Monday, 7 June 2010

Englishmen on Ice (Part 18) - The modern search for Franklin's Bones.

'Unravelling The Franklin Mystery - Inuit Testimony' by David C Woodman, McGill-Queen's University Press 1991

If any of this stuff on Franklin et al has been interesting, I must recommend the above as the single most interesting book I've read on the 19th Century search for the North West Passage.

Woodman meticulously reconstructs the Franklin narrative into discreet episodes and locations...and his suppositions have the advantages of detail, and of decisions, desperate and logical, being made.

How can he possibly do this, 150 years on...?

It's very simple. He simply takes seriously the gathered testimony of the witnesses.

Witnesses, cry the ghosts of McClintock, Lady Franklin and Charles Dickens...(see previous posts) What witnesses are you talking about?

Inuits...or "Esquimaux" as the 19th Century would have it. Dr Rae, the Orcadian who brought back the first evidence of the expedition's demise (Posts 11 and 12), had heard the story and got artefacts from the Esquimaux. What Woodman has done, is to gather Rae's, and other, later Inuit narratives, and take them seriously. Simple, really.

He, and the recovered testimony of the "savages", make a compelling narrative...if necessarily an heuristic one. As he says himself:

"The problem with Inuit traditions does not in the end have much to do with whether they are 'true' in the historical sense.We cannot even remotely approach a verdict on any of them 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. The difficulty lies only in determining which truth we are hearing - whether Kokllarngnun visited Parry, Ross or Franklin - and in deciphering testimony concerning identically named places like "Omanek" or "Shartoo".

These were events WITHIN the Inuit world, is what he's saying...and the significance of events and chronology is consequently framed within a narrative that serves different societal purposes, from the societal purpose served, for example, by McClintock's "Voyage of the Fox", just as did Dickens' version of the only possible truth as Published in his magazine 'Household Words' .

(Sorry to keep referring you back to previous entries, but I think it's worth it, I really do.)

Woodman concludes his evidence based reconstruction of the disaster like this:

"The crews of the Erebus and Terror were simply in a no win situation. They found an open passage which was unknown to their contemporaries, and which treacherously froze solid behind them...those sent to their aid incorrectly concluded that this passage was non-existent. The Erebus and terror became trapped in what was possibly the least favoured spot in the Canadian Arctic. A similarly equipped modern group, knowing what we do today, might not fare any better... if they came to grief in Poctes Bay, then Victoria Strait was the only alternative.

If Crozier led his men in search of fresh meat, then he also went the right way. (they may have been responding to the tinned meat being inedible and actually poisonous). The stories of the final survivors living with Too-shoo-art-theriu could indicate that at least some of the men absorbed as much of the native ways as they could...
Finally Woodman reflects:

"a letter written by Willem Barents, the intrepid Dutch explorer who spent the winter of 1595 at Ice Haven on Novaya Zemlya was recovered intact in 1871, 276 years later.

I have little doubt that somewhere, probably ten feet from the remains of a once prominent marker, a Franklin record was similarly buried in the permafrost. When discovered, it will render all speculative books, this one included, obsolete. "

Next, and finally on my own Arctic Exploration, some reflections on what I might make of all this, if I were to make anything at all...did I find the North West Passage in the John Murray Archive?

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....

Englishmen on Ice 16 - Voyage of the Fox - the message in the tin

Continuing my series on the tangled, pretty much ghastly, history of 19th Century Arctic exploration as recounted in the publications and Archive of John Murray:

Francis McClintocks' book of 1859, which is the climax of this sequence, 'The Voyage of the Fox' does exactly what it promises - it really is 'a narrative of the discovery of the fate of John Franklin'.

(Franklin's 1845 Expedition had vanished into a wilderness of rumour and tales of cannibalism, as outlined in previous entries)

The book is beautifully produced, and has a pocket in the inside cover containing one of the nicest maps I've ever seen - which is pictured here. It is written in the plain prose of the English hero. It is based on daily journal entries but with a terrific forward narrative sense. Published very quickly after his return, the writing was an essential element of the expedition. Perhaps the central element. McClintock was going out there, after all, to find and tell a story.

And the Voyage succeeded. McClintock came back with the story of noble self sacrifice that England wanted to hear. His Lieutenant, Hobson, found a cairn at what was known as Victory Point, and a metal can lying beside it, soldering broken, open to the air, containing a single sheet of paper. Here is the original, courtesy of the excellent online resources of the National Martime Museum.

This was the real find of the voyage- and to this day, this is the only written relic of the lost expedition. McLintock's book contains a quite beautiful facsimile of it...reproduced below...and I hope some of my colleagues here can tell me how it was done...was it photographed? It certainly seems that way. But if so, how did they NOT reproduce the burn marks...? Did the burns happen later? How? Was it the Germans?

A puzzle for another time.

McClintock describes the document on page 283 of the first edition, in his chapter for May 1859...

"In the first place, the record paper was one of the printed forms usually supplied to discovery ships for the purpose of being enclosed in bottles and thrown overboard at sea...blanks being left for the date and position."(The printed form English, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and German: "Whoever finds this paper is requested to forward it to the Secretary of the Admiralty, London, with a note of the time and place at which it was found; or, if more convenient, to deliver it for that purpose to the British Consul at the nearest port.") McClintock continues:

"The paper has been written on twice, the first time filled out neatly in available space by Lt Gore, and says:

'28th of may, 1847. HM Ships "Erebus and Terror wintered in the ice in lat 70 o5 North, long 98 23 W. Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island in lat 74 43 28 N, long. 91 39 15 W after having ascended Wellington Channel to lat 77 and returned by the west side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All Well. Party consisting of 2 officers and 6 men left the ships on Monday 24th May 1847' "(an error in dates? we know they wintered at Beechey Island in 1845-6..because burials had been found there and dated... so where were they when this was written? The same place perhaps, but in 1846/7? Sorry...can't resist doing a bit of CSI myself...) Also, this paper must have been taken out from the tin - it was written on again by Fitzjames and Crozier , two officers on the expedition, on April 25th 1848, in a fevered scrawl round the outside reading:

"April 25th 1848 HM ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April, 5 leagues NNW of this, having been beset since Sept 1846 [6!]. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls under the command of Captain FRM Crozier landed here in lat 69 37' 42" N long 98 41W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th of June 1847; and the total loss by deaths of the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men signed FRM Crozier Captain and senior officer, James Fitzjames, Captain HMS Erebus".

And a senior officer's endorsement in Crozier's writing:

"and start (on) tomorrow, 26th, for Back's 'Fish River".

The document also says that it has been moved four miles from Point Victory where it had been deposited by the late Lt Gore.

But they must have already been in write twice over on the same piece of paper. To head South from their wrecked ships must have been a last, desperate hope...and sure enough, all that has been found since are bones...or as McClintock puts it:

"A sad tale was never told in fewer words".

The image of the original document found on McClintock's voyage shown in this blog entry is © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

15th entry - Englishmen on Ice - The Voyage of the Fox - Lady Franklin Expects

I'm looking now at the first edition of this book, The Voyage of the Fox, whose provenance I described in my previous posts -

You can see it here, and Lord, it is a beautiful thing! Published by John Murray III in the same month as Darwin's Origin of Species...(there's an advert for this in the back)...this is Captain McClintock's narrative of not only his own voyage, with a ship bought and refitted by Lady Franklin, but of her husband John Franklin's redemption...his redemption from failure and loss, and from the evidence of cannibalism collected by Dr John Rae.

Let's have a look at McLintock's instructions, as lovingly reproduced in the book, from his employer: Lady Franklin herself...

"Aberdeen June 29th 1857

My Dear Captain McClintock
You have kindly invited me to give you "Instructions" but I cannot bring myself to feel that it would be right in me in any way to influence your judgment in the conduct of your noble undertaking; and indeed I have no temptation to do so, since it appears to me that our views are almost identical...I am sure you know that the rescue of any possible survivor of the Erebus and Terror would be to me, as it would be to you, the noblest result of our in importance is the recovery of the unspeakably precious documents of the expedition, public and private, and the personal relics of my dear husband and his companions.

And lastly, I trust it may be in your power to confirm, directly or indirectly, the claims of my husband's expedition to the earliest discovery of the passage"

To which one immediately responds, "What claims? Whose claims?" There are no survivors, no written records have been found.

Franklin's "claim" to be the discoverer of the North West Passage is exclusively an emotional one. And to substantiate that claim, Lady Franklin has to follow the despised Dr Rae's directions, (the detestable Dr Rae, who brought back Inuit reports of mass death and cannibalism...)
Lady Franklin is telling McClintock where to look...King William Island, where she continues...

"if Dr Rae's report be true (and the govt of our country has accepted and rewarded it as such) these martyrs in a noble cause achieved their at their last extremity, after five long years of labour and suffering, if not at an earlier period."

I savour the irony of this. The very purpose of this new voyage is to rubbish Rae's account of cannibalism, but to launch the Fox at all, she needs to accept the rest of Rae's information as accurate. I think, in fact, she knew that it was all true. As a character, she gets better and better.

(see blog entry 12 and 13 in this Englishmen on Ice series for the story of Rae's discoveries and reactions to them.)

Lady Franklin is sending McLintock out there to confirm what she knows in her heart to be true: that her husband succeeded, that he died a successful hero. No other outcome is acceptable...especially since he'd probably never have gone back out there aged 59 if she hadn't got him the gig... (again, see previous posts, especially part 9..."It's not my fault!" ).

It also tells me, from the dramatist's point of view...that if she knew ALL of Rae's narrative to have been accurate...she therefore had to make all the greater effort to succeed, suppress and replace it with the story of heroism that England, and her super-ego, required...

This book, then, is a propaganda excercise of retrospective justification, and a quite brilliantly executed one too.

Next time, I get past the prologue, and discuss what McClintock actually FOUND...

Englishmen on Ice 14 - The Voyage of the Fox - The Penelope of England gets Odysseus' Honour back - The Meaning of the Message

In 1857, a ship called the 'Fox' departed on a search for Franklin's lost arctic expedition, captained by one Francis McClintock and financed (again) by Lady Franklin herself - the mission, to find evidence of Franklin's party and it's noble demise. Upon his return, McClintock's journal was published as : "The Voyage of the 'Fox' in the Arctic seas, a narrative of the discovery of the fate of Sir John Franklin and his companions". The title page is pictured here, published, as had been all the major Arctic narratives of the century so far, by John Murray, in 1859.

And what a publication it is! And what a vindication of a lost English hero! What an addition to the myth of self-sacrifice! What a tribute to Lady Jane Franklin - the Penelope of England!

Franklin's 1845 expedition to find the North West Passage, which is the main subject of this series of posts, had vanished without trace. In 1854, evidence of disaster, of cannibalism and degradation had been returned to England by the beastly Dr Orcadian working for the Hudson Bay Company. The record had to be set straight...and the good order of the universe restored!

Murray's triumphant, beautiful publication of McClintock's book was only one element of a fierce PR campaign by Lady Franklin. Queen Victoria and Albert met the Fox on its return...and there was no way the message was not going to be positive. And just in case the plain facts of McClintock's journal didn't do the trick, the text is bolstered and interpreted in advance by a couple of 'spin doctors'. First, an Admiralty letter recognizing McClintock's triumph, and giving the official seal of (retrospective and grudging) approval to what had been a private and unofficial voyage.

(The Admiralty had given up on Franklin years before...but now they were anxious to add their voice to this panegyric affirmation of the only acceptable truth):

"I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that, in consideration of the important services performed by you in bringing home the only authentic intelligence of the death of the late Sir John Franklin and the fate of the crews of the Erebus and Terror, Her Majesty has been sanction the time you [McClintock] were absent on these discoveries in the Arctic Regions, viz. from the 30th June 1857 to the 21st September 1859, to reckon as time served by a captain in command of one of her Majesty's Ships, and my Lords have given the necessary directions accordingly..."

So McClintock and his men aren't going to lose their Navy Pay after all. There follows a second preface to the main narrative, also by the Admiralty,which starts:

'The following narrative of the bold adventure which has successfully revealed the last discoveries and the fate of Franklin, is published at the request of the friends of that illustrious navigator. The gallant McClintock,when he had penned his journal amid the Arctic ices, had no idea whatever of publishing it...he and his companions have cleared up this great mystery.
To the honour of the British nation, and also let it be said to that of the United States of America, many have been the efforts made to discover the route followed by our missing explorers. The highly deserving men who have so zealously searched the Arctic seas and lands in this cause must now rejoice that the merit of rescuing from the frozen north the record of the last days of Franklin, has fallen to the share of his noble minded widow.

Lady Franklin has shown indeed what a devoted and true-hearted Englishwoman can accomplish. The moment that relics of the expedition were brought home (in 1854) by Rae, and that she heard of the account given to him by the Esquimaux of a large party of Englishmen having been seen struggling with difficulties near the mouth of the Back or Great Fish River, she resolved to expend all her available means (already much exhausted by four other independent expeditions) in an exploration of the limited area to which the search must thenceforth be necessarily restricted."

Later the preface says that the search lead McClintock to believe Franklin’s party reached...

"as far as lat 70 degrees five minutes north and long 98 degrees 23 minutes west, where the ships were beset, it is clear that he [Franklin], who, with others, had previously ascertained the existence of a channel along the north coast of America, with which the sea wherein he was interred had a direct communication, was the first real discoverer of the North West passage. This great fact must therefore be inscribed upon the monument of Franklin."

The wish has become the fact, and entered the history books: it is now an official fact that Franklin found the Northwest Passage, even though, as I've said in other blogs, it didn't exist.

It said so on the statues, on the monument in Westminster Abbey (that took another ten years of Lady Franklin's lobbying...but she was like a Joanna Lumley by then...they weren't going to say no)...and it said so in the school books. Do follow the Abbey link..the inscription is priceless...

For me, the really compelling Franklin narrative here is hers, not his. She was a better traveller than him (she went round the world...she was in the Crimea, Egypt, Syria...)...she was the first white woman to walk from Melbourne to Sydney...but she was also instrumental in his failure as Governor of Van Diemen's Land, and in promoting him to lead the last expedition...and so in his death...and those of his companions...

and then, perhaps in expiation, in creating his legend.

She had ships named for her, plays written...she wasn't Penelope at all...she was Odysseus. And an extraordinary, terrible Englishwoman. If I was going to write a play about all this, she would be the main character in it.

Part Thirteen of Englishmen on Ice - Dr Rae - Arctic CSI

As we saw in the last post, Charles Dickens disapproved of Dr John Rae, the trader who returned to Britainfrom Canada with news of John Franklin's doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage.

He did, however, in the wake of his denunciations, allow the good doctor a right of reply. So, in January 1855, he printed Rae's account of what he'd found, and what he'd been told, in full. Bit of a long post this, but I think it’s worth quoting at some length Rae's account, as it now follows, seems admirably clear to me, and lacking in prejudice towards the Inuits, although, perhaps for that very reason, it was introduced by Dickens as:

"A very unsatisfactory document on which to found such strong conclusions as it takes for granted"

Rae's narrative is pretty harrowing. April, he tells us, he meets up with "natives" and this is his entry for the next day:

"We were joined by another of the natives who had been absent seal hunting yesterday: but being anxious to see us had visited our snow house early this morning and then followed our track. This man was very communicative, and on putting the usual questions as to his having seen white men before, or any ships or boats, he replied in the negative; but said that a party of kabloonans had died of starvation a long distance to the West of where we then were, and beyond a large river. He stated that he did not know the exact place - that he had never been there and that he could not accompany us so far."

Franklin’s fate was obviously the Talk of the Sweat is another quote from Rae’s report:

"The substance of the information then and subsequently obtained from various sources was to the following effect. In the spring, four winters past, (1850) whilst some Esquimaux families were killing seals near the northern shore of a large island, named in Arrowsmith's charts King William's Land, about forty white men were seen travelling in company southward over the ice and dragging a boat and sledges with them. They were passing along the west shore of the above named island. None of the party could speak the Esquimaux language so well as to be understood; but by signs the natives were led to believe that the ship or ships had been crushed by ice, and that they were then going to where they expected to find deer to shoot...From the appearance of the men, all of whom, with the exception of an officer, were hauling on the drag ropes of the sledge and were looking thin - they were then supposed to be getting short of provisions; and they purchased a small seal, or piece of seal from the natives. The officer was described as being a tall, stout, middle aged man.

At a later date, the same season, but previous to the disruption of the ice, the corpses of some thirty persons, and some gravers were discovered on the continent, and five dead bodies on an island near it, about a long day's journey to the north west of the mouth of a large stream which can be no other than Back's ‘Great Fish River’ (named by the Esquimaux Oot-koo-hi-ca-lik...of those seen on the island, it was supposed that one was that of an officer (chief) as he had a telescope strapped over his shoulders, and his double barreled gun lay underneath him...

From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.."

"A few of the unfortunate men must have survived until the arrival of the wild fowl (say until the end of May) as shots were heard, and feathers of geese were noticed near the scene of the sad event.

There must have been a number of telescopes, guns, watches, compasses etc all of which seem to have been broken up as I saw pieces of these different articles with the natives - and I purchased as many as possible, together with some silver spoons and forks, an order of merit in the form of a star, and a small silver plate engraved "Sir John Franklin, KCH"

None of the Esquimaux with whom I had communication saw the white men, either when living or after death, nor had they been at the place where the corpses had been found, but had their information from natives who had been there, and who had seen the party when travelling over the ice. From what I could learn, there is no reason to suspect that any violence had been offered to the sufferers by the natives."

Thus ends the first of many attempts to reconstruct the story of the disaster, as it were, forensically.

However credible and humane I find this account, (and however revealing it is that Dickens published nothing further on the matter, taking part in theatricals aside) , it's patent credibility did nothing to diminish the intensity with which Lady Franklin now determined to have one last go at clearing her husband's name, and attaching to it the glory which her own guilt in the matter, I think, had decided it deserved.

It was going to be down to Lady Franklin herself to save the story, and send out a new expedition that would return with the heroic narrative she needed. Of noble sacrifice, and above all, of success. And this, as you'll see in the next few entries, with the collaboration of John Murray, inter alia, is exactly what she did.

These formidable Victorian ladies!

Englishmen on Ice a la carte (Part 12) The Last Resource - Dr Rae's Unspeakable Discovery

After his expedition of 1845 to find the chimerical Northwest Passage (a fondly wished for but non-existent trade route across the top of Canada) had vanished without trace , 14 expeditions to find John Franklin were launched between 1847 and 1854 , four financed by Lady Franklin herself...which resulted, among other things, in her being sued by her own family for blowing the inheritance on a quite possibly guilt induced fantasy. She, after all, had been instrumental in getting her corpulent, elderly husband the job in the first place, as you can read in previous entries.

You can see a picture of him above, (courtesy of the good people at the National Maritime Museum) just before the expedition set off. Not looking too well, is he?

In 1854 Franklin was finally declared dead by the admiralty...Polar exploration had fallen out of fashion...besides there was the Crimean War to contend with any minute.
But that same year, news of Franklin's fate appeared out of nowhere, or rather, through the unexpected agency of Orcadian Dr John Rae, who had gone out mapping King William Island for the Hudson Bay Company, who came back to Britain in 1854 with the first physical evidence of the expedition found since the finding of three graves on Beechey Island some years before:

, A spoon, buttons, a matchbox...and a medal, awarded to Franklin by the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.

These items are now in the collections of the National Maritime Museum and images of some of the items in their collection of artefacts found by Rae and other expeditions to search for Franklin are shown here. Rae wrote a letter to the Times about the objects and the testimony he had collected.

Rae also reported confidentially to the Admiralty, though as a Hudson Bay Company employee he had no need to. He had a terrible story to tell:

"In the spring, four winters past, a party of white men, amounting to about 40, were seen travelling southward over the ice and dragging a boat with them by some Esquimaux who were killing seals near the north shore of King William's Land, which is a large island. At a later date the same season the bodies of some thirty persons were discovered on the continent and five on an island near it....From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource - cannibalism- as a means of prolonging existence".

To Rae's horror, the Admiralty leaked the story. A confirmation that it wasn't worth looking any further was perhaps just what they were looking for...And all hell broke loose.

Furious denunciations of this mere trader were issued by the great and the good, most notably including Charles Dickens, who wrote in his weekly journal that the story could not be true of Englishman, and that Rae himself was suspect for believing the accounts given him by "natives", and not investigating himself.

..."We believe every savage to be in his heart covetous, treacherous and cruel" Dickens wrote.

He devoted two lengthy articles in Household Words in December 1854 to denouncing Orcadians and Northern savages in general, quoting at length, interestingly, from Franklin's own memoir of the disasterous 1818-21 overland expedition (see previous posts) to prove that if Englishmen didn't eat each other then...

(it was only a Canadian trapper called Michel who did murder two people and eat one of them)

...then it was morally impossible to believe such nonsense now!

He also directed and starred in a play hastily written by Wilkie Collins called 'The Frozen Deep', a tale of Arctic suffering and ultimate self-sacrifice and moral redemption, performed in his own house, and later revived in a Royal Command Performance for the Queen, who clearly shared his distaste for these accusations of cannibalism.

(That was how he met Ellen Ternan, in fact, as a little added piquancy for Dickens lovers, of whom I'm one)

Theatricals and scandal aside, Rae's report had closed the case for the Admiralty...they weren't going to send out any more ships if all they were going to find was evidence of failure, madness and degradation.So who could save England's reputation now?

All images shown in this blog entry are © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Part Eleven of "Englishmen on Ice" - Lady Franklin: He's not dead!

To continue the story of Franklin's last (and by now, lost) expedition to find the Northwest Passage, we've reached February 1854. John Franklin's been missing now for getting on for nine years. Expedition after expedition to search for him and his party has been sent out, some financed by Lady Franklin herself.

(to the annoyance of her family, who saw her squandering their inheritance...they actually went as far as sueing her at one point..)

...and the Admiralty have given up. All they've found so far is three graves of sailors who had died early in the expedition...It's not looking good for Franklin...

(These bodies were exhumed on Beechey Island not long ago, by the way, and were found to contain lethal levels of lead...which may well have come from badly soldered cans...but which would have also caused mental illness, among other things. It gets worse and worse, doesn't it?)

But, and this shows that boneheaded behaviour is nothing new in bureaucracy, it was in early 1854 that the Admiralty made the crass inducement to Lady Franklin that if she gave her husband up for dead, she'd get a widow's pension. At which point, she went publically bananas with rage, sending a copy of her letter to the Admiralty to the Times:

"My husband's conviction that where Esquimaux can live, there also can Englishmen, with their superior intellect and larger appliances, has often been quoted...they went forth, my lords, at your bidding, and went to those seas which you gave them liberty to explore...they have deserved, surely I may say they have deserved of their country that she should ascertain their remains for me only to thank your Lordships for the communication you have been pleased to make me, that the widows of those who are to be considered to have died in the service of their country, after the 31st of March next, will be entitled to pensions, according to the existing regulations. Your lordships will scarcely require me to tell you, after what I have written, that I do not feel it in my power either to claim or to accept a widow's pension."

This public stand gathered her a good deal of popular support. It was an irresistible pitch...the faithful wife, doggedly refusing to give up on heroic husband. She truly became the English Penelope, weaving her tapestry of hope among the twittering of faithless bureaucrats...

Then came news of Franklin from out of the blue...In November that year, a dour Orcadian working for the Hudson Bay Company called Dr John Rae was going to bring home news...not good news...dreadful, degrading, humiliating news...

At which point, Enter Charles Dickens...Stage left...

Englishmen UNDER the Ice (part ten) - Rapping on the table

The disappearance of John Franklin's 1845 expedition to find the Northwest passage caused a flurry of activity in the spirit world and an innovative use of his letters...of archive material, I a means of talking to the dead...I suppose that all archive reading is a means of communication with the spirit world, but this was intended rather more literally...

This is an excerpt from 'A practical investigation into the Truth of Clairvoyance containing Revelations of the fate of Sir John Franklin and some enquiries into the mysterious rappings of the present day by An Unprejudiced Observer' in which the 'Observer' describes taking one of Franklin’s letters to a clairvoyant:

'In no way or manner did I mention my possession of this letter to the clairvoyant, or ever hint at the slightest intimation of submitting such a letter to her. When awake she has no suspicion that she was being questioned on the subject. She has no views of her own to support, and takes no deeper interest in the matter than the generality of feweling hearted persons. I procured then, a letter of Sir John Franklin and placed it in the clairvoyant's hand. The following remarkable answers were elicited by the questions which I put.
Q: I put a letter in your hand, can you tell me anything about it?
A: have you put salt on it? * I never saw the writer.
* this letter was not written at sea, but in London

: Is it from a man or a woman
A: And I never will.

Q: Why not?
A: I think nobody will ever see him again.

Q: Is the writer a man or a woman?
A: A man

Q: Can you tell where he is now?
A: He is down in the water; all of them, when I saw them.

Q: How did they get down in the water?
A: I saw them in a ship; the ice went up against it and broke it in pieces. They ran about the deck and cried out. I do not see them now. It is all solitary. There was daylight there, but the weather was heavy and dark. I saw them on the ship. There was plenty of open water, but the wind blew and the ice rushed down. I saw them once on land. They came to land in little boats, then got into their ship, and came no more. They left three people behind.

Q: Why?
A: Because they had closed their eyes.

Q: Did you see the writer of that letter on shore?
A: Yes. They were very comfortable. If they had stayed there they would be living now, but they made haste to get in their ship and they soon went (down). You will never hear any more of them. They will never be found in all the places where they are looking for them. They left no paper, they did not mean to go for some time, but the water came open, and they went away quickly. '

It's not just on blogs that we get to hear from the dead and disappeared...

Englishmen on Ice Part Nine - It's not my fault! Second Arctic Treasure

To put this document in context, I feel I need to refer you back to previous entries...but in brief, the story was this. In 1845, Sir John Franklin, in a bid to save his political career, had agreed to lead a last attempt to find the mythical trade route around the top of America known in the nineteenth century as the Northwest Passage. His ships disappeared, and it became a matter of national pride to rescue Franklin and his 129 men in two ships.

It's all rather reminiscent of the "betrayal" of Gordon in Khartoum years later...a gallant Englishman abandoned by his country in the desert...but with beastly Esqimaux as opposed to whirling dervishes...

Anyway, here is Lady Jane Franklin, writing to her husband's publisher, John Murray III, with her husband already eight years missing. Known as the English Penelope, she was imagined by the public to be an archtype of loyal, patient womanhood, but I think if you read between the lines of this, she is responding to her own guilt. To the thought in her own mind that she pushed her dopey, overweight, over-aged husband into this, to overcome the disgrace of what had happened to his abortive career as Lt Governor in Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania: though she says, it is not for her

“to judge whether Sir John lost any of the prestige attached to his name by his administration of the affairs of Van Dieman’s Land… What I am concerned with as his wife…is to deny that he was influenced by any other motive in accepting the command of the Arctic expedition that that which had moved him on a former occasion"

The lady doth protest too much...She was no shrinking violet according to her recent biographer Ken McGoogan. She was one of those intrepid Victorian ladies...went all the way round the world in her eighties, she did...And from previous experience, one might conclude that she had never been all that reluctant to see the back of Hubby.

Having read some of his speeches to newly arrived convicts in Tasmania, I can see why. (see earlier blog - part eight)

Anyway, this letter gives an insight into the complexity of their relationship, as well as her public role as Penelope to his Odysseus, which makes this my second Arctic treasure. Next time...a use of a letter of John Franklin's rather different to this blog, I hope...A medium using a letter of Franklin's to talk to him "on the other side".

Englishmen on Ice 8 - Barrow's Last Throw

In 1845 John Barrow organised a new expedition to solve the mystery of the Northwest Passage...a sketch of the history of previous expeditions has made up recent posts in my 'Englishmen on Ice' series of blog entries. They set the scene, I hope. Now we come to the meat of it.

The 1845 Expedition, two ships refitted with icebreaking hulls (they hoped), steam engines and 5-years' supplies...the Erebus and Terror...(later the names given to the twin volcanoes at McMurdo Sound...where Scott of the Antarctic set off South) ...this expedition was the most lavish yet. Barrow asked James Ross to command. But he was forty-seven...he thought he was too old. So they gave it to Franklin...who was fifty nine.

Barrow wrote "Although Sir John Franklin had already reached an advanced period in life, and had but just been released from the harassing duties of a colonial governor [of Van Diemen's Land, the name then used for Tasmania]...he willingly renounced every enjoyment for the further advancement of his country's glory. He was of the opinion...that it would be an indelible disgrace to England were the flag of any other nation to precede her's through the Northwest Passage"

Actually...Franklin had been RECALLED from Tasmania with his tail between his legs and accusations of financial mismanagement ringing round his ears. He'd fallen out with Montagu, the colonial secretary, and sacked him...but Montagu was better connected than he was.

Mind you, Franklin had had his troubles out there in the penal colony...partly because his wife, Lady Jane, had been an activist for penal reform in a slightly myopic, dreamy way.

(She was an amazing woman, mind...first white woman to walk from Melbourne to Sydney...left her husband behind...Did that a lot later in their possibly tedious marriage...she went on solo walking tours in Syria, Egypt and company with a mysterious Lutheran pastor...but that's another story for another time perhaps).

This gossip is from Ken McGoogan's excellent biography "Lady Franklin's Revenge", and this is the transcript of Franklin's regular speech to arriving convicts as reported in the Hobart Times:

"Men, you have been sent here by the laws of your country as bad men; unfit to go at large; dangerous to the peace of society; dangerous to the security of property; you are all bad men, very bad men indeed. You are an extremely bad man. I cannot conceive of how any man could be so desperate, so depraved. How merciful her majesty was to spare your life. Hanging would have been too good for you! Sympathiser! Bad man! Very bad man!"

Hmm...Barrow maybe sent the wrong Franklin...

The Erebus and Terror with 129 men and the hopes of John Barrow on board set off for glory...they were spotted by a whaler off Greenland in July of 1845...and were never seen by white men again...

Next up on the blog is a letter from the John Murray Archive from Lady Jane Franklin to John Murray...and a bit of documentary insight, I think, into the human story behind all this.

English men on Ice Part 7 - Parry was the best of Barrow's Boys

I've been coming across some more material on the epic story of the search for the Northwest Passage that formed a minor sideline in the publishing output of the firm of John Murray throughout the nineteenth century. This is at least in part derived from 'Barrow's Boys' by Fergus Fleming, which is a witty and racy account of the period I'm touching on in this series of blogs.

I thought that before proceeding to the story of John Franklin's second Arctic disaster (for the first see previous entries) I'd say a bit about what happened in between, and refresh what I've said earlier about the man who was behind it all.

As Franklin and William Parry mounted their two-pronged assault on the wilderness in 1819, they had the scathing words of their chief, Sir John Barrow, the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, (and an important friend and supporter of many, many aspects of the Murrays' output for nearly fifty years) about Sir John Ross's trip to explore the region the previous year ringing in their ears. Ross had rather sensibly turned back and didn't lose a man, but Barrow was furious, and went as far as to aver that what was lacking in Ross was simply the pluck and endurance required. Not a single man had died, which was a sign of cowardice...a 'summer cruise' he called it.

Here's the quote from Barrow in the January 19th number of the Quarterly Review: "A voyage of discovery implies danger...but a mere voyage like this, in the summer months, may be considered a voyage of pleasure".

Which gives you a clue. For Barrow, suffering was the measure of moral success, and it was moral success that counted for most...luck didn't enter into it.

While Franklin and his men were starving on the Coppermine River, Sir William Parry, (who also wrote his material up for Barrow and Murray), was doing rather better by sea. Parry was a planner...the most successful of all the expedition leaders that Barrow dispatched...On his many expeditions through the 1820s and 30s, for example, scurvy was combated with lemon juice in pastilles...and casualties were minimal.

On that first trip, Parry took the Northern route through Lancaster Sound...and got much further west than anyone else was to do for many years. He and his men wintered on Melville Island on their very first attempt in 1819...which ironically raised expectations that this thing might be possible after all.

But no one ever got that far again... not with an intact ship anyway...The ice just happened to be open that far that summer...and was open again on the way back. That is, Parry got lucky...but there was something in the collective mindset that couldn't believe in his comparative success raised future expectations. Fatally.

When Amudsen finally DID make a continuous trip across the top of Canada by sea in 1907, it took him four years, on a tiny purpose built boat. The Northwest Passage as a trade route was a chimera... and will remain so until the ice melts in Arctic summers more permanently. Like it's doing now...

Another entertaining feature of Parry's journey for a playwright (and grist to the mill if I was writing a play) is that, like the officers in Botany Bay in the 1790s, or the besieged cantonments in Kabul in 1841, or the Colditz Story, come to that, amateur theatricals helped to pass the time over the winter. James Ross in particular spent a lot of time in drag, apparently...

(It was his uncle John's disgrace in turning back in Baffin Bay, discussed above, that cut him out of the Admiralty running...but it was John Ross who made the money later on...with Theatrical Arctic Panormas in Vauxhall Gardens based on his own execrable water colours...)

Parry knew he had been lucky to get as far as he did...but saw they were iced in...and was dubious about the south...though he tried that route in 1820, while Franklin's land based expedition that year was falling apart...

But Parry, for all of his professional pragmatism demonstrated over and over again in his three trips was ultimately eclipsed by Franklin...not because of publication as such...Murray published all their accounts, but because of suffering. Franklin suffered. Franklin ate his own boots. So Franklin sold more books, and conformed more closely to the rear Admiral's sense of morality. Rather as if a moral compass was more important than an actual one, or than the geography and ethnography of the region as it actually existed.

In any case, to continue the main thrust of the narrative in this series of posts, Franklin, rescued by Inuits, did survive, but not having found what he was looking for, made another trip up North before heading down South for a prestigious posting as Governor of the penal colony of Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land. It wasn't going to work out for him, however...and it was the Arctic that years later would be the culmination of his career and the repository of his bones...And another Murray publication of course. The next posts will, I hope, get us closer to the heart of his story. I'm beginning to feel iced in by all this material myself...

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.

Englishmen on Ice Part Five - Arctic Treasure - Franklin's Notebook 1821

New Treasure. These are some of John Franklin's original notes on his first failed mission to find the Northwest Passage through the seas north of Canada from 1819 t0 1822. They were written in a hut on the Coppermine River while eating his boots...and the lichen off rocks...which they, you're going to love this ..."Tripes des Roches" like it was the choicest item in a Piccadilly resteraunt.

It is how the British got an empire, you know. Blind bravery and NO conception of where they were.

Just to digress a tad into some observation then some speculation...

It was Roald Amudsen, the same Norwegian bounder who had the bad taste not only to get to the South Pole first, before Captain Scott, but also to come back alive with all his men, who actually also earlier had had the sheer lack of sportsmanship to be the first to successfully sail a boat all the way through through the Northwest Passage accross the top of Canada, in 1907, similarly, without loss of life. (Did the man understand NOTHING?)

Amudsen's success in the navigation of the Northwest Passage in 1907, as later in Antarctica in 1912, was founded on his very unBritish (because realistic) assessment of the lunatic nature of the enterprise. To get to the Pole? Well, famously...go fast and dirty...with dogs...hundreds of dogs...who you could feed to the other dogs...while Scott of the Antarctic, like Franklin before him, wanted to go with horses and tractors, like he could turn the place into Surrey or somewhere...

British explorers went to these places not just because they were THERE...but because they wanted to make USE of them...demonstrate that there was nowhere on Earth that an Englishman could not feel at home...

Likewise, it was John Barrow's monomania that the North West Passage would be found to be a practical shipping opposed to a geographical curiosity, that killed all those men. British commercial pragmatism, in this instance, as in so many others, amounted to lunacy.

Amudsen knew the Northwest Passage was an abstraction, that's all...that variable ice melt and movement meant that now this way was navigable...but tomorrow it wouldn't you focus on the practicalities of the lunatic task in hand...and give yourself four years supplies, a small crew, and no expectations of "practical" application of your journey.

An odd example of an acknowledgemt of the abstract, hence Germanic, nature of the enterprise, being paradoxically pragmatic. Or is that a hopelessly tangled thesis. Perhaps I'll develop it later. Or perhaps not.

Meanwhile, on these documents, you can see the water damage and wear, quite faded, written in pencil...not as poignant as Scott's last journal, but much of it written with as little expectation of survival. Looking at the thing you can feel the pain and exhaustion in the faded, blunted pencil can feel the cold.

Hence an arctic treasure that bears the marks of its physical provenance...stained by snow and sweat.

Earlier posts here have looked at the context of that first voyage. This object from the archive speaks of geographical failure, but of cultural success. It sold like hot cakes. Which Franklin could probably have done with at the time.

Likewise, a dose of Norwegian realism would have been handy for the expeditions that followed Franklin on an expedition to find something that was never there : a viable trade route accross the top of America, as we'll see...

Next time, a quick glance at the contents of Franklin's bestseller...before we go on, deeper and deeper into desolation...

Sir John Franklin - A Tale of Two Disasters, or, Englishmen on Ice Part 4

Next in this sequence, let's meet the talismanic figure of the era...and a star of the John Murray Archive...

Bookending this heroic, and let us not hesitate to say, lunatic era in the search for the Northwest Passage, was one man, and two books, published by Murray in 1822 and written in part by John Franklin, (and from which samples will follow in a later entry or two) being an account of a disasterous attempt to find the Passage overland from Great Slave Lake in Canada, up the Coppermine river to the sea...which was the biggest bestseller of the lot.

(Both Scott and Amudsen later claimed it as inspiration, which ought to tell you something about THEM)...

Franklin's account, scribbled in agonised pencil scratchings in 1819-21 as he lay dying by inches of scurvy and starvation (He and the other survivors were rescued by Inuits) is full of gallant details...they only survived at on lichen growing on stones...but they called it "Tripes des Roches" like they were in a resteraunt in Paris...

Most famously, it contains accounts of the explorers cooking and eating their own Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush...which is almost certainly where the idea came from...

It also tells of a trapper called Michel who went mad...murdered two of the party, and brought back fresh cuts of meat to his companions, claiming he'd killed a wolf...

Unbelievably ghastly...and the public ate it up with gusto.

(Franklin's original notebooks from this trip are in my treasures gallery)

The second book is 'The Voyage of the Fox', published by Murray (John Murray III) in the same month as he published Darwin's Origin of Species...November 1859, and this was the account by Captain Francis McClintock of his expedition to find traces of Franklin's disappearance in 1845.

Yes, Franklin, by now aged 59 and in poor health...had gone BACK in 1845! looking for the same thing...the chimerical Northwest Passage...him and 129 men in two well equipped ships...who were sighted by a whaler in Lancaster Sound, and then just vanished in the wastleland. John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty and the Navy then sent a series of expeditions to look for HIM...

One of which found two graves on Beechey Island in 1850...there were then some vague reports from native Inuits collected in 1853...then the Admiralty gave up.

Not Lady Franklin though. She never stopped hoping. (There will be much more in future blogs about Lady Franklin)

Franklin's first disaster had made him a national hero...what McClintock found on the voyage of the Fox made Franklin into an icon of heroic sacrifice for generations of English Schoolboys (including Captain Scott...who wrote an introduction to a reissue in 1910 of Franklin's original Arctic narrative)...and since then?

There are archaeologists up there still looking for the corpses...autopsies were performed in 1999 on the bodies at Beechey Island, (discovering a terrifying level of lead poisoning in the corpses, probably from the new fangled tinned food they brought with them...the cans were sealed with lead solders!) and Franklin himself got his statue in Waterloo Place, and an empty mausoleum in Westminster Abbey, as a result of Lady Franklin's assiduous, dogged, obsessive lobbying.

Coming next, my second Arctic Treasure.

Englishmen on Ice Part Three - Chasing the Wild Goose from the Congo to Canada

Map of the journey of The Fox Continuing my series of posts about the Murray Arctic exploration narratives with this rather lovely image of one of Aaron Arrowsmith's beautiful maps he did for the Navy...and for John Murray...(from a book called 'The Voyage of the Fox' from 1859...of which much more later...)

At this moment, at the risk of prolonging the curtain raising on these tales of derring do, I want to explore the mindset behind these explorations a little, and to say for reasons of completeness that the Victorian explorer story really starts for the John Murray Archive with the "Narrative of an expedition to explore the river Zaire, usually called the Congo, in South Africa", published in 1816, written by the hapless commander of that particular disaster, Captain J. K. Tuckey, R.N.

This was where the partnership between John Barrow as director of explorations for the Admiralty, and John Murray as the publisher of the resulting best selling exploration journals really began...

Barrow sent Tuckey to confirm one of his many pet theses: in this case that the river Niger flowed into the river Congo...that rivers would be found radiating from the Congo that would open up the African continent to Trade and Bibles in every direction...from Jo'burg to Cairo, from Kinshasa to Addis Abbaba

(This was why everyone went looking for the source of the Nile...why Stanley crashed through the jungle breaking stones and bodies from Zanzibar west to the Atlantic)

The Niger doesn't flow into the Congo, incidentally...but one must understand the mindset: God wants England to succeed. He will therefore arrange rivers in Africa to avoid the French.

Tuckey wasn't sent to find where the Niger actually WENT...merely to confirm the arrangements of Providence…that the Lord had thoughtfully provided a comprehensive river trading network in the interests of Imperial commerce. Amen.

He didn't find it. It wasn't there to be found, but the failure was HIS failure. Not Barrow's or God's. Men died. Lots of men died.

For Africa and the Arctic, this would set the pattern of geographical exploration guided by wishful thinking. This was especially true of the long search for what was called the Northwest Passage...a Northern route to the Pacific across the North coast of which Barrow dedicated his efforts, his political capital, and many, many lives over the next thirty years...

Such a trade route would be of enormous benefit to the Empire...God made the world for the benefit of that Empire...So the North West Passage simply must exist...all it needed was the gumption to go and find it...

And Murray had publishing rights to everything the Admiralty provided as expedition after expedition sailed into the ever shifting ice.

They never found it, of course. It wasn't there to be found any more than the Niger flowed into the Congo.
(Not as a trade route anyway...but hey...give global warming a few more years...Lancaster Sound might be the Suez Canal)

Never mind. Everyone loved a shipwreck story. And it was the polar narratives that swiftly followed Tuckey, starting withJames Ross in 1818, (accompanied by junior officers like William Parry, John Franklin, William Crozier and his own younger brother James) that really set the standard of suffering for the era.

Next time...we meet the star of our show..and one of the Archive's Firmament of genius and craziness...
John Franklin RN...the man who ate his boots...

Englishmen on Ice Part Two - War Surplus

This is Part Two of a series of posts about the polar exploration narratives published by the Murray dynasty throughout the nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the search for the North West Passage, and on the exploits of John Franklin, whose relics are a highlight of the John Murray Archive. (See my treasures gallery).

Rear Admiral Barrow wrote in 1816: "To what purpose could a portion of our naval force be, at any time, but more especially in time of profound peace, more honourably or more usefully employed than in completing those details of geographical and hydrographical science of which the grand outlines have been boldly and broadly sketched by Cook, Vancouver and Flingers, and others of our countrymen"

In other words, now that the war against Napoleon was over, how do we keep the Navy big? By keeping it busy. How do we hang on to all those newly promoted officers? By offering them rewards and promotion for mapping the unknown world.

And as he writes in the Quarterly Review the next year, with the first expedition to Baffin Bay about to be on its way under Parry and Ross to search for the Northwest Passage, the Russians are coming...there are rumours that the Russians might try to cross via the Berring Straits the other way, the swine:

"It would be somewhat mortifying if a naval power but of yesterday should complete a discovery in the 19th century which was so happily commenced by Englishmen in the 16th...there is, however little to fear on this score"

Besides the imperial was the spiritual imperative. The testing of the self. Which was even better done by icy wastes than by tropical diseases. As I've said elsewhere, it was "clean".

As an example of the genre, here's Henry Morely in a piece called "Unspotted Snow" he wrote for Charles Dickens' Household Words at the height of the "Find Franklin" mania in 1854 which drew this period in the unhappy history of exploration to a close: (Franklin and his final expedition had gone missing in you'll see in much more gory detail later) :

"For three hundred years the Arctic seas have now been visited by European sailors; their narratives supply some of the finest modern instances of human energy and daring, bent on a noble undertaking, and associated constantly with kindness, generosity and simple piety. The
history of Arctic enterprise is stainless as the Arctic snows, clean to the core as an ice mountain."

And a clean bad time was had by we shall see...