Comparisons of Reconstructions
Comparisons of Reconstructions

Comparisons of Reconstructions



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Dave Woodman <>
May 3, 2020, 8:39 AM
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Wow! I don’t think that I have read the book three times myself! I am glad you enjoyed it.


As for the tally I think that you are being over kind, I would put most of your “proven” into the TBA category. Hopefully the guys at Parks will recover some documents that will establish some more secure chronology, which will go a long way to quashing or verifying my “guesses.”


Ideally we get a Fitzjames journal entry that says:


“5 Nov. 1849. First visit by Eskimo hunters today, arriving over the ice from eastern shore of our sheltering bay. They were initially frightened by our men, who were celebrating in blackface and leaping around, but I managed to calm them and presents were exchanged. I took them on deck and pointed out the tents ashore, warning them away from them so as to prevent any mishaps with the powder stored there and to forestall pilfering.”

At least I can dream …


Your query, as usual, set me some review work to address your question. Also, as usual it was my pleasure. The result, as always with “wordy Woodman” has turned into quite a book:


The main differences are laid out below, with comments and updates.


Standard reconstruction – Ships direct to C. Felix.

Woodman reconstruction – Attempt to find shelter to east

of King William Island, one ship briefly grounded.


Comment: This was based on the analysis of a single, late (1929), source (Burwash), retelling the accounts of hunters Enukshakak and Nowya. I considered this to be “one of the most unlikely of the Inuit tales,” but it served as faint corroboration of the idea that Franklin at least tried to explore the proposed eastern route around KWI, or prudently seek a winter harbour for 1846-7. Most comment has been that he stupidly chose to venture his ships into the heavy stream of pack ice that Sir James Clark Ross had noticed fifteen years earlier, without even considering Ross’ “excellent harbour, could such a harbour ever be of any use” that the latter had found when crossing over to KWI. Perhaps it was my own experience as a ship’s Master that made this supposed carelessness rankle, but the story could be incorporated to exonerate Franklin of foolishness.

The tale told of carefully-stacked cases of food and some wooden planks that may have come from a boat on an islet near Matty Island. Enukshakak and Nowya claimed that rust stains from the cans could still be seen at the site, and led Burwash there, but heavy snow cover prevented exact relocation. No further search has taken place and no physical evidence has been relocated.


Standard reconstruction – Sir J. Franklin buried in ice.

Woodman reconstruction – Sir J. Franklin buried ashore near C. Felix.


Comment: No evidence for the location of Franklin’s grave has yet been found. Modern searchers, particularly Tom Gross, continue to follow up.



Standard reconstruction – Relics at Victory Pt impulsively discarded.

Woodman reconstruction – Relics cached deliberately.


Comment: Speculative opinion, unresolved by recent evidence.


Standard reconstruction – Abandonment to reach HBC Woodman reconstruction –       1848 abandonment for seasonal outposts for hunting and/or to make contact with nearest known Inuit.


Comment: Speculative opinion, unresolved by recent evidence.

The next three elements of the reconstruction are interrelated:


Standard reconstruction – All die during 1848.

Woodman reconstruction – Few die during 1848.


Standard reconstruction – Ships possibly remanned. Woodman reconstruction –       Ships definitely remanned.


Standard reconstruction – Natives never visit Franklin’s ships while manned

Woodman reconstruction – Natives probably visit manned ships in 1849.


Comment: The standard reconstruction posits one fateful march, during the spring of 1848, from the deserted ships to the mainland, and that all of Franklin’s men died that year. Recent evidence seems to be at odds with this (Inuit tales were always against it) and I consider this to be almost debunked. I proposed that Crozier had overestimated the rate of march of his large and weakened party and soon realized that they could not reach the hunting grounds of Adelaide within the month that their provisions allowed. He would have been forced to order the prudent return to the ships. Using an advance rate of approximately five miles per day I did not think that they could even reach Erebus Bay, and that perhaps Two-Grave Bay marked the furthest extent of this initial attempt to dash to rescue.


The discovery of the shipwrecks indicates that, as the Inuit told, they were in fact remanned after the 1848 desertion. Numerous accounts of visitation were evidence, but this has now been strongly supported by the positions of the two wrecks, each in positions that seem impossible to reach without human agency.


The initial death toll at Erebus Bay (boat places) has steadily risen over time. Hobson /McClintock found two bodies, Schwatka recovered bones from from four (NgLj3) revised to three by Stenton. These numbers may have been consistent with a single march southward. However the inclusion of bones from the nearby site NgLj2 (Bertulli, Keenlyside) brings the number of casualties to “approximately 20 individuals.” I expected this, believing that Erebus Bay was the site of a large shore camp established from the (then nearby) ships in 1849 visited by Inuit (who knew nothing of the 1848 circumstances to the north).


With the discovery of the Terror in Terror Bay vice Erebus Bay it seems more likely that the visitation stories are from Terror Bay and that Erebus Bay was the turnaround point of the 1848 retreat attempt, with much greater mortality than I thought.


Standard reconstruction – One ship sinks in deep water unobserved.

Woodman reconstruction – One ship sinks while natives watch.


Comment: Originally I thought that this event, well-attested by Inuit stories, occurred in Erebus Bay offshore from the “boat place.” The discovery of the Terror in Terror Bay has forced a re-evaluation. As the Erebus sank in shallow water, and was observed, it is evident that the Inuit visit to the ship that sank in deep water would refer to the Terror in Terror Bay.


It should be mentioned that the detail of the ship being forcefully thrown on its side and sinking quickly has not been confirmed. Rather the Terror is remarkably intact and seems to have settled peacefully (dishes still in racks).

One way around this awkward situation would be to posit that the initial Inuit contact took place in the pack-ice of Alexandra Strait, before the ships separated to their final resting places. The traditions of meeting the crew aboard the ships is largely associated with Cape Crozier area and the Royal Geographical Society Islands. Perhaps this is where the Inuit witnessed the nipping of a ship, which it survived (a la the Terror in 1836), a tradition that was later conflated with the knowledge that one sank in deep water. Another candidate for the crushed ship would be Ross’ Victory, whose condition is still awaiting discovery. This would not be the only instance of conflated Ross/Franklin traditions.


Standard reconstruction – Natives never see burial ashore.

Woodman reconstruction – Natives witness burial ashore.


Comment:  Based on another “iffy” late tradition that was told with penuniary interest, the Bayne account has never really been too convincing to me. The self-evident fact that the Inuit didn’t know of the Franklin expedition’s activities north of Erebus Bay (as they themselves said, and proved by the fact that nothing was disturbed), meant that this could not refer, as usually thought, to Franklin’s burial. The fact that, if true, it must refer to a later event (Crozier’s burial?) further south was the main reason I included it in the book. Much land search on KWI since 1994, primarily by Tom Gross, has failed to find physical evidence.


Standard reconstruction – Crozier dies in 1848.

Woodman reconstruction – Crozier dies in 1849.


Comment:  See above. When the Inuit visited the manned ships they met “Crozhar” who was still alive. The date of Crozier’s death is supposition, some believe he may have been the last survivor in 1850 or 51, but based on the above this must have occurred after 1848.


Standard reconstruction – Party seen by natives at Washington Bay in 1848.

Woodman reconstruction – Party seen there in 1850.


Comment:  Rae, in 1854, was told that this encounter took place “four winters ago.” As with all timings this is not proven. Only dated logs or journals recovered from the Erebus or Terror might resolve this.


Standard reconstruction – Natives find relics in 1849. Woodman reconstruction –       Natives find relics in 1851-2.


Comment:  Pooyetta and his party found the remains of the expedition on the south coast of KWI one year after the encounter in Washington Bay (Teekeenu). This date assumes that the party was encountered in 1850 (see Rae above). That their ship was discovered in Terror Bay, one bay to the west, would support this reconstruction if it can be shown to have been taken there by manned crew, ie post-1848, which implies work and travel during 1849. That would also support the “Chieftain” story of a visit to manned ships in 1849, and give a date to visits to the two ships together mentioned above.


Standard reconstruction Terror Bay camp established 1848.

Woodman reconstruction – Terror Bay camp established 1850.


Comment: As I thought that the characteristics of the meeting of the ships offshore from a tent place referred to Erebus Bay rather than Terror Bay, I built in an extra year for this. The supposition was that the Terror Bay “hospital camp” was the result of the 1850 marchers having succumbed to weakness after traversing the Graham Gore Peninsula, and the Washington Bay contingent being the strongest of them sent onward in hopes of bringing help. With the discovery of the Terror it would seem that she possibly arrived in 1849, and the camp may have been established then.


Standard reconstruction – Two boats left behind in Erebus Bay.

Woodman reconstruction – Three boats left in Erebus Bay.


Comment: This has since proven incorrect. Why I added a third boat is a long story.


Standard reconstruction – No records buried in vault on KWI.

Woodman reconstruction – Vault with records buried in Erebus Bay.


Comment:  The idea that the Franklin expedition would secure copies of their most important records ashore still has merit. Inuit stories of cairns with paper inside sealed containers, and holes in the ground covered with heavy stones or mortared, seem to confirm this. Whether these were deposited with Franklin’s burial, in Erebus Bay when the men were forced to retreat, or near Terror Bay is uncertain – none have been found at any of these places. Obviously, for historical purposes, the further east (later) locations would have the most up-to-date accounts.


Standard reconstruction Unmanned ship drifts to O’Reilly Is.

Woodman reconstruction – Manned ship taken to Kirkwall Is.


Comment:  Neither wreck was found in a geographical position where it was likely to have been taken by drift ice alone. Although still uncertain, the general conclusion since 2014, is that each, as was told by the Inuit, was manned.

The preponderance of evidence for the southern wreck (Erebus) off the Adelaide Peninsula seemed to point to the northern alternative location (Grant Point – Kirkwall Island), and when Unravelling was published in 1988 I favoured that sector. Most of my sonar- and magnetometer-based expedition work focussed on that area, and the rather unsatisfying result was to eliminate it from contention. My shift to the secondary, southern, possibility NE of O’Reilly Is. also eliminated that area magnetically by 2004. Parks Canada took up the sonar search in this area in 2008 and continued until 2014, until the wreck was discovered. It technically does lie “NE of O’Reilly” but not in the exact areas we searched, surprisingly it is within the islet complex of Wilmot and Crampton Bay, about half-way between the northern and southern extremes that were indicated. The unlikelihood of it reaching that location unaided is very small, and it looks like a crew was trying to shelter it among the islets. This would also ensure that it was frozen in by one-year ice that would break up quickly, rather than risk the heavier ice of Queen Maud Gulf.


Standard reconstruction Last survivors die at Starvation Cove in 1848.

Woodman reconstruction – Last survivors leave Starvation

Cove in 1851.


Comment:  See above about speculative dates. This was based on the idea that the first ship sank in Erebus Bay in 1849 and her crew abandoned it in 1850, while the second ship had been separated from her consort in 1850 and arrived at Kirkwall that year. Inuit said that the men on this second ship spent a winter before finally deserting the ship the next year (1851), and it seemed to make more sense that the marchers along the southern shore of Simpson Strait, leaving traces at Thunder Cove and Crooked Finger before reaching Starvation Cove, came from this ship. In that scenario their companions from the other ship had died the year after leaving the tent (boat) site at Erebus Bay (now Terror Bay) and falling along the southern shore of KWI – Douglas Bay – Booth Point –  Keeuna –  never having crossed Simpson Strait.


If true, this would imply some Franklin survivors working their way eastward at the same time Pooyetta’s party was finding remains on KWI across the strait. This would also allow for the last four (later three) survivors to be cared for at Boothia by Too-shoo-thar-iu during the winter of 1851-2, and to head south in 1852. In my reconstruction, elaborated in the second book, those four were stragglers from the main party that started from the Adelaide Peninsula wreck (Erebus). Most of this party carried on past Starvation Cove and Cape Britannia to Iwillik (Repulse Bay) and then up the Melville Peninsula to meet their fate near Fury and Hecla Strait. The three surviving “stragglers” are consistently spoken of as heading south toward Chesterfield Inlet.


Standard reconstruction – Thirty bodies found at Starvation Cove.

Woodman reconstruction – Fewer than ten bodies found at

Starvation Cove.


Comment:  I remained convinced that Hall confused stories about the large death camp, assuming it must have been at the end of the march (as supposed – Starvation Cove) when in fact the earlier (either Erebus Bay or Terror Bay, or blended stories from both sites), would suit better. This is partially attributable to Rae’s inexact “40 dead men west of a big river” which Hall correlated with Starvation Cove and the Great Fish River. The attested movements of the discoverers would indicate that they never approached either place, and that the 40 dead men were those found at the hospital camp in Terror Bay and the boat place at Erebus Bay, both of which they did visit. That would make the “big river” more probably the Peffer River that empties into Simpson Strait which is the most significant permanent stream on KWI.


Schwatka’s party, that did visit Starvation Cove and spoke to eyewitnesses of what was found there, attest from six to ten bodies.


Standard reconstruction Adam Beck’s stories of massacre disbelieved.

Woodman reconstruction – Beck stories unravelled.


Comment: The Beck stories are confusing, which is why they were included in the book in the cautionary chapter about evaluating Inuit testimony. Elements of his stories could come from western traditions about Ross or Franklin, but most likely they do, as is usually thought, refer to the North Star in Greenland.


Standard reconstruction Peglar skeleton discovered. Woodman reconstruction –       Armitage skeleton discovered.


Comment:  It has been accepted that the skeleton that carried the “Peglar Papers” was not that of Peglar himself, but was actually a steward from the expedition (as inferred by McClintock from the remains of his uniform) who befriended him. Noting commonalities in their past history, I proposed Terror’s Gunroom steward Thomas Armitage, however more recent work has raised the strong possibility that the documents were being transported by Associate Steward William Gibson.


Standard reconstruction     Hall visits Peffer River.

Woodman reconstruction – Hall never sees Peffer River.


Comment: The difficulty of recreating the exact movements of 19-century explorers on the largely featureless, often snow-covered, and imperfectly mapped shores of KWI makes this assertion uncertain. It is largely inconsequential to the larger story.


That should be enough to get on with. As always, I would be very glad of your thoughts.






P.S. – with the worldwide plague we are keeping close to home this year, but I hope to get together for another beer at the next possible chance.




On Sun, May 3, 2020 at 7:11 AM XXXXX> wrote:


Hi Dave,


I hope you are well.


I’ve had a chance to reread “Unravelling the Franklin Mystery” recently. I really enjoyed it even on the third go around, the writing, as usual, is engaging, and I always find things that I missed on first reading, or whose significance I didn’t quite appreciate. I was thrilled when the divres found the two shipwrecks, and immediately thought of you and how happy you must be that the Erebus was right where you expected.


On my recent review I kept the COMPARISON OF RECONSTRUCTIONS table that you put in your introduction bookmarked, and referred back to it frequently. I was impressed with how well this has stood up during the 30 yrs since publication. I put your tally at – 12 proven, 2 disproven (boats in E.Bay and Terror Bay camp off by 1 year), and 8 still TBA.

Do you have any updates from recent work that change that impressive score?



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