Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Unchained Man

Unchained Man: The Arctic life and times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett

by Maura Hanrahan

Portugal Cove-St Philip’s, NL: Boulder Publications

Reviewed by Jonathan Dore



Robert Bartlett was born in Brigus, Newfoundland, in 1875, and bucked the tradition of his locally famous ancestors by going to sea not to hunt seals but to explore, gravitating always towards the far north. The best-known expeditions in which he participated were the last three of Peary (1898-1902 in the Windward, and 1905-06 and 1908-09 in the Roosevelt), including his attempts on the North Pole, and Stefansson’s Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-18 in the Karluk. In the latter three expeditions Bartlett was captain of the ship, but not expedition leader, and the ambivalence of this position means that he would probably be known only to Arctic exploration aficionados but for his extraordinary 700-mile journey, with the Inuit hunter Claude Kataktovik, to seek help for the stranded survivors of the Karluk in 1914, showing leadership of a kind that Stefansson so pointedly lacked. It was this journey, so reminiscent of Shackleton’s rescue of the Endurance crew two years later, that propels Bartlett into the realm of mythic fame. Haunted by the tragic death—despite his best efforts—of 11 expedition members from the Karluk, he succumbed to alcoholism in the following decade before restoring equilibrium and sense of purpose to his life when he started leading his own series of annual expeditions in his own schooner, the Effie Morrissey, over the twenty-odd years before his death in 1946.

Almost all of this information can be found, scattered randomly like grass seed, at some point or other in Maura Hanrahan’s book. But it really shouldn’t be as difficult to find as it is. It’s not often that one finishes the opening chapter of a non-fiction book bemused by the simple question of what the author is trying to achieve. Even rarer that the puzzlement remains on reaching the end of the book. Ostensibly a biography (“life and times” could scarcely be a more traditional marker of the genre), Unchained Man seems, by contrast, to be segments of several different books with different goals, all sadly unrealized. It’s not even clear that a biography is one of them.

The book’s opening chapter launches straight into Peary’s last expedition. Often such points of high drama function as brief openers in biographies to draw a reader in before returning to the subject’s origins. Here instead we get not only the author’s full account of the expedition, but also of Peary and Bartlett’s two previous expeditions, mixed in with summaries of Inuit–European relations, theories of imperialism, racism, and white male privilege, and thumbnail sketches of a generous handful of Bartlett ancestors, in a chapter in which Peary is a far more visible presence than Bartlett. The author seems somewhat naïve in assessing Peary’s truthfulness about reaching the Pole, and it’s a question how familiar she is with the literature on the subject—Robert Bryce’s Cook and Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved and Wally Herbert’s The Noose of Laurels are both notable for their absence from the book’s bibliography. The sparsity of dates, absence of maps, and lack of dramatic flair in the writing are also serious failings in this chapter as an account of an expedition.

Chapter 2, “A cottage hearth and open waters: An expectant childhood” looks like it might be going back to the beginning to give us the background we need to put Bartlett’s later exploits in context, but here again we are destined to be frustrated. The explorer’s own childhood is referred to occasionally, and fleetingly, in the context of a long and rambling essay on his immediate family and ancestors—expanding on the thumbnail sketches begun in chapter 1—many of whom the author writes about with patently greater interest and warmth than she shows for her supposed subject. Eight pages are devoted to the explorer’s grandmother Mary Leamon, within which four are spent describing in great detail a stipulation in her will that her descendants should not marry into a particular local family—something that might, at a push, warrant two or three sentences in a biography of Robert Bartlett. Even the two pages devoted to his younger sisters’ later tearoom business (several decades out of place in this chapter) is more than we learn about the first thirty years of Robert Bartlett’s own life.

Surely chapter 3—“Sculpting a life: Gaffs, compasses, and following on” will make amends? But no: whoever’s life is being sculpted, it isn’t Bob Bartlett’s. The family history simply continues uninterrupted, this time following the Y chromosome back through several generations of hard-bitten Bartlett sealers and sailors. By the end of it, we are half-way through the book and have had 135 pages on the social history of Brigus seen through the lens of a few interrelated families over several generations, mixed in with an abbreviated and unfocused account of Peary’s later expeditions and generous dollops of apologetic fussing about how racist and sexist everyone was in the nineteenth century, as if autres temps, autres mœurs were a new discovery. What we emphatically don’t have is what’s promised on the cover of the book.

In chapter 4 we hit the half-way point, and the author’s account of the Karluk disaster, once again short of dates, route maps, and telling the story in chronological order—the basic apparatus needed to make an expedition account intelligible to the reader. What the author does finally achieve, however, is the foregrounding of Robert Bartlett, and specifically of his life-saving trek from Wrangell Island to the Siberian mainland and across the Bering Strait to summon help. Even here, however, the drama must take a back seat to the author’s virtue-signalling concern to quantify precisely how much respect Bartlett is showing to his companion Kataktovik and the succession of Chukchi hosts who, once on land, gave them hospitality and supplies that saved their lives. It is instructive to compare this to the expertly crafted prose, seamlessly assimilated archival research, clearly drawn character sketches, perfectly paced narrative, and simple, non-judgemental warmth of human understanding seen in Jennifer Niven’s account of the disaster, The Ice Master (2002).

Chapters 5 and 6 happily continue to focus on Bartlett, and take us through the last thirty years of his life. Though now famous enough for his name and image to be used in advertising everything from tobacco to breakfast cereal, and despite being the author of his own account of the Karluk’s voyage (later he also wrote an autobiography), he was dogged by dissatisfaction, unease, and probably survivor guilt, his reliance on alcohol gradually increasing over a decade that ended with him being run over on a New York street. The enforced abstinence of his subsequent time in hospital was enough to break the spell, and he determined to swear off liquor for good. Determined to go north again on his own terms, he bought a schooner of the kind he knew from his early days in Newfoundland and started to use the wealthy New York contacts his fame had brought him to conduct a series of summer voyages to the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Bay in which the sons of the rich would pay to act as crew (though always with a core staff of professional sailors) on a character-building adventure. It proved to be a winning formula that provided Bartlett with a living for the rest of his life. Mentoring the young seemed to give him genuine pleasure too, and Hanrahan picks out his nephew Jack Angel and the geographer David Nutt, later one of the founders of climate science, as particularly significant. Science was another interest that flowered in Bartlett’s later life, particularly the collecting of plant and animal specimens for museums, and stemmed from the spiritual refreshment he always got from nature, part of the attraction that kept drawing him back to the Arctic.

Although all these elements emerge in Hanrahan’s account, their presentation lacks the essential chronological markers needed to make sense of a person’s life, which is after all experienced, and develops, in only a forward direction through time. When writing a biography, a thematic approach is not enough.

Hanrahan seems to have been caught between the desire to write several different books, and has tried unsatisfactorily to do a bit of all of them. One, perhaps, is a history of the town of Brigus as an example of a prosperous nineteenth-century sealing and fishing town. Another is a family history, showing the ebb and flow of personal and social forces that mould each generation’s outlook and life chances. A third is an attempt to recover the hidden stories of a series of impressive and formidable women, in danger of being lost because their accomplishments were more often domestic than public. All of these are worthwhile projects, and deserve their own books. They should not have been shoehorned into a biography of Robert Bartlett, a project that one senses lost the author’s interest at some point. The decade of archival research on three continents that she undertook for this book should have made it a definitive biography; instead it seems merely to have distracted the author into disappearing down innumerable rabbit holes, and then presenting her findings as if they were all equally relevant. The crucial discipline of selection is missing.

At root the problem perhaps stems from the author’s lack of interest in, or sympathy with, geographical exploration, the activity that motivated Bartlett. Certainly anyone capable of writing the breathtakingly unqualified statement that “racism was at the foundation of all exploration activity” could not be accused of a broad or deep knowledge of the field, as numerous errors of fact throughout the book illustrate. In the page 23 footnote, Hanrahan brackets Svalbard with Australia and Canada as “colonized” places subject unjustly to the legal doctrine of terra nullius, seemingly unaware that Svalbard had never had any human inhabitants before its discovery by the Dutch in 1596. On page 20, she brackets Ernest Shackleton with Robert Scott as having “military origins” (an idea Scott would have found wryly amusing), and in the page 57 footnote has Shackleton’s famous open-boat journey in 1916 ending at the Falkland Islands rather than South Georgia. On page 35 she writes that in 1906 “the ailing Roosevelt had pushed farther north than any ship in history” (to 82°20′N—the latitude is not actually given in the book), unaware that the most celebrated ship in polar history, the Fram, had been more than three degrees further north (to 85°57′), ten years earlier. On page 147 this claim is given an even more bizarre twist, in the statement that Bartlett was “the first captain to take a ship north of 88 degrees”, something that no ship achieved before nuclear-powered icebreakers in the 1970s, and perhaps the result of conflating the earlier claim, already false, with Bartlett’s own personal farthest north on foot in 1909. On page 40 she berates Peary for naming features on the north-east coast of Greenland in 1892 and 1895: “In so doing he completely ignored the long-standing Inuit presence in the Arctic”. But as with Svalbard, it is the author who is unaware of when and where that presence was and was not to be found: Thule settlement of the north-east coast of Greenland had declined long before European contact, and had been extinct for some seventy years by the time of Peary’s first expeditions. Their names for geographical features, never written down or part of any surviving group’s oral history, therefore were and are definitively unrecoverable. On page 142 Bartlett’s acclaimed navigation of the stricken Roosevelt was in 1906, not 1909 (as the author knows, having written about it in chapter 1), and on page 143 Sam Bartlett’s voyage of 1903-04 had made claim to the eastern Arctic specifically on behalf of Canada, not Britain, which had transferred its claim to the dominion in 1880. On page 241, Roald Amundsen had not yet, in 1909, even announced he was aiming for the South Pole, let alone reached it. And on page 242, George Francis Lyon was certainly never part of an expedition aiming for the North Pole, though his former commander Parry had been.

The failure is as much the publisher’s as the author’s. The book’s editor should have obliged the author to make a root-and-branch restructuring of the content, jettisoning whole chapters, tightening up others, adding new ones, and restoring some sense of direction and focus. The copy-editor should have dealt with the errors listed above, as well as absent-minded inversions and solecisms like “biscuits of tins” (156), “London Illustrated News” (167), and “Royal Geographic Society” (241). Both individuals are named on the book’s copyright page, a practice the publisher might want to reconsider.

Most readers who buy a biography of Robert Bartlett will be, in some sense, fans of exploration history. An archivally researched biography of Bartlett has long been needed. On both counts it seems a shame that the assignment should have fallen to someone whose antipathy to the very activity that gives the story life makes her so ill-suited to the task. Such a narrative should be a dramatic gift to the author; what results instead sorely tests the patience of the reader.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Rae, Arctic Explorer

John Rae, Arctic Explorer: The Unfinished Biography

Edited by William Barr

Edmonton: Polynya Press (an imprint of the University of Alberta Press)

USD $60, $CAD 54

Reviewed by Russell A. Potter


On the occasion of the death of Dr. John Rae, the journal of the American Geographical and Statistical Society offered a heartfelt encomium: "He wrote with simplicity and force, but he was more concerned to do things worthy of record than to record them." Had they known of this, his extraordinarily detailed autobiography, they might have had to change that comparison; Dr. Rae indeed did many things worth recording -- and he recorded them. The exact reasons why this manuscript -- which ends, frustratingly, in the middle of a sentence just as Rae is about to describe his fateful meeting with In-nook-poo-zhee-jook and how he learned from him of Franklin's fate -- was never completed, or (if it was) was never proffered to a publisher, may forever be shrouded in uncertainty. The manuscript was clearly passed from hand to hand -- so much so that the first few leaves became worn and tattered, and were re-copied in later years by his wife Kate -- but it has not seen the light of publication until today.

Much has been written in recent years about Rae's career, the more so since Ken McGoogan's 2001 magisterial Fatal Passage, but one feels on reading these pages -- more than 600 of them -- that we have, until now, but scarcely known John Rae, the shy boy from Orkney who, surprising even himself, made his way into the roughest country of the North, and distinguished himself above any other man of similar background. The man who comes into view in these pages is, by turns, reclusive, gregarious, sly, a fine doctor, a capable administrator, a gifted explorer --  who only learned the essentials of navigation and surveying midway through his career -- and a deeply decent man whose life subsequent to his discovery of the fate of Franklin was straitened by the public scorning of the news he brought, despite the fact that those who truly knew him and his work never wavered in their admiration.

The opening chapters of Rae's book are by far its finest -- here, more than in those that follow, we hear the voice of a man reflecting on a life well-lived, with a strange admixture of poignancy and pride:
Brought up and educated at home under a tutor in the Orkney Islands (which have been, I think not inappropriately, called by an old friend a “paradise for boys”) and never having had until the age of sixteen what would have been to a boy so defectively constituted, the advantage of attending a public school, my chief and almost sole amusements during vacation or play hours were boating, shooting, fishing and riding (chiefly the three first) all of which my brothers and myself had ample opportunities of practising. 
There are reminiscences of steering through the strong tides of the Hoy Mouth, of engaging in boat-races with his youthful comrades, and of hunting small game, a sport he enjoyed from his earliest years to his last. And yet it was the sea, it seems, that most strongly formed him; though a great part of his best-known adventures were primarily managed on foot, the deep and foundational impression made by his education as a boatsman became a metaphor for his life, one in which the reader will detect some sense of the way in which he faced -- and managed to navigate -- his later difficulties:
Poetical ideas are not much in my way at any time but this one line, “She walks the waters like a thing of life,” has often occurred to me, when steering one or other of the lively boats I have at different times possessed, through a sea of troubled waters. The sympathy between the steersman and his boat is felt much as that between the rider and a well known and favourite horse. On a smooth sea in the one case, or on a level road or good bit of turf in the other, a slight strain on the rein or a steady touch on the helm is all that is wanted, both rider and steersman, if up to their work, keeping wide awake and a sharp lookout ahead or to windward. But put the man and horse in the hunting field with a rattling big fence or stone wall in front of them, and the hounds in full cry a short distance ahead on the other side, and we have a different state of things, requiring a change of tactics
Detail of Rae's memorial
The line is from Lord Byron's The Corsair, and reveals to us something of Rae's reading, which was surely broader than he implies; throughout his travels, he was known for taking a miniature library of books in duodecimo amongst his gear -- one of them lies by his side on the sculptural memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral. But the dominant images of his memoir are those of the active life, the resourceful man who only fully shows his mettle when facing his worst difficulties.

His autobiography continues in this tone, up through his account of his first challenges upon entering the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, during which he ended up stationed with an icebound ship and her crew, saving nearly all of them from scurvy by the discovery of a large patch of cranberries under the snow. But not long after this point, the narrative gradually shifts to a daily journal style, interrupted at times by asides that seem directed more to those of his own profession than to the general reader. The reasons behind his three major surveying expeditions, the latter two part of the search for Franklin and his men, receive only perfunctory remarks, and much of Rae's account consists of the daily details of each journey.

Barr, perhaps the most experienced scholar in the world when it comes to editing Arctic explorers' narratives, provides all manner of helpful context. The latter third of the autobiography is supplemented by a large number of letters, all of which add something, though at times they feel rather like interruptions. And yet there will be few consolations when, on reaching the end of the manuscript and arriving at Barr's précis of the "second half" of Rae's life, one feels as though, having hiked the long incline of this rich and detailed narrative, the journey ends at a precipice.

Barr helpfully provides a brief summary of Rae's report on Franklin, as well as of his subsequent life and career. Within this, he even offers a poignant tidbit or two, as when he notes how upset Rae was by the death of his pet canary "Dickie," in June of 1888:
He maintained that [the bird] recognized his footsteps, which he "responded to as if he had been a Christian." [Rae] made a small coffin for it, and "as a solitary mourner," buried it in a secret location in his garden, later planting a flower over the grave.
There are also supplements, including articles by Rae on "Ice and its Formation" and "Building a snow-house." But what is most missed is any return of Rae's original narrative voice. This could have been provided (in the instance of Rae's 1854 discoveries) by including his full report; although it has been published elsewhere, it would have resonated quite differently here. Other letters could also have been chosen to give some sense of his later career. My understanding is that Barr had wished to extend and complete the narrative in this manner, but that his editors overruled him, probably in consideration of making a large book even larger. If that was their chief consideration, I certainly understand it, though I'd respectfully disagree.

Barr also makes it clear here that he feels that Rae's considerable accomplishments do not include, and need not be augmented by, modern claims that in surveying the strait that bears his name, he ought to have the credit for first discovering a navigable Northwest Passage. There will be many who will continue to challenge Barr's view, but it would be a terrible shame if, on the basis of that disagreement, they were to eschew this volume. The extraordinary value of getting Rae’s own personal measure of his life and career surely outweighs such disputes. In the end, though frustrated by its silences, we must all be grateful that we have before us an account of Rae's life from Rae's own hand.

The format of the book is extraordinarily handsome -- indeed, I have never seen anything like it among modern Arctic publications -- the paper is heavy and cream-colored, and the beautifully-designed jacket perfectly encompasses the well-crafted curvature of the massive spine. The main text is given with broad outer margins, which are sometimes used for very helpful side-notes; indeed, it would have been preferable if the end-notes had all been re-created as side-notes. There certainly seems to have been enough white space, and having to turn back and forth from the footnotes as one reads makes a long read feel longer. And yet, despite all these minor criticisms, this remains an extraordinary volume -- one that anyone who cares deeply about John Rae's life and work will want to acquire.

[NB There remains the possibility that, as some believe, the second half of the manuscript may still survive somewhere. Were it to be found, it would certainly be invaluable, and I would hope that it would soon rejoin the portion we now possess].

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Lady Franklin of Russell Square

Lady Franklin of Russell Square

by Erika Behrisch Elce

Stonehouse Publishing, $19.95

Reviewed by Regina Koellner



Jane Franklin has always been a controversial figure. Some see her as a calculating egomaniac, trying to rule a colonial empire through her weak husband and, after he vanished in the Arctic, bullying the Admiralty into sending out one unnecessary search expedition after another. Others perceive her as the devoted, loving wife ready to sacrifice everything she had to bring back the love of her life or at least find out what happened to him, conjured up in the powerful but most likely imagined image of her on the shore of Orkney, arms outstretched to the North, willing her hero to come back to her.

The truth, like always, lies somewhere in between. To find out where exactly is almost impossible although Jane Franklin kept an extensive diary throughout her whole life, recording even the smallest detail. Unfortunately after her death her personal papers and correspondence were heavily edited by her constant companion, friend, secretary and executrix of her will, her niece Sophia Cracroft.

Numerous books have been written about John Franklin, his last expedition and also about his wife. Erika Behrisch Elce, professor for Victorian Literature and Culture at the Royal Military College of Canada, has herself added to this scholarly library of Franklinite literature with a non-fiction book about the letters Lady Franklin wrote to politicians, friends, Royal Navy personnel and everybody else who she thought useful in the quest for her husband lost in the Arctic.

Now, almost ten years later, the author presents an epistolary novel about Lady Jane Franklin, following partly the lines of this extraordinary woman's life who, although she left school at 16, possessed an active and intelligent mind that made her a restless traveler, venturing into territories where not many of her contemporaries dared to go, especially if they were female.

As the author mentions in her book it has always been widely discussed how much John and Jane Franklin were in love with each other. Of course, it is possible that she just looked for a tolerable husband and he for a mother to his young daughter but on the other hand there is enough evidence in their letters that they had feelings for each other and formed a team of equal partners. Especially in Van Diemen's Land (today's Tasmania) Jane shared John's load, supporting him with advice, taking care of correspondence and being there when needed – if she was not away on one of her excursions.

How much she pushed her husband to become the governor of Van Diemen's Land, a post he was too good-natured to be suited for, or to take over command of his last expedition at the age of 59, is also a question that cannot be answered. Franklin himself, however, seemed to have been keen on both posts.

After Franklin and his expedition had not been heard of for more than two years, Jane Franklin rose to form, peppering with letters every human being or institution who she thought would be useful in sending out search expeditions. When she had the impression that letter writing was not enough, she invested a large part of her fortune (to the chagrin of John Franklin's daughter and her husband who feared Jane would waste Eleanor's inheritance on a fruitless task) and sent out her own expeditions. With every new ship that left for the direction of the Arctic she and other friends and relatives of the officers and crews sent letters to their loved ones in the hope they would reach them. No letter ever did and the ones that survived to this day are testament to desperate hope crushed by each "Returned to the Sender" stamp on the envelope when it came back. Jane Franklin's letters to her husband are no exception.

The novel starts with a fictional story about how Lady Franklin's letters were found in the attic of her father's house near Russell Square, neatly bound to a book in the form of a diary and – in contrast to the real letters – never sent out to her husband. They start in spring two years after the expedition left Greenhithe and the first unease starts to gnaw at her:
"I write also to apologize to you that we have been at least a little worried while you've been gone, but, really, this is to be expected. It is nothing out of the ordinary for a wife and daughter to worry for an absent husband and father – not lost but gone almost, almost too long." 
Still, up to that point it had been expected not to hear from the expedition and Jane Franklin, like almost everybody else, must have felt that the men would be back every day now as triumphant conquerors of the North West Passage, one of the last blank spaces on Earth waiting for the Royal Navy to map, name and take into possession for Queen and country.

Jane tried to keep the letters to her husband positive and omit anything bound to disturb or sadden the recipient and even advised the relatives of other expedition members to do the same. Perhaps that is the reason why Erika Behrisch Elce decided to write a novel instead of another scholarly book. She also does not attempt to have mixed any existing letters by Lady Franklin with fictitious parts. Instead she opted for a more modernized diction, although terms like "okay", "break me out of my funk" and "Christ on a stick" should not have appeared in letters meant to have been written by an early Victorian lady. The fictional letters in the book do not restrict themselves to positivity, allowing the author creative freedom to reveal more of Jane's inner feelings, frustrations, anger and finally the realization that all hope had been in vain:
"Are you surprised that I continue to write to you even now that I know that you are dead?"
The difference between the actual letters of Jane Franklin and those of the fictional counterpart can be illustrated by comparing the following examples written shortly after Eleanor Franklin's marriage to the Reverend John Phillip Gell:
Lady Franklin 
"Dear Eleanor was married yesterday 7th June… I left them after the ceremony, because in your absence I could not bear any festivities & employed the afternoon in going to Stanmore & visiting the old church in which we were married & and which I am sorry to say is going to be pulled down.. The bride and bridegroom went to Eastborn [sic] to the house of Mr. Davies Gilbert which is leant to them… "1
Lady Franklin of Russell Square: 
"I write to tell you that there are no more Eleanor Franklins in the world. Do not be downhearted about it – your young Eleanor continues living – but no longer under our collective wing. No: this month, she at long last married her Gell, and that's an end on it. Of course she was beautiful in her way, with her simple gown and homely looks…"
One feature of the book appealing not only to readers interested in fiction but the scholar as well are only very slightly edited Times newspaper articles and letters to the editor that give a fascinating insight into how the Franklin search was seen in the public eye but also how openly Lady Franklin and Sophy fought against critics from the public and their own family. They also provide context and background information to the fictitious letters.

As the title suggests, Russell Square in London plays a pivotal part. Jane grew up in adjacent Bedford Place in her father's house and often stayed there even after her marriage. When they came back from Tasmania, Jane and John Franklin again shared the house with Jane's ailing father and the family of her sister Mary, the Simpkinsons. It must have felt quite crowded in there and was not made better when, after Eleanor left to get married, Sophia Cracroft, who was no relative of the Simpkinsons, came to live with Lady Franklin permanently. In Lady Franklin of Russell Square, the reader gets a glimpse of how claustrophobic it must have felt for Jane and Sophy (and the Simpkinsons) until they finally decided to move out in 1854 and take up lodgings in Spring Gardens in close proximity to the Admiralty. In the novel Jane keeps going back to the solace of Russell Square and the statue of the Duke of Bedford as her confidant and collaborator since her childhood days, greeted even by the mature Jane with an elaborate ritual.

Jane Franklin's gentle friendship with the Russell Square gardener (who is tormented by his own dark past) is a captivating side story but unfortunately not drawn out to its full potential. The reader is left longing for a more substantial interaction between the two as the author decided to take the story a different direction. Thus a few dialogues and their mutual love for unassuming flowers have to suffice to show two lonely people longing for the happiness of the past. The novel ends with the departure of Leopold McClintock in the Fox without covering its return and the information it brought on the date of John Franklin's death.

Lady Franklin of Russell Square adds another stitch to the rich tapestry of the Franklin expedition saga and enables the reader to imagine Jane Franklin in a more private, softer light as a flawed but dedicated person dealing with hope, despair and in the end accepting her fate and moving on.

1 from Frances J. Woodward's Portrait of Jane

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Do You See Ice?

Do You See Ice? 
Inuit and Americans at Home and Away
By Karen Routledge
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018, $50.00 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Russell A. Potter


Karen Routledge has written an extraordinary book, and she’s managed it by making a seemingly slight adjustment to the cultural spectacles through which the Arctic and its peoples, and those from elsewhere who have sojourned there, have been seen in their worlds, both familiar and strange. All too often, even the most seemingly modern and culturally “aware” books find themselves snared in the old truisms about the Arctic – its harsh, unyielding climate, its almost-malevolent ice, its isolation and apparent emptiness when compared with more temperate regions. She accomplishes this feat, remarkably, by making a sense of displacement her main theme – the displacement of whalers, following the lure of rich shares into a world they scarcely knew (and thus feared), and following Inuit who spent time in the “southern” world through their own experience of estrangement and display. Quite a few of these are accounts we’ve heard in some form or another, but never quite in this way.

Routledge is fortunate in that Cumberland Sound, the epicenter of her study, has so many stories of both kinds. It was, as she notes, brought to the attention of westerners by Eenoolooapik, who guided the Scots whaler William Penny to its shores in 1840. The subsequent discovery that overwintering there brought enormous advantages in the whale harvest led to a long period of mutual contact and cooperation, through which the bonds – material, cultural, and familial – between the Inuit and the whalers grew in strength and complexity, even as both remained in a sense strangers in each other’s lands. The experiences of whaling men who at first feared an uncertain time in an unknown land can thus be contrasted very directly with the alienation experienced by Inuit such as Ebierbing and Tookoolito, who were brought from Cumberland Sound to England in the 1850’s, and then to America and Greenland in their more than decade-long association with the explorer Charles Francis Hall.

The book is organized into four symmetrical, or rather parallel chapters -- "Americans in Cumberland Sound," "Inuit in the United States," "Americans and Inuit in the High Arctic," and "Inuit in Cumberland Sound." In the first, Routledge sets some of the experiences of early whalers against the Inuit cycles of the five seasons, from Aujaq (summer) to Upingaaq (spring). The device of using the Inuit seasons as the setting for the whalers' tales perfectly frames the double sense of these men and their unfamiliarity with all that was so deeply familiar to the Inuit. In one case, a small group of whalers who went AWOL from their ship -- something that happened more often than I'd realized -- becomes a cautionary tale as, even with some assistance from Inuit, they manage to have a pretty rough time of it, and surely those of them who lived, lived to regret their choice.

In the next chapter, the key figures are Ebierbing and Tookoolito, known to the whalers (and to Hall) as "Joe" and "Hannah." This is the most detailed and accurate account yet published of their time with Hall, and Routledge lays out all the complexities of their often-uneasy alliance with Hall and the Budingtons. She quite rightly points to the issue of the Qallunaat authoritarianism -- and expectation of obedience -- and its unfortunate intersection with the Inuit cultural tradition of avoiding confrontation. She illustrates this chapter with the posed photographs of the family taken in Groton, as well as with some of Hannah's drawings from the Hall papers. And she's right about the uneasy effects of authority -- you can feel it almost viscerally in a letter by Joe also in those papers (but not quoted in the book) -- although his command of English was less fluent than Hannah's, the sense he had of being bullied by the white man's loud demands comes through clearly:
2 years I stay Houdsons Bay try go King William Land then I give it up, meet 3 men from their tell me give it up make me afraid. Mr. Hall tease me all time make me go their never give it up. Next time I go like a soldier every body go so every body carry gun. 
The third chapter, the only one to depart from the Cumberland Sound region, deals mainly with the Greely expedition, mixing accounts of the alienation felt by the Inuit who accompanied them with Greely's men's own sad decline into starvation and cannibalism. It's perhaps the least of the chapters, but still quite strong -- and it's good to see a full account of the qivittoq, the lone and ghostly soul whose frightful isolation provides the cautionary opposite to the overall spirit of community and sharing intrinsic to Inuit life. The final chapter, happily, returns to the shores of Cumberland sound, offering some striking accounts from the time of first contact to the present, and entirely from the Inuit point of view.

It's wonderful to see that the author is donating the proceeds of the book to the Elders' Room at the Angmarik Center in Pangnirtung. When I visited the center last summer as historian to a group of expedition ship passengers, one of them asked "What do the Elders do in the Elders' room?" Our guide laughed, answering that they just talked, told stories, or sometimes played cards. This book, woven of their stories, ought to help support these basic pleasures for some time to come.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Michael Palin's Erebus

Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time

by Michael Palin

Vancouver: Greystone Books USD $28
Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada CDN $37


Reviewed by John Wilson


In the past century and a half, dozens of books have been published dealing with the lost Franklin Expedition but only a few have stood the test of time—springing to mind are Richard Cyriax’s magisterial Sir John Franklin’s Last Arctic Expedition and David Woodman’s examination of the Inuit testimony, Unravelling the Franklin Mystery. Many are stylistically dated or poorly written or just plain weird, but for anyone wanting to add to the corpus of Franklin literature today, there is a much more dangerous pitfall—time.

As Michael Palin puts it in Erebus, after Lieutenant Schwatka’s return from his exploration of King William Island in 1880, “The indignation that fuelled the search, the wounded national pride that gave it such imperative, and the appetite of newspapers…for the grisly details had all diminished. There was a palpable sense of closure.” The skeleton of the story was known in as much detail as was possible, the memorialization could progress and for a century little was discovered to disturb the narrative. As Canada’s national interest in the Arctic grew in the second half of the 20th century, so the mystery of Franklin’s fate revived, fuelled by Owen Beattie’s work on the bodies buried at Beechey Island and the politics of sovereignty. Then the lost ships were discovered, Erebus in 2014 and Terror two years later. Suddenly, the risk of almost anything written about the Franklin disaster becoming outdated or being proven wrong overnight mushroomed. The hundreds of artifacts and the possibility of written records preserved in the cold water offer the chance of discovering more about the expedition at one fell swoop than many lifetimes of dedicated researching have previously done.

Palin’s book is not -- at least yet -- dated; it is very well written and only weird where the author wishes it to be. Most importantly, Palin cunningly sidesteps the issue of having his book undermined by the next dive on the wrecks: instead of focussing on the expedition, Palin gives us a biography of one of the ships.

After a short introduction with a title that could be out of Monty Python—"Hooker’s Stockings"—Palin gets down to business with a concise section outlining the construction of HMS Erebus in the Pembroke dockyards in Wales and the development of British interest in the ends of the earth after the Napoleonic wars. We learn about the early expeditions and through this are introduced to the two main characters in the Erebus story, James Clark Ross and John Franklin. The rest of the book is divided into two sections covering Erebus’s two great voyages: Ross’ four year exploration of the Antarctic and Franklin’s tragic attempt to transit the Northwest Passage. On both occasions she was accompanied by Terror under the command of Ross’ close friend Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier.

In 1839, Ross set off for the Antarctic. After replenishing in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), where John Franklin was Lieutenant Governor, they set off to explore Antartica. Over the following four years, the expedition mapped much of the continent’s coastline, located the south magnetic pole, named an active volcano Erebus, catalogued a plethora of animals and enough plants to provide the assistant surgeon, Joseph Hooker (he of the introductory stockings), with the 3,000 specimens that provided the basis for his classic six volumes of Flora Antarctica.

Ross’ expedition in Erebus and Terror was one of the great voyages of exploration—seventy years later Roald Amundsen said of it, “With two ponderous craft…these men sailed right into the heart of the pack [ice], which all previous explorers had regarded as certain death ... These men were heroes…in the highest sense of the word.” Palin’s judicious use of diaries and letters brings the voyage and the participants alive. It becomes almost a running gag as the Erebus’ Surgeon, Robert  McCormick catalogues the animals he slaughters on each trip ashore. Of course, that was his job and Palin gives him due credit for his love of nature and for his evocative prose, for example, his description of a penguin, “walking away upright as a dart… looking like an old monk going to mass.”

Palin, too, holds his own in vivid prose as when the expedition finally turns away from the ice and heads north: “More than a year of their three and a half years away had been spent in or near the most inhospitable continent on earth, with no relief from the relentless cold and no human contact of any kind, other than those men squeezed together on the two ships that carried them into this wilderness. And here they were, for a third season, grasping frozen lines with frozen hands, soaked to the skin, clinging to the rigging as the ships pitched and tossed and icebergs three times higher than their masthead loomed out of the darkness. And Cape Town still 2,500 miles away.”

Palin repeats his achievement in his use of letters from the participants of Erebus’ final voyage, in particular, James Fitzjames’ long letter home from Greenland. Fitzjames was third in command and captain of Erebus on Franklin’s attempt to sail through the Northwest Passage in 1845. He writes lightly and entertainingly, particularly in the pen-portraits of his fellow officers which Palin has dug out from the unpublished version of the letter—Stephen Stanley, Surgeon on the Erebus is described as, “…rather inclined to be good-looking, but fat, with jet black hair, very white hands, which are always abominably clean. and the shirt sleeves tucked up; giving one unpleasant ideas that he would not mind cutting one’s leg off immediately, if not sooner.”

Of course, unless legible letters or diaries are found in the wrecks of Erebus and Terror, Palin has nothing else to work with after the ships sailed from Greenland. Fortunately, Jane Franklin wrote letters to her missing husband and to anyone she felt could be of use in searching for him, however, the most moving work comes from much farther down the social scale. John Diggle was a veteran of Ross’ venture and signed on as cook on the Terror. After he had been gone for almost three years, his father wrote a letter to John to be taken on one of the many relief expeditions. He said, “I write these few lines to you in hopes to find you and all your shipmates in both ships well…” He then talks about his worry that his son is frozen in and in danger from scurvy. He concludes, “Dear son I conclude with our unbounded gratitude to you, your loving father and mother John and Phoebe Diggle.” The letter came back stamped “Returned to sender, There Having Been No Means of Forwarding It.”

Using Erebus as a structure for outlining British Polar exploration in the first half of the nineteenth century in general and Ross and Franklin’s exploits in particular is a wonderful idea and few could have carried it out as well as Michael Palin. His prose is lively and readable and he has an eye for the telling, unusual or odd detail and in the writings of McCormick, Fitzjames and others has some splendid material to work with. Palin has also visited many of the places important to the Erebus story, from what little remains of the dock where she was built and the dock she sailed from on her last voyage, to the Falkland Islands, Tasmania and the Canadian Arctic. This allows his travel-writer voice to come through and gives a modern, first-hand sense of the places her crew must have stared at in wonder.

There is not much in Erebus that will come as new to Franklin or polar exploration aficionados but there are snippets, such as that Ross wanted Fitzjames to come with him to the Antarctic as Gunnery Lieutenant but he was not available. Yet however much the reader knows of the background, Erebus is still a fascinating, readable account. For those with little knowledge but an interest tweaked by the recent discoveries, there are few better places to get a start.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Adventure at the Dawn of the Media Age

Flight to the Top of the World: the Adventures of Walter Wellman

By David L. Bristow

University of Nebraska Press, $29.95 (hc); $28.45 (kindle)

Reviewed by P.J. Capelotti


Walter Wellman is a unique figure in American journalism and exploration, comparable in some respects with Henry Morton Stanley.  However, since Wellman straddled many different fields: journalism, politics, exploration, aviation, technology, and the Polar Regions, he has been a particularly difficult individual to pin down in any one account of his life of writing and adventure.  His five expeditions in search of the North Pole from 1894-1909, along with an attempted stunt flight across the Atlantic in 1910, have long defined his life.  The present volume moves a bit closer to the goal of a full accounting but, in the end, as did Wellman himself so many times, it comes up short by failing to reach its stated goal.

The strengths of this biography are also its weaknesses.  First, the revelation of new details of Wellman’s youth and the beginnings and mid-career of his journalism, especially with regard to the prevailing management and labor turbulence and endemic corruption of the turn of the last century, are excellent.  Unfortunately, these make up a small fraction of the narrative.  Even here there are notable flaws.  Wellman’s coverage of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago is almost completely overlooked, and covered in barely a sentence.  This critical event in early middle age brought together and put on vivid display all of his eventual obsessions: technology (specifically aeronautics), the Arctic (specifically Franz Josef Land and the North Pole), and Norway (specifically its Arctic sea hunters).

The additions to the Wellman story are offset, as well, by the short shrift given to the final two and a half decades of Wellman’s life.  A full account of what he was doing in those years has been particularly lacking, especially so since Wellman’s expeditions have been covered in varying amounts of detail and accuracy in numerous prior accounts.  Wellman’s deep and complex secret life, beginning also in middle age and involving mistresses and illegitimate children in the U.S. and Europe, may never be known to a satisfying certainty.  It is possible if not probable that he was a bigamist, married simultaneously to Laura McCann, with whom he had five children, in the U.S., and Bergljot Bergersen, with whom he had three, in Norway.  Wellman likely met Bergersen during his final attempt to reach the North Pole from Spitsbergen in 1909, when Wellman was 51 and Bergersen 27.

Wellman died of cancer in 1934 at the age 74 and was cremated, his ashes scattered no one knows where.  Laura McCann died in April, 1938, at the age of 76, and was buried in a solitary grave in Waterford, Virginia, under the name Laura Wellman.  Bergersen died exactly a month later, at the age of 56, and was buried in her father’s plot in Vestre Gravlund in Oslo under the name Bergljot Wellman.  To the last, Wellman’s first wife despised him, while Bergersen’s story is wholly dark.  The stories of both relationships, along with at least one other that produced a child, remain largely hidden behind Wellman’s conspicuously public persona of the adventuring writer.

The second strength of the work is in the author’s overall thesis that Wellman was not so much a journalist or explorer as he was the packager of media events and, in this sense, one of the creators of our modern media environment, which sometimes can feel like our entire environment.  That Wellman was an augury, or even the progenitor, of the 24-hour media cycle, is an area ripe for exploration.  Unfortunately this theme is not reinforced enough to form a continuous thread throughout the work.

As this reviewer wrote more than two decades ago, there was a definite “hype effect” revealed by the confluence of Wellman’s journalism and his expeditions.  Ever since his first expedition, a lark to the Bahamas in 1891 to discover the precise landing spot of Columbus in the New World, Wellman continuously over-promised and under-delivered.  This worked so long as editors, sponsors, and the public, could be convinced that Wellman had an actual chance to reach the North Pole, or cross the Atlantic.

In these large and complicated quests, Wellman’s journalism always served not to inform but to entertain and, more critically, to mask his innate incompetence as either a qualified technologist or a properly prepared expedition leader.  In places, the author himself falls for this.  Describing the 1894 slaughter off the north coast of Svalbard of Wellman’s cohort of Belgian draft dogs, the author asserts: “Other expeditions planned on a high mortality rate for their dogs…” (p. 33).  This is a grotesque oversimplification of Wellman’s inexcusable shooting of all of his dogs just days into his first polar expedition.  Other expeditions did occasionally shoot their dogs, but these sad events came near the end of long and grueling treks or when the explorers were either in extremis or as part of a planned usage of dog meat to save men from scurvy.  For Wellman to make no attempt to bring home his dogs and instead shoot them before he had traveled anywhere, was disgraceful.

Such incompetence allowed professional explorers to quickly size up Wellman and agree that there was no chance of him ever reaching the North Pole, with or without an airship.  Robert Peary knew before 1900 that he would have no competition from Wellman.  Fridtjof Nansen in 1899 had been appalled at Wellman’s casual attitude to planning an escape route from Franz Josef Land.  A decade later, staring at the pillaged ruins of Wellman’s airship base on Danskøya, Nansen scathingly described Wellman as an advertising fraud.

By the time of his aborted 1909 polar airship flight, Wellman was all but ignored even by his own newspaper.  This chronic under-delivery of hard geographic results, more than anything, signaled the end of the explorer’s road for Wellman, and renders the 1910 transatlantic attempt more of a true ‘stunt,’ whereas the polar airship expeditions can be seen, at least in their early iterations, as serious attempts at pioneering fraught new technologies in a most extreme environment.

A more fitting title for the self-described hustling newspaperman would have been: WELLMAN! The Meteoric Rise and Stunning Crash of America’s Most Adventurous Journalist.  The chosen title, with its ironic claim of a Flight to the Top of the World that never came close to happening, copies Wellman’s optimistic hopes but masks his ultimate grinding unhappiness.  This is reflected nowhere so much as in an image of Wellman in 1926 (p. 292), looking utterly worn and vastly older than his 68 years.  It is a portrait of a beaten, forgotten man, one without a single legitimate public success to his credit and with his private life a hopeless shambles.  Wellman would never admit it but he had always been more Barnum than Nansen, yet without a fraction of Barnum’s success, fame, or legacy.  That Wellman is yet to receive his due.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

At the Edge: A life in search of challenge

At the Edge: A life in search of challenge

By Stephen J. Trafton

Amazon Digital Services LLC, $37.50 paperback, $7.49 eBook

Reviewed by Regina Koellner



To say Stephen Trafton led an interesting life would be an understatement. His achievements are many and versatile. Climbing Boulder Peak in Washington State, at the age of twelve led to an impressive career in mountain climbing, with numerous first ascents and subsequent leadership in mountain rescue.  A college job in a bank became a professional career which peaked in taking the US government to court and so saving what became Citibank. Later in life, he discovered a passion for car racing, and there he also excelled. He set the Ferrari land speed record in a car that he restored himself, and had an impressive racing career including an unsuccessful attempt to complete the Peking to Paris Rally. His passion for exploring led him across the USA on solo hikes and by kayak and on eleven expeditions to the High Arctic. His interest in the Franklin Expedition brought him to King William Island, where on his second visit he discovered a note left by Franklin searcher Frederick Schwatka.

This, Trafton’s first book, is entitled At The Edge – A life in search of challenge and covers his adventurous life from the early beginnings in the 1940s to the present time. In the foreword, he encourages his readers to push their own boundaries and challenge themselves by walking up to their personal edge, peeking to the other side, and walking back, being proud of the achievement. For that he includes tools of self-evaluation and goal setting. He also takes us on a wild ride through his life on edges most of us wouldn’t even dream of taking on.

The first part of the book deals with his expeditions into the Arctic and stories of mountain rescue. They are not in chronological order which is not too distracting as all are stand-alone, easy to read and always entertaining chapters. You know you are in for a wild ride when in the acknowledgements Trafton apologizes to his brother for the “ice axe in the forehead incident”. Unfortunately we never find out what exactly happened but it’s a synonym for the compelling, nail-biting and often hilarious tone the book is written in.

We learn intimate details about the perils of rectal body temperature measurement for a sponsor while climbing a mountain on Ellesmere Island or doing one's business in double-digit sub-zero temperatures, not to mention spending a night in frozen sleeping bags while a polar bear sniffs out the camp. Trafton takes us on a thrilling glacier crossing where deep crevasses are hidden under fragile snow bridges that when crossed shed icicles into the abyss. We also find out how you use spit to get your bearing when buried in an avalanche. Living on the edge indeed!

A more light-hearted paragraph deals with the group arriving at the remote DEW station on KWI telling the stunned personnel that they came to sell magazines. This is not the only part that makes one chuckle while reading. If it’s practical jokes in camp, being (temporarily) declared persona non grata on Spitzbergen for messing around with Russian observers, or a photo illustrating what happens when you discuss politics in the Arctic, Stephen Trafton’s sense of humour makes the book a very enjoyable read.

For Franklin aficionados the most interesting parts of the book are without a doubt those about King William Island. Just much of an Arctic buff Trafton is himself shows in the chapters on Ellesmere Island ,when he describes how he named several of the newly ascended peaks – in true discoverer fashion – after Arctic explorers and their ships. Unfortunately, the Canadian government had other ideas and gave the mountains Inuit names instead.

For those new to the topic, Trafton provides an overview on the Franklin expedition and the subsequent searches. Even the most seasoned Franklin scholar will be fascinated by the account of how Trafton found Schwatka’s note, possibly wince a little upon reading how he fished it out of its bottle to read it, and ponder his still holding a grudge against the Prince of Wales Museum in Yellowknife for not handing it back to him after conservation. Although it was found on Canadian soil, Trafton is still convinced that, since it was written by an American explorer, it should have gone to the US. The bottle in which the note was found now is part of Trafton’s Arctic library.

The book is a handsome softcover, illustrated by clear, easy-to-read maps and numerous colour photographs. It provides an entertaining read, not only for Arctic buffs and the historically inclined, but also to anyone who just likes a good adventure story.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Limits of the Known

Limits of the Known, by David Roberts.

336 pp. New York: Norton ISBN 978-0393609868

Reviewed by Jonathan Dore



After half a lifetime of mountaineering, and another half of canyoneering and writing books and magazine features, David Roberts has pulled together the various threads of his life in a book that is part memoir, part historical anthology of notable exploration, and part meditation on the meaning and limits of adventure and adventuring. Its summatory and valedictory flavour come from the autobiographical element, disclosed early on, that the author is living with an aggressive cancer (he guards us against the well-meant but double-edged metaphor of “battling” or “fighting” the disease), already spread and metastasized but against which, as of late 2017 when he finished writing, he was holding his own.

Each of the seven chapters of this artfully constructed book interleaves an account of one or more historical expeditions with an episode or aspect of the author’s own life that resonates with them, providing a parallel that Roberts then uses to discuss a series of themes that are fundamental to the mindset and actions of explorers and adventurers. While providing some finely written and thoroughly enjoyable expedition narratives, therefore, the book is much more than the sum of its narrative parts.

The most famous expedition covered in the book—Nansen’s polar drift in the Fram of 1893–96—is the subject of the opening chapter, where it’s interleaved with vignettes of Roberts’s childhood, discovering the joys of hiking and mountains in the Rockies, his imagination fired by space exploration, then by polar exploits like Nansen’s, and finally by mountaineering, the one arena that, in the 1950s, still seemed to offer the possibility of new discoveries—unclimbed peaks—of a kind that had once beckoned the great names of Arctic and Antarctic travel.

Another factor linking his experience with theirs is isolation, the underlying theme of the second chapter, which interleaves an enchanting account of Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman’s reconnaissance of the remotest valleys of the Karakoram in 1937 with a description of an expedition that Roberts and a small group of companions, hungry for first ascents of unclimbed peaks, made to the Revelation Range in south-western Alaska in 1967. Roberts encountered his share of disappointment, failing to climb the peak he attempted in several campaigns over seven weeks, just as Nansen’s early optimism about sledging to the North Pole was crushed less than a month after leaving the Fram. Looking back from an age of satellite phones, the fifty days he spent without contact seemed to Roberts unfathomably isolated compared to today, giving him a kinship to Shipton and Tilman who, after leaving Srinagar with their porters and supplies were completely alone for four months—and with the crew of the Fram, a dozen men away from all other human contact for three years. Although extreme, such isolation was not an uncommon feature of expeditions during the great ages of exploration, an unavoidable sacrifice and a challenge that some rose to meet while others were crushed by it. In retrospect Roberts reports that the freedom to have no responsibility to contact the outside world for a time was an aspect of his Alaskan expedition that he treasures most—but at the same time is glad it was not much longer.

From the 1980s Roberts began to explore the landscape of the Anasazi in the American south-west, and his third chapter explores a conundrum that, as a climber, he became fascinated by as he visited the famous cliff-dwellings and, in remote canyons, discovered some previously unknown to archaeologists. Before the age of modern climbing equipment, how did those ancient people climb rock walls that seem dauntingly difficult even today? Samples of surviving Anasazi rope show they did not have enough strength to hold the weight of an adult, so they cannot have rappelled down from the clifftops. The ancient dwellers of the Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali, by contrast, had stronger rope, and their burial caves in the cliffside commonly show a stout stick thrust into the rock at an upward angle near the cave mouth. Their method, it seems, was to hazard a dangerous free climb to a cave, put the stick in place, and then loop enough rope over it for both ends to reach the ground, from which point they could haul up their relatives’ bodies. With the Anasazi, as with the Toraja of Sulawesi and the Chachopoya of Peru, there is the additional complication not only of climbing to a ledge or cave but transporting materials to build elaborate structures there. But where ropes are too weak to bear human weight, they may be strong enough to hold some kind of frame to a vertical surface, and Roberts concludes that series of log or bamboo ladders, connecting one ledge to the next, may have been the method used.

For Roberts, an important element of this question is that pursuing it provided a release from the essentially solipsistic pleasures of mountaineering: “However thrilling my canyon play … the game was not about me. It was about them.” Searching for modes of adventure that had a longer resonance with human history also led him to an interest in rivers, which have always been “far more central to human existence than mountains”. What were the potamic equivalents, he wondered, to the last great unclimbed peaks? Surely it would be the last undescended rivers—those not yet navigated by boat from their source (or close to it) to their mouth. These need not necessarily be technically difficult exercises in whitewater, although many are. A more common problem is the remoteness of the spot at which the boats are put in the water, often requiring a long hike or helicopter ride just to get to the jumping off point. In a series of writing assignments Roberts accompanied Richard Bangs, who has made this his life’s work, in descending rivers in Ethiopia and, in the book’s longest sustained episode of comedy, New Guinea, where the BBC crew filming their descent were more focused on their hotel accommodation and the structure of the finished documentary than they were on actually filming. Roberts felt the thrill of encountering people along the riverbank who often had almost no exposure to the outside world—“What are they thinking? Who do they think we are? Why do they think we’ve come?”—but in the end the lack of answers seemed to become a metaphor for their frustratingly fugitive interaction with people and landscape alike, forever borne onwards by the water without time for reflection.

The quest for human contact is at the heart of chapter 5, which focuses on the journeys the Australian gold prospector Michael Leahy made in the interior of Papua New Guinea in the 1930s, when he was the first outsider ever to contact several tribes whose boundaries of experience seldom extended beyond their own valleys. With a mixture of genuine anthropological curiosity and a crude reliance on firearms to overawe all those he met, Leahy never found his crock of gold but did leave behind some five thousand photographs and several reels of 16mm film as a record of his travels, along with diaries that became more detailed and thoughtful as he progressed and gained confidence as a writer, providing modern anthropologists with a now-irreplaceable record of highland Papuan societies before any appreciable contact had taken place. Ironically, such first contact was for Leahy an unlooked-for side effect of his main purpose, yet it is what today places him in the line of first-contact explorers from Marco Polo to Bernal Diaz and James Cook.

In an age when satellite imagery can reveal every inch of the Earth’s visible surface—whether humans have trod there or not—we are accustomed to thinking of the physical exploration of the planet as being completed. But in two respects it is just beginning. The first, which Roberts does not go into, is the underwater world—both the geographical interest of the abyssal plain and submarine mountain ranges and the human interest of shallower seas that are the new frontier for archaeologists investigating the drowned surfaces on which our Palaeolithic ancestors walked. The second, which Roberts does write about, are the secret spaces underground: the world of caves. While everyone knows the location and height of the highest points on each continent, he points out, no one knows where the deepest points of the deepest caves are, because they probably haven’t been discovered yet. While a mountain might be seen and measured a century before it is climbed, no one can see and measure a cave—or even be sure of its existence—until they are actually descending into it. And this exploration is happening right now: over the last two decades the title of “world’s deepest cave” has been contended by various cavern systems in France before rival teams began “pushing” the cave systems of Chevé and Huautla (in Mexico) and Krubera (in the Caucasus of Georgia) in long campaigns involving huge quantities of equipment and dozens of international cavers, resembling the Himalayan mountaineering assaults of the 1950s. Currently Krubera holds the record at 7,206 feet, but that is surely not the last word.

In the final chapter Roberts recounts his ongoing medical treatment and writes movingly of the deep friendships that his life of adventuring have led to, but also of the toll that life has taken on his wife Sharon, acknowledging the unthinking cruelty with which he brushed off her worries about accidents and bear attacks during his climbing trips even as he remembers a golden week they spent alone camping on an Alaskan lake island before their floatplane pickup. But for those in the future who, despite their loved-one’s misgivings, find their pulse quickened by the thought of adventuring into the unknown, Roberts sees no end in sight to the riches Earth has to offer.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thou Shalt Do No Murder

Thou Shalt Do No Murder

by Kenn Harper

Iqaluit, NU: Nunavut Arctic College Media, 2017. ISBN 978-1-879568-49-1

Reviewed by Jonathan Dore



For more than thirty years Kenn Harper has been writing historical books and journalism that skilfully combine the archival sources available in southern Canada with the rich oral histories of the Inuit, among whom he has lived for half a century. In doing so he’s shown the journalist’s unerring instinct for finding compelling human stories that are emblematic of the cultural exchange, and often cultural collision, between the two. But he’s also shown the historian’s ability to step back from his immediate subject, seeking its roots in the longer term and the broader view, with an impressively unpartisan sympathy for all the characters, Inuit and European, who fall within his view. In 1986 he first told the story of Minik, the Inuit boy swept along in the wake of Robert Peary’s polar monomania (Give Me My Father’s Body, republished in a new and much expanded edition as Minik, the New York Eskimo in 2017). And two years ago he published two collections, titled In Those Days, of his regular historical column in the Nunatsiaq News. The second of these volumes focused on Arctic Crime and Punishment, and it is one of these stories that Harper has chosen to expand into a full-length study, Thou Shalt Do No Murder.

On 15 March 1920 the independent fur trader Robert Janes was ambushed and shot dead at a hunting camp on the ice near Cape Crauford at the mouth of Admiralty Inlet, the north-westernmost corner of Baffin Island. The man who shot him, Nuqallaq, was one of about twenty Inuit in the camp, most of whom agreed with his action. None of them attempted to hide what they had done, but respectfully buried Janes’s body and, on returning to their home settlement of Pond’s Inlet, brought back and stored his furs and trade goods in his house before reporting their actions to the fur traders there. These events, so baffling on the surface, were the climax to a long series of confrontations, stretching over years, that the increasingly unstable Janes had had with Nuqallaq and most of the other hunters in the camp.

Robert Janes was a Newfoundlander, originally a sailor and eventually ship’s master, who first came north in 1910 on one of Joseph Bernier’s many voyages for the Canadian government. Bernier’s practice was to build cairns, fly flags, and make declarations of claim on behalf of Canada at strategic points on as many different Arctic islands as he could, but in between he traded furs on his own account, often using government-supplied goods as trade items but selling the furs for his own profit. Janes, his second-in-command, was drawn into his web of embezzlement, trading on his behalf during the winter at Pond’s Inlet. After an abortive diversion into gold-prospecting, he eventually got backing from a Newfoundland businessman, Kenneth Prowse, to set up a well-stocked trading station on his own account in 1916.

Almost immediately, however, he began sowing the seeds of his own downfall by his approach to trade. Attempting to ingratiate himself with the local hunters in the hope they would supply him rather than Bernier or another wily businessman, Henry Toke Munn, he gave the Inuit valuable items—guns, ammunition, knives—that he regarded as advances on future payment in furs. But it seems that the Inuit regarded the items as gifts, sweeteners to set the ball rolling in a new trading relationship. As his stock of better trade goods ran out and, increasingly desperate, he was left with only minor items such as cutlery and plugs of tobacco, this mutual misunderstanding was compounded by Janes’s increasingly brusque and overbearing manner, peremptorily demanding furs with menaces before he had even asked for them. Hunters became increasingly disinclined to deal with him as he abused them, eventually attacking one, Umik, with a knife and threatening to shoot him. He also developed a deep personal animus against Umik’s son, Nuqallaq, who was having an affair with Kalluk, the woman providing Janes with wifely services (by arrangement with her husband) during his stay. Through intermediaries, he warned Nuqallaq that he would shoot him on sight if he came near his post, and said the same in a letter of pure venom sent to Bernier’s post manager. Munn’s post manager Jamie Florence, meanwhile, not only had few furs but not enough food to feed himself. He appealed to Janes to buy some of his supplies and Janes, now desperate for furs, gave his terms: Florence must hand over half the furs he had collected for Munn. It was a demand too far, and Florence stuck out the winter of 1917–18 on starvation rations.

But the watershed moment came in September 1919, when for the third summer in a row a relief vessel expected from Janes’s business partner in St John’s failed to arrive. Unbeknown to him, Prowse had received a visit from the wily Munn, who told him not to bother sending a ship to pick up Janes since he himself was going north that year and would bring Janes back. When he arrived he learned of Janes’s demand for furs from Florence, and when Janes arrived at Pond’s Inlet and asked to be shipped out, the same terms were vengefully laid before him: Munn would take him home, but only in exchange for half of his own furs. A demand that would have inconvenienced Munn would have ruined Janes, who, beaten up by Munn’s men, refused. It was a turning point that the Inuit said unhinged the lone trader. His only option for ever getting back would be to return south by dogsled.

After enduring another miserable winter at his post, he and his Inuit post assistant Uuttukuttuk set out by sledge in February 1920. When they reached Admiralty Inlet they found the sea-ice hunting camp where Janes knew he would find several men who he thought owed him furs. They spent several days at the camp as Janes demanded and strong-armed fox pelts from the sleds of the hunters. Used to his tactics by now, the Inuit stoically went about their lives until a newly arrived hunter Miqutui, who had come from the direction Janes was travelling in, told the trader that the ice on that route was so bad he wouldn’t be able to get through that year. With all his options for escape blocked, the news cracked what little mental equilibrium Janes had left. He began threatening to shoot the dogs, and then the people, cooling down only because he temporarily couldn’t find his gun. Two women were so terrified they quietly left the camp, meeting hunters returning to it. Nuqallaq was among them, and as the natural leader of the group he knew that something had to be done.

Although Harper doesn’t draw the comparison, perhaps the closest situation to Nuqallaq’s dilemma in earlier Arctic history was John Richardson’s in October 1821, when he had to decide to shoot the voyageur Michel Terohaute once he became certain that Terohaute, who had already murdered one of their companions and cannibalized others, would otherwise kill him and Hepburn. Likewise, Nuqallaq and his fellow hunters were far from any settlements where they could enlist aid and, before a time when the police had any permanent presence in the north, they were entirely on their own with a dangerously volatile man whom they expected to open fire on them the next time he emerged from his igloo. So Ululijarnaaq called for Janes to come out of his igloo to see some furs, and when he did, Nuqallaq shot him dead.

The Canadian government did not marshal a response until 1921, when it sent a single policeman, Alfred Joy, to act first as coroner, then as justice of the peace, and finally as constable to effect an “open arrest”—there were no facilities for incarceration—of three men, Nuqallaq, Aatitaaq, and Ululijarnaaq.  His report went south the following summer, and only in the one after that, 1923, did a government party arrive at Pond Inlet to conduct the trial. Although the testimony of all the Inuit called as witnesses was clear that Janes had been behaving in a manner so aggressive they feared for their lives, Nuqallaq, as the man who had taken the responsibility of pulling the trigger, was found guilty, though of manslaughter rather than murder. Ululijarnaaq was found guilty of abetting him, though with a recommendation for clemency, and Aatitaaq was acquitted. Ululijarnaaq served his two-year sentence as an open prisoner at Pond’s Inlet, while Nuqallaq was sent south to prison in Manitoba on a sentence of ten years. His health broken by TB, the radical change of climate, and hard labour, he was allowed to return north two years later on licence, the government fearing that if he died and was never seen again the salutary tale he would tell of prison experience would be lost on his community at Pond’s Inlet. Although he tried to pick up the threads of his former life again, he was dead from TB within a year of returning.

On one level, this is a tragedy of personalities. Janes seems to have been short-tempered and, as his fortunes got worse, increasingly overbearing and then aggressive, frequently losing control in violent outbursts. This naturally brought him into conflict with anyone with the confidence and self-possession to stand up to him, which Nuqallaq certainly had. But Nuqallaq was also a piece of work: his first wife had committed suicide rather than put up with his continued beatings, and his young second wife was subject to the same treatment.

But Harper expertly puts this personal tragedy into its larger context—of the fur trade and its effect on Inuit communities, and of a Canadian state at first hesitant but eventually determined to impose visible marks of its sovereignty over lands, and the allegiance of its people, which it claimed in theory but had barely begun to get to grips with in practice. Harper’s mastery of all these levels to his story is what makes his book’s cumulative effect so impressive.

The intense competition that evolved between rival fur traders, competing for the limited trade of Pond’s Inlet, meant that, in a land where profits were modest at best, one bad year could make the difference between success and failure and traders’ could never afford to relax, or fail to take a chance to best the competition. Bernier had the backing of the Canadian government, Munn that of a financial consortium in Britain, but Janes was bankrolled by just one man in St John’s, so was in the most precarious position. Harper’s work in Canadian and British archives bears fruit in the behind-the-scenes correspondence he reveals going on between and about these and other traders as they jockeyed for advantage in the North.

And the fur traders’ presence in the High Arctic was itself a manifestation of long-term forces playing out in the South. Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic, not even acknowledged by the Canadian government until the 1890s, was still at the stage of assertion and proclamation. Only occasional exploratory expeditions by the United States and European powers would goad Ottawa into actual action, but even that would be done as far as possible through diplomatic channels. Actually establishing a physical presence of the state was an expensive last resort. What they typically relied on instead was for fur traders to act as proxy representatives of Canadian power and values, so someone like Bernier was for them an ideal representative: he planted flags and made speeches to the Inuit telling them they were now Canadian citizens, but also managed to tie them into the Canadian economy through his fur-trading, deflecting men away from hunting food for their families towards hunting non-food game for their skins, thus increasing their dependency on trade goods still further. It’s hard to imagine that no civil servant in Ottawa noticed that Bernier was siphoning off government provisions to line his own pocket: it’s likely they just considered it a reasonable price to pay for maintaining a Canadian presence in the North.

Another mechanism of proxy representation was religion, and Harper details the strange syncretic forms of belief that grew up around this time as Bibles translated into Inuktitut syllabics were disseminated long before missionaries were there to make sense of them. This left the field open for those who wanted to set themselves up as religious leaders, and one of the first to do so was none other than Umik. He established a Christian commune at Igloolik in which he placed himself at the head. He directed where the others should hunt, but did no hunting himself. He declared that men should no longer swap their wives for a season, as the custom had been, yet he continued to do so himself. And Nuqallaq, as his son, shared in these privileges, which can only have added to his cynicism.

But the killing of Robert Janes required the Canadian state to make its presence known in a way that it could not delegate to a proxy: the operation of law. First in the person of Joy, and finally in the person of a judge, Louis Rivet, travelling with the staff and trappings of a court, this was the point at which the state had to turn up in person. Here again Harper is meticulous in establishing the background to the scene that unfolded, giving us summaries of three similar cases in the western Arctic that occurred in the years around the Janes killing, and the gradually escalating judicial response. A 1912 killing of an American sports hunter and a Canadian surveyor had been deemed acts of self-defence when the American seemed about to kill one of his Inuit guides, and the case did not come to court. The following year a very similar case occurred, this time involving two priests: again the elder one lost his temper, threatened to shoot his two Inuit guides, and was stabbed by them before he could do so, and again the companion, fleeing away, was also killed in the melee. This time it came to trial in two separate cases: in the first, one defendant was found not guilty of murdering the younger priest; in the second, both were found guilty of killing the elder priest—the one who had actually threatened violence, and thus ironically the one in which the Inuit had the stronger case for self-defence. But the automatic death sentence was then commuted, and the men were discharged from open confinement after little more than a year. Finally, in April 1920, just a month after Janes was killed, a young man in Tree River killed a police constable and a fur trader after the policeman had arrested him and his uncle for five other murders on the Kent Peninsula. With clear and cool premeditation, these killings seemed to represent the clearest case of murder, and when the case came to trial in July 1923, a few weeks before the trial at Pond’s Inlet, it again led to guilty verdicts, but not this time to commutation, and both defendants were hanged.

In all three cases the actual judicial result was undermined by rhetoric, both spoken and unspoken, that made it clear the process and the verdicts reached were important less for their truth than for the salutary moral effect it was hoped they would have in convincing the Inuit population, first, of the mercy of the law, then of its impartiality, and eventually of its unrelenting determination to punish if that initial lenience were abused. Harper describes them as “show trials”, which is perhaps too strong a term since, although they were procedurally flawed in the many specifics he documents, they were a response to actual violent deaths, rather than the purely fictitious crimes the term suggests.

This is the immediate context in which the three men were tried at Pond’s Inlet, but it’s interesting that the verdict, flawed as it might have been, does not represent the continued ratcheting up of severity that might have been expected from the pattern of those three previous trials. The mitigating circumstances of Janes’s behaviour, and the reality of the fear of imminent violence he inspired, seems to have been at least partially recognized, while the differing sentences might have been intended to show that each man’s culpability was being judged individually, rather than making an undifferentiated example of them all.

But translation problems with the trial—testimony had to be filtered through two translators (one of them the prosecution counsel!) between the Inuktitut witnesses and the Francophone jurors—meant that the defendants, and their broader community, seem to have had little understanding of what was going on. Later, stories emerged in Pond’s Inlet that Nuqallaq had been taken away not for the killing but for beating his wives, or that a demonstration of kayaking prowess by Ululijarnaaq had so impressed the jurors that it turned them aside from their intention of killing the defendants. The exceptional range of Harper’s sources, gleaned from dozens of conversations over the years with descendants of Inuit eyewitnesses, gives this, as every other part of his account, a richness that could never be recreated from published sources alone. The author’s act of bringing together archival and oral sources reveals the broader tragedy of which the Janes case was a part, that of two cultures with different conceptions of law and punishment, each misinterpreting the other’s actions through their own prisms of understanding.

Anyone with an interest in Canadian history and the North should welcome Harper’s latest as a masterly account of the case and its background, as a first-class evocation of a time and place, and not least as a healing and perhaps redemptive braiding together of perspectives to enhance the understanding of all.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage

Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage

By Ken McGoogan

Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017

Reviewed by Kenn Harper



Ken McGoogan has produced yet another worthy northern book. Dead Reckoning sets out to tell, as its sub-title proclaims, “The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.” The book is peopled with the usual suspects in the history of Arctic exploration and the search for the elusive Northwest Passage. I needn’t name them here; if you are reading this, you already know who they are.  But this book introduces other names that will be unfamiliar to many readers, even some well-versed in northern history. Their stories are the “untold stories” of the sub-title.

McGoogan points out in his Prologue that orthodox history only grudgingly acknowledges non-British explorers - he specifically mentions Amundsen, Kane and Hall - as well as “short-changing” fur-trade explorers - and here he mentions Hearne, Mackenzie and Rae. He has mentioned these explorers before, of course, and his focus on John Rae is well-known. But in the present volume he takes his championship of the neglected considerably further. “The twenty-first century,” he says, “demands a more inclusive narrative of Arctic exploration–one that accommodates both neglected explorers and forgotten First Peoples.”

 His goal, then, is “to restore the unsung heroes to their rightful eminence.” He recognizes not just the physical work, but the contributions, of the fur-trade explorers, and of Dene, Ojibway, Cree, and especially Inuit. He points out that Franklin’s ships would still be undiscovered at the bottom of the ocean were it not for Inuit and their oral histories.

And so the reader encounters unfamiliar names in this sweeping tale. McGoogan’s point is that they have largely been nameless to date, so I feel compelled to name them here, in solidarity with McGoogan’s championing of them, and to help in rectifying the injury that past histories have done them.

Thanadelthur, an unsung Dene woman who assisted James Knight, has her story told in these pages, as do other Dene leaders, Matonabbee, who accompanied Hearne, and Akaitcho, who assisted Franklin on his overland expeditions. The Ojibway hunter, Thomas Mistegan, played an important role in support of John Rae. Even the Iroquois voyageur (and murderer), Michel, makes an appearance.

Two Greenlandic Inuit are recognized in these pages: John Sakeouse is present for his role in helping John Ross make the first contact by Europeans with the Inughuit of north-western Greenland; Hans Hendrik is featured for the reliance Elisha Kent Kane placed on him.

Early Inuit interpreters in what is now Canada ranged far and wide. They include Tattannoeuck and Hoeootoerock, both from the western shores of Hudson Bay, but who travelled extensively with explorers as far west as the Mackenzie Delta. Albert One-Eye lost his life in the service of John Rae. Ouligbuck (William Ouligbuck Senior), an Inuk from the Keewatin region, worked with explorers and traders as far east as Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq) and as far west as Fort McPherson, certainly an accomplishment worth noting, yet the historical record has been generally silent on his contributions, less so for those of his son, William Ouligbuck Junior, on whom much of Rae’s success depended.

Other Inuit contributed directly to the work of those Qallunaat explorers who searched for Franklin and his missing men. The oral histories provided by men like In-nook-poo-zhe-jook and Puhtoorak, and the indispensable couple, Tookoolito and Ebierbing, not to mention their physical labours – and those of men like Tulugaq - in support of the expeditions of Hall and Schwatka, leave one wondering why their stories have not been known earlier. Tookoolito’s brother, Eenoolooapik, played an important role in the rediscovery of Cumberland Sound by whalers, but no role at all in the search for Franklin or the Northwest Passage. But his biographer later sailed as assistant surgeon with Franklin, and this prompts McGoogan to tell his story in a “what if” chapter. Might things have turned out differently for Franklin if Eenoolooapik had travelled with his friend, the surgeon, on Franklin’s doomed expedition? Eenoolooapik can be seen here as a surrogate for Inuit in general, and the question becomes – What if Franklin had made use of Inuit travel methods and Inuit knowledge? It’s a question worth pondering.

McGoogan devotes a chapter also to Knud Rasmussen, an explorer-ethnographer of Danish and Greenlandic heritage, who spoke Greenlandic (closely related to Inuktitut) as his native language. He collected Franklin reminiscences on his epic dog-sled journey across Arctic America from Hudson Bay to Bering Strait. He travelled with two indispensable Inughuit companions. Ironically McGoogan doesn’t give us their names, but they were the hunter, Qaavigarsuaq, and his female cousin, Arnarulunnguaq.

Of course, the story must end (and does) with acknowledgement of the contributions of Louie Kamookak and Sammy Kogvik, both instrumental in the finding of the Erebus and Terror.
McGoogan highlights also the work of non-British explorers whom he feels history has short-changed, among them Jens Munk, a Dane who led an early and tragic expedition to Hudson Bay, and Roald Amundsen, the first to sail the Northwest Passage. David Woodman, a modern-day researcher, is given the credit he richly deserves for his work in pointing out that Inuit oral histories held the key to “unravelling the Franklin mystery.”

McGoogan achieves admirably his goal of bringing the unsung, whether Indigenous or Qallunaat, to the fore. In some areas, I would suggest he overachieves it.

In his desire to give Indigenous people their due, he sometimes over-reaches. While there is ample reason to include Hans Hendrik for his work with Kane, and Tookoolito and Ebierbing for their assistance to Hall, there seems little reason to discuss Hall’s expedition in search of the North Pole, in which all three participated, in a book on the Northwest Passage; perhaps it was a way of making the Inuit biographies more complete. The inclusion of a chapter on Minik (the New York Eskimo) in a book on the passage is more perplexing, although I am personally grateful for the exposure this inclusion gives to Minik’s sad story.

And yet a few Inuit who were involved in the search for Franklin are omitted, perhaps because the author felt their roles were quite minor. Kallihirua (properly Qalaherhuaq, and usually abbreviated to Kalli), from northern Greenland, was with Ommanney in 1850 and ended up in England where he assisted Captain John Washington in preparing an English-Eskimo dictionary for the use of Franklin search parties. The West Greenlander, Adam Beck, also played a minor (and confusing) role in the Franklin search.

In his blog on August 30, McGoogan pointed out that “copies from the first print run include a map-related glitch that will turn these books into collectors’ items.” The challenge implicit in his statement was to find the glitch. OK, I found it. It is the misplacement of the maps (but not the map titles) on pages 206 and 254. All the maps, by the way, and especially the end-paper maps are superb.

A book of this scope necessarily gives rise to questions and quibbles. They are remarkably few.

In discussing James Knight’s ill-fated expedition, which perished, it is claimed, in its entirety, he makes no mention of “the English Man.” Between 1738 and 1744 Francis Smith, the captain of a Hudson’s Bay Company trading sloop which ventured annually north from Churchill, reported that at Whale Cove the Inuit called one of their number “the English Man.” The captain noted that he was of an age that meant that he could possibly be the son of a survivor of the Knight expedition and an Inuit woman. This is supposition, of course, but would have made a nice aside.

The controversial Moses Norton of Churchill is referred to as “HBC governor” (43), when what is meant is “chief factor,” the position that Norton held there from 1762 until his death in 1773. The same error is repeated in reference to Samuel Hearne (52).

In “Matonabbee Leads Hearne to the Coast,” the slaughter of Inuit by Dene at Bloody Falls is recounted. But I was disappointed that there was no reference to recent scholarship casting doubt on the veracity of Hearne’s account of the massacre – whether one believes the recent scholarship or not - although an earlier chapter casts doubt on Hearne’s account of the James Knight story.

Eenoolooapik’s birthplace, Qimisuk, is not Blacklead Island (155), which is farther down the coast of Cumberland Sound and has the Inuktitut name Uummannarjuaq. Qegertarsuag should be Qeqertarsuaq (364). “Qallunaat,” the word given for “white man” is the plural form; the singular is “qallunaaq” (399).

On page 335, it is claimed that in 1870 when Lady Franklin visited him, Charles Francis Hall was working on his “soon-to-be-published book Life with the Esquimaux: A Narrative of Arctic Experience in Search of Survivors of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition.” But that book was published in 1866, the American edition of a two-volume work first published in England under a different title two years earlier. In 1870 Hall was, in fact, working on plans for his North Pole expedition. He never published an account of his second expedition, the one in which Lady Franklin was interested; his notes were edited and published posthumously as a third-person narrative in 1879.

But these are minor quibbles in a sweeping work that sets out to bring the Indigenous contributors to northern exploration into the story as participants with names – not just tribal affiliations or occupations stated as “hunter” or “my faithful interpreter” – and lives, families, and accomplishments.  McGoogan achieves his goal. Let’s hope that future writers follow his lead and give Indigenous people their rightful place in the development of inclusive, cross-cultural histories of northern exploration.