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.
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.