Here’s why we’re excited to visit the site of Franklin’s found Erebus

Parks Canada divers will resume exploring Erebus a few days from now, around the time we reach the site with Adventure Canada. That’s the word on the street. Thanks to Parks Canada, we will have a live feed that will enable us to witness discoveries as they happen. Why is this exciting? Well, I offer an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. . . .

other ship (Erebus) was carried south
by ice to Wilmot and Crampton Bay, an area known to the Inuit as Oot-joo-lik.
 [Researcher] David Woodman suggested that a
large group of sailors abandoned that vessel in 1851, while it drifted south in
the ice. Some Inuit hunters met this party of men, weak and starving, slogging
south along the west coast of King William Island. These were the men
In-nook-poo-zhe-jook described to John Rae. A few sailors—probably four,
according to Puhtoorak—remained aboard the ice-locked ship, probably until
early 1852.

is not the place for a forty-page analysis of Inuit oral history. But the
discoveries of the ships does suggest turning a spotlight on a few key passages
that explain why most Franklin aficionados believe archaeologists will discover
at least one body aboard the Erebus
Not far from where Canadian searchers found the ship, Charles Francis Hall and
Tookoolito interviewed a local woman named Koo-nik. She was the one who spoke
of finding “a very large white man” dead on the floor inside a ship.

a letter to his sponsor, Henry Grinnell, Hall added details: “The party on
getting aboard tried to find out if any one was there, and not seeing or
hearing any one, began ransacking the ship. To get into the igloo (cabin), they
knocked a hole through because it was locked. They found there a dead man,
whose body was very large and heavy, his teeth very long. It took five men to
lift this giant Kabloona [Qallunaat or white man]. He was left where they found
him. One place in the ship, where a great many things were found, was very
dark; they had to find things there by feeling around. Guns were there and a
great many very good buckets and boxes. On my asking if they saw anything to
eat on board, the reply was there was meat and tood-noo [caribou fat] in cans,
the meat fat and like pemmican. The sails, rigging, and boats—everything about
the ship—was in complete order.”

same story turns up again in 1879, when with the help of Ebierbing, Frederick
Schwatka interviewed Puhtoorak, one of the Inuit who had ventured aboard the Erebus. Puhtoorak said that he found a
dead white man in a large ship eight miles (thirteen kilometres) off Grant
Point (near where Erebus was found).
He reported that the Inuit found a small boat on the mainland, and many empty
casks on the ship. “He also saw books on board the ship but did not take them.”

also said that before discovering the ship, while hunting along the shore with
friends, he came across the tracks of four white men and “judged they were
hunting for deer.” Later, he found the tracks of three men, and suggested “that
the white men lived in this ship until the fall and then moved onto the
mainland.” In so saying, he affirmed the earlier account by Koo-nik, who told
Hall that Inuit had seen “the tracks of 3 men Kob-loo-nas & those of a dog
with them.” Hall added that “there is no such thing as their being mistaken
when they come across strange tracks & pronounce them not to be Innuits.”

accounts and others, taken together, suggest that four men were living aboard
the Erebus when the ice carried
it—some suggest they guided it—into Wilmot and Crampton Bay. One of them
¾a large man?¾probably died on board. The other
three left the ship in a bid to survive, and were never seen again. Inuit
hunters boarded the ship. They made off with a few “treasures” but left a great
many more.

the next few years, Parks Canada archaeologists will almost certainly produce
artifacts and possibly papers that will further clarify what happened to the
Franklin expedition. Inuit testimony suggests that they will come across at
least one body in
Erebus. . . . If
the past is any guide, these findings will generate conflicting
interpretations. This much is certain: as experts thrash out an
all-encompassing revision, they will draw heavily on Inuit testimony. 


  1. Terry Hawkins on February 1, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    Great report. This story is an important part of Canada and Inuit history. It should be taught as part of history courses at all levels in our schools. — Terry Hawkins

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