Saturday, March 7, 2015

Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony

Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony

Second Edition

by David C. Woodman

Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015


Reviewed by Russell A. Potter


It's the single most significant book in the history of the search for Sir John Franklin's long-lost ships and men, one without which, arguably, Parks Canada's 2014 discovery of HMS "Erebus" would never have been possible. And yet it's a book that relatively few, aside from the true Franklinomanes, have read, read recently, or read with care. And so it's extraordinarily welcome news that McGil-Queen's University Press has seen fit to bring out this new paperback edition, just in time for those who have only recently contracted Franklin fever to apply its sobering salve to their heated brows.

The text of the book is essentially unmodified from its first edition -- but, as Woodman explains in his thoughtful and informative preface, that's because -- aside from one or two relatively minor points he addresses there -- the testimony he's collected and analyzed still stands, and has been proven entirely accurate in every instance where it's been possible to corroborate it with physical evidence.

Those -- such as latter-day Franklin biographer Andrew Lambert -- who have depracated Inuit oral testimony as somehow flawed, somehow unreliable, simply do not understand it, and would do well to read this book with more care. In a pre-literature culture, oral stories function quite a bit differently than they do in a literate one; Plato was entirely correct when he warned against the use of alphabetic script, saying that it would lead to the weakening of the human faculty of memory:
If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. 
And it's true: any historian worth her or his salt knows that written accounts are hardly immune to errors of transmission,  promulgated through copying, miscopying, and misquoting, and how faith in the truth of the printed word can misguide readers. We should think, then, of the oral-traditional period as one in which the memory, indeed, was stronger, more methodical, and more robust -- because it had to be. For the Inuit, who were still living in the oral age two millennia after the Greeks, their survival depended on it. Where was a good place to fish in the fall? Where were seals found last year? The year before? The last year in which the sea-ice was thicker than usual? Where, in case of need, were one's old food caches, on which one had to depend when game was scarce?

That these strangers came among them, thus, was something which the Inuit recalled with tremendous detail and remarkable consistency. Those Inuit who spoke to McClintock, to Rae, to Hall, and to Schwatka told their stories with great care, always noting whether they had personally witnessed the events or were passing on accounts from others. They named all present at the time as witnesses, and these names were remembered even when, generations later, Knud Rasmussen spoke to the sons and grandsons of the hunters who had told their tales in the 1860's and 1870's. Indeed, as Dorothy Eber has shown, many of the essential elements of this tradition were still recalled by elders well into the 1990's, although by then decades of settlement life, satellite television, and sedentary existence had dulled some details.

In his introduction, Woodman points clearly to the ways in which the Inuit testimony has been proven accurate: the Inuit testified that some of Franklin's men resorted to cannibalism, which has now been verified by forensic studies by Beattie, Keenleyside, and others. The Inuit led white men searching for Franklin to the bones of his men, to the places where their boats and camps had been, without error, a tradition that has continued up through to Louie Kamookak today. And, most significantly, the Inuit testimony consistently indicated the area where one of Franklin's ships had sunk, the spring after a winter during which they had visited the vessel, near an island in water shallow enough that the masts still showed above the surface. Without knowing the precise location, we can easily see that this account, which placed the ship near an island in Wilmot & Crampton Bay, has been proven entirely accurate.

This Inuit testimony, long ignored, was collected and collated by Woodman, who managed to sift through multiple accounts by multiple witnesses, accounts in which certain details varied, or dates and place-names were ambiguous (local bands of Inuit often gave names to familiar places which turned out to be identical to those used for other places by other bands). It was a tremendous labor, and it's no discredit to the original Inuit witnesses to say that, without Woodman's work, it would have been very difficult indeed to make much use of it.

That said, Unravelling remains a challenging read. One has the sense, even on the second or third time around, of having stumbled into a rabbit-hole of what are, initially at least, confusingly overlapping and interconnected accounts. Woodman organizes the material as clearly as possible, but even he can't avoid doubling back and forth a bit in his search to re-connect loose or missing ends. Which makes his book even more valuable, in that, even for those who think they know these tales, Woodman stimulates a careful reconsideration, a probing mind, and -- it can't be helped -- the tendency to form theories of one's own.

Woodman graciously acknowledges this, and offers insightful reflections on the developments -- the birth of the public Internet chief among them -- which have augmented what we know, even as they have, inevitably, re-muddied some of what had seemed clear waters.

A few days ago, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society gave out a newly-designed "Erebus medal," presenting 220 of them to those whose work contributed to the 2014 find. And yet, that list could readily have been shortened by about 219 -- for, without the work of David C. Woodman, there would almost certainly have been nothing to celebrate. His is one of the greatest achievements of amateur historians, whose love of mystery causes them to revisit that which the world of written reference falsely believes to have been solved. And, for those still fascinated by the Franklin story, there is good news: it still isn't.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Second in Command

Second In Command

by May Fluhmann

NWT Department of Information (1976)

Reviewed by Regina Koellner


It is a phenomenon that so many books have been written about Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated expedition, but so few about the officers and men who accompanied him. There is currently only one biography of Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier available, namely Michael Smith's Captain Francis Crozier: Last man StandingJames Fitzjames, Commander of H.M.S. Erebus, had to wait until 2010 for his story to be told by William Battersby in James Fitzjames – The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition. Graham Gore, Harry Goodsir and all the others still remain unsung heroes.

In Crozier’s case, though, there is in fact a second biography apart from Smith's, but other than in selected libraries and archives, it's hard to find a copy. The book, published in a small edition by the Government of the Northwest Territories (Department of Information), is appropriately called “Second in Command” and was written by Franklin Expedition enthusiast May Fluhmann in 1976.

This small softcover (162 pages) with its modest blue bookplate and a grainy reproduction of the only known daguerreotype of Crozier on the cover is very fitting for a book about that modest and unobtrusive man. It includes five pages with photos, most of which can be found in better quality on the internet nowadays. The most interesting illustration is a photograph of an envelope addressed in Crozier’s handwriting to James Clark Ross (Crozier’s closest friend since they both sailed as midshipmen with Parry in 1821).

May Fluhmann (1906 – 1985) was a professional Julliard-trained musician before she became a telegrapher. She developed a lifelong interest in John Franklin early on. Almost incidentally, while reading a book on Franklin, she discovered the Crozier letters held at the Scott Polar Research Institute by and asked the author where the cited letter by Crozier could be found. She then contacted SPRI and obtained copies of their Crozier collection. Her stated goal was not to write another book about the Franklin Expedition. Instead, she wanted to show the personality behind the forgotten historic figure of Francis Crozier; and what better way to find out about a man’s character than through his letters. And this is what makes “Second in Command” so interesting and well worth reading, even with Michael Smith’s biography now on hand.

The first part of the book describes Crozier’s family background and gives a short outline of his early career, but the middle part of the book is peppered with excerpts from Crozier’s letters. A large part of his last letter to James Clark Ross from Whalefish Island is there, as well as one written during Ross’ excursion with Parry to the North Pole in which Crozier’s deep affection and fear for his friend shines through the narrative of everyday shipboard life. We learn from other letters of Crozier’s fragile state of mind after the Antarctic expedition, his delight at discovering his interest for art in Florence, his fear of being left behind because the Admiralty might not approve two ships for the Antarctic voyage – and fearing the same prior to the Franklin Expedition. We see him agonizing about going second to Franklin instead of volunteering for the leadership of the exhibition, but also light-heartedly writing of his amusement at a small marble statue he had had made of himself in Italy, his caring for his elderly sisters, his love for his brothers and many other thoughts and minor and major events he writes about in his own entertaining style.

The third part of the book deals with the events following the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition. In the meantime, more detailed books on Inuit oral history about the expedition's last days have been published; among them the two volumes by David Woodman, and Dorothy Eber’s Encounters in the Passageand anyone who has made the effort to obtain a copy of “Second in Command” is most likely familiar with them. Although Miss Fluhmann makes some valuable points, she also veers a bit from the course of scientific neutrality a few times in defending her firm belief that Crozier was Aglooka, a theory which still has yet to be proved – or disproved. Nevertheless, she narrates Crozier’s alleged doomed path with apparent sympathy.

Francis Crozier was not a man given to beating his own drum. Through her book, May Fluhmann has allowed us to see a glimpse of his personality and so achieved her goal: to show us the human being behind the legend. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In the Kingdom of Ice

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeanette

By Hampton Sides

454 p., b&w illustrations, maps, notes, selected bibliography

NY; Random House, 2014

Reviewed by William Barr


Influenced by the deluded idea of German geographer and armchair explorer, August Petermann (and of many of his contemporaries) that the North Pole lay in the middle of an ice-free Open Polar Sea, surrounded by a relatively narrow annular belt of sea-ice, in the 1870’s, following the disastrous outcome of Charles Francis Hall’s expedition on board Polaris in 1871-73, Lt. George W. De Long of the US Navy conceived of mounting another attempt at the North Pole, but by a different route. With the financial backing of James Gordon Bennett, flamboyant  owner of the New York Herald, on  8 July 1879 he sailed from San Francisco on board the bark-rigged, three-masted steamer, Jeannette which, through Bennett’s influence, had been flagged as a unit of the US Navy.  She was northward-bound for Bering Strait. De Long was further influenced by Petermann’s mistaken concept that the Kuro Siwo, the relatively warm current which flows north past Japan and Kamchatka,  must penetrate through Bering Strait and thus produce a zone of relative weakness in the ring of sea ice surrounding the Open Polar Sea.

Having negotiated Bering Strait Jeannette pushed north across the Chukchi Sea but by 7 September she was solidly beset in the ice.  Thereafter the ice drift carried her north and northwest, during which time De Long was able to establish for the first time that Wrangel Island was a relatively small island. The ship’s drift continued through the winter of 1879-80, the summer of 1880 and the winter of 1880-81.  On 17 May 1881 a relatively small island was sighted and named Jeannette Island, and a week later a slightly larger island, named Henrietta Island, after Bennett’s mother, was discovered. A landing party led by the engineer, George Melville, made a brief landing.

As if De Long did not have enough to worry about, since New Year’s 1880 the navigation officer John Danenhower, had been progressively going blind in one eye, the result of syphilis. And in January 1881 De Long was forced to remove Jerome Collins, the civilian meteorologist, from duty for insolence and disobedience.

Jeannette’s painfully tedious westward drift continued but during a particularly severe bout of ice pressure on 12 June 1881 her hull was crushed and she began to sink. But before she sank a substantial amount of provisions, equipment, dogs, three boats and boat-sledges were unloaded onto the ice.  This occurred at a position some 160 km to the northeast of New Siberia, the easternmost of the New Siberian Islands.

Assisted by their dogs Jeannette’s crew started south by the soul-destroying labour of hauling the boats on sledges. On 29 July they landed on a fairly large island, which was named Bennett Island. Taking advantage of the abundant driftwood for fuel and the great flocks of sea-birds for food De Long decided to stay encamped on the island for a week while he and his men recouped their strength.   By this time the ice was breaking up and when they left the island on 6 August it was by boat, with De Long in charge of one boat,  engineer George Melville in a second, and executive officer Charles Chipp  in the third, and smallest.

On 30 August they landed on Faddeyevskiy Island, to the west of New Siberia. Running south through the strait between the two islands, the boats then coasted west along the south shores of Faddeyevskiy Island and Kotelniy Island, and on 6 September they headed southwest across the Laptev Sea, aiming for the Lena Delta.. After a brief landing on Semenovskiy Island, they encountered a steadily  strengthening gale and rising seas.  Chipp’s boat dropped astern and finally disappeared; Melville’s, the fastest of the three, also disappeared ahead.  De Long’s boat rode out the storm to an improvised sea anchor, and finally on 15 September he and his party reached land on the northeast coast of the Lena delta.   Then on the 19th, having cached all non-essentials, and with only a few days’ food they started walking south, guided by a totally inadequate map, across the vast, complex labyrinth of channels, lakes and innumerable intervening islands, which is the Lena delta, with winter rapidly approaching.

On 6 October Erichsen, whose feet had frozen, was the first to die; he was buried through a hole in the river ice.   On the 9th, by which time every member of the party was exhausted, emaciated, frost-bitten and starving, De Long sent the two strongest men, Nindemann and Noros, ahead to find help.  To their good fortune , on the 22nd a Yakut, Ivan Androsov, found the two men, barely alive, in one of his seasonal huts.  He and his companions fed and sheltered them but insisted in traveling south with them.  Despite their best efforts,  because of the language problem Nindemann and Noros were unable to  convince their rescuers that they should head north to rescue De Long and his companions.  But ultimately, by a series of coincidences, on 2 November, engineer George Melville discovered them at Bulun, some 125 km upstream from the head of the delta.

After the three boats had become separated on 12 September Melville and his party, like De Long’s party, had survived the severe storm by improvising a sea-anchor.  They reached land on the east side of the delta on the 17th.  Heading up a major channel, on the 19th they encountered a group of Evenki who fed and sheltered them.   They were at the settlement of Zemovyalakh when Melville heard by chance that two  other Americans were at Bulun, and hurried south  to meet them.

Having obtained from Nindemann and Noros a sketch map of their wanderings, and especially of where they had left De Long and party, and having instructed Danenhower to head south with the rest of his group to Yakutsk, on 5 November Melville set off north again with two dog teams driven by the Yakuts Vasiliy and Tomat.  On his northward trip he failed to find the bodies of De Long and party, but on 13 November he reached the coast and found the depot which De Long had left  there. Retrieving all the records and various artifacts, he then started back south, but lost the trail and again failed to find the bodies of De Long and party.   Realizing that they must all be dead, he  continued south to Bulun, reaching it on 27 November. From there, along with Nindemann and Noros he traveled south to  the city of Yakutsk by reindeer sledge, arriving there on  30 December.

On 16 January 1882 Melville set off back north to the Lena delta, accompanied by Nindemann and Bartlett, but also by a squad of soldiers and Yakut guides and  with the full support  of the Russian government, to renew the search for De Long and his companions,  and also for any traces of Lt. Chipp’s party.  Although delayed by vicious weather at Bulun until mid-March, he pushed north into the delta once again and on 23 March discovered the  frozen bodies of De Long and his entire party, with the exception of the Alaskan Inupiat, Aleksey. The bodies were loaded onto dog-sledges and hauled south some 20 km to a small but conspicuous hill named  Kuyel Khaya . On its summit, using lumber from an abandoned scow, Melville and his men built an imposing tomb measuring 7’ by 22’  and  2’ deep, into which the bodies were placed; a pyramid of rocks was built on top of it and an imposing cross 20’ high with a cross-arm measuring 12’ was raised above it.  The site is now known as Amerika Khaya.

Danenhower and most of the survivors from the Jeannette  were back in New York by May 1882.  Melville, Nindemann and Noros arrived there, to a tremendous welcome, on board the liner Parthia on 13 September.

This is simply the barest outline of the remarkable story of the Jeannette expedition, as told by Sides in a lively, readable style, with  a useful selection of illustrations and map.  Unfortunately, however, the story as he tells it is far from complete, in that we learn only a small part of the complex history of the various searches  for the missing men.  Admittedly Sides does devote three chapters, totaling 28 pages. to the cruise of the Thomas Corwin, Captain Calvin Hooper, of the Revenue Cutter Service. A search for the Jeannette was added to Hooper’s normal duties during a cruise in the Bering and Chukchi seas (Muir 1917 ; Hooper 1881).  Among his other achievements Hooper landed briefly on both Herald and Wrangel islands, and claimed the latter for the United States, but found no trace of the Jeannette.

Another search vessel, the steamer USS Alliance, Captain George Wadleigh, put to sea from Norfolk, Virginia on 6 June 1881.  A reporter for the New York Herald, Harry Macdonna, was on board.  After calling at Reykjavik and Hammerfest Alliance headed north, and after calling at various locations on Spitsbergen, was blocked by ice and forced to turn back at 80° 00’ 55” N.  After running south to Hammerfest to bunker, Wadleigh made yet another attempt at searching in the area of Spitsbergen, before  running for home, arriving in New York in November (Newcomb  1883:70-78). Sides barely mentions the cruise of the Alliance.

The cruise of yet another search vessel, the USS Rodgers, commanded by Lt. Robert Berry,  perhaps the most dramatic of the three, receives an equally brief mention in Sides’s book.  With the New York Herald  reporter  William H. Gilder on board,  Rodgers put to sea from San Francisco on 16 June 1881, and having called at Petropavlovsk and St Michael’s Alaska, on 24 August reached and landed on Herald Island, and on the 26  anchored in Rodgers Bay on Wrangel Island (Gilder 1888).   From there, while Berry hiked inland for a distance of about 30 km, two boat parties were dispatched round the coast, one clockwise, the other anticlockwise.  At their farthest points each was  within sight of the farthest point reached by the other.  Running back south through Bering Strait, Berry put his ship into winter quarters in St. Lawrence Bay on 16 October 1881. There, unfortunately, Rodgers caught fire and was a total loss, although everyone got ashore safely.  Her crew members were dispersed among four Chukchi villages in the vicinity for the winter.

From there Gilder started west overland, bound for Irkutsk, with a view to sending a telegram to New York about the fate of the Rodgers. Lt. Berry and Ensign Henry Hunt also headed west overland. Meanwhile another reporter for the Herald, John P. Jackson, was traveling to the Lena delta from Europe. Also dispatched from New York were Lt. G.B. Harber and Lt. W.H. Schuetze, with orders to search the delta for traces of Lt. Chipp’s party. The story of  the travels of these various parties,  and their  further searches of the Lena delta is an extremely complex one, but we learn nothing of them from Sides’s account. Nor do we learn  from it that having searched the delta and returned south to Yakutsk Harber and Schuetze received further instructions to disinter the bodies of De Long  and his companions and to repatriate them to the United States.  Heading back north to the delta once again, having disinterred the bodies from their impressive  tomb Harber and Schuetze started south with the frozen bodies in a cavalcade of  seven dog sledges  on 3 March 1883 (Harber 1884; McAdoo 1902).  Having switched to 16 reindeer sleighs at Verkhoyansk, they reached Yakutsk on 29 March. The bodies were then stowed in a pit 10-12 feet deep in the permafrost for the summer.  Then on  28 November, with the bodies in sealed tin-lined  coffins Harber and Schuetze started east to Irkutsk with seven horse-drawn sleighs.  From there, traveling by various means, the bodies were transported east, being greeted with impressive ceremony at every town and city they passed through in Siberia, Russia, and Western Europe, complete with catafalques, wreaths and military escorts.  They reached Hamburg on 3 February 1884 and New York on the 22nd. De Long and his men were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx on 23 February 1884.

Even with this Lt. Schuetze’s duties relating to the  searches for the survivors were not complete.  He was sent back to the Lena delta with testimonials, swords, gold watches and medals for officials and local residents who had assisted the survivors or helped in the searches (McAdoo 1902)..  He left New York on 8 July 1885, reaching Bulun on 5 February 1886. He gave out medals and gifts of supplies at five settlements in the delta and surrounding area.  Starting back south on 3 April 1886 he was back in New York by 26 September 1886.

Although  the complicated story of the searches for Chipp’s party, the repatriation of the bodies and Schuetze’s subsequent journey back to the Lena delta are clearly integral parts of the story of the Jeannette expedition, there is at best only passing mentions of them in Sides’s book.

Moreover, nowhere in Sides’s text do we learn that  there were two official Boards of  Inquiry into  the expedition. The report of the first, entitled  Jeannette Inquiry. Before the Committee on Naval Affairs of the United States  House of Representatives. Forty-Eighth Congress was published in 1882. The  second Board of Inquiry, whose report is entitled Loss of the Steamer Jeannette: Record of the proceedings of a Court of Inquiry convened at the Navy Department 1884, was held because of accusations  from his family that Jerome Collins, the civilian meteorologist, “had been treated with every indignity and outrage” and that the first Board of Inquiry had simply been a cover-up.  While both reports are  very substantial documents (the second one runs to a daunting  total of 1043 pages), at least some discussion of them  clearly  should have a place in  a history of the Jeannette expedition.  In short, Sides’s book  falls far short of telling the whole story.


References

Gilder, W.H. 1888. Ice-pack and tundra. An account of the search for the Jeannette and a sledge journey through Siberia. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Harber, G.B. 1884. Report of Lieut. G.B. Harber, U.S.N., concerning the search for the missing persons of the Jeannette Expedition, and the transportation of the remains of Lieutenant-Commander De Long and companions to the United States. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Hooper, C. 1881.Report of the cruise of the U.S. Revenue Steamer Thomas Corwin in the Arctic Ocean, 1881.  Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
McAdoo, W. 1902. William Henry Schuetze. New York: Privately printed.
Muir, J. 1917.  The cruise of the Corwin. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Newcomb, R.L. 1883. Our lost explorers: The narrative of the Jeannette Arctic Expedition ... Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co.

William Barr,
Arctic Institute of North America,
University of Calgary,
Calgary AB T2N 1N4
Canada

wbarr@ucalgary.ca

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rough Weather All Day

Rough Weather All Day: An Account of the “Jeannette” Search Expedition

by Patrick Cahill, edited by David Hirzel

Pacifica, CA: Terra Nova Press.  173 pp., $20.00 USD.

Reviewed by: P.J. Capelotti, Division of Social Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, Abington College, Abington, PA 19001, USA. E-mail: pjc12@psu.edu


James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald and the man who had dispatched Henry Morton Stanley to Africa in search of the British missionary Dr. David Livingstone, was equally fascinated with the Arctic. In 1873, Bennett dispatched two reporters to search for the survivors of Charles Francis Hall’s doomed North Pole expedition.  Five years later, he assigned a reporter to an expedition in search of Sir John Franklin sponsored by the American Geographic Society and led by a U.S. Army lieutenant named Frederick Schwatka.

Bennett sponsored his greatest Arctic venture in 1879.   A U.S. Navy captain, George Washington DeLong, was ordered to locate the ‘lost’ expedition of the Swede Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld—and then attempt to reach the North Pole itself.  DeLong sailed from San Francisco in the Pandora, a former Royal Navy vessel which Bennett had purchased and renamed Jeannette after his sister.  The navy agreed to man the ship if Bennett paid all the expenses of the expedition.

Even before the Jeannette reached the Arctic, Nordenskiöld and his ship Vega broke through the ice north of Russia and emerged into the Bering Sea.  With no dramatic rescue to report, DeLong continued with his secondary mission and turned north towards Elisha Kent Kane’s chimerical open sea and the North Pole beyond.  The Jeannette was soon beset in the ice north of the New Siberian Islands and, after two grueling years drifting about in the ice, crushed.  DeLong and his men made a desperate retreat in the ship’s small boats to the Lena River delta on the Siberian coast.  Only one of the three boats reached safety, another vanished with all hands, and DeLong’s own small boat made it to shore where he and all but two of his men starved to death as they waited in vain for relief.  To intensify the disaster, a newly-commissioned U.S. Navy vessel sent to find DeLong, the U.S.S. Rodgers, was itself burned to the waterline and blown to pieces.

This interesting volume presents an edited version of the diary of a sailor on board the Rodgers, a thirty-two-year-old Irish-American mechanic named Patrick Cahill.  Cahill was brought to the U.S. as a boy and by his mid-twenties had found work as on a railway in Panama.  In 1880, Cahill joined the U.S. Navy as a Machinist’s Mate and the following year volunteered for service on the Rodgers as the navy sought to learn the fate of DeLong and his ship and crew.

Cahill must have possessed some literary ability in addition to his skills with machinery, as he was contracted by the San Francisco Chronicle to act as a correspondent during the Rodgers search for DeLong.  Cahill’s notes from the cruise never seem to have made it to the Chronicle, but a typescript was later made of them and, combined with interviews he gave in his seventies to the Oakland Tribune, form the source material for this edited volume.

Cahill’s observations make for terrific reading.  He describes his mates as “some pretty rough sailors” (p. 26), many of whom had been north previously and knew to carry a stash of trade goods with which to barter for furs and ivory in the far north.  As Cahill wrote: “We expect to have all kinds of curios when we return” (p. 30).  While the carpenter and cook suffered grievously from sea-sickness, Cahill loves being under sail: “it is grand to look at a big sea just as it comes aboard and dashes all over everything” (p. 31).  When the Rodgers arrived in ‘Port Petropaulovski’ (now Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky) in late July, the officers on board the Russian cruiser Strelok (Cahill called it the 'Straylok') toasted the men of the Rodgers and the Russian Emperor, at which point the Americans who exactly was the emperor since the assassination of the last one.  This quickly ended the celebrations, as the Russians, on the far side of the empire, had not yet learned of the assassination of Alexander II in St. Petersburg more than four months earlier.

By late August, the Rodgers had cleared the Bering Strait and searched at Wrangel Island and along the north coast of Siberian for any trace of the Jeannette.  Finding none, the ship returned southwards and November anchored for the winter in St. Lawrence Bay on the eastern coast of the Chukotka Peninsula on the far eastern tip of Siberia.  There, on November 30th, after the fire pumps had been disconnected to keep them from freezing, a fire in the fore hold broke out.  The crew battled the fire as long as possible while the ship was run aground in about three fathoms.  The ship burned to the waterline, and these are some of Cahill’s most vivid descriptions, as the crew scurried supplies ashore in the small boats before the ship was a total loss.

The entire crew escaped, to face a forced winter amidst four small villages of Inuit who nevertheless shared out what limited stocks of walrus and seal they possessed.  Despite the near-starvation diet that nearly killed him, Cahill maintained his daily observations throughout the winter until a whaler arrived in the spring and took the men off to San Francisco.  There Cahill recovered from his fascinating ordeal, left the navy, and made a career for himself in the city’s cable cars.

The volume is the product of Terra Nova Press, described as a ‘small POD publishing enterprise [that] seeks to bring into print the smaller, less-well-known true stories of polar exploration in the days of the sailing ship.’  The press is the result of editor David Hirzel’s longtime interest in Arctic and Antarctic exploration and, in  particular, the Irish contribution to same, as previous works have covered the life and travels of the ‘Irish Giant’ of the Royal Navy, Tom Crean.

The lack of proper editing does show at times, with errors in punctuation and especially with inconsistencies in the use of italics and/or underlining for the names of ships and the titles of newspapers.  In spite of these, the volume contains fascinating insights into a little-known sideshow of the vast saga of the Jeannette expedition and its aftermath.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cambridge Library Collection: Arctic Classics

Cambridge Library Collection

Various titles, $37.99 - $75

Cambridge University Press


Reviewed by Russell A. Potter



It's not often that we review multiple titles in a single notice -- but this case is exceptional. There's no other single publisher who offers such a range of classic expedition narratives, and it would seem unfair to single out any one of these many volumes. Chosen in consultation with the Scott Polar Research Institute, they represent the widest array of classic Arctic book currently in print and available from any publisher I know. And, though it's quite true that the majority of them can be read for free online via Google Books or archive.org, there's something about these particular books -- and these particular reprints -- that makes obtaining them as actual, physical books a particular value.

Over past decades, a number of publishers have reprinted books such as these -- classics in their field which have long gone out of print -- and sold them, primarily to the library market. Many of these books were "blowbacks" -- printed from microfilm -- and sometimes left something to be desired, as when large-format books were reprinted in a smaller trim size, resulting in painfully small print. Such troubles also plague online books, which in many cases replicate the errors of careless scanning or filming -- maps photographed folded, bent pages obscuring text, foxing, and missing pages. As someone whose first job out of college was editing microfilm collections for Research Publications (now Primary Source Media), I appreciate that these things do happen -- but when they're not caught, the value of the copy declines significantly.

And this, to my mind, is the best thing about these Cambridge reprints. They're freshly scanned from originals held by Cambridge libraries, and extra care is taken that each page is faithfully reproduced. Equally importantly, they're generally done in the same trim size as the originals, which gives them a welcome readability -- and heft -- which others lack. There's something truly extraordinary, I've discovered, about reading volumes such as Charles Francis Hall's narrative of his second Arctic expedition, with all of the in-line illustrations and text at full size -- it feels just as good as reading the original (and far more convenient, as copies in good shape are scarce, and generally don't circulate outside libraries).

The Press's blog recently featured a variety of books by or relating to Sir John Franklin, some of which, such as Dr. King's, are scarce indeed, and all of which look to be handsomely presented. There are some other titles, too, that this list (inadvertently, I'm sure) missed: the Memoirs of Lieutenant Joseph René Bellot, the Memorial Sketch of the Life of John Irving, and Sir John Richardson's Arctic Searching Expedition, each of which offers a unique primary-source glimpse of the pathos and curiosity which surrounded the search for Franklin. Amercian Arctic figures are not neglected -- Isaac I. Hayes's The Open Polar Sea is available, and Dr. Elisha Kent Kane's Grinnell narratives are soon to be released. It fires the imagination to think of the reference library one could amass at home, without the cost and anxiety of finding original editions.

These volumes, I should note, are not inexpensive -- the prices, in general, are geared to the library market -- but given their quality, are eminently reasonable. Those who are willing to do business with amazon.com will find that most are available there at a discount. According the the publishers, they've found that a surprising proportion of recent sales have been to individuals, and I'm sure that's a trend that will continue. For all the vaunted revolution of electronic books, there are some -- these among them -- which really can't be appreciated if they don't take up some space on a shelf, and in one's hands.

UPDATE: I've since found this link to the complete Polar/Arctic list.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Dream of the North

The Dream of the North: A Cultural History to 1920

by Peter Fjågesund

Rodopi, 2014, $175

Reviewed by Russell A. Potter


Every few years, a book comes out which offers -- or purports to offer -- a sweeping overview of the history of Arctic exploration and its historical significance. Most, however, take the explorers' accounts at face value, and are essentially elegant coffee-table books for armchair enthusiasts. When I first saw the title of this book, though encouraged by the subtitle "a cultural history," I was a bit skeptical -- how could any book, especially one just over five hundred and fifty pages in length, cover such a period, and cover it well?

Peter Fjågesund manages this feat, and several others along the way: unlike other recent cultural histories, which -- rejecting the old grand narratives -- have cobbled together in their place a rather lumpy "new North" out of Scandinavian mythology, wandering antiquarians, and stuffed polar bears, Fjågesund is not afraid of large-scale synthesis and broad intellectual history. One may disagree with his analysis, but his positing of the northward turn as a specifically Protestant, individualist, vernacular movement is a compelling one, and throws sparks of new insight even as it startles old orthodoxies.

Of course, tracing the idea of "North" back through ancient times involves a certain amount of distortion -- for Herodotus, the "North," where he placed the anthropophagai, was somewhere in the Balkans;  for the Romans, the North was the land east of the Rhine and north of the Danube, the realms of the Germani. And yet, both the Greeks and the Romans had preserved some accounts of lands still further north, so far as to seem almost mythical; there the water was as thick as soup, and the sun did not set for days on end, a land they called Ultima Thule. It was, perhaps, this slow-advancing line between myth and geography that the idea of "North" named, and it's this strange interzone whose history Fjågesund outlines.

The Middle Ages form another turning point; as Fjågesund notes, the sweep of the Black Death hit particularly hard in northern Europe, leaving some tribes far more isolated than they had been before. And, although unrelated, the depopulation and eventual extinction of the Greenland colonies, was widely recounted throughout Europe, and formed perhaps the first instance of the great myth of Arctic disappearance, one which carried on into legends from those of Sir Hugh Willoughby to Sir John Franklin and beyond.

But this is just part of the larger narrative Fjågesund wants to tell. Unlike most previous historians of the Arctic fascination, he takes political elements into full account, and indeed demonstrates that they were integral from the beginning. This does a good deal to explain England's unusual prominence; as far back as Frobisher, geopolitical latitudes of influence were already divided into "Northern" (England and northern Europe) and "Southern" (Mediterranean/Catholic Europe) spheres. As Dionyse Settle, Frobisher's chronicler, put it,
Spaine is situated much more neere the Tropike of Cancer, then other Christian countries be : wherby, the Spaniards are better able to tolerate Phoebus burning beames, then others whiche are more Septentrional.  Wherfore, I suppose them the most apte men for the inioying of the habitation of the West Indies : and especially so much, as it is vexed with continual heate, that is more agreeable to their temperature.
Of course, Settle's argument didn't prevent England, and later Great Britain, from establishing colonies in tropical regions, but it did give the island nation a seemingly natural affiliation with the North, albeit one it would in theory share with Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, among others.

Indeed, in this sense, the work of exploring and colonizing the North, because so large a portion of it took place in more recent times -- when cultural nation-states were more firmly established -- offers an unique window into the evolution of nationalism itself. And, although it is admittedly painted with wide brush-strokes, it also connects this political history to a cultural division, with struggle, sacrifice, austerity, and interiority on the Northern/Protestant side, and leisure, abundance, profligacy, and sensuality on the Southern/Catholic side. It's easy, of course, to show this to be a false dichotomy, but it has proven to be a remarkably durable one all the same.

As Fjågesund's narrative draws nearer to the "heroic age" of Arctic exploration, it tacks a bit closer to the usual historical winds, but despite this still manages to cast this period in a fresh light. It would be impossible to summarize his entire argument; I can only urge anyone in search of a bolder and more historically sweeping view of the idea of the "North" to read this book. At the same time, I would urge the publishers to make it available to the public, perhaps in paperback or e-book form, at a price more within the usual bounds of a trade publication; its true value will only be realized if it reaches a far wider audience. It deserves to do so.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stray Leaves from the Arctic

In 1852, the indefatigable Sherard Osborn -- a prolific if not always pleasant collaborator and author -- published his Stray Leaves from an Arctic Journal. The stray leaves of this review, however, are of a quite different and more visually engaging variety: a chapbook and a small volume of illustrated cards inspired by words in in the Greenlandic Inuit dialect. Both share slight dimensions and lightness of weight; they seem as though they might almost have arrived at our doorstep via message balloons like those dispatched in 1851 in the search for Sir John Franklin, or perhaps fallen out onto our desk as we opened some more ponderous tome of Arctic journeys. We can only express our delight that they have.

The first is Nancy Campbell's How to Say 'I Love You' in Greenlandic, a miniaturized version of her fine press art book of the same name. Campbell, who was a writer in residence at the Upernavik Museum in 2010, is presently the holder of the Lady Margaret Hall Visual and Performing Arts Residency at Oxford. As a printmaker and bookmaker, Campbell deftly deploys her artistry and design to create books that are not merely things of beauty, but which preserve and embody the languages, cultures, and wildlife of the Arctic regions. The change in size of this edition has a remarkable effect; though most of us imagine the Arctic as vast and panoramic, now here it is in our very hands: small, portable, vernacular. And, like the Kalaallisut language itself, it is vulnerable, beautiful, and agglomerative -- as a single word can mean a whole sentence, a single image encompasses the color and form of one of the Earth's most remote yet lovely landscapes. The cards come wrapped in a pale blue paper liner with a white band -- one could conceivably send them as postcards, though here at the ABR, we plan to keep them together, picking them up at times to let them cascade from hand to hand, or perhaps leaning them on a shelf, with a different card facing outwards each day.


Today's word is orsualerpaa: she pours oil on water so that it becomes calm, then she can see what lies in the depths.

The second of these volumes, one of the "Occasional Nuggets" series issued right here in town by the Special Collections staff at the Providence Public Library, is entitled On the Ice: Two Stories from the Arctic. Each issue features items of interest from within their holdings, and this one has two. The first, the journal of one Nicholas Bailey, who shipped aboard the whaler Harlequin in 1768, is a relatively conventional document of its kind; the document of far greater interest is the second one. It's the journal of Roderick R. Schneider, one of the less-well-known members of the infamous Greely Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay on Ellesmere Island. Led by Adolphus Washington Greely, it set a new record for furthest north in 1881, and gathered a valuable trove of meteorological and magnetic information; these accomplishments might have made it a beacon for other polar explorers, had it not been for what followed. Following orders, Greely abandoned his northern camp at Fort Conger and retreated south, unaware that the promised caches of supplies had never been made at his destination. He and his men endured horrific hardships that reduced his original party from twenty-one men to a mere six, with dissension, starvation, and cannibalism in the mix.

Schneider was a mere enlisted man, and was chiefly known during the expedition for his skill in handling the sled dogs, a skill with which none of the party had any previous acquaintance. And yet, in the party's final struggle for survival, Schneider (along with others) was caught stealing food and rum, for which he was sternly reprimanded by Greely. He managed to survive, against all odds, and was the last to succumb, dying only four days before the survivors were finally rescued. His diary was transcribed by a member of the rescue party -- which was fortunate, as the original later went missing and was entirely lost, save for a few leaves, on a Mississippi steamboat aboard which the purloiner had brought them. It is this transcript which survives at the Library.

Both the Bailey and Schneider documents are described at length, illustrated with full-color scans of some of the more interesting leaves of their originals. They bring, each in their way, the material history of Arctic journeys, and make quite a "nugget" in combination.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Graves of Ice

Graves of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition

By John Wilson

Scholastic Canada, CDN$ 14.99
Ages 9-12

Reviewed by Kristina Gehrmann


In Graves of Ice, author John Wilson tells the story of Franklin’s Lost Expedition as part of the I am Canada series, a collection of stories about adventure and exploration geared toward a pre-teen audience. He has explored the same theme previously in the novel North with Franklin: The Lost Journals of James Fitzjames; and in the young-adult book Across Frozen Seas. A biography of Sir John Franklin - Traveller on Undiscovered Seas is also part of his repertoire of many historical books and novels.

 The story is told from the viewpoint of one of the expedition's boys. Eighteen-year-old George Chambers can read and write, works as a clerk, and thanks to his father’s connections manages to get a spot aboard HMS Erebus, one of the ships to sail for the Arctic on Sir John Franklin’s much-awaited expedition. They are to leave England in May of 1845 to find and complete a Northwest-Passage through the Arctic, building on the achievement of former explorers. The general consensus is that there is merely a small part of the Passage yet to be discovered, that it is theirs for the taking, and that with the aid of modern technology it will now be claimed once and for all.

But a year or so before, our protagonist meets another boy: Davy, a half-orphan, who earns a modest living muck-raking in the mud. Davy invites George on a “treasure hunt” in the churchyard at night, and George, eager for adventure, goes along. It is in the following scene that the stark contrast between the two boys’ backgrounds and upbringing becomes most apparent. The reader notices that Davy intends to steal a corpse from the grave; but to George in all his stunning naïveté this doesn’t occur – indeed, he asks upon digging up the coffin, surprised, “The treasure’s in the coffin?”

Only then does he realize what they’re about to do. Horrified, he wants to get away, but Davy’s companion, a grave robber named Jim, gets ready to kill George, but then Davy steps in and stabs Jim to death, saving George’s life. The latter is now even more shocked to know what his new acquaintance is capable of, and wants nothing more to do with him and his life of crime.

In the next year, George has almost forgotten this scary episode when, to his horror, he finds the same grave-robbing street urchin serving alongside him as a cabin boy on HMS Erebus. Although they work on the same tasks, try to put their awkward start behind them and get along with each other, the differences in their personalities create conflict throughout the book. Davy is a tough kid who grew up in a harsh dog-eat-dog world, not always hiding his deep-seated suspicion of the aloof officers (“toffs”), while George, the well-mannered, slightly naïve young gentleman gets along well with Commander Fitzjames whom he’s been assigned to, shares the officers’ optimism about the expedition’s goals, and trusts them to make the right decisions for the good of all.

The journey starts off well enough. George and Davy have plenty of work to do, attending to the officers, assisting the cook, and learning to climb the rigging. They also make friends with fellow sailors. One of these, a Royal Marine named William Braine, will already be familiar to some readers as one of the expedition’s famous ice mummies exhumed in 1986.

As this book is intended for younger readers, it's not as long and descriptive as one might expect from a novel. Certain events are merely mentioned or implied and not shown, such as incidents of cannibalism that have occurred among Franklin’s men in the Arctic. A Franklin enthusiast might also feel that the officers’ characters are too roughly outlined and have not been done justice, but Crozier and Co. are not the focus of this book. The protagonists’ characterization is splendid. The often-overlooked ships’ boys David and George become more than mere names on the muster rolls, and one finds it easy to believe that this is how their real namesakes might have been.

And although the story is very compact the author has included many historically relevant and well-researched details: the provisioning and equipment of Her Majesty’s ships Erebus and Terror, scientific work and everyday routine aboard; and – most curiously – Commander Fitzjames’ not-so-glamorous background, a mystery that was uncovered only very recently and may, so I hope, inspire new characterizations of him in future works of fiction.

Once Erebus and Terror are beset in ancient ice off King William Island in September of 1846, the mortality rate on Franklin’s expedition rises. And contrary to the expectation, the ice seems to have no intention of releasing them even in the following summer. In April 1848, a group of 105 survivors, weakened by cold and sickness, know that they have no choice but to abandon the ships at least for a season’s hunting, and even then their prospects are grim: They are too numerous to shoot enough game to keep the dreaded scurvy at bay.

So much for the relatively few facts that are known. To these, the author adds several more fictional puzzle parts to show how the situation could have unfolded. For example, a group of Inuit visit the beset ships and their crews – and George tries to convince Davy that they actually have a lot to learn from these “savages”, to which Davy replies, “I shall hold with good old English ways”, illustrating the expedition leaders’ and organizers’ belief that whatever worked in the past surely will be successful today also. The discrepancy between the seemingly clear Northwest-Passage on a map and the reality of confusing, dangerous, unpredictable Arctic ice mazes was simply not yet understood.

Eventually George witnesses a mutiny, led by none other than his presumed friend Davy, and for a moment he is torn between loyalty to him and to his captain, Fitzjames. The uprising fortunately does not result in bloodshed but it leaves George in doubt: has he chosen the right side? Who will end up being right about which way to turn for rescue? This question may now prove critical.

Graves of Ice is a great introduction to the fascinating mystery of the Franklin Expedition for both young and adult readers. In fictional works on this subject, every author and novel offers a different view of how the expedition could have met its fate. The possibilities are many, and this book is a realistic scenario in which the puzzle parts seem to fit together well.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shipwreck at Cape Flora

Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s forgotten Arctic Explorer

by P.J. Capelotti

Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Jonathan Dore


Peter Capelotti, anthropologist at Penn State University, archaeologist of human space travel, sometime poet, and writer on many lesser-travelled byways in the exploration and exploitation of the seas, has now written the first biography of Benjamin Leigh Smith (1828–1913), who appears as a shadowy presence in the annals of late-19th-century Arctic exploration—mentioned in passing in the narratives of more famous names—but who is now given centre stage in an account that focuses on his three yachting expeditions to Svalbard and two to Franz Josef Land in the 1870s and 80s.

It doesn’t take long to understand the reason for Leigh Smith’s ghostly absence from the feast of Arctic exploration history, and consequently the challenge that Capelotti set himself. The explorer was such a shunner of public attention—friendly as well as hostile, in print as well as in person—that even medals awarded to him ended up being sent in the post rather than collected. He never wrote (let alone published) accounts of any of his expeditions beyond the bare bones of a ship’s log, and never presented a paper at a meeting or wrote one up for a journal. Even the private correspondence that survives rarely concerns itself with anything beyond the practical arrangements for his voyages, and there is no body of letters from him to other explorers or theorists of the day that might place him as part of the conversation of the time. Most of his letters are to family members and rarely stray beyond the domestic.

The great majority of what we know of him has therefore come from the writings of others. Some of his expeditions resulted in the publication of popular accounts by other participants—of varying quality—and colleagues were also responsible for writing up or analysing the scientific results of his voyages. Most of the rest comes from the dedication of an indefatigable family archivist, Charlotte Moore, without whose work in preserving the documents of her ancestor’s life Capelotti’s task, already difficult, would have been almost impossible.

Benjamin Leigh Smith was the eldest son in a wealthy but socially eccentric family of dissenters that, in the way of such families, produced some groundbreaking and impressive lives; Florence Nightingale was a cousin of the explorer, and the early feminist Barbara Bodichon was a sister. His parents were never married, and only in midlife did he and his siblings discover that their father had sired another family with another unmarried partner who was a few rungs down the social ladder—with the result that, in the stratified society of the time, the two families would never meet and could be kept in ignorance of each other. Capelotti identifies Leigh Smith’s sense of vulnerability to the social stigma of his illegitimacy as one of the drivers behind his reluctance to establish a public profile; his outsider status as a non-Anglican—not unusual among Victorian industrialists but surely rare among Home Counties landed gentry—was no doubt another.

After education at Cambridge and training in law, he coasted without much direction until the death of his father gave him the income to indulge a passion for sailing to the Arctic—something that, like much else in his life, seems to come out of the blue, an almost arbitrary whim for someone with no background in sailing or geographical research beyond an amateur's dabbling. Capelotti gives some possible antecedants for his dream in the voyages of other wealthy yachtsmen to the Arctic, including Lord Dufferin and James Lamont, for both of whom the primary interest had been hunting. This too became the rationale for Leigh Smith’s first expedition, in 1871 in the yacht Sampson, which he had purchased from another landowning huntsman, John Palliser (leader of the British North American Exploring Expedition of 1857–60, though the author notes the name without seeming aware of the identity). If there is more than a touch of self-indulgent vanity in a rich man going hunting in exotically remote locations, Leigh Smith at least avoided hubris: he knew his limitations. All of his voyages were skippered by professional captains and crewed by workaday fishermen and whalers, British or Norwegian, who knew their way around the ropes, and Leigh Smith never seems to have insisted on a dangerous course to prove either his authority or his manliness. Indeed, he made a virtue of his ships’ relative powerlessness against the forces of nature, developing an exploration philosophy that emphasized going with the flow, allowing wind, current, and ice conditions to dictate where the exploring would be done. It’s notable that hard-bitten skippers like the whaler David Gray wrote about him not as a dilettante they tolerated, but as a colleague they genuinely respected.

At a time when no government-sponsored expeditions had been sent to the Arctic from Britain in more than a decade, Leigh Smith’s first voyage showed what patience and modest expectations could accomplish in a much smaller craft than the adapted bomb vessels sent out by the Royal Navy. His target was Svalbard, and in searching to the east of it for Gillies Land (one of many landmasses in Arctic exploration history that turn out to have been mirages) the Sampson became the first ship to reach the easternmost tip of Nordaustlandet—and thus of the Svalbard archipelago as a whole—which was later fittingly named Cape Leigh Smith. Cruising back along the northern coast of the island a lucky run of very late-season fine weather in September allowed them to sail to the northernmost end of the archipelago as well, adding new coastlines and place names to the map. A second expedition to the same area the following year was less lucky with the weather and added only one further name to the map, while a third in 1873 became famous primarily as a humanitarian venture, when Leigh Smith arrived in time to give desperately needed help and supplies to the Swedish North Pole expedition, whose support ships had been frozen in the previous autumn, leaving its leader Nordenskiold with double the expected number of mouths to feed through the winter.

After three expeditions in as many years, it seems that Leigh Smith had got it out of his system, but after the disappointing results of Nares’s British Arctic Expedition of 1875–76 (Capelotti is somewhat unfair in branding this a complete failure, with its significant science programme and its new furthest norths for both men and ships), the triumph of Nordenskiold’s first sailing of the North-East Passage in the Vega in 1879, and the loss of the Jeannette north of the Lena, Leigh Smith seems to have reconsidered his retirement to the sidelines, and he returned to the fray on a grander scale than ever, this time having his own yacht purpose-built for Arctic work with an icebreaking bow and a supplementary steam engine. In 1880 in this vessel, the Eira, he made his most successful expedition and one of the most geographically productive single-season voyages in the history of Arctic exploration. Following up on the discovery of Franz Josef Land by Weyprecht and Payer in the year of his last expedition, 1873, he managed to sail more than a hundred miles further west along the archipelago’s southern coast than its discoverers had done, charting coastlines, identifying and naming individual islands and their prominent features, and showing it to be a significant landmass rivalling Svalbard in overall dimensions.

This voyage sealed his acclaim among the geographers of Europe and America, but when he tried to follow it up the next year Leigh Smith had only a couple of weeks of further discoveries in the same area before a misjudgement of ice conditions by the Eira’s skipper led to the book’s eponymous shipwreck at Cape Flora, when the vessel was pinned between fast and moving ice and soon crushed, though before she sank there was time to remove almost all of her supplies and equipment. Like Nordenskiold’s crews, they now faced an unexpected overwintering, but unlike the Swedes they were relatively few in number and very well supplied with food, though they had to improvise a hut from local stone plus canvas and wood from the ship. If one guiltily acknowledges a sense of bathos in reading of the almost complete lack of drama during the winter of 1881–82, it is a tribute to Leigh Smith’s leadership and sense of responsibility for his men that ensured everyone had enough to eat. Again, modest expectations came into play: with no superiors to impress, promotion to gain, or desire for fame, Leigh Smith made no ambitious plans for overland expeditions in the spring that would add to their stock of geographical discoveries before attempting their escape southwards. He was content for everyone to stay as warm, dry, and well-fed as himself. And when the ice broke up in 1882 they made a well-ordered voyage towards Novaya Zemlya in the boats, meeting relief just where they expected to from one of a small flotilla of craft sent out that year from Europe to find them.

Two seasons of significant geographical discovery, and involvement in two overwinterings—once as the reliever, once as the relieved—gave Leigh Smith an almost complete set of classic Arctic exploratory experiences, and even if age and the financial burden of the lost ship had not been factors, perhaps he sensed that his career as an explorer was now complete, for he never went north again. Instead, after the inevitable blaze of publicity had been, as usual, diverted onto the heads of colleagues and companions, he retreated to the domestic concerns of his family and the management of his estate.

Peter Capelotti has done a remarkable job in pulling together the rather slender sources for Leigh Smith’s life and voyages into a coherent narrative that benefits from its author’s deep familiarity with the wider background of exploration, geographical theory, and social history of his subject’s time (I spotted only one minor error, a repeated reference to the Royal Geographic, rather than Geographical, Society). The one serious drawback is not in the writing but in the lack of good maps. Apart from reproductions of 19th-century maps, which really provide only historical interest, there are a small number of modern maps in inconsistent formats, and none of sufficient scale to follow the track in detail or note all of the place names bestowed—and none at all of Franz Josef Land, where the greatest number of these names are found . Instead, we have only Payer’s and Markham’s contemporary maps, which are almost impossible to relate to each other, let alone to the reality on a modern map.

But there is a more central lack than maps, and one that no author could supply if it were not available in the sources: a sense of a subject’s real personality. The few genuinely self-revelatory writings we have by Leigh Smith (in his letters) reveal a character solipsistic and startlingly vindictive in personal relationships. But for a man of his drive and achievements, liked and admired by colleagues, there must have been more, and the lack of writings that would have given a sense of his wider view of the world, and of his activities in it, are a keenly felt absence that no maps could make up for. The contradictory outlines refuse to resolve into a coherent whole, so while the ghostly figure at the feast has been adumbrated, he can probably never be made solid.