Today while at the N.M.M.'s CAIRD Library, I read about the 'true secret' of the discovery of Sir John Franklin's fate as told by a J. Henry Skewer, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Liverpool and the late President of The Liverpool Mental Science Association. Alas! Franklin's fate was not discovered by search and search parties but by a child! A holy child who had a great and quite mystical 'revelation'!
As Skewer describes 'revelation' in Chapter 4 being that of a Captain Coppin's young daughter (perhaps age 6?) who sees her dead sister (who recently died) constantly as a blue glowing light. One day, during the time that Franklin and his crew were missing (around 1852) an Aunt asked the young daughter to question the dead sister (in blue apparition form, named 'Weesy') about the whereabouts of Franklin and his crew, and how he could be reached. So the young daughter did, and the blue apparition, which had never been seen by any of the adults, save once by the father Captain Coppin, disappeared. But immediately appearing on the floor was 'a complete Arctic scene, showing two ships, surrounded with ice and almost covered with snow, including a channel that led to the ships' (p74). The young daughter then drew 'in the form of a chart and with much taste' the scene (p.75). AND THEN! appearing on the opposite wall 'in large round hand letters, about three inches in length the following- Erebus and Terror. Sir John Franklin, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Point Victory, Victoria Channel' (p75). Erebus and Terror were the two ships taken by the Franklin crew. As yet, these place names in the latter message had not existed, particularly the reference to a 'Channel'.
So the Captain wrote down the incident as told from his young daughter and took the map she had carefully (and 'skillfully') had copied from the apparition on the floor. The Captain waited 6 months before telling Lady Jane Franklin (who he did not personally know) because he worried that she wouldn't believe him. The 'Revelation!' was finally told to Lady Franklin by the Captain as she was preparing for her first funded expedition the 'Aberdeen'. Upon hearing his story, "she exclaimed 'It is all true! It is all true! Your children are right" (p79).
Since it was a quite 'delicate' matter and all, the 'supernatural' occurrence, it was handled at a personal level, not in the public attention, until Skewer, a Vicar, writes his book in 1889 and Captain Coppin, the father, writes his book.
Skewer seems to bend his book towards an overarching religious purpose and states that the event was a 'subjective revelation' and goes into detail differences within revelations and the supernatual ones. Not that I find the religious theme boring or bad: it is quite interesting, in thinking that children can speak and see more than adults, especially in 'sensitive impressions and perceptions' (p 83). Yet I become a little skeptical when the Vicar repeatedly goes off about how 'human genius has failed to throw light on the Unknown' but that instead now a supernatural appears in Londonderry, England by a child and this is what finally informs the nations of England and the United States on how to find Franklin's dead crew?
Virgin Marys on tortillas, on toast, on screens, in oil slicks, in clouds, and shadows, in leaves. We so very much want to believe, in more than what our numb senses can smell, taste, hear, feel. We want our imaginations to rule out the presumed 'facts' before us. But it is more than our imaginations telling us to believe our personal fictions, our personal stories.
In addition to this juicy story, I came across an exhibion catalog from a show done by the Canadian National Archive of early arctic photographs, which offered me many names of the photographers onboard the ships from about 1865-1911. And another story of very early arctic exploration in 1536 when a Mr. Hore was sent out by King Henry 8 in two ships, the Trinities and the Minion, with a crew of 120 men with 30 of them 'gentlemen' (you can only imagine). The crew got stuck off the coast of Newfoundland and resorted to cannabalism. By chance, a French ship came past and so the British crew seized hold of it, kicking the French off, and taking the ship back to England. It is said that this left a 'disgrace' upon England.
Another interesting word choice I came across today as I read 19th century accounts was 'needful comforts' in discussing the provisions the explorers took along. It makes me think how I used to love eating 'Astronaut ice cream', that freeze dried delicious treat sold at all science museums, especially in the 1980's, and if you were lucky, at your local 'Natural Wonders' shop in the mall. When it first was 'invented', did the Neil, Buzz, and Michael think, 'Wow! We are going to be eating in class now!'.
In a more sobering book, I read W. Parker Snow's oratory he gave in 1860 to the Geographical & Ethnographical Section of the Royal Navy in a plee for them to send out another search & rescue mission, claiming that a few of Franklin's men must still be alive. More importantly, for scientific purposes, they must strive their very best to find all the scientific documentation the expedition must have kept and placed at cairn points in the arctic as was the custom since this had been Sir John Franklin's original directions as well as the N.W. passage. He, a mere lowly merchant marine, was given 30 minutes to present to President Murchison and various other 'Ladies and Gentlemen' including a long list of explorer captains such as Dr. Rae and M'Clintock. The oration won him the Franklin Poem Prize. Later in book form, Snow wrote an introduction along with supplements, etc. In the introduction though, he insightfully quotes an anonymous Australian author:
"It is the inspiration of enthusiasm that has transmitted the electric spark which has blown monster abuses to the
winds. Men may do wise and useful things slowly and calmly enough; but man has rarely done a great thing till he
has gone half mad upon the subject: talked of it, brooded over it, dreamed of it. A sort of actual
inspiration them assists him, and he achieves results at which, in his lucid intervals, he is himself astonished."
The admiratly sent out more expeditions.