Sunday, October 2, 2016

The significance of Terror Bay

Like a fine-toothed comb passing through tangled hair, the knowledge of the definitive location of HMS "Terror" in Terror Bay is having the effect of reshaping and sorting out historic Inuit testimony in unexpected ways. Nowhere is this more evident than at Terror Bay itself, where we now have to recalibrate everything we know with the awareness that one of Franklin's ships lay under the water just a short distance away.

The Inuit testimony is consistent in locating a very large "tent place" with many bodies, as well as a series of shallow graves just outside it. This is almost surely the "tent place" described to Hall, filled with unburied bodies, along with clear evidence of cannibalism. With the Terror sunk nearby, the working assumption would be that this tent was the final home for many of her crew. Unfortunately, due to years of tidal action, as well as scouring by coastal ice, the surface remains of this site were already gone by the time Frederick Schwatka arrived to search for them in 1879, even though living Inuit elders verified that they had seen them at the spot: "The natives said nothing was to be seen where previously they saw many skeletons and other indications of the white man's camp, as it was so close to the water that all traces had disappeared."

We do, however, know of two items of special significance in the area, both of them associated with Pasty Klengenberg. Klengenberg, the son of Danish whaler/trapper Christian Klengenberg Jorgensen, lived near Terror Bay for some years, operating a small HBC outpost. During his time there, his wife Mary Yakalun came upon a large crumpled metal object. William Gibson believed it was "the remains of a water tank from one of the life boats," but that seems a bit off -- the ship's boats weren't intended as life boats, and I know of no water tanks being standard equipment. However, floatation tanks were a feature of at least some later whaleboat designs (as in the "Montague Whaler" -- thanks to Peter Carney for this suggestion), and earlier ones may well have had that same feature. In addition, it seems that Patsy Klengenberg came upon what Gibson describes as the "grave of a member of the Franklin expedition," which must have somehow been missed by Schwatka and earlier searches. Klengenberg rebuilt the grave marker into a substantial cairn, although no trace of it appears to be known today. It's tempting to connect this with the Peter Bayne story, said to be obtained from a "Boothian native," which also involved a large tent and a row of graves:
Many of the white men came ashore and camped there during the summer; that the camp had one big tent and several smaller ones; that Crozier (Aglooka) came there some times, and he had seen and talked with him; that seal were plentiful the first year, and sometimes the white men went with the natives and shot seal with their guns; that ducks and geese were also plentiful, and the white men shot many; that some of the white men were sick in the big tent; and died there, and were buried on the hill back of the camp; that one man died on the ships and was brought ashore and buried on the hill near where the others were buried; that this man was not buried in the ground like the others, but in an opening in the rock, and his body covered over with something that, “after a while was all same stone”; that he was out hunting seal when this man was buried, but other natives were there, and saw, and told him about it, and the other natives said that “many guns were fired.”
If we assume, just as a thought experiment, that this story took place in Terror Bay, then there's good reason to suppose that, for a time at least, both of Franklin's ships were present, and under Crozier's command. The death and funeral of the high-ranking officer could well have been Crozier's own, as would have been the tomb sealed with something that "after a while was all same stone." Both ships would have carried the makings of concrete, and finding just such a sealed vault has been sought by
Bayne Map
many searchers. If so then perhaps Bayne's map -- which was, in the past, erroneously thought to apply to Victory Point, could refer instead to any of the several northwest/southeast trending coasts in Terror bay. A quick glance at Google Earth reveals any number of candidates; if we knew more precisely where HMS Terror was found, my money would be on the ones closest to that point. If we could relocate that spot, perhaps Peter Bayne's long-discredited map would, after all, turn out to be a map of a known Franklin location, and the key to finding  a tomb which might -- even now -- contain not only human remains, but the kind of invaluable written records so many have sought for so long.


  1. The Jamme (i.e. Bayne) map is oriented to provide the correct coast line direction in the neighbourhood of Victory Point. However, if it is instead a point in the bottom of Terror Bay, the map should be turned anticlockwise by 90 degrees. The depicted point might be gone by now, but the hills and stream should still be there, running south into the bay. Unfortunately, the area is not one of those few that are depicted in high resolution Digital Globe images on Google Earth, only by much lower resolution LandSat images. Nothing interesting is ever in the Digital Globe areas!

  2. If that water tank was from Terror, then it must have come from deep in the hold of the ship. The only way it could have landed on shore , is if the ship had suffered major damage from the ice. Certainly the wreck, as just found, seems un damaged...but damage would be hidden by the sediment surrounding the wreck.

  3. Thanks for more thought provoking tidbits to the story! I wish my mind could answer questions as fast as it poses them!
    Just wondering....while a senior officer may have warranted a different type of grave, why would they need to use concrete? Was this a vault of concrete into which a coffin was lowered and then backfilled? Or was this a hole with a coffin already in, into which concrete was poured? Why the necessity of such an entombment? Permafrost would have served the same purpose wouldn't it?
    When I saw the picture of the woman on the large rock all I could think of was "what's under that rock?" The concrete grave? Just wondering if a simple phrase like "stone marker" became "cairn" in translations or re-telling, and it explains why there is no cairn as such.
    The simple map shows bodies laid out nice and evenly. Was there a pattern of known graves to orientate them North/South or East/West. I thought perhaps that might help locate the site. I saw one when I checked google maps....but it's all speculation.
    Wondered if anyone had walked the shoreline with metal detectors, which might help pick up uniform buttons of those who might have been covered in silt rather than washed out to sea.

  4. Christian burials are usually oriented east-west, with the head at the western end of the grave. The reason for this is the belief that Christ will return from the East, and so the resurrected body will not have to turn around to face Christ.

    As long at they were able to put some effort into burials, they would have conformed with this tradition.

    Rotating the graves to an east-west alignment would imply that the ridge in the Bayne map is running north-south and the coastline is running south-east to north-west.

    From the image on Google, there is only one noticeable river running into Terror Bay, and this is at the eastern end of the bay - the river runs pretty much due north. The angle of the shore at this point would be a close match to the orientation of the Bayne map, if the orientation is rotated to make the graves align east-west.

    From the image on Google, there is also a north-south running ridge just to the west of this river, which also matches the map.

    From practical considerations, the place to make camp is close to a river so that, in summer at least, fresh water is at hand. The Bayne drawing places the camp on the right hand side of the river (i.e. west of the river), and the view on Google shows there is a low patch of land on the west side of the river, about 500 m on a side, starting about 1 km in from the shoreline of the bay.

    I gather there is precious little topsoil on KWI. They would not bury bodies right next to the river if they were making use of it. If the Bayne map is right, I would guess that the graves were somewhere in that low patch of land between the ridge and the river, probably close to the ridge, where it might have been possible to dig a grave.

    1. It is also easy to suppose that the lines for the graves indicate general location, not specific layouts or numbers, in which case that google earth image you refer to makes a good case. If you follow that valley it almost takes you to "the boat place" at Erebus bay....coincidence? (Or perhaps my faulty analysis....)
      Just for consideration, suppose the ships were freed from the ice from their abandonment points of April 1848 and managed to get as far as Terror Bay for the Terror and Erebus Bay for the Erebus. Having by then surveyed the island, the crews could have been in touch across the peninsula via this river bed. The Terror sinks, and lacking supplies, the survivors send out a party to link up with the Erebus encampment only to find it has moved on.....and the newly arrived Terror survivors face the inevitable fate there.
      The Erebus, having departed Erebus Bay, frantically searches for the Terror at a pre-determined rendezvous point and never finds her. In vain, she sails on alone (having left a cairn and message which was never found) and meets her demise in shallow water to the SW of KWI. Having dawdled too long waiting for Terror to arrive, she is trapped in ice again, never to be freed.

    2. Robert, thanks, this makes eminent sense. There are a number of stretches of coastline in Erebus Bay that would run in the right direction. The area near the mouth of the creek is one, as is the western side of the creek-fed inlet tucked away in the northwest part of the bay ( just opposite of where Patsy Klengenberg's cabin was located).

    3. Note that the Franklin Expedition graves on Beechey Island are not oriented East-West, but almost N-S.