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No. 06, - Franklin's Second Arctic Expedition (The Mackenzie, 1825-27)

On February 16th, 1825, Franklin left England for his second overland Expedition to the Arctic. From letters Franklin wrote to his wife from America, we are able to determine: he took an American "packet-ship," Columbia, and arrived at New York on March 22nd; then on through Albany and Niagara Falls to be at Penentanguishene on Lake Huron on April 22. It was in that month, that tragedy struck his family, but he was not to know of it for months. His first wife died that April.

Franklin was to have with him on this Second Expedition certain of his companions he had during his first Expedition, terrible as it was: John Richardson and George Back. Back seemed to have travelled to Penentanguishene via Montreal accompanying and attending to men and supplies. The group then travelled over the waters of Huron and Lake Superior. Then the party went over, which by then was a well travelled route -- Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods and onto Lake Winnipeg. On June 15th, they arrived at Fort Cumberland. Another group of men belonging to the expedition had made their separate way overland from York Factory to Fort Cumberland and arrived with their canoes a couple of weeks before Franklin and immediately pushed on. The entire party was at Fort Chipewyan, then on to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. Franklin then, beginning on August 2nd, proceeded down the Mackenzie River reaching, in turn, Fort Simpson and Fort Norman. (See Map)

Map Of Franklin's First Arctic Expedition

"Here [Fort Norman], as there still remained a few weeks of the travelling season, the party, under Franklin's instructions, divided. Back, accompanied by an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, was directed to proceed to Great Bear Lake, and there to construct winter quarters for the expedition."25 Franklin, himself with "Kendall, a crew of six Englishmen, a native guide, and his old friend the Eskimo interpreter (Augustus), started in one of the boats for the mouth of the Mackenzie River" for a quick view, leaving the exploration of the Arctic shores for an intended return the following spring. The determination to separate was made on August the 9th, by the 14th Franklin, going with the flow of the mighty Mackenzie was at its mouth. By September 5th, Franklin had joined his friends at the expedition's winter headquarters on the shores of Great Bear Lake, which George Back had established, Fort Franklin.26 (See Map)

On June 24th, 1826, the expedition proceeded from Fort Franklin leaving a small contingent behind to mind the fort and ensure that food supplies were laid in as it was intended that their second winter, as it did for the first, would be spent there. On reaching the mouth of the Mackenzie in July of 1826, the group split into two. The first, under Franklin and Back, turned west along the shores; the second turned east; both were to take sightings and to geographically lay some definition to the northern perimeter of North America.

Franklin and his men on arriving at the mouth of the Mackenzie, in their two boats, the Reliance and the Lion, discovered a large encampment of Eskimos estimated at near 300. The Eskimos, on seeing Franklin's two boats, set out in their numerous canoes. A meeting was had with the lead canoes and gifts given. The gifts were made to the perceived chief, after that it was to be trade, conducted only by the officers. In the boats was all manner of things, and once spotted by the natives, it became wanted by them and Franklin's two small boats were inundated with eager hands and faces. A scuffle broke out and lasted for "several hours." In time, the boats regained the water and with the leveling of a few English muskets the natives scattered and were of no further problem. Traill reported "that the only things of any importance which the natives succeeded in carrying off were the mess canteen and kettles, a tent, a box containing blankets and shoes, one of the men's bags, and the jib sails."27

Thus we see where Franklin had a problem with the Eskimos at the mouth of the Mackenzie. As one reads of the explorers who traveled the far north and who met up with the Eskimo people, reference is often made to the habit of the natives (whether Eskimo or their southern neighbors, the Indians) to lift things that attracted them, such as a knife or any metal object, so fasinated they were with such objects. While their tendency to steal, often openly, was something explorers had to always be on the outlook for; they found, almost universally, natives were friendly and willing to help. Kane made reference to the ready accomodation the Eskimo people were ready to give to the Europeans who first came among them. He and his men came across an Eskimo encampment. Elisha Kent Kane wrote of it, as follows:

"... the attention of the whole settlement was directed at once to the wants of the visitors. Their boots were turned toward the fire, their woolen socks rung out and placed on a heated stone, dry grass was padded round their feet, and the choices cuts of walrus-liver were put into the the cooking-pot. Whatever might be the infirmity of their notions of honesty, it was plain that we had no lessons to give them in the virtues of hospitable welcome. Indeed, there was a frankness and cordiality in the mode of receiving their guests ... [On another occasion:] They received Morton and his companion with much kindness, giving them water to drink, rubbing their feet, drying their moccasins, and the like. The woman, who did this with something of the good-wife's air of prerogative ..."28
Franklin took the western route and paddled the shores of the Beaufort Sea. They went 374 miles before, on August 18th, they turned back. The ship Blossom under Captain Beechey was coming west, but had to turn back, like Franklin, before winter conditions overtook them. So while, Franklin and the Blossom which was but a couple of hundred miles, and a week off; the two never made a conjunction. Retracing their route, The Franklin group were back at Fort Franklin on the shores of Great Bear Lake, arriving there on September 21st. The second group, under Richardson, and which had split away earlier at the mouth of the Mackenzie, to go east (as opposed to Franklin who turned west) had been back having pulled into Fort Franklin three weeks earlier. Their mission to explore the arctic coastline all the way from the Mackenzie to the Coppermine, a distance of 900 miles, had been accomplished.

As to the balance of this part, I turn to Franklin's biographer, Traill:

"The winter of 1826 had of course to be spent, like the preceding one, at Fort Franklin, and early in the following year preparations were made for a return to England. Leaving instructions for Back, now promoted to the rank of commander, to proceed to York Factory with the remainder of the party as soon as the ice should break up, Franklin left the Fort accompanied by five men.
Fort Simpson was reached on March 8, Fort Resolution on the 26th, Fort Chipewyan on April 12, and the party were at Fort Cumberland by June 18. Thence Franklin proceeded to Montreal and New York, whence he took ship to England, where he arrived on September 26, 1827 after an absence of over two years and seven months."
Traill was to write of Franklin's "Second Arctic Expedition," in this way:
"[Franklin had made] the discovery and exact delineation of more than 1,200 miles of the coast of the American continent up to that time absolutely unknown."30

NEXT No. 07, Service In The Eastern Mediterranean.


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Peter Landry
2015 (2017)