Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Sir James Gambier

Until 'James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition' was published, there was no public knowledge of who James Fitzjames' true father was - in fact it was a closely guarded secret.

The book presents the evidence that his father was a British diplomat of the early ninteenth century called Sir James Gambier. Publication of the book put me in touch with (legitimate) descendants of Sir James, and through them I was able to see a portrait of Sir James, which they have kept down the generations and still retain.

Here is a photograph I took of the portrait.

There is more information and a close-up of Sir James' face on the book's website here.

Can anyone spot a resemblance between Sir James and his ill-fated son, James Fitzjames, in the Franklin Expedition Daguerreotypes?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Early news of an exciting possible new discovery of Franklin Expedition remains

A potentially very interesting new piece of evidence has emerged today for those trying to piece together 'the Fate of Franklin' from the Future Capital Partners North West Passage Expedition, led by Bear Grylls. ( This was a voyage by Bear Grylls and six companions through the North West Passage this summer in an open Rigid Inflatable Boat, the "Arctic Wolf". Do read their description of their exciting transit of the North West Passage and the exciting discovery they have made.

On their way south down Peel Inlet and Franklin Strait from Resolute Bay, heading towards King William Island, the team took shelter in the lee of an island 'abutting the Wellington Straight in the uncharted waters off the coast of King William Island'. It is only about 8 meters high and 200 metres across. They named it Jonesy Island after their marine engineer Ben Jones. Ben has discovered evidence that an earlier group of people spend some time, and died, at this desolate spot. The evidence so far described is:
  • Signs of large fires having been lit on the northern side of the island abutting Wellington Straight. Because of the direction of the prevailing winds, they interpret these as beacons lit by men hoping for rescue from the North, rather than for warmth. They make the point that to burn so much wood is characteristic more of desperate westerners rather than Inuit.
  • What appears to be part of a mast blown up on shore. Presumably from a ship's boat rather than the mainmast of a ship, but that will have to wait for clarification.
  • Whale-bone pins. Given that the Franklin Expedition was well equipped with metal needles, which were found in some quantity at their Felix Cape encampment, this is perhaps more suggestive of an Inuit presence.
  • Human remains buried in 'western looking graves'. Associated with these were bones and a small piece of felt or fabric – certainly not indicative of an Inuit burial. How many individuals are represented is not entirely clear – certainly more than four – and Bear Grylls also located a human skull not associated with any grave.
  • What appear to be tent-circles made from stones.
This sounds rather like the 'boat-places' of Erebus Bay associated with the Franklin Expedition. It is a very exciting discovery and no doubt a short professional archaeological survey and perhaps limited excavation will be able to identify and approximately date these unfortunate people. If they were NOT Inuit, then who could they be if not Franklin Expedition members? How many other Kabloona boat crews have been lost in this part of the world? Could they have been a little-known stranded group of whalers? And if the evidence includes both Inuit and Kabloona traits, could it even have been a mixed group?

Now let us shamelessly speculate what this find might mean IF it turns out to be of Franklin Expedition members. It might represent the final resting place of a group of refugees struggling north east back the way they had come, perhaps hoping that their first anchorage at Beechey Island would by then have been discovered.

There is another possibility. In an earlier post I suggested that the conventional interpretation of the Victory Point note may be wrong, and that in the autumn of 1845 the Expedition might instead have secured the ships at Beechey Island and spent the following months until they sailed in 1846 exploring the waterways to the west, south and north to seek out the best passage to follow. I speculated that they first attempted to break through north via Wellington Straight, before doubling back to Peel Inlet via the west of Cornwallis Island. If this did in fact take place, then this site might be where a, or perhaps the, party exploring south met its end. Perhaps it was the loss of this party which tipped the balance in the minds of the Expedition's leaders that they should attempt the northern route rather than the southern?

This is of course completely speculative, but it may be an example of how much more still remains to be found of the Franklin Expedition in the Arctic. It will be fascinating to see what evidence the Future Capital Partners North West Passage Expedition has been able to bring back and what the final interpretation of this exciting discovery will be.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Updates, Corrections and Reviews

Much of the content of 'James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition' was researched by me from primary sources. Inevitably in doing this there were some errors which I made. Also, the process of publication spreads the net of my research much wider, so more and more people with complementary knowledge will be able to add to mine.

I will therefore be maintaining a section on the book's website here so that as I receive this information I can maintain in one place a complete list of all the revisions I would wish to make to the book.

If you have a look now you will see there are three updates - all quite interesting. The most exciting is that I am now aware of the existence of a portrait of Sir James Gambier, James Fitzjames' true father. I am hoping to be given permission to place a detail of this on the internet. And yes, there is a strong family resemblence.

I have also added a section to the website providing links to reviews of the book. So far I have linked to 'The Arctic Book Review' and 'Macleans'. Maybe there will be more? If you see a review I have missed, please drop me a line so I can add it.