful buoyancy of mind, which, sustained by religious principle of a depth known only to his most intimate friends, was not depressed in the most gloomy times." So writes Richardson, who knew him well, and who, "during upwards of twenty-five years, had his entire confidence, and in times of great difficulty and distress, when all conventional disguise was out of the question, beheld his calmness and unaffected piety."

With such a leader, the prospect of success seemed doubly bright, and officers and men were alike sanguine of a speedy and triumphant issue. The letters received from them from the coast of Greenland spoke in the warmest language of their admiration of their commander, and their happiness in serving under him. And he himself—his last utterance as he sailed away into the night which, for him and them, was never more to know a dawn—was one of strong reliance on the hand of Him whom he had served through life, and by whom, we may well feel assured, though no word has come forth from his icy grave to tell us, he was not forsaken in his time of need.

"Again," he writes to Parry in, we believe, the last letter received from the expedition, and just a fortnight before it was seen for the last time—"Again, my dear Parry, I will recommend my dearest wife and daughter to your kind regards; I know that they will heartily join with many dear friends in fervent prayer, that the almighty Power may guide and protect us, and that the blessing of His Holy Spirit may rest upon us. Our prayers, I trust, will be offered up with equal fervour for these inestimable blessings to be vouchsafed to them, and to all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth. I humbly pray that God's best blessing may attend yourself, Lady Parry, and your family."

The vessels were seen by a whaler in Baffin's Bay on the 2Cth of June 1845, waiting for an opening in the ice to permit them to enter Lancaster Sound. They were never seen again.

In 1847, public anxiety began to be shewn for the safety of the explorers, and in the following year two expeditions were despatched in search; the one, consisting of two vessels, to Behring Strait; the other, under the command of Sir John Richardson, overland, to the north-eastern shores of America, which in that and the following year were traced from the extreme west to the estuary of the Coppermine. In 1849, Sir James Ross, also with two vessels, examined the shores of Barrow's Strait, and in a sledge excursion, traced the western coast of North Somerset to the latitude of 72.38 deg., or within a short distance of the spot where, as we shall see, Captain M'Clintock wintered on his last voyage, and in the direct track, as it has since proved, of the missing ships. But next year, on leaving his winter quarters, he was surrounded by the drift-ice, and carried helplessly eastward through the whole length of Lancaster Sound, into Davis' Strait, where he was only released at a period of the year too late to allow of the resumption of the search.

Meanwhile, however, the work was being vigorously pursued by other hands; and in 1850 no less than five distinct expeditions started from England, and two vessels, fitted out by the munificence of Mr Grinnell, an American merchant, from New York. Into the details of these several explorations we need not enter, but two of them, of which the Grinnell expedition was one, divide the merit of having discovered the first traces of the missing ships. These were found in Beechy Island, at the mouth of Wellington Channel, where it was discovered that Franklin had spent the winter of 1845-6, and where the tomb of three of his men, who had died early in the latter year, remained. Curiously enough, not one record or indication of any kind was found to point to the route which had been subsequently pursued by them; but it was augured by many, though, as the result has proved, with a curious substitution of what had been already achieved by them for what they were still to attempt, that they would follow a northern course through Wellington Channel, and should be sought for on the shores of the great Polar Ocean, indicated by Penny and by Kane.

In this dubiety as to their after course, the search went on in various directions. Kane, in command of the Advance, fitted out by the renewed liberality of Mr Grinnell, made that wonderful voyage to Smith's Strait, which stands without an equal even in these stirring annals; Kennedy, accompanied by Lieutenant Bellot of the French navy, who fell a martyr to his devotion in the cause of humanity, all but touched the spot where, as we now know, the abandoned vessels were lying in the ice; Collinson and M'Clure forced their way along the northern coasts of America—the one to complete in safety the longest voyage ever known in the Arctic seas; the other—after two winters spent in the ice, and at last abandoning the vessel in despair—to effect, on foot, the escape of himself and his crew to another of the ships engaged in the search, and win the proud distinction of being the first to pass from west to east across these dreary wastes. Many other attempts were also made, fifteen vessels in all being engaged in the search between 18S0 and 1853, but all in vain. The stanchion of a ship's ice-plank, picked up by Dr Rae, and the fragment of an iron bolt and of a hutch frame, seen by Captain Collinson in the possession of the Esquimaux, were the only indications that could be connected with Franklin, and even these were susceptible of other explanations.

But in 1854 the veil was lifted at last, and the traces of a terrible tragedy dimly disclosed to the startled seekers. In that year Dr Rae, who, with indefatigable perseverance, had returned a third time to the search in the vicinity of King "William's Land, encountered, in the course of his explorations between Pelly and Inglis Bays, a party of Esquimaux, in whose possession were found a great variety of articles, and many pieces of silver plate, known to have belonged to officers both of the Erebus and Terror, Prom these natives he learned that another party of the same tribe had met, in the spring of 1850, a band of about forty white men dragging a boat and sledges along the coast side of King William's Land, and making apparently for the Great Fish River. None of them could speak the Esquimaux language; but, from their signs, the natives understood that their vessels had been crushed in the ice, and that they were then proceeding where they hoped to find deer to shoot. They had purchased a small seal from the natives, and from the thin appearance of the men—all of whom, with the exception of one, who appeared to be an officer, were dragging on the haul-ropes of the sledge —were thought to be running short of provisions. At a later period of the same year, the corpses of some thirty persons, as well as some graves, were found by the Esquimaux on the mainland, and five dead bodies on an island close by—points agreeing in description with Montreal Island and Point Ogle, at the mouth of the river above referred to. Some of the unfortunate band must have survived even as late as May or June, (or until the return of the wild fowl,) as shots had been heard about that time, and fresh bones and feathers gathered in the immediate vicinity.

The melancholy news was verified by the articles received; but the moment it was learned, an anxious desire was felt to explore the spot where the last moments of the ill-fated crews had been spent, and which Dr Rae, from the failure of his provisions and the state of the health of his party, had been unable to accomplish. Mr Anderson, one of their chief factors, was accordingly despatched by the Hudson Bay Company in 1855, down the Great Fish River, to visit the scene of the catastrophe, and endeavour to procure additional information from a careful search for any records that might have been deposited, as well as from the tribes in the vicinity. Unfortunately, this journey had a very imperfect result. The expedition was poorly supplied with the means of extending its operations. No interpreter could be procured, and all communication with the tribes had to be carried on by signs. Numerous traces were indeed discovered of the missing crews, and a number of additional articles purchased from the Esquimaux, but not a scrap of paper or record of any kind. The absence, too, of any graves, or cairn3, or human bones, led many to the inference that the actual spot referred to by the natives, in their communication with Rae, had not yet been reached.

Under these circumstances, an earnest appeal was made to Lord Palmerston in June 1856, by a number of men of science, and others who had taken a deep interest in Arctic discovery, and repeated, in an admirable letter addressed to him by Lady Franklin, in the December of the same year, to despatch a final expedition to the narrow and circumscribed area now known as that within which the missing vessels or their remains must lie, and the access to which appeared to be free from many of the difficulties and dangers which had hitherto attended the search. The Prime Minister, it is understood, had personally every desire to carry out the wishes of his memorialists, but was precluded from acceding to their petition.

Lady Franklin, however, had resolved that, if the Government declined, she should herself exhaust her fortune in this last effort; and, aided by the contributions of many tried friends, she purchased the little screw yacht, the Fox, of 177 tons, and placed her, in April 1857, under the command of Captain M'Clintock, who had earned a distinguished name in the Arctic seas under Sir James Ross and Austin and Kellett. The refitting of the vessel was pressed forward with the utmost speed at Aberdeen, by her original builders, and a small body of twenty-five men, seventeen of whom had previously served in the search, carefully selected for her crew. The difficulty, indeed, was to know whom to prefer from the number of volunteers who came forward. "Expeditions of this kind," says M'Clintock, "are always popular with seamen, and innumerable were the applications made to me; but still more abundant were the offers 'to serve in any capacity,' which poured in from all parts of the country, from people of all classes, many of whom had never seen the sea. It was of course impossible to accede to any of these latter proposals; yet, for my own part, I could not but feel gratified at such convincing proofs that the spirit of the country was favourable to us, and that the ardent love of hardy enterprise still lives amongst Englishmen as of old, to be cherished, I trust, as the most valuabls of our national characteristics—as that which has so largely contributed to make England what she is."

The Government, though declining to send out an expedition themselves, liberally contributed to the provisioning of the vessel.

By the end of June, the preparations were complete; and on the 30th, Lady Franklin, accompanied by her niece, visited the vessel to bid farewell. The same evening the vessel set sail.

(To be continued)


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