Monday, 7 June 2010

Englishmen on Ice Part 6 - Tuck in,'re starving...

Before proceeding to a more chronological account of later expeditions to find the Northwest Passage, I thought I'd use this post try to communicate a flavour of John Franklin's book published by Murray in 1822, which was one of the first big successes of the travel narratives that were a mainstay of the company's output for the Victorian period.

Here, illustrated by a page from his original notebooks, is the chapter
summary of the end of Franklin's first foray into the frozen North in 1819, from the book, which he wrote about the expedition with one of his companions on the expedition, John Richardson.

Each little synopsis a telegram of what is, believe me, eye popping

Journey across the barren grounds.
Difficulty and delay in crossing Copper-Mine River.
Melancholy and Fatal Results thereof.
Extreme Misery of the whole Party.
Murder of Mr. Hood.
Death of several of the Canadians.
Desolate State of Fort Enterprise.
Distress suffered at that Place."

Understatement...upper lips so stiff they could crack a nut...or is that

just the cold. It was Endurance...that was the ideal, and the inspiration

for later cold addicted nutters like Scott, and Amudsen and Shackleton...

they were not just in search of concrete coastlines, but moral abstractions.

Tests of self against absolute nothingness.

Richardson's narrative takes the biscuit...
or it would if they had some left...
Richardson and two companions
have been left behind while Franklin goes on
to Fort Enterprize (which turns out to be deserted...
but that's
another story)

Richardson has an account of being fed
what he thinks is "wolf meat" by
Michel, one of the Canadian trappers...
who has actually murdered his mate
and is bringing him back a piece at a time
Michel goes out, brings back a few choice cuts...

And then Michel behaving rather arrogantly, bossing
his betters about.
Till even the phlegmatic Richardson
begins to think Michel
does seem to be acting a little oddly.
Especially when he puts a bullet into
the prostrate Mr Hood.

At which point, Richardson begins to twig that
the meat supply
out there has been exhausted...
That it might not have been
wolf they've been eating at all.
It's been human meat,
Mr Hood is now on the menu...
and they're next...

If it wasn't so horrible,
you'd hire Tex Avery to animate a vulture
putting salt and pepper
on them.

Until the point one morning, when the good Edinburgh doctor
resolves the situation with Michel :

"I put an end to his life by shooting him
through the head with a pistol"

What really gets me about this is not the idea of publishing it...
it's good queasy stuff...

it's that Scott and Amudsen et al read this,
and thought. "Golly, can't wait to have a go"

Next time, some more accounts of the chimerical
search for the Northwest Passage.

If you're interested in the context of all this,
please refer to earlier posts.
And if you're interested in the book itself,
you know where to come.

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