Fatal Passage fuels Inuit refutation at British Museum

First came my book Fatal Passage, which revealed the dastardly machinations of Jane Franklin and Charles Dickens. PTV Productions based a docudrama on the book (Passage) which aired on BBC Scotland and won acclaim at film festivals in Canada. Tagak Curley and I met during the London filming of key segments of the movie. And John Rae keeps on keeping on . . . .

Nunavut politician to address British museum on Inuit role in Franklin expedition
Last Updated: Friday, May 22, 2009
CBC News

Nunavut cabinet minister Tagak Curley is set to speak at a museum in England this weekend, hoping to refute what he says are false claims of Inuit as murderers of Sir John Franklin’s crew in the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s.

Curley, an Inuit history buff as well as Nunavut’s health minister, has been invited by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to speak at the opening Saturday of an exhibition on Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition through the fabled passage.

Inuit have long been cast in a negative light since Charles Dickens wrote The Lost Arctic Voyagers, which accused Inuit of being murderers and cannibals.

“We need to try and resolve this conflict,” Curley told CBC News.

“Unless the roots are dealt with, we cannot establish the true reconciliation and healing for all that matter.”

In 1845, Franklin and his crew aboard HMS Terror and HMS Erebus set sail from London to search for the Northwest Passage, but disappeared during the trip, sparking speculation about what happened.

Commissioned by Franklin’s wife, Jane, Dickens’s 1854 work refuted one published earlier by explorer John Rae, who wrote that Franklin’s crew may have fallen ill to scurvy and resorted to cannibalism.

Curley said he’s disturbed by how some people still believe the author’s claims today.

“It put an image of Inuit as not worth trusting,” he said.

“They were called treacherous and to that extent, more like not humans at all. So I got quite annoyed with that.”

Curley said history needs to be set straight, adding that he wants a plaque erected with the truth written on it.

But until Franklin’s ships are found, the long-disputed question of what really happened to Franklin and his crew may never go away, said Canadian author Ken McGoogan, who has written extensively on both Franklin and Rae.

“We’re never going to put this to rest,” McGoogan said with a laugh. “That’s my simplest answer, because this is a mystery at the heart of our history.”

Curley said he is defending Inuit who are no longer alive, who were falsely accused of murder.


  1. Russell Potter on February 1, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    I’m delighted to see that Tagak Curley will be there to represent the Inuit people at these events, which I gather are related to the new “Northwest Passage” exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. He is right, of course — although given that, in John Walker’s film, Curley accepts the apology of Dickens’s great-great-grandson, I do think it would be fair to say that some rapprochement has been achieved. The Maritime Museum, and nearly all scholars I know, accept that some groups of Franklin’s men resorted to cannibalism.

    Curley himself, though, is a somewhat odd choice. He’s not really an expert on Inuit oral traditions about Franklin, and his own domestic political record includes an evangelical Christian agenda which is, among other things, hostile to gay marriage and equal rights. So I guess I wouldn’t say he’s the most inclusive politician on the Nunavut scene, nor one with much in the way of previous ties to the Franklin matter. I’d have preferred to see someone like Louie Kamookak, James Qitsualik, or others from the Gloa Haven community there instead. Nevertheless, it is a welcome historical moment, all things considered!

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