Less than frank about Franklin

Brian Jones
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Stupidity can be astounding. We see it all the time in political headlines and official statements, and in the decisions of defence departments and school boards, but the everyday variety is the most fascinating.

Sometimes it can be morbid, as with the Darwin Awards, which highlight ways stupid people have hastened their own demise. (One that sticks in your memory: the guy who had a pool table in his garage and, thinking he could get a better angle on a shot, hung upside down with his legs wrapped around a rafter, and fell.)

Often, stupidity is banal, and you are reminded of the adage that humans are just apes with less hair.

Never mind the utterances or actions of loathed politicians or the inane justice propounded by Iran’s ayatollahs — the most stunning instance of stupidity in recent months comes from a family in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, which claims to have had in its possession for almost a century the logbooks of Sir John Franklin.

Passed along

Apparently, the logbooks were found by Inuit hunters, passed along to a Roman Catholic priest and ended up with Granddad about 80 years ago. In the mid-1900s, he buried them beneath a cairn in Gjoa Haven. According to news reports, Granddad kept it a secret until 1984, when, nearing death, he told his son about the rare family heirloom.

We can only wonder how such a conversation would sound.

“Son, you’ve been good to me. I’m proud of you. Be kind, work hard, love your family … and, oh, by the way, I know where Sir John Franklin’s logbooks are.”

Son, being the offspring of Granddad, did the obviously stupid thing — he kept the information secret for another 25 years. It was only in the past year that he shared the secret with the rest of his family.

Last week, Grandson finally revealed the story.

We can also only wonder about how that family decision came about.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking,” Grandson might have said one evening at dinner. “Maybe we should tell someone about the logbooks Granddad told you about.”

“What? Already? But it’s only been 80 years.”

In Newfoundland terms, this is the kind of thing that gives rise to the expression “stunned as your arse.”

Let’s see: you live a short floatplane trip away from the site where Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition got stranded and became one of

the most famous and mysterious episodes of exploration in history.

Coming upon the leader’s logbooks, you concentrate your mental faculties and mutter, “Hmm, what to do? I know — I’ll keep it secret.”

Enduring questions

According to news reports, researchers and historians are hoping the unearthing and conservation of the documents will answer some enduring questions. Why did Franklin and his men walk south, when going east made more sense for rescue by sea? How long did Franklin survive? Did he find the Northwest Passage before becoming trapped in ice? Where are the expedition’s ships, the Erebus and the Terror?

William Battersby, author of “James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition” — Fitzjames was the 32-year-old captain of HMS Erebus — points out in his book that all 129 men who perished with the Franklin Expedition are known by name.

They were real people, not merely a numerical footnote in a textbook. Common decency and respect for the dead — not to mention average intelligence — would prompt most people to immediately share Franklin’s logbooks with the world.

But one northern historian claims the Gjoa Haven family

doesn’t have the logbooks. He says the documents likely belonged to Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, and the family is confusing Franklin and Amundsen.

Typical. Stunned as their arses.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Gjoa Haven, Iran, Nunavut Newfoundland Northwest Passage Arctic

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Recent comments

  • walter m. porter
    August 31, 2011 - 11:47

    I would like to express my thoughts toward my family and the inuit of nunavut.. Its what ignorance shows by White people that figure they know everything,, We have so much more knowledge about Franklin and what we have are artifacts that came from the last known 29 men whom diedtrying to make it to a whaling camp in the hudson Bay region over 150 yrs ago. and more so artifacts that are at a unknown locations of Sir John Franklins last 29 men with pieces of boat they were sledding across the land. So, if you think we were going to just think we had the records only, will we have so much more, If you want to be a part of this history lsten to what we have because the government of canada sure thinks they can do their search and not have any INUIT involved, Or my family, We do have so much more information but will not sure it with anyone else because all you want is (As white people you think you all own everything that was lost my VERY UNexperience explorers. As will how the government wants everything that isn't theirs at all.. Its who has it not how the Government wants it. And no one is going to take it from us,

  • Delta
    September 10, 2010 - 23:12

    As if it's necessary to add to this debacle, Newfoundland's Coast Guard decommissioned the icebreaker Sir John Franklin years ago and it was about to be made into razor blades when Quebec asked for and got the vessel and renamed it Amundsen, still a Coast Guard Ship. Kinda brings a tear to your eye doesn' t it!.

  • Delta
    September 10, 2010 - 23:10

    As if it's necessary to add to this debacle, Newfoundland's Coast Guard decommissioned the icebreaker Sir John Franklin years ago and it was about to be made into razor blades when Quebec asked for and got the vessel and renamed it Amundsen, still a Coast Guard Ship. Kinda brings a tear to your eye doesn' t it!.

  • Eugene from Town
    September 10, 2010 - 08:40

    P'raps, the grandfather and father, noting the inherant racism in our celebration of Franklin's "exploring" a land already inhabited by humans. P'raps grandfather and father didn't want to add to the eurocentric arctic exploration history books that seem to not acknowledge that this area was already "discovered" and that knowledge of the terrain, waterways and ice fields could have been garnered by learning how to speak to the locals not just writing them off as "uncivilized". Maybe everyone is too "stunned" to have considered that angle.