Fake News

Fake News


One of the most irritating things to any researcher is when a secondary source, without attribution, inserts new material into a complicated debate. Countless hours are usually wasted in an attempt to find elusive evidence of something that “doesn’t ring true,” but which, if true, might materially change one’s narrative. This has happened to me (the “Franklin’s men carrying human remains on the march (heads, legs) for later consumption” comes immediately to mind). In my work, I have tried carefully to avoid inserting falsehoods into the discussion. Recently, however, I was made aware that I have not entirely avoided this sin.

Dr. Doug Stenton, whose work on the terrestrial archaeology of the Franklin expedition is meticulous and impressive, emailed me to discuss the condition of the supposed Franklin marcher’s bodies found at Set-tu-me-nin and Kun-ne-ar-bear-nu. The most detailed description of these bodies came from Ad-lark, mother of Teekeeta and eyewitness to the first discovery of these remains. He wanted to know the source of the unattributed statement that a body there had been found lying on a telescope.

The treatment of Adlark’s story is told mainly in my book on pages 155-62, and I was pleased to see that although the mention of finding a telescope was made, there was no mention of it being underneath a body (which, on reflection, would be very strange indeed). Then I searched and found on pg 296 that I wrote “One of the bodies “had a telescope strapped over his shoulders,” a slightly garbled account of Adlark’s discovery of a body lying on a telescope.” But as far as the Hall transcripts show, Adlark never spoke of a body lying on a telescope. According to them, Adlark found the telescope under a large stone, wrapped in a blanket. So how did I make that mistake?

From the context, this erroneous detail may have come about through conflation of stories. The first link in the chain seems to come from Rae. His informant, Inookpoozhejook, was Teekeeta’s brother-in-law, and so probably had the story of the discoveries on King William Island from him. I went back to Rae’s original account in the Albion where he wrote that “[o]f those [bodies] found on the island [Rae assumed Montreal, but probably Todd], one was supposed to have been an officer, as he had a telescope strapped over his shoulder and his double-barrelled gun lay underneath him.” So here we have the linking between a telescope and “underneath,” although here it is a gun. Going back to the Hall papers, I found that Adlark found that on each of the two the bodies found at Set-tu-me-nin “a suspended knife found,” giving us the element of underneath again. But not a telescope.

When Hall interviewed Teekeeta, he asked him, “Any spy glass in the tent [at Terror Bay]? Ans. No, but spy glass found at other place.” Teekeeta remembered, like Rae, that “[h]is (Tee-ka-tu’s) mother once found a spy glass + 2 tea spoons wrapped up in a blanket + all under a large stone … No dead body found at this spot but 5 whites had been buried on the same small island where these things were found,” and Adlark seemingly confirmed this – “[t]he old lady says no spy glass was found in the tent but she found one on Kee’u-na (Todd’s Island).” Adlark then contradicted herself, “A correction … it was not on Kee-u-na but near the island the place called Kun-ne-ark-be-an-ŭ, a long low point that she says is nearly N. of Kee-u-na … Found the telescope near – where we erected the monument – a bag with two tin cups … A blanket + a jacket she found there too.” So we have two properly buried men with knives underneath their bodies at Set-tu-me-nin, and one reported but undiscovered body with an associated spy-glass and blanket at nearby Kun-ne-ar-bear-nu, misremembered by Teekeeta and reported by Rae (through Inookpoozhejook) as on Keeuna. All very clear no?

Like doctors, historians should adopt the primary rule of “do no harm.” Also like doctors they make mistakes. In this case the result is minor in the overall scheme of things, although it might have caused Dr. Stenton to waste time looking for a telescope or pieces at the wrong location. Mea Culpa.

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