Monday, 7 June 2010

Part 17 - Voyage of the Fox - Headless Corpses and the Vicar of Wakefield

This post continues to explore discoveries made on Francis McClintock's "Voyage of the Fox", published in 1859 - you can read more about it in earlier posts. He'd been sent by Lady Jane Franklin to find evidence of her husband's heroic sacrifice in search of the North West Passage...and to counter the accusations of cannibalism that had been laid against the expedition's name by beastly Eskimos...

In previous posts we've seen how McClintock's findings were used to contruct the myth of John Franklin, the English hero who gave his life in the name of Arctic geography!
But McClintock found something else, altogether more disturbing, which points us in the direction of a much darker story. Having found the only written evidence of Franklin's lost 1845 expedition in search of the North West Passgae, (see last post) McClintock's voyage, and his triumphant narrative, continue:

On p 294, on King William Island...McClintock's men make their second, and most macabre discovery...a longboat, a mile from the sea, that has obviously been dragged overland, containing two headless corpses ...and two books : 'The Vicar of Wakefield' and 'Christian Melodies', as well as:

"an amazing quantity of or eight pairs of boots...twine. nails, saws, files, bristles, wax ends, sailmakers palms, powder, bullets, shot., leather cartridge cases, knives, clasp and dinner ones, needle and thread cases, two rolls of sheet lead...and such as, for the most part, modern sledge travellers in these regions would consider a mere accumulation of dead weight...eleven large spoons, eleven forks, twenty six pieces of plate, eight with F's"

When you read about this, you can't help but think of this forensically. Why were starving, desperate men, lost in the wilderness, hauling all this overland in a boat?...and why was the boat pointing to the North East...why were these men heading back towards the ships...away from where bodies had been found to the south...where were their heads?

(More corpses were found years later, with knife marks on arm and leg bones, even further South at a place on the mainland immediately named Starvation Point)

Had they all gone mad?

Well... given four years in the Arctic wilderness and a good deal of lead poisoning, as determined in a 1990s post mortem of bodies buried on Beechey Island, madness was probably the least of their problems. Mad was the best way to be, I imagine. You can't help but speculate...though McClintock, in his propaganda book, certainly isn't going to.

Did the boat haulers split off from the main body to try to return to the ice bound ships for supplies? Why were they dragging all this STUFF? Were they the guardians of civilization against the unspeakable appetites of the wilderness? Were these the ones who refused to take their share in the eating of the dead?

McClintock isn't going to think about that...about any of this...but I can't really help myself...and I'm not alone. As I play my last post over Franklin's lost bones, next time, we'll see that, despite the best hagiographical efforts of McClintock and his sponsor, Lady Jane Franklin, and his publisher, John Murray, more than 150 years later..the hunt is still on....and Franklin and his men have finally found someone to chronicle their loss...

Someone, finally, to listen to the witnesses....

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