Friday, November 12, 2010

They come, they come ...

Besides the possible funeral oration and the cryptic roundel, perhaps the most enigmatic page of the "Peglar Papers" is the leaf beginning with "they come," and including the reference to "Trinidad laying in asham bay." Looking at the full-colour scan, I have found it possible to decipher this page in a bit more detail; the initial lines sound very much like a ballad of some kind, as do the final lines; in between are some odd yet characteristic asides and framing phrases. Here is my best and latest transcription:

They come from the seas to Ther arts delight
they come thro the holes all sailors with Delight
ther hart and ..for freely ... they feringg (?)
with the seas They come to thir Buars to studdy the law .... brown rann(?) we thir vissadge n. to with The was ... ... ... ... ... ... ... thir for an Foe hsenugers reef idiaz (?) smiley John Faithfull Writ at trinadad laying in asham^Bay late on one summer night ….month of June My …. And your All … ple.. made my bark a thort the tide And my crew they went to sleep ... Hale … keep a Lookout ... For fish all in the deep

"Arts delight," following "all my art Tom" on another leaf, must be "heart's delight." "Studdy the law" is a mystery, although it's one of the plainest lines on this page. Trinidad would have had many people with a "brown vissadge" ... but what of it? I have mentioned elsewhere that there were (and are) many men with the name "John Faithful" or "Faithfull" -- though I have not found any who have any specific Franklin connection. The whole piece has the air of a ballad of the sea, as many of its key phrases are common to that genre. "Heart's Delight" was a name given to a number of vessels, as well as to harbor on the Trinity South Shore of Newfoundland and Labrador. "Asham" is clear enough -- "Bay" is inserted at right angles, but its placement seems clear.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Peglar/Armitage/Gibson's Language

A.G.E. Jones, in his Notes and Queries article on Harry Peglar (linked at the side of this blog), tells us a great deal about the life of a man about whom, had his career not bent to the north, we might have known very little. One detail that Jones gives is that Peglar, like many other lads destined for a career at sea, was educated by the Marine Society. I believe that in this education, as limited as it might seem by today's standards, much of the language and rhetoric evident in the "Peglar" papers had its origin, and however much of the papers are the work of other men, their education (if they had one) would likely have been similar. The discourse, phraseology, and habits of mind of a man with a fairly limited education ought, at least in their broad outlines, be readily deduced.

One of the texts that Jones indicates would have been used by the Marine Society is the "Revd Mr Sellar's Abridgement of the Bible" -- this would seem to have been a common text, but although WorldCat and Google Books reveal numerous "abridgements" of this kind, none of them seems to have the name of "Sellars" attached (There was a Sellars who was a professor of Greek at Oxford in this period, but I haven't found any reference to his having issued any edition of the Bible).

As for Armitage, Jones's favored candidate for the bearer of Peglar's papers, there is no indication of his education, which may well have been as slight as that of his shipmate. That he visited CumanĂ¡ in Venezuela aboard the Gannett is attested, so the story of the events there may have been his. Finally, as to Gibson, who was somewhat the junior of these other men, there seems no record of his education either, though he may well have been a friend of Peglar's and benefitted (as Glenn Stein suggests) from this connection. That he was illiterate in 1826 we do not doubt, but he -- as well as Armitage or other men in Arctic service -- may well have had some years of schooling aboard ship; such exercises dated back to Parry's time, and the ships were provided with slates and school-books.

To my mind, the hand of our backwards-writer shows a certain elegance -- it's not copperplate or law-hand, but neither is it the hand of a barely-literate sailor. The very idea of writing backwards would never occur to someone who was but scarcely acquainted with writing forwards. And so, I feel, although these papers were not found upon the body of a man corresponding with Peglar's description, the bulk of them -- the backwards bits -- are more likely to have been his than either of his less-well-educated shipmates.

Which brings me round again to Jones's mention of Sellar's Abridgement of the Bible -- can anyone trace this text?? My bet would be that some of the language of these papers ("at his Right Hand," "Addam and Eve," "O Death Wheare is thy sting") may well owe something to their writer's school text.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cumana, Trinidad -- not Venezuela?

All along, everyone has been assuming that the "Cumanar" in the Peglar Papers was CumanĂ¡, Venezuela. But there was, in fact, a Mission of Cumana, founded by the Franciscans, near the northeastern tip of Trinidad, not far from the modern-day village of Redhead. On the coast, the mission leant its name to a "Point Cumana" which was located almost due east, between "Point Playas" and "Point Guayamara." There is no "Asham Bay" on current maps, but the Sheridan Library at Johns Hopkins has an 1824 map of Trinidad made by D.S. Throop and published in Baltimore in 1824 -- which I've used to illustrate this post. After writing to the library to see whether I could get a better image of the area of the Mission of Cumana, they kindly sent along a huge (15 MB) scan, from which the image here is a detail. Alas, though Point Cumana is visible, there is no "Asham Bay" in the vicinity, or anywhere else on the map.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Franklin's Funeral?

One of the most enigmatic -- and potentially significant -- leaves of the "Peglar" papers is that which commences with a line from the service for the burial of the dead in Book of Common Prayer: "O Death whare Is thy sting?"

Interestingly, this is the opposite site of the leaf with the curious manuscript roundel. In the typescript of his Mariner's Mirror essay, Cyriax comments that "the words written in the circle suggest that the lines 'O Death whare is thy sting' were a joint production ... there can be no doubt that the lines were composed on board the Terror, presumably in the Arctic"; he speculates that "Comfort Cove" may be identical with "Comfortless Cove" on Ascension Island, and that "Camp Clear" may have been a temporary encampment of Franklin survivors. But he does not venture a guess as to whose death, or whose funeral service might have been referenced in this document. I have always thought that this might be an account of the funeral of one of Franklin's men, at which (perhaps) Franklin officiated -- but William Battersby argues that it is an account of Franklin's own funeral. I've placed an enlarged, contrast-enhanced, photo-negative here (this helps bring out many of the fainter lines)

To some extent, this hinges on our differing transcriptions -- see this table for a line-by-line comparison -- but Battersby goes further; here is his account:

Interpretation of 'Oh Death...'

I've tried to make sense of the 'Oh Death' page in the Peglar Pocket Book.

Here I argue that it is an extremely important document which is capable of a very specific interpretation. I'm not so arrogant as to suggest that this is the final word, but I want to put this proposal forward as a 'straw man' for challenge. Please can everyone review the high quality image of this page. I am sure it will be possible to better interpret the text, which may refine or disprove my interpretation.

A tentative interpretation therefore as a continuous text might therefore be:

“Oh Death, where is thy sting? the grave at Comfort Cove for who has any doubt Nelson look(?) the dying man sad and aware of Trafalgar as [wa]s.. of him and ... [t]o finish a later a corpse. and.... Adam and Eve. .. another... thy right hands ... being prove(?). I am ... will be a very splendid .... m.... yes and splendid ...... to ..m... that .... [ma]kes trade flourish. That's the way the world g[oes] round. Finish”.

I propose that this was a sailor's record of a funeral. Here's why I think this is a reasonable conclusion and what else we can learn from it:

1. Church services were an important part of life on the Franklin Expedition. Given that this writing starts with the phrase 'Oh Death, where is thy sting?' it is difficult to see how it could NOT be an account of a funeral service.
2. This funeral must have a particularly important one in the life of the Expedition. The writer must have been present at many funerals yet this was the only one he took notes of. There was something special about this one for him to have kept a record of the sermon preached at it.
3. The person being buried, the 'dyer' or the dying man, had not died instantly as he had been 'sad and aware' of something as he was dying and was '[t]o finish a later a corpse'
4. The dying man had been associated in some sense both with Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar as he had been 'sad and aware of Trafalgar... as [wa]s.. of him', and 'who has any doubt Nelson look(?)'.
5. The reference to Adam and Eve, the source of the original sin, and the 'right hand' (Christ sits at God's right hand) suggests that this death could be paralleled with Christ's death and the consequent victory in resurrection.
6. The sermon ended with something 'very splendid' and 'splendid' that 'makes trade flourish' and which is 'the way the world goes round'. Given that the protection of trade was one of the principle roles of the Royal Navy, and safer trade was one of the most dramatic consequences of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, this is a natural uplifting conclusion to a Royal Naval funeral with a link to Nelson and Trafalgar.
7. I suggest that Comfort Cove was the location of this burial, and that this was a place-name given to somewhere in the Arctic by the Franklin Expedition itself and therefore known to them but not to us. If true, this is therefore the record of a sermon preached at a burial on land.

I propose that the 'dyer' was no less than Sir John Franklin, the speaker Francis Crozier, and that this is a record of the sermon Crozier preached at Franklin's funeral at 'Comfort Cove', wherever that was. Here's why:

1. Of all the funerals which must have taken place, Franklin's was the most important and therefore the most worthy of record.
2. Franklin was the only man on the Expedition to have served directly under Nelson at Trafalgar. The section 'Nelson look(?) the dying man sad and aware of Trafalgar as [wa]s.. of him' is garbled but suggests not just an association between Nelson and the subject of the oration, but also an awareness of that link by the subject of the funeral.
3. Franklin died on 12th June, 1847. This was exactly the time when the Expedition would have been preparing to sail south to complete, as they imagined, their transit of the Passage. His death at this point could be argued to parallel that of Nelson in 1805. Nelson died during the Battle of Trafalgar knowing ('was aware') that he had won the victory he had sought for so long. Crozier could argue that Franklin in June 1847 died believing that his life's work, transit of the North West Passage, would be achieved after his death. .This 'death at the point of victory' argument also parallels Christ's crucifixion and subsequent triumph over death in resurrection. All three – Nelson, Franklin and Christ – died knowing (or believing) that their victory would be secured after their death.
4. Handled wrongly, Franklin's death would have been a huge blow to the morale of the Expedition. Crozier would need to preach a sermon along these lines, ending with an uplifting sentiment along these lines.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The "Peglar" Papers

One of the most apparently inexhaustible sources of information and speculation about the Franklin expedition are the mysterious papers, found in a leather pocket-book with the skeleton of one of the ship's stewards, which included the seaman's certificate of one Harry Peglar. Of the associated papers, many of them are written backwards, and they include doggerel verse, a narrative of a 'party wot happened in Trinidad,' tantalizing references to the situation of the ships ('the Terror camp clear'), and cryptic designs (such as the writing in a circle shown here). Since Cyriax and Jones, there has not been a fresh, thorough attempt at a transcript.

William Battersby obtained color scans of the papers -- the resolution is only moderate, but one can at least manipulate contrast (up) and saturation (down) to bring out the writing. I personally believe that it would be within the restrictions set up by the NMM to share these images among ourselves, and perhaps have a collective go at a transcription. I have some previous notes about the here and here, and have placed my own 2001 transcription here -- why don't we all have a go? After all, six or seven minds, all familiar with the context of this document, ought to be better than one. Why not start with the mysterious manuscript roundel -- clicking on the image will take you to a full-resolution version.

p.s. here is the Battersby transcript for comparison.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Addition of resources

This is a great idea. I'll post a list of additional resources I have, some of which I showed you on Monday, Russell. Then let's consider the best way to add them.

One additional resource which we should have is an overlay, or a set of overlays, on Google Earth. I have started that for my own use but I am far from expert in using Google Earth. I guess combining what I have, which is a plot of the course the Expedition followed in 1845-6, with the contents of the Gould map, would be a good start.

This link is also valuable:

Two people who it might be beneficial to invite would be Peter Carney and Glenn Stein.

Welcome to Project Aglooka

Welcome to the pilot version of the Project Aglooka blog and web pages! Our goals here are simple: 1) To make available freely, throughout the world, the best possible resources and references on the 1845 Arctic Expedition of Sir John Franklin; 2) To serve as a meeting place for those researching this historical event, and a forum for the exchange of ideas; and 3) To pilot a web project, which -- it is hoped -- will create a permanent home for such resources, a substantial array of educational materials, and an archive of all Franklin research past and present.

This site will, initially, not be open to everyone -- I'd like to start with the input of a select mix of experts and dedicated amateurs, without having to worry (as of yet) over copyright and permissions issues. Researchers who make material available here should have the assurance that it will not suddenly be copied or pop up elsewhere on the web without their permission, and that it will, for now, be shared only among other researchers. At some point, once the pilot phase has reached a point where we have a consensus on permanent resources, we can start the process of obtaining needed permissions, and create both a permanent public site as well as a continuing, dedicated, protected area for the continuation of scholarly dialogue and exchange.

I've named the site after that most sought-after of Franklin survivors, the one known as "Aglooka" -- a name given to many different explorers by the Inuit, but associated in oral testimony with the leader of one large band of Franklin survivors. We may never know for certain who "Aglooka" was, or if all reports of him refer to the same man -- but his name stands as an apt one for the object of our researches.